1 Corinthians 13

This paper on 1 Corinthians 13 is the last written work by our esteemed brother Mr. Walter Gustafson, who went to be with the Lord in 2020. It is a privilege to publish his final series of articles.

The Practice of Love

The Lord Jesus is the only person who ever lived out in perfection all the characteristics of divine love, especially at the cross.

“Love suffereth long” is passive, referring to injuries received. “And is kind” is active and refers to bestowing benefits. For long hours our Lord suffered two unjust trials, a Roman lash on His back, buffeting, spitting, mockery, and an excruciatingly painful crucifixion. With all that suffering He uttered not a word of complaint. “He is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth” (Isa 53:7).[1] Peter writes, “Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again” (1Pe 2:23). The Lord Jesus did not allow the cruel treatment He received to check the outflowing of love to His tormentors; He was positively kind to His enemies. “Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luk 23:34). He lived 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 which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Mat 5:44).

“Love envieth not.” This characteristic stands by itself. All the others are paired, and the first two are truly a pair. A believer can view all the inequalities of life and not be envious or jealous. Love is content with what it has and is glad for the prosperity of others.

“Love vaunteth not itself.” When a person vaunts himself, he parades his imagined superiority over others. Love never makes an ostentatious display and is never a showoff in any sense of the word.

“Love is not puffed up.” This refers to inward disposition. In 1 Corinthians 8:1 we read, “Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth” (or builds up). We should all increase our knowledge of the Word of God, but we should see to it that there is a corresponding increase of love. Love is never inflated with its own importance, and so is not marked by pride or conceit. “Only by pride cometh contention” (Pro 13:10).

“Behaveth not itself unseemly.” Unseemly covers all kinds of bad manners. We are to be doing the best thing in the best possible way at the best possible time. It is candid but courteous. When we feel someone needs correction, we should wait until we can be not only honest but also helpful. Queen Victoria was not a slave to etiquette. One day when she had invited a group of ladies for tea, the others were horrified to see one lady pour her tea into her saucer (a breach of the etiquette of that day). However, when the Queen saw it, she poured her tea into her saucer too! Then it was perfectly all right for all of them to do it. That was very becoming of a queen. It was kind, and I believe that she was truly a child of God.

“Seeketh not her own.” This is similar to Paul’s exhortation in Philippians 2:4, “Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others,” that is, not seeking our own rights. A lot of money has been spent in courts of law to maintain the rights of one individual over another’s. This means not being selfish in any way.

“Is not provoked.” There is no Greek word for “easily” in this verse (the AV editors let us off easy by adding the word “easily”). A person who is controlled by love still has feelings, but never loses self-control. The ninth characteristic of the “fruit of the Spirit” (in Galatians 5:22) is temperance, or self-control.

“Taketh not account of evil” (RV). This is a significant change from the AV (“thinketh no evil”). In Matthew 18:22 the Lord Jesus discourages us from keeping accounts of evil when He says that we should forgive, not just to seven times but until seventy times seven. We should never take account of evil with a view of paying back when we have the opportunity. “The discretion of a man deferreth his anger; and it is his glory to pass over a transgression” (Pro 19:11). It may be all right to remember how someone has acted if it can help in getting along with that person, but it is never all right to remember with an unforgiving spirit. There is a morality connected with our memory; love is generous in forgetfulness.

“Rejoiceth not in iniquity.” Love does not get joy from the wrongdoing of others. In Psalm 97:10 we read, “Ye that love the LORD, hate evil.” We read of our Lord Jesus, “Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity; therefore God, even thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows” (Heb 1:9). He loved righteousness with a perfect love and hated iniquity with a perfect hatred. (This is one of the reasons why He could never be tempted of the Devil!) May the Lord help us to become more like Him. Proverbs says, “The fear of the LORD is to hate evil” (8:13), and “by the fear of the LORD men depart from evil” (16:6). Paul said, “Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2Co 7:1). There is nothing like the fear of the Lord to regulate our thinking. No one else knows what we are thinking, but the Lord does.

“But rejoiceth with the truth.” Love and truth rejoice together. What satisfies divine love satisfies divine truth. Goodness, righteousness and truth are all linked together in Ephesians 5:9: “in all goodness and righteousness and truth.”

“Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.” The four verbs in this verse are all followed by the words “all things.” Thus, all four go together. Love doesn’t unnecessarily expose, but it does expose evil that requires assembly discipline (the two previous characteristics make that plain). Love is not gullible, but believes the best and puts the best possible construction on every word or action. But what does love do when the facts indicate that it can no longer believe the best? It hopes for the best. What does love do when hopes are dashed to the ground? It endures all things.

“And now abideth faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” The Greek word for “now” can have a temporal meaning or a logical meaning. Here it has the logical meaning, bringing the whole argument to a conclusion. It is not 100% true that at the Rapture “faith will give place to sight, and hope will be lost in delight.” It is true that we will no longer have testing of faith in heaven, but there will still be room for the exercise of perfect obedience and trust in God. It is also true that we will no longer hope for our glorified bodies, for we will already have them, but all of God’s purposes will not come to fruition the moment we have our glorified bodies. There will still be room for hope with joyous expectation of the fulfillment of God’s promises. We will eternally be finite and dependent on our infinite God. Therefore, faith and hope, as well as love, must abide eternally. Faith is trust, entire and undoubting. Hope is anticipation, certain to be fulfilled. It will be entire trust and certain anticipation. Hope will never cease to catch new perspectives of glory, for the glories of heaven are inexhaustible.

To be continued

[1] Bible quotations in this article are from the KJV unless otherwise noted.