I Corinthians 13
By John Lee
Paul lists fifteen characteristics of Christian love.
- Love is patient. The Greek word (makrothumein) means patience with people and not patience with circumstances. It is the word used of the man who is wronged and who has the power to avenge himself but will not. It describes the man who is slow to anger and it is used of God himself in his relationship with men. Such patience is not the sign of weakness but the sign of strength; No one treated Abraham Lincoln with more contempt than did Stanton . He called him "a low cunning clown", he nicknamed him "the original gorilla". Lincoln said nothing.
He made Stanton his war minister because he was the best man for the job and he treated him with every courtesy. The years wore on. The night came when the assassin’s bullet murdered Lincoln in the theatre. In the little room to which the President’s body was taken stood that same Stanton and looking down on Lincoln ’s silent face, he said through his tears, "There lies the greatest ruler of men the world has ever seen." The patience of love had conquered in the end.
- Love is kind. Origin had it that this means that love is "sweet to all." So much Christianity is good but unkind. There was no more religious a man than Philip the Second of Spain, and yet he founded the Spanish Inquisition and thought he was serving God by massacring those who thought differently from him. There is in so many good people an attitude of criticism. So many good Church people would have sided with the rulers and not with Jesus if they had had to deal with the woman caught in adultery.
- Love knows no envy. It has been said that there are really only two classes of people in this world–"those who are millionaires and those who would like to be." There are two kinds of envy. The one covets the possessions of other people. The other is worse. He grudges the very fact that others should have what he has not; he doesn’t so much want things for himself as he wishes that others had not got them at all.
- Love is not boastful. True love will always be far more impressed with its own unworthiness than its own merit. Some people are in love with the idea that they are doing somebody a favor. But the real lover cannot ever get over the wonder that he is loved. Love is kept humble.
- Love is not proud. The really great man never thinks of his own importance. William Carey, who began life as a cobbler, was one of the greatest missionaries and certainly one of the greatest linguists the world has ever seen. He translated at least parts of the Bible into no fewer than thirty-four Indian languages. When he came to India , he was regarded with dislike and contempt. At a dinner party a snob, with the idea of humiliating him, said in a tone that everyone could hear, "I suppose, Mr. Carey, you once worked as a shoe-maker." "No, your lordship," answered Carey, "not a shoe-maker, only a cobbler." He did not even claim to make shoes–only to mend them.
- Love is not rude. It is a fact that in Greek the words for grace and for charm are the same. There is a kind of Christianity which takes a delight in being blunt and almost brutal. There is a graciousness in Christian love which never forgets that courtesy and tact and politeness are lovely things.
- Love is not self-seeking. There are those in this world who are always thinking of what life owes them and there are those who never forget what they owe to life. Most of our problems which surround us today could be avoided if we would think less of our rights and more of our duties. Whenever we start thinking about "ourselves" and "our place" we are drifting away from Christian love.
- Love is not easily angered. Christian love never becomes exasperated with people. Exasperation is always a sign of defeat. When we lose our tempers, we lose everything. Kipling said that it was the test of a man if he could keep his head when everyone else was losing his. The man who is master of his temper can be master of anything.
- Love keeps no record of wrongs. The word translated keeps (logizesthai) is an accountant’s word. It is the word used for entering up an item in a ledger so that it will not be forgotten. That is precisely what so many people do. One of the greatest talents in life is to learn what to forget. Many people nurse their wrath to keep it warm; they brood over their wrongs until it is impossible to forget them. Christian love has learned the great lesson forgetting.
- Love does not delight in evil. Better to translate this that love finds no pleasure in anything that is wrong. It is not so much delight in doing the wrong thing that is meant, as the pleasure which comes to most of us when we hear something derogatory about someone else. It is one of the traits of human nature that we prefer to hear of the misfortune of others rather than of their good fortune. It is much easier to weep with them than to rejoice with those who rejoice. Christian love finds no pleasure in bad reports.
- Love rejoices with the truth. That is not as easy as it sounds. There are times when we definitely do not want the truth to prevail; and still more times when it is the last thing we want to hear. Christian love has no desire to veil the truth; it has nothing to hide and so is glad when the truth is revealed.
- Love always protects. It is possible that this may mean "love can cover anything," meaning it will never drag into the light of day the faults and mistakes of others. Love would rather mend things than publicly displaying them. It can also mean that love can bear any insult, any injury, and disappointment.
- Love always trust. This characteristic has a twofold meaning. (1) In relation to God it means that love takes God at his word. (2) In relation to our fellow men it means that love always believes the best about other people. We make people what we believe them to be. If we show that we do not trust people, we may make them untrustworthy. If we show people that we trust them, we may make them trustworthy.
- Love always hopes. Hope here means to expect to know! Love "knows" that god has everything under his control and rests in that promise. (Psalms 25)
- Love always perseveres. The verb used here (hupomenein) is translated to bear or to endure but what it really describes is not the spirit which can passively bear things, but the spirit which can conquer. (Philippians 4:13)
Paul has three final things to say of Christian love.
- Love never fails. When all the things in which men glory have passed away, love will still stand. The Song of Solomon 8:7 says "Many waters cannot quench love, rivers cannot wash it away." The one unconquerable thing is love. Barclay says "When love is en tere d into, there comes into life a relationship against which the assaults of time are helpless and which transcends death."
- Love perfects us. Love makes us complete. (I John 4:12-18) Love matures us, it allows us to see ourselves as we truly are and God for who He truly is. Love grows us: it keeps us from acting like children only concerned for our own desires. It is a process which will not be complete until Christ’s return.
- Love is supreme. Great as faith and hope are, love is still greater. Faith without love is cold, and hope without love is grim. Love is the fire which kindles faith and it is the light which turns hope into certainty.