There is something missing in the church today. There is something missing in many Christians of our day. The church and its people have left their first love (Revelation 2:4). The church is preoccupied with numerous things to do: programs, strategies, techniques, events, even “ministry.” But it has left something out. The church today is like the Corinthian church of the New Testament that was blessed with an abundance of spiritual gifts but nevertheless was deficient in the more excellent way of love. We need to get back to the love of the Lord. The best place to get back on the track of God’s love is in His word. The best place to do that in the word of God is in 1 Corinthians 13.
The Context of the More Excellent Way
1 Corinthians - 31 But earnestly desire the best gifts. And yet I show you a more excellent way.
We need to remember that the context of 1 Corinthians 13 is the orderly use of spiritual gifts. That is the particular emphasis Paul is aiming at by inserting this chapter on love. We have to keep that particular context in sight at all times to do justice to and rightly interpret this passage. There are broader applications though once we consider love as the means to use spiritual gifts.
Paul wrote to the Corinthians as born again Christians (1:1-9) who had a number of problems. These problems can be summarized as follows. They were divisive and, contentious (1:10-13). They were carnal or living the Christian life like mere unsaved people (2-3). They turned a blind eye to immorality (5:1-13). There was a general selfishness toward fellow believers (6; 8; 11). The solution to the Corinthians problem from the start was the cross of Christ (1:14-25).
It is the cross of Christ that contains the powerful wisdom of God, gives credibility to the lowly and makes foolish the presumptuously wise of this world (1:26-2:16). It is the cross of Christ that is the solution to the carnal problems of the Corinthians (3:1-23). Paul exemplified the alternative cross of Christ life (4:1-21; 9:1-27). It is the cross of Christ that gives authority to church leaders (5:1-13). It is the cross of Christ that calls all Christians to leave their carnal self-service and sacrifice for their fellow Christians (6:1-20). It is the cross of Christ that is practically applied to marriage relationships (7:1-40). It is the cross of Christ that gives us the true spiritual godly perspective toward those around us (8:1-13). And it is the cross of Christ that calls every believer to learn from the past dealings of God with His people and focus on His only Son Jesus and the cross (10:1-11:34).
The Corinthians were a tremendously spiritually gifted church, but even their service and use of gifts was carnal, selfish (12:1-31). Now, in the middle of Paul’s teaching on spiritual gifts, he comes to the crux of the cross. The crux of the cross is love. Without God’s love as the motivating factor permeating, empowering, and overflowing in any activity, without such love, actions and everything is worthless. Love is the more excellent way.
The phrase “more excellent” is a translation of a single Greek term, huperbole (ὑπερβολή hupĕrbŏlē, hoop-er-bol-ay´) which literally means, “a throwing beyond others, . . . supereminence; . . . pre-eminently, . . . abundance, (far more) exceeding, excellency, more excellent, beyond (out of) measure.”
The word “way” comes from the Greek term hodos (ὁδός hŏdŏs, hod-os´) meaning, “a road” but by implication refers to, “a progress (the route, act or distance); figuratively a mode or means; . . . journey, (high-) way.” There is a way of life or a way of doing things that far exceeds any other alternative. What is this “more excellent way”? It is the way of love.
The Indispensable Profitable Worthwhile Way of Love
1 Corinthians 13: 1-3 – “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. 2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.”
Jesus said His disciples would be known by the love they show for one another (John -35). The nature of this love Jesus spoke about is described in this chapter as Paul is inspired by God to write down some of the most beautiful words anyone has ever written. What do we learn from Paul’s description here of the more excellent way of love?
First, the way of love is indispensable to the use of spiritual gifts. Three times Paul uses the phrase, “but have not love” (13:1,2,3) in regards to the use of spiritual gifts to express how love is the indispensable ingredient to spiritual gifts being used effectively. The loveless use of spiritual gifts short-circuits their effectiveness making tongues sound like a clanging cymbal and prophesy, knowledge and faith amount to nothing. Spiritual gifts without love are nothing!
Second, the way of love is the only profitable way to use spiritual gifts. Paul uses the spiritual gifts of tongues, knowledge, prophecy, and faith as examples and states that such gifts used without love, “profits me nothing. “ (13:3). If we try to use spiritual gifts apart from using them in a loving way, they won’t help us, they’ll profit us nothing. Spiritual gifts used without love won’t get the job done. Like a power tool that is not plugged in, spiritual gifts without love are more a burden than a help. Spiritual gifts used without love won’t lead to a deposit in our heavenly bank account (Matthew 6:16-23). Spiritual gifts without love are profitless!
Third, the way of love determines worth. Paul says without love, “I am nothing” (13:2). We can gauge our Christian walk by our love (John ). A loveless Christian is an oxymoron. The Christian is called to live a life of total love to God and people; Jesus said these were the two greatest commandments (Matthew -39). Our relationship with God is determined by our love for Jesus (John ). Love is the identifying mark of the disciple of Jesus (John 13:34-35). Therefore, the point made here is that we can be tremendously gifted able to “understand mysteries and all knowledge” and even “remove mountains” but without love, “I am nothing” (13:2). I can act in very self-sacrificing ways such as giving “all my goods to feed the poor” or even give myself to die in flames of persecution, but without love, “it profits me nothing” (13:3).
Love determines the eternal worth of our actions and works. If what we do is not motivated by love and done with the love of the Lord, it becomes worthless. Love must be the driving compelling force behind all that we do (2 Corinthians -16). That done to promote self or impress others is worthless because it is devoid of love. That was the Corinthian’s problem. They were able to do great things, but it was devoid of love. They had many spiritual gifts, but they were using them to make a spectacle or please people, perhaps entertain people. The purpose of spiritual gifts is to profit others in the body of Christ (12:7), to build them up (14:3, 5, 12, 17, 26). Knowing about spiritual gifting is not sufficient. Gifts must be used in love because love edifies (8:1). Spiritual gifts without love are worthless!
The More Excellent Way of Love
1 Corinthians 13:4-7 - 4 Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; 5 does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; 6 does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; 7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
What is love? That is one of the greatest questions. And the answer is given in these verses. Let’s examine these verses.
The term “love” is translated from the Greek term agape (ἀγάπη agapē, ag-ah´-pay) which means, “love, i.e. affection or benevolence.” This is a word used to refer to the “love feast” of the early church and is often translated, “charity ([-ably]), dear, love.” A fuller meaning of the term love is found by looking at the fifteen words and behaviors used by Paul to describe it in these verses.
First, love suffers long (13:4a). “Suffers long” comes from the Greek term makrothumeo (μακροθυμέω makrŏthumĕō, mak-roth-oo-meh´-o) which means, “to be long-spirited, forbearing or patient; bear (suffer) long, be longsuffering, have (long) patience, be patient, patiently endure.” Love has staying power. Love keeps at its objective even though suffering and difficulty may be involved. Love is like the Father waiting for the prodigal to return home (Luke -32). Love keeps applying the spiritual gift to God-ordained tasks even though progress is slow and painful at times. Paul is a good example of this because his compelling love in ministry moved and motivated him to continue on in the face of constant adversity (2 Corinthians 6:2-10).
Second, love is kind (13:4b). The word “kind” comes from the Greek term chresteuomai (χρηστευομαι chrēstĕuŏmai, khraste-yoo´-om-ahee) which means, “to show oneself useful, i.e. act benevolently; be kind.” Love is an action. A loving person does not sit by and feel sorry for themselves or others. A loving person takes loving action to help and act benevolently toward those around them. God demonstrated His love toward us in that while we were sinners He sent Jesus to die for us and redeem us (Romans 5:8). We ought to do the same in His love (Proverbs ; Luke ; Romans ; Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:12-13).
Third, love does not envy (13:4c). Envy is to covet what another person has (ζηλόω zēlŏō, dzay-lŏ´-o or ζηλεύω zēlĕuō dzay-loo´-o). It means to have warmth of feeling for or against; affect, covet (earnestly), (have) desire, (move with) envy, be jealous over, (be) zealous (-ly affect).”) Instead of envying or being jealous over what others have, a loving person will rejoice and be glad for the blessings of God bestowed on others. The problem with the carnal Corinthians was to a great extent linked to envy and jealousy (1 Corinthians 3:3). Envy is a trait of the sinful fleshly nature (Galatians ). The absence of envy in the description of love here gives us insight into the temperament of love. Love is not self-centered. Love does not see everything and everyone in terms of what “I” have or do not have. Love is pleased when others are blessed and happy. Love doesn’t get caught up in keeping up with the Joneses. Love is the fruitful produce of the Holy Spirit working in a person (Galatians ).
Fourth, love does not parade itself (13:4d). The idea of the phrase, “parade itself” (περπερεύομαι pĕrpĕrĕuŏmai, per-per-yoo´-om-ahee – “braggart; to boast; vaunt itself”) is to make yourself the center of attention. Love is not proud. The person who parades themselves wants the spotlight on them. The loving person is a good listener who does not feel they have to be the center of attention in a group. The unloving person is the one who has to control a situation so that they are the center of attention. We should not use spiritual gifts in a way to bring attention on us. Instead we should be transparent so all eyes are fixed on Jesus (Hebrews 12:1-2). Pride leads to a host of problems in life and therefore pride should be overcome by way of God’s love (Proverbs ; ).
Fifth, love is not puffed up (13:4e). There is an expression used that fits the person that is puffed up; it is to be filled with hot air. The phrase “puffed up” comes from the Greek term phusioo (φυσιόω phusiŏō, foo-see-ŏ´-o) which means literally, “blowing; to inflate.” In a figurative sense it means, “make proud (haughty); puff up.” Love isn’t filled with hot air, but it is discreet, humble and genuine. The loveless person puffed up with hot air is the person who is likened to a blow up doll filled with air with no real substance. The puffed up person is the person who presents themselves as something more than they actually are. A religious orientation that focused on externals rather than the inner realities of God in a heart, lends itself to this puffed up trait (Colossians ). Jesus spoke at great length denouncing hypocritical religious leaders of His day who washed the outside of the cup but left their inner cup filthy with sin (Matthew ). Love leads us to be genuine and real before God and people (Romans 12:9).
Sixth, love does not behave rudely (13:5a). The loving person is a polite person who respects others and does not march around uncaringly like a bull in a china shop. (ἀσχημονέω aschēmŏnĕō, as-kay-mon-eh´-o; from 809; to be (i.e. act) unbecoming; behave self uncomely (unseemly).” Love esteems others as better than themselves (Philippians 2:3).
Seventh, love does not seek its own (13:5b). The loving person is not out for themselves. The loving person seeks the best for others. Again we see how love is diametrically opposed to carnality which is rooted in serving self. Jesus sacrificed for sinners that they might be blessed with the opportunity to be saved from their sin and experience an abundant life (2 Corinthians -21; 8:9).
Eighth, love is not provoked (13:5c). “Provoked” comes from the Greek term paroxuno (παροξύνω parŏxunō, par-ox-oo´-no) which means, “to sharpen alongside.” It means to always be on edge looking for a fight with anyone and everyone who might tread on their turf or rights. Remember a loving person is “long suffering” and therefore is not easily provoked but easy going and able to laugh off or not take offense easily at offenses. The loving person overcomes evil and their enemies with love (Luke ; Romans ).
Ninth, love thinks no evil (13:5d). “Evil” (κακός kakŏs, kak-os´; “worthless; depraved, injurious; bad, evil, harm, ill, noisome, wicked”) is not on the mind of the loving person. A loving person does not look at those around them with a look that is accusatory of evil. A loving person does not see evil in every action of others or think the worst of people. Love thinks on holy things (Philippians 4:8-9).
Tenth, love does not rejoice in iniquity (13:6a). Love is not happy when injustices occur, even to their enemies. “Iniquity” (ἀδικία adikia, ad-ee-kee´-ah) refers to “injustice; wrongfulness (of character, life or act); iniquity, unjust, unrighteousness, wrong.” A loving person is sad about any injustice that occurs; even when it happens to an enemy (Proverbs 24:17; Matthew ). Fools overlook sin but the one who loves takes its consequences seriously (Proverbs 14:9).
Eleventh, love rejoices in the truth (13:6b). Love rejoices when the truth comes out (“truth” – ἀλήθεια alēthĕia, al-ay´-thi-a;” truth; true, × truly, truth, verity”). They do not rejoice in an evil way when the truth comes out. You don’t hear the loving person quip, “They got theirs.” No, love rejoices when the truth of justice bears out, when sinners come to repentance and faith in Christ (2 Corinthians 7:9-16).
Twelfth, love bears all things (13:7a). To bear all things means to cover with silence (στέγω stĕgō, steg´-o). It means to roof over, to cover with silence (endure patiently); (for-) bear, suffer.” The idea is very similar to Peter’s statement when he was inspired to write about having a fervent love for one another that covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8). In other words the loving person is not looking to dig up offenses to use as ammunition against people (Proverbs ; 17:9). Like Jesus, a loving person is willing to suffer in silence when wronged (Matthew 26:62-63; Acts 8:32; 1 Peter 2:21-25). A loving person is willing to bear weaker brethren (Romans 15:1; Galatians 6:2). Jesus bears us; we should bear with others.
Thirteenth, love believes all things (13:7b). This doesn’t mean that love is stupid or gullible. It means that love is willing to give people the benefit of the doubt. It means that the person who loves, loves God so much they are willing to entrust in faith all things to Him. The word “believes” (πιστεύω pistĕuō, pist-yoo´-o) means to have faith (in, upon, or with respect to, a person or thing), to entrust - especially one’s spiritual well-being to Christ; believe (-r), commit (to trust), put in trust with.” The loving person believes God and His word (Psalm 119:66).
Fourteenth, love hopes all things (13:7c). Love looks to the promise of God to make things right in the end. Love looks to the future with a faith and assurance that God will do right in the end and His will is sure to be accomplished to His glory. Hope is faith in God for the future based on God and His word (Romans 15:4, 13) “Hope” ( ἐλπίζω ĕlpizō, el-pid´-zo) means to expect or confide; (have, thing) hope (-d) (for), trust.
Fifteenth, love endures all things (13:7d). To “endure” (ὑπομένω hupŏmĕnō, hoop-om-en´-o) means, “to stay under (behind), i.e. remain; to undergo, bear (trials), have fortitude, persevere; abide, endure, (take) patient (-ly), suffer, tarry behind.” Love just doesn’t give up. Love stays and continues under the hand of God no matter what. Love abides in Jesus (John 15). Love finishes well (2 Timothy ).
What is love? An unknown writer put it this way:
What is love? It is silence--when your words would hurt. It is patience--when your neighbor's curt. It is deafness--when a scandal flows. It is thoughtfulness--for other's woes. It is promptness--when stern duty calls. It is courage--when misfortune falls.
This is a very full definition and description of love. But we miss the substance of this description of the more excellent way of love if we fail to realize that this is a picture of Jesus. If we insert the name of Jesus in the place of the word love in these verses, we have a beautiful picture of Jesus. What happens if we try and insert our names in the place of love in this passage? Your answer to that question will go a long way in determining your love and spiritual maturity.
In part two of this study we will look more at how this inspired call to love of Paul can be applied to our lives. Now that we have defined this love we will look at Christian Perfection and what the Bible calls perfect love. Are there such things and how can we experience them? Stay tuned and pray up my brethren. God bless you all.