The Character of Love
Last week I started a series based on 1 Corinthians 13, and we began to consider what
Paul said was "the most excellent way" to live. And that "most excellent way" is the way
In those first few verses Paul said that love is more important than spiritual gifts, or
knowledge, or faith, or generosity, or even a willingness to die for Christ. For even if we
had all that, but did not have love, they would be as useless and empty as beating a gong
outside a pagan temple.
In vs. 4, Paul tells us that love is patient, love has a long fuse, love is slow to boil, love
counts down before it blasts off. Then he tells us that "love is kind." And that is what I
want us to consider this evening. Paul ends chapter 12 by saying: And now I will show
you the most excellent way.
No matter how gifted you are – no matter how successful in ministry – no matter how
close to God – there is one over riding principal that should guide everything we do.
Otherwise everything you do for the Lord is a waste of time.
That over riding principle, of course is love. 1st Corinthians 13 is one of the most famous
passages of Scripture. It’s quoted at weddings routinely. So much so that sometimes it
begins to sound like the corny phrases of a Hallmark card. “What the world needs now is
love sweet love” as if just saying the word “love” is all that’s needed.
This chapter is far more than that – it is far more challenging than we may have
So now let’s look at the character of this love Paul speaks of.
Paul defines for us what agape means. He does it in terms of “what it is” and “what it is
not”. There are 8 things it does, 8 things it does not do.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is
not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always
trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)
The 8 things love is: Patient, Kind, Rejoices in Truth, Protects, Trusts, Hopes, Perseveres,
The 8 things love is not: Envy, Boasting, Pride, Rudeness, Self Seeking, Anger, Holding
Grudges, Delighting in Evil.
You could form these around four basic concepts:
How you deal with others (patient, kind, protects, vs. rude, angry, grudges)
How you deal with life (patient, hopes, trusts, perseveres, never fails)
Your relationship to yourself (never fails, patient, kind, vs. envy, pride, self seeking,
Your relationship to God (hopes, perseveres, rejoices in truth, vs. pride, self seeking,
delight in evil)
Let’s look at these one at a time:
Patient - This comes from two Greek words: “long” and “tempered”. Vine’s expository
dictionary says patience is “self restraint in the face of aggravation … the opposite of
Do you have a short fuse? Do you get easily frustrated when things don’t go your way or
don’t happen fast enough? Do you retaliate easily and quickly against those that hurt
you? That’s the opposite of patient.
Patience means you wait out trouble and you don’t strike out against adversity. I like how
Peter describes later in:
1 Peter 5:6 - Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may
lift you up in due time.
You wait under God’s hand – you don’t run from trouble or run from God. Certainly God
is patient with us, isn’t He? That’s love.
Kind - The Greek word for “kind” means “to show oneself useful.” Taking patience one
step further – not only are you long tempered against trouble, but you actually reach out
with a benefit to someone else. It comes from a root word that means “employed.”
It reminds me of something Paul emphasizes over and over in this letter:
1 Corinthians 10:33 For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that
they may be saved.
Most of the time we think “what’s in it for me.” But kindness thinks, what can I do to
benefit you? That’s love.
Paul next strings 8 negatives together. Often we learn by contrast – we see what love is
by carving away what it is not – and when we find ourselves acting in these ways we
know we are not acting in love.
Envy - It comes from the word “to boil.” It’s kind of the bolstered idea of “what’s in it for
me,” in the sense of “it’s all about me.” When we become so self focused that anything
anyone else has, that we don’t have, makes our blood boil, and is the opposite of wanting
to benefit another. Envy is when we only want to benefit ourselves at the expense of
Boasting - Boasting is really a consequence of envy – “if you’ve got it flaunt it – even if
you don’t have it, pretend like you do.” The Greek word has the subtext of “play the
braggart.” Often times boasting is playing a part – something we are not but want to be or
think we are.
Proud - This is the same word Paul uses in chapter 8 – “knowledge puffs up.” It means
to inflate – like a bag of hot air – no substance but a lot of fluff. It’s increasing your sense
of self importance well beyond your hat size.
Rude - The word here is “unshapely.” You could say “not pretty to look at.” Do people
have a hard time being around you because you do things that are unpredictable or
embarrassing or unbecoming? That’s rudeness.
Self Seeking - This could be rendered “worship yourself.”
Not Easily Angered - It means to “exasperate.” The Greek word is the opposite of
Keeps no record of wrongs - The suggestion from the original here is thinking poorly of
someone else – or really pondering and dwelling on someone else as evil. The old story
goes that Santa Claus keeps a list of who is naughty and who is nice. Sometimes we keep
those lists too don’t we? How quick are you to forgive?
Does not delight in evil - It means to be happy when an injustice or wrong occurs. In a
sense this is the ultimate form of “anti-love.” We want, we get, we hurt others to get it –
and we’re happy that we stomped over them to get what we really deserve in the first
The thing that all these negatives have in common is that they all focus on us – what we
want, who we are, how bad everyone is in comparison to us, what bad things people are
always trying to do us – me me me! This is the opposite of love.
Rejoices in the truth - This is interesting because the word “rejoice” is a compound word.
Part of it is the same word used in “delight in evil.” When put together with the other
word it means “to sympathize with gladness.” When you delight in evil you are holding
yourself apart from the other person – glad they are suffering and you aren’t. Rejoicing in
the truth means you are drawing close to someone as they come to know the truth of God
and about sin, come to know the love of God, or have something good happen to them.
It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres - This is really neat –
these four words form a related pattern. “protects” means to “roof over,” “trusts” means
to “put your faith in” something, “hopes” means “to confide in” and “preserves” means
“to stay under.” These are all things God does for us – and things we should do for others
– throwing a protective blanket, physically, emotionally – over someone else; being
willing to put our faith in someone else – be real, confide in them – know that God will
work good in their lives – then stick it out with them to see the love of God change their
You see all this business of love isn’t some magical, rose-colored-glasses kind of
“feeling.” It’s actually very specific: love and trust God no matter what, seek the best for
and the best in those around you – then help benefit their lives as they draw closer to
God. That’s love!