LOVE IS BEFORE LOVE DOES — 10 Things Love Is — 1 Corinthians 13
One of the most famous chapters in the bible is 1 Corinthians 13. Its excerpts are often spoken in marriage ceremonies, printed on Valentine’s Day cards, and composed as song lyrics. The centerpiece of this powerful and memorable chapter is one word: love. Has there ever been a word so commonly used yet universally misunderstood? The author of 1 Corinthians, the Apostle Paul, wrote passionately about love’s necessity, source, character, and power.
The original audience of this love chapter was not a couple needing counseling or a bride and groom standing at an altar. Instead, the hearers were the disheveled church in Corinth, Greece. This body of believers was characterized by disunity, immorality, conflict, and immaturity in the faith. Paul knew the Corinthians intimately, for the church in Corinth was formed through his ministry (Acts 18). Being hundreds of miles removed, Paul received word of their internal quarrels. With a heart of affection, he gave them correction and a clear path forward to restoration with God and each other. At the core of his instruction was love found only in Christ.
1 Corinthians 13 (NIV)
1 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.
3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
We can fill our lives with many admirable accomplishments yet miss the point entirely. The question is not whether our pursuits find value before men but instead, if they are found worthy before God. His eyes are set on seeing a holy constitution of the heart (1 Samuel 16:7). If Jesus said the greatest command is, “Love the Lord God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength,” and gave the second greatest to be, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” then God’s marker on those who are His own is love (Matthew 22:37-40).
A life can speak heavenly words, know all mysteries, and sacrifice everything. Still, if love is not rooted and grounded within, all is counted as loss. Paul teaches how God’s love produces good and acceptable fruit in and through our lives. Not only does it bear forth worthy offerings, but it also marks our lives as being worthy. As we abide in the love of Christ, love’s sacrifice is always found acceptable and is never in vain.
God has not left us to live out of a misunderstood love but has bestowed His own great love upon us (1 John 3:1). In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul uses the Greek word “agape” nine times. Interestingly, Paul uses “love” in the noun form, agape, every time instead of the verb form, agapao. Amid a church in conflict, the Apostle prioritizes educating love’s essence and character before commanding love’s action. Instead of leading with the commands of love, he teaches the church at Corinth what Love is and is not. We, too, are helped to be reminded that “Love is before love does.” If one attempts an action of love without understanding what God says love is, the best that can be achieved is mere imitation of the real thing. Love will never be understood until its core truth is believed, “God is love.” Apart from Him, love’s intent and action will always be corrupted. God, being love itself, is the source of all holy affection. And because Christ is God and lives in every believer, His love abides within the heart. From this source, Christ Himself, love flows from Him, in and through us, and to others.
1 Corinthians 13:4–7 (NIV)
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
The Apostle Paul brought the beloved of Corinth back to what they had forgotten: the essence of love. He reminds them of the core understanding of love’s character with two positive and eight negative descriptive statements. These descriptors allow us to look in the mirror and see the soul’s reflection to determine if our lives abide in the love of Christ. For the sake of meditating on 1 Corinthians 13:4-6, see the list of what love is in all positive statements.
- Love is patient
- Love is kind
- Love is trusting (does not envy)
- Love is humble (does not boast)
- Love is meek (not proud)
- Love is honorable of others (does not dishonor others)
- Love is a seeker of the good of others (not self-seeking)
- Love is at peace (not easily angered)
- Love is forgiving (does not keep a record of wrongs)
- Love is a rejoicer of truth (does not delight in evil)
Following the detailing of love’s character, Paul gives three exhortations for our lives:
- Love walks by faith and doesn’t give in
- Love holds onto hope and doesn’t give up
- Love always remains under the faithful hand of God.
The love that bears and endures today is the same love that believes and hopes for the future.
1 Corinthians 13:8–13
8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.
9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part,
10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears.
11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.
12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
Did the church at Corinth hear and heed the words of Paul? Did they return to Jesus, their First Love? All indications are that they did not. The first letter to Corinth became a needed second letter in the years to come dealing with repeated unholy issues. It seems they chose to direct their affections to the lesser pleasures and refused to put away their childish things. Let us not be like the Corinthians! Let us hear the words of Christ Himself, “As the Father has loved Me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love” (John 15:9). Let us grow and mature in the love of Christ and bear forth the authentic fruit of love (1 John 4:7). Paul concludes chapter 13 with the greatest of confidence, “Love never fails!” Think about this truth. Love. Never. Fails. Who will separate you from the love of Christ? Can you respond as the Apostle Paul responded to that ultimate question? “For I am convinced that (NOTHING) will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35-39).