Chapter 13 of 1 Corinthians is in three parts; verses 1-3, The Value of love; verses 4-7, The Virtues of Love, and verses 8-13, The Victories of Love. But the headings I like the best are: verses 1-3 the Preciousness of Love, verses 4-7 The Practice of Love, and verses 8-13 the Permanence of Love.
I have heard many different messages on the Word of God in my Christian life, but the message which had the greatest impact on me was when brother Frank McMillan spoke on this chapter in the Bible class. I got so much out of his message, I deliberately chose to walk home the last six miles so I could meditate without distraction on what I had heard.
The Preciousness of Love
Verse 1 is the realm of speech, verse 2 is the realm of intellect, and verse 3 is the realm of devotion. In the first three verses, especially in verse 1, he is speaking hypothetically. “Though I speak with the tongues of men and angels and have not love, I am become like sounding brass or a tinkling (clanging) cymbal” (KJV). Paul’s statement must have been quite startling to the Corinthians who placed strong emphasis on the possession of such gifts. By application today, a person who speaks with such eloquence that he holds his audience spellbound, but without love is a “clanging cymbal” (RV). I give nothing of value, only an unpleasant noise!
In the realm of intellect (v2), for a person to have all the things mentioned would be considered valuable. It is possible to have all this, but without love, we have nothing. “All faith” does not refer to saving faith, but rather refers to wonder-working faith in the fullest degree.
In the realm of devotion (v3), two acts of sacrificial giving are recorded. What more could anyone give than all his goods and himself? Giving all his goods to the poor and giving his body to a painful martyr’s death by burning may help the poor among the brethren, but all of that done without love means it finds no merit in the sight of God.
In summary, these things are of supreme value if love is prompting or motivating them. Without love they are valueless. Thus we see the preciousness of love. In Luke 9:54 James and John had enough faith to call down fire from heaven to consume a village of Samaria which did not want to receive the Lord Jesus, but they did not have enough love to believe He would not do it.
The Practices of Love (vv4-7)
The Lord Jesus is the only one who lived out in perfection all the characteristics of divine love. “Love suffereth long,” is passive and has to do with injuries received. “And is kind” is active and has to do with bestowing benefits. The Lord Jesus is a wonderful example of these two characteristics, especially on the cross. For long hours He suffered six unjust trials, a Roman lash upon His back, buffeting, spitting, and mockery. Then he suffered an excruciating, painful, crucifixion. With all this suffering, there was no word of complaint (Isa 53: 7, 1Peter 2:23). “[Love] is kind.” The Lord Jesus did not allow all the cruel hatred shown to Him to check the out-flowing of His love, so He was positively kind to His enemies: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34, KJV). He was living out in perfection what He had taught: “But I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Matt 5: 44, KJV).
“Love envieth not.” This characteristic stands by itself. All the remaining ones can be paired. The first two are truly a pair. When we are governed by love we can view all the inequities of life and not envy or be jealous. The word used here covers both. The person controlled by love is content with what he has and is glad for the prosperity of another.
“Love vaunteth not itself.” Love is not boastful, conceited, or ostentatious. When a person vaunts himself, he parades his imagined superiority over others. Love never makes any ostentatious display and is never a show-off in any sense of the word; it has no outward display.
“Is not puffed up” is inward. In 1 Corinthians 8:1 we read, “Knowledge puffeth up but love edifieth” (KJV). We all should increase in our knowledge of the Word of God, but we should see to it that there is also an increase of love. Love is not inflated with its own importance. So love is not marked by pride or self-esteem. “Only by pride cometh contention”(Prov 13:10, KJV).
“Behaveth not itself unseemly.” Love leads a brother to be a gentleman in the best sense of the word. Love leads a sister to truly be a lady in the best sense of that word – doing the best thing in the best possible way and at the best time, candid but courteous, honest but helpful. When a brother or sister needs correction, it is best to wait until we can not only be honest but helpful.
Queen Victoria, a born again lady, once invited women to the palace for tea. The other women were horrified when one woman poured her tea into her saucer, contrary to prevailing etiquette. When the Queen noticed it, she poured her tea into her saucer too, thereby making it acceptable. Queen Victoria was no slave to etiquette – she was kind, and so, the erring lady was spared embarrassment in the presence of her queen. This is similar to the exhortation of Paul, “Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others”(Phil 2:4, KJV), not seeking our own rights, not selfish in any way. Much money has been spent foolishly in courts to maintain one’s own rights.
Here lies John Jay
Who died defending his right of way.
He was right, dead right as he sped along
But he’s just as dead as if he was wrong!