“Love is Action”,1 Corinthians 13:4 from David Guzik


Love is: longsuffering and kind.

Notes of a charitable person, the description of love.

“Love suffers long and is kind.” 1 Corinthians 13:4

At the beginning, we see love is described by action words, not by ethereal concepts. Paul is not writing about how love feels, he is writing about how it can be seen in action.

True love is always demonstrated by action.

Love suffers long:

Love will endure a long time. It is the heart shown in God, when it is said of the Lord, The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance(2 Peter 3:9).

If God’s love is in us, we will be longsuffering to those who annoy us and hurt us.

i. The ancient preacher John Chrysostem said this is the word used of the man who is wronged, and who easily has the power to avenge himself, but will not do it out of mercy and patience. Do you avenge yourself as soon as you have the opportunity?

c. Love is kind: When we have and show God’s love, it will be seen in simple acts of kindness. A wonderful measure of kindness is to see how children receive us. Children won’t receive and respond to unkind people!

i. Clarke on kind: “If called to suffer inspires the sufferer with the most amiable sweetness, and the most tender affection. It is also submissive to all the dispensations of God; and creates trouble to no one.”

2. (4b-6) Eight things love is not: not envious, not proud, not arrogant, not rude, not cliquish, not touchy, not suspicious, not happy with evil.

Love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth.

Love does not envy:

Envy is one of the least productive and most damaging of all sins. It accomplishes nothing, except to hurt. Love keeps its distance from envy, and does not resent it when someone else is promoted or blessed. Clarke describes the heart which does not envy:

“They are ever willing that others should be preferred before them.”

i. Is envy a small sin? Envy murdered Abel (Genesis 4:3-8). Envy enslaved Joseph (Genesis 37:1128). Envy put Jesus on the cross: For he knew that they had handed Him over because of envy(Matthew 27:18).

ii. “Many persons cover a spirit of envy and uncharitableness with the name of godly zeal and tender concern for the salvation of others; they find fault with all; their spirit is a spirit of universal censoriousness; none can please them; and every one suffers by them. These destroy more souls by tithing mint and cummin, than others do by neglecting the weightier matters of the law. Such persons have what is termed, and very properly too, sour godliness.” (Clarke)

Love does not parade itself:

Love in action can work anonymously. It does not have to have the limelight or the attention to do a good job, or to be satisfied with the result.

Love gives because it loves to give, not out of the sense of praise it can have from showing itself off.

i. Sometimes the people who work the hardest at love are those the furthest from it. They do things many would perceive as loving, yet they do them in a manner which would parade itself. This isn’t love; it is pride looking for glory by the appearance of love.

Love … is not puffed up:

To be puffed up is to be arrogant and self-focused. It speaks of someone who has a “big head.” Love doesn’t get it’s head swelled, it focuses on the needs of others.

i. Both to parade itself and to be puffed up are simply rooted in pride. Among Christians, the worst pride is spiritual pride. Pride of face is obnoxious, pride of race is vulgar, but the worst pride is pride of grace!

ii. William Carey is thought by many to be the founder of the modern missionary movement. Christians all over the world know who he was and honor him. He came from a humble place; he was a shoe repairman when God called him to reach the world. Once, when Carey was at a dinner party, a snobbish lord tried to insult him by saying very loudly, “Mr. Carey, I hear you once were a shoemaker!” Carey replied, “No, your lordship, not a shoemaker, only a cobbler!” Today, the name of William Carey is remembered, but nobody remembers who that snobbish lord was! His love showed itself in not having a big head about himself.

Love … does not behave rudely:

Where there is love, there will be kindness and good manners. Perhaps not in the stuffy, “look at how cultured I am” way of showing manners, but in the simply way people do not behave rudely.

i. “No ill-bred man, or what is termed rude or unmannerly, is a Christian.” (Clarke)

Love … does not seek its own:

Paul communicates the same idea in Romans 12:10in honor giving preference to one another. Also, Philippians 2:4 carries the same thought: Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. This is being like Jesus in a most basic way, being an others-centered person instead of a self-centered person.

i. “Love is never satisfied but in the welfare, comfort, and salvation of all. That man is no Christian who is solicitous for his own happiness alone; and cares not how the world goes, so that himself be comfortable.” (Clarke)

Love … is not provoked:

We all find it easy to be provoked, to become irritated with those who are just plain annoying.

But it is a sin to be provoked, and it isn’t loving. Moses was kept from the Promised Land because he became provoked at the people of Israel (Numbers 20:2-11).

i. “When the man who possesses this love gives way to provocation, he loses the balance of his soul, and grieves the Spirit of God… surely if he get embittered against his neighbour, he does not love him as himself.” (Clarke)

Love … thinks no evil:

Literally, this means “love does not store up the memory of any wrong it has received.” Love will put away the hurts of the past instead of clinging to them.

i. One writer tells of a tribe in Polynesia, where it was customary for each man to keep some reminders of his hatred for others. These reminders were suspended from the roofs of their huts to keep alive the memory of the wrongs, real or imagined. Most of us do the same.

ii. “Never supposes that a good action may have a bad motive … The original implies that he does not invent or devise any evil.” (Clarke)

Love … does not rejoice in iniquity:

It is willing to want the best for others, and refuses to color things against others. Instead, love rejoices in the truth. Love can always stand with and on truth, because love is pure and good like truth.

(1Co 13:7) Four more things love is: strong, believing, hopeful, and enduring. Spurgeon calls these four virtues love’s four sweet companions.

Bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

a. All things: we might have hoped Paul would have chosen any phrase but this! All things encompasses everything! We can all bear some things, we can all believe some things, we can all hope some things, we can all endure some things. But God calls us father and deeper into love for Him, for one another, and for a perishing world.

i. “You must have fervent charity towards the saints, but you will find very much about the best of them which will try your patience; for, like yourself, they are imperfect, and they will not always turn their best side towards you, but sometimes sadly exhibit their infirmities. Be prepared, therefore, to contend with “all things” in them.” (Spurgeon)

ii. “Love does not ask to have an easy life of it: self-love makes that her aim. Love denies herself, sacrifices herself, that she may win victories for God, and hers shall be no tinsel crown.” (Spurgeon)

Love … bears all things:

The word for bears can also be translated covers. Either way, Paul brings an important truth along with 1 Peter 4:8And above all things have fervent love for one another, for “love will cover a multitude of sins.”

i. “Love covers; that is, it never proclaims the errors of good men. There are busybodies abroad who never spy out a fault in a brother but they must needs hurry off to their next neighbour with the savoury news, and then they run up and down the street as though they had been elected common criers. It is by no means honorable to men or women to set up to be common informers. Yet I know some who are not half so eager to publish the gospel as to publish slander.

Love stands in the presence of a fault, with a finger on her lip.” (Spurgeon)

ii. “I would, my brothers and sisters, that we could all imitate the pearl oyster.  A hurtful particle intrudes itself into its shell, and this vexes and grieves it. It cannot eject the evil, and what does it do but cover it with a precious substance extracted out of its own life, by which it turns the intruder into a pearl. Oh, that we could do so with the provocations we receive from our fellow Christians, so that pearls of patience, gentleness, long-suffering, and forgiveness might be bred within us by that which has harmed us.” (Spurgeon)

Love … believes all things:

We never believe a lie, but we never believe evil unless the facts demand it. We choose to believe the best of others.

i. “Love, as far as she can, believes in her fellows. I know some persons who habitually believe everything that is bad, but they are not the children of love…. I wish the chatterers would take a turn at exaggerating other people’s virtues, and go from house to house trumping up pretty stories of their acquaintances.” (Spurgeon)

Love … hopes all things:

Love has a confidence in the future, not a pessimism. When hurt, it does not say, “It will be this way forever, and even get worse.” It hopes for the best, and it hopes in God.

Love … endures all things:

Most of us can bear all things, and believe all things, and hope all things, but only for a while! The greatness of agapelove is it keeps on bearing, believing, and hoping. It doesn’t give up. It destroys enemies by turning them into friends.

i. “If your brethren are angry without a cause, be sorry for them, but do not let them conquer you by driving you into a bad temper. Stand fast in love; endure not some things, but all things, for Christ’s sake; so you shall prove yourself to be a Christian indeed.” (Spurgeon)

f. Spurgeon sees the four qualities mentioned as love’s soldiers against evil. Evil is such a strong enemy, it comes at us again and again. First, we face evil with patience, for love bears all things. “Let the injury be inflicted, we will forgive it, and not be provoked: even seventy times seven will we bear in silence.” If this isn’t enough, we battle evil with faith, for love believes all things.

We look to God and His promises and we believe them. If this is not enough, we overcome a third time by hope, for love hopes all things. “We rest in expectation that gentleness will win, and that long-suffering will wear out malice, for we look for the ultimate victory of everything that is true and gracious.”

Finally, we finish the battle with perseverance, for love endures all things.

“We abide faithful to our resolve to love, we will not be irritated unto unkindness, we will not be perverted from generous, all-forgiving affection, and so we win the battle by steadfast non-resistance.” Spurgeon concludes the thought: “Yes, brethren, and love conquers on all four sides….

What a brave mode of battle this is! Is not love a man of war? Is it not invincible?”

4. The best way to understand each of these is to see them in the life of Jesus. We could replace the word love with the name Jesus and the description would make perfect sense. We can easily say, Jesus suffers long and is kind; Jesus does not envy … and make it through the whole chapter.

a. We can measure our spiritual maturity by seeing how it sounds when we put our name in place of the word love. Does it sound totally ridiculous or just a “little” far-fetched?

b. There is a reason why Paul put this chapter in the midst of his discussion of spiritual gifts. Paul wants the Corinthian Christians to remember that giftedness is not the measure of maturity, the display of love is.

David Guzik

David Guzik / Blue Letter Bible, Commentary/Study

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