Agape Love: Love That Pleases God – 1 Cor 13

The apostle Paul and the apostle John were both balanced about love and faith. Paul is sometimes referred to as the Apostle of Faith, and he wrote the most glorious treatise on love to be found in all of literature in 1 Corinthians 13. John is often referred to as the Apostle of Love, yet he wrote his gospel for faith (John 20:30-31). This shows they were balanced in their teaching about faith and love, but there are also verses which show they were balanced about love and faith.

The Apostle of Faith wrote, “Though I have all faith so that I could remove mountains and have not love (charity); I am nothing” (1Cor 13:2, KJV). The Apostle of Love wrote in 1 John 5:4, “this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith” (KJV). So they were balanced believers, unlike Ephraim. “Ephraim is a cake not turned” (Hos 7:8, KJV). That is, Ephraim was like a cake done (perhaps overdone) on one side, and not done at all on the other side, so not fit for eating.

It is important for us to note those two apostles were also balanced about love itself. Neither Paul nor John looked on love as merely sentimental, allowing (or tolerating) evil. The word used (agape), is the characteristic word of Christianity, a self-sacrificing love. Paul wrote, “And this I pray, that your love (agape) may abound yet more and more” (Phil 1:9, KJV). This verse may sound as if Paul wanted them to be carried away to extremes by love, but he definitely qualifies it by saying, “in knowledge and in all judgment” (“discernment,” RV). The word Paul uses for love is to be distinguished from phileo, a word which means “tender affection.” Agape love is like a mighty river which is kept under control by the two banks: knowledge and judgment (discernment).

John also demonstrated his balance when it came to love. He wrote, “But whoso keepeth His Word, in him verily is the love of God perfected”(1John 2:5, KJV)). Again, he (rightly) wrote, “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments”(1John 5:3, KJV). John rightly links love with keeping His Word and commandments. Paul himself qualifies the love of 1 Corinthians 13 by writing, “Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth.” Some saints (including some excellent teachers among us), have been hindered from appreciating this chapter by its use to excuse unscriptural behavior.

Chapter 13 is the middle of three intimately connected chapters. In chapter 12, we have the endowment of gifts. In chapter 14, we have the exercise of gifts. In chapter 13, we have the energy with which those gifts should be exercised. John R. Caldwell, in his good commentary on 1 Corinthians, is probably the first one to use this illustration. In chapter 12, we have the machinery. In chapter 14, we have the machinery in motion. In chapter 13, we have the oil which keeps the machinery running smoothly. It is no wonder that the late Fisher Hunter called the love of chapter 13 “church lubrication.” All assemblies need church lubrication.

The last verse of chapter 12, and the first verse of chapter 14, show the intimate connection between chapters 12, 13, and 14. The RV of 12:31 reads, “but desire earnestly the greater gifts: yet a still more excellent way show I unto you.” We should notice that it is not “a more excellent thing,” but “a more excellent way.” In chapter 14, Paul clearly shows love is greater than the greatest gift, both in importance and permanence, but his primary aim in chapter 13 is to point out that love is the more excellent way to discover what is really the greater gift, the only supreme and excellent way in which the exercise of a gift will be a blessing. If I have love, I will judge that the greater gift is the one that will most help and perfect God’s people. The first verse of chapter 14 also shows that these three chapters are linked together. “Follow after love” is to pursue love diligently. If anyone wants to know why we should pursue love diligently, the whole of chapter 13 is the answer.

William Rodgers points out that, if the Corinthians had the love of 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, they would have been spared their troubles in a sevenfold way. In chapter 1, they would not have been puffed up one against another because love “is not puffed up.” In chapter 5, they would not have tolerated the fornicator because love “rejoiceth not in iniquity.” In chapter 6, they would not have gone to law one against another or defrauded one another because love “suffereth long and is kind.” In chapters 8 and 10, they would not have stumbled their weaker brethren because love “seeketh not her own.” In chapter 11, none of the brethren would have been drunken, and none of the sisters would have had their heads uncovered, because love “behaveth not itself unseemly.” In chapter 12, those with a lesser gift would not envy those with a greater gift because love “envieth not.” In chapter 14, those who had a gift would not have been pushing it on others, because love “vaunteth not itself.”

In The Greatest Thing in the World, Henry Drummond wrote “In the heart of Africa, I have come across black men and women who remembered the only white man they had ever seen before – David Livingstone; and as you cross his footsteps in that continent, men’s faces light up as they speak of the kind doctor who passed and helped so many there so many years ago. They could not understand him, but they felt the love that beat in his heart. They knew it was love, though he spoke no word. He helped so many of them medically.”

– To be continued