The Elements of Love
by Dennis Davidson
1 Corinthians 13:4-6
Perhaps you’ve seen this Peanuts cartoon: Linus announces to his cranky sister, Lucy, that he’s going to be a doctor. “You, a doctor?” She asks. “How can you be a doctor? You don’t love mankind.” Linus replies, “I do too love mankind. It’s people I can’t stand.”
Aren’t we all tempted to love that way, in the abstract. It takes much less commitment. It is much less costly.
Love though is not an abstract concept but a living reality. So after contrasting the indispensable virtue of love with words, spiritual gifts and sacrificial deeds, the Bible compresses in four very short verses an amazing descriptive analysis of what this supreme gift is. In our look at love we will find that it is made up of many elements. You may have seen a scientist take a ray of light and pass it through a crystal prism and seen it come out on the other side broken up into its component colors; orange, indigo, violet, yellow, red, blue and green -the colors of the rainbow (colors of the light spectrum).
In the same way God takes love and passes it through Paul’s inspired intellect and it comes out broken down into its elements [fourteen descriptive statements listed in pairs]. In these few words we have what one might call The Spectrum of The Eternal Gift of Love ( or the analysis of love). Will you observe what its elements are? Will you grasp their common names and practice their virtues that make up the supreme gift of love? All of love’s 15  virtuous actions relate to persons and to life. They are concerned primarily with the here and now of daily life.
We hear a great deal about God’s love for man and even man’s love for God but Christ also spoke about man’s love for man. Christianity is not a separate or an added component to life, but the inspiration of every day life, the breathing of the eternal into this temporal world. Love is not simply a component of life but love is an intent, a purpose, that causes thoughts, words and acts of everyday life. This intent to love was the need of the Corinthians, and this is still our need today.
So that we are all diving for pearls at the same depth perhaps we should distinguish the term love used in our text from other terms. The word used here is agape, not eros which denotes physical love or philos which denotes friendship love, but agape, love that originates with and comes from God Himself which sanctifies all other types of love. Agape love is Christian love. So that we understand this distinction the Apostle uses the definite article with agape.
I. REAL LOVE’S BEGINNING, 13:4.
II. REAL LOVE’S CONSTRAINS, 13:4b-6a.
This hymn of love in 1 Corinthians 13 describes how love is demonstrated in specific actions. The first two pair of descriptive characteristics are positive. Next we will look at the four pairs given in the negative that follow. The first characteristic of agape love is given in verse 4.
“The Love is Patient (long-suffering ).”
The word used for patience here is makrothumeo which is made up of two words, makros-meaning “long” and thumos meaning “passion, anger, rage.” The word literally means long tempered or that the temper is a long time in rising. Thus the word denotes a long waiting time during which the waiter refuses to give into anger. It is the quality of self-restraint in the face of provocation that does not hastily retaliate or promptly punish. It’s the quality of having a long fuse.
It could be looked at as love passive. Love waiting for opportunity to begin. Love not in a hurry, calm ready to do its work when opportunity arises.
Our first color in love’s spectrum is that it agape love is slow to arouse resentment and patiently endures provocation waiting for an opening to do its good work.
Robert Ingersoll, the well-known atheist of the last century, often would stop in the middle of his lectures against God and say, “I’ll give God five minutes to strike me dead for the things I’ve said.” He then used the fact that he was not struck dead as proof that God did not exist. Theodore Parker said of Ingersoll’s claim, “and did the gentleman think he could exhaust the patience of the Eternal God in five minutes?”
God’s children who have appropriated His love will not quickly take offense, much less seek revenge. They will bear patiently with the wrongdoer, not rendering evil for evil, but striving to overcome evil with good, not only in thought but in word and deed.
One of ABRAHAM LINCOLN’S earliest political enemies was Edwin M. Stanton. He called Lincoln a “low cunning clown” and “the original gorilla.” “It was ridiculous for people to go to Africa to see a gorilla,” he would say, “when they could find one easily in Springfield, Illinois.” Lincoln never responded to the slander, but when, as president, he needed a secretary of war, he chose Stanton. When his incredulous friends asked why?, Lincoln replied, “Because he is the best man.” Years later, as the slain president’s body lay in state, Stanton looked into the coffin and said through his tears, “There lies the greatest ruler of men the world has ever seen.” Stanton’s animosity was finally broken by Lincoln’s long-suffering, non-retaliatory spirit. Patient love won out.
Which brings us to our next ingredient of love in verse 4. “The Love is Kind.” Some people say that love is blind. It isn’t blind, but it is kind. It sees people’s imperfections and still cares. Love is not unkindly sever in its criticisms or disagreeable in its actions.
The verb chrestemeuetai noun form is chrestos meaning “useful, gracious, kind,” which comes from chraomai meaning “to use.” This is love active and means more than considerate in behavior. It indicates one enabled to make oneself useful. It is the victory over idle selfishness and comfortable self pleasure.
Have you ever noticed how much of Christ’s life was spent doing kind things? He spent a great portion of His life simply helping people. A great demonstration of love you can do for our heavenly Father is to be kind to His other children. How much our brethren need our kindness. How much our neighbors need our kindness. Kindness, not harshness, is more apt to encourage good in another person.
This verb denotes the disposition to put oneself at the service of others. Passive love is patient, is slow to resent affronts. Active love, or kindness, is disposed to do good.
Love must be specific. A person who loves is one who is patient and kind with an elderly grandmother, a cranky neighbor, an insensitive boss, and off-key choir member, a troublesome daughter, or someone who is mean to him. It is to specific people in our lives that we must be patient and kind. If we keep love in the abstract we will insulate ourselves from its sacrifices and actions. How about you? Is your love abstract or concrete? Love without appropriate actions is not love. Love acts in a way that is kind, gracious, useful and beneficial. Love is demonstrated in specific acts.
An article appeared in the newspaper about a young boy who went to the lingerie department of a store to purchase a gift for his mother. Bashfully he whispered to the clerk that he wanted to buy a slip for his mom, but he didn’t know her size.
The woman explained that it would help is he could describe her-was she thin, fat, short, tall, or what? “Well,” replied the youngster, “she’s just about perfect.” So the clerk sent him home with a medium size.
The article reported that a few days later the mother came to the store to exchange the gift. It was too small. She needed a considerably larger size. The little fellow had seen her through the eyes of love, which always look beyond external appearances.
The kindness of love won’t focus on faults or shortcomings. This doesn’t mean that it is blind to people’s weaknesses and sins. But it sees beyond them, accepting people as they are, looking at their best qualities, and wanting what’s best for them.
We need to examine our response to others in the light of love. If negative attitudes quickly surface, if glaring character defects always loom up before us, let’s ask God to help us see others through eyes of love. Love sees faults through a telescope, not a microscope. Remember, more people have been attracted to Christianity by a believer’s kindness that through zeal, eloquence or learning combined.
II. LOVE’S CONSTRAINS 13: 4b-6a.
Love is like a two sided coin. There are some things it is, positives, and some things it is not, negatives. So here follow eight negative qualities that stifle love. Where these are love cannot be. They are enemies of love. The first four deal with the abuse of the gift of love.
(The Love ) is not envious (jealous).
This is the word zeloo from zeo to boil. The word is used to express any wrong feeling when viewing the good of others. Envy or jealousy is a feeling of ill will or begrudging because of the supposed advantages of others.
Love is not in competition with others. When you attempt a good work there will be others doing it better. Do not be jealous or envious of them but grateful for them. eg. Adrian Rodgers’ preaching.
Beware of envy. Eve was envious of God, wanting to know what He knew and satan seduced her. Cain’s envy of Abel’s acceptable worship hatched the murder of his brother. Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery because of envy. Daniel was thrown into the lion’s den because of the jealousy of his fellow officials in Babylon. Real love does not resent the blessings, successes, or well-being of another.
Love is generous and we need to fortify ourselves with great magnanimity and be content with what we are, with what we have and where we are at, doing our best for the Master.
“Does not boast.”
Perpereuetai comes from perperos meaning “vain glory, braggart.” In Greek literature it is used of a talkative, self asserting or self exaggerating persons who put on a show or an outward display. One who sounds his own praises. Love is humble. It puts a seal upon the lips and lets one forget all his accomplishments.
Good communication is essential for a loving marriage. Poet Ogden Nash seems to have hit on a formula to help us remember how to communicate effectively. Nash, in his witty style, wrote:
If you want your marriage to sizzle
With love in the loving cup,
Whenever you’re wrong, admit it;
Whenever you’re right, shut up!
We need to put a seal on our lips and forget what we have done. Our self-esteem needs to come from Jesus’ love for us. A love so amazing that He died for us and has forgiven us and now calls us brethren.
When the Florida Marlins baseball team won their first trip to the WORLD SERIES, the press began to shower praise on manager Jim Leyland. When congratulated on winning his first National League Pennant, Leyland responded, “I didn’t win anything. I didn’t throw a pitch, or make a play, or score a run. The players won this-not me.” What a great attitude of humility! Few things are more noticeable to a watching world than those who are gracious not only in defeat but also in victory.
In other words, Love is humble. A humble person does his deeds of love in the name of Jesus for His heavenly Father and not for the eyes of ears of men.
“Nor becomes arrogant.”
The word phusioutai is from phusa-bellows. It means to be puffed out, full of oneself like air puffs out a pair of bellows. The previous word, boast, denotes outward display, this word, arrogant, the inward disposition. It speaks of conceit and presumptuous self-satisfaction.
The arrogant man boasts or toots his own horn and sees others as inferior. The man of love on the other hand is modest and humble, modest because he is humble. The arrogance that makes unwilling to receive the help of others also makes us insensitive to those who need us.
WILLIAM CAREY, who is often referred to as the father of modern missions, illustrates the kind of love that is not puffed up. He was a brilliant linguist and was responsible for translating parts of the Bible into at least 34 different languages and dialects. Yet his accomplishments grew out of humble beginnings that remained in his heart. He was raised in a simple home in England and worked as a cobbler in his early years. When his efforts for the gospel led him to India, he was often ridiculed for his “low” birth and former occupation. At a dinner party one evening another guest, seeking to call attention to Carey’s humble beginnings, said, “Mr. Carey, I understand that you once worked as a shoemaker.” “Oh no, your lordship, “Carey replied, “I was not a shoemaker, only a shoe repairman.”
By contrast, puffed-up people, full of themselves and having an exaggerated opinion of their own importance, are likely to assume that their happiness, well-being, opinions, and feelings are the only things that really count. Puffed-up people find it easy to dismiss the needs and feelings of others.
The first place we might look to see if we have a puffed-up sense of our own importance is in our prayers. Do we pray only for ourselves and our own interests, or do we also pray for the children, spouses, and concerns of others?
If we are wrong we need to admit it. Not only in marriage, but all relationships benefit from this kind of honesty (Prov. 12:22). Protecting ourselves when we’re wrong makes resolution impossible.
On the other hand, we can be equally hard to live with if we insist that we’re always right-and if we’re afraid to let our spouse know that we are fallible. No one likes to be around someone who always seems to be patting himself on the back.
Two simple guidelines for a marriage that pleases God: admit wrong and keep quiet about being right. It’s a good way to keep the relationship strong.
Button up your lip securely
Against the words that bring a tear,
But be swift with words of comfort,
Words of praise, and words of cheer.
In verse 5 we find the sixth characteristic of the love. does not behave unbecomingly (rudely).
Aschemoneo from schea, “behavior,” and meno, “remain,” literally the word means “un-remainable or unabidable behavior.” Not having the conduct that creates the desire that the person would remain (abide).
Those that behave themselves honorably during any situation with any strata of society, be it in the mansion or in the ghetto, can do so because of agape love. When behavior is disgraceful or dishonorable know that agape love is not there. And if love is not there, God is not abiding there, for God is love. See 1 John 4: 7& 8.
The secret of politeness, courteousness and respectfulness is love. Love controlled behavior does nothing of which one ought to be ashamed. Real love will never ask others to prove their love by doing something that is wrong. Real love will never prompt an unmarried person to say “if you love me you’ll prove it by giving yourself to me.” Those who love will never ask others to prove their love by doing something that is wrong. Those who love will never ask others to prove their loyalty by lying, cheating, or stealing for them.
The next four negatives deal with the Christian life in general. Love…
Does not seek its own.
A tombstone in a small English village reads,
Here lies a miser who lived for himself,
And cared for nothing but gathering wealth.
Now where he is or how he fares,
Nobody knows and nobody cares.
In contrast, a plain tombstone in the courtyard at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London reads, “Sacred is the memory of General Charles George Gordon, who at all times and everywhere gave his strength to the weak, his substance to the poor, his sympathy to the suffering, his heart to God.”
The love is not selfish. The love is not manipulative, it is not used to get ones own way. In agape love there is no “I’ll love you if…” [Jesus said in John 15:10 “If you keep my commandments you will abide in my love,” meaning God will love you regardless but if you want to experience the abiding presence of Him who is love you must keep His commandments.]
Our society confuses love with lust. Unlike lust God’s kind of love is directed outward toward others, not inward toward our selves. It is utterly unselfish. The heart that is so consumed with its own interests cannot show concern for the needs and interests of others. Agape love goes against our natural inclinations to put self first. It is possible to practice this love only if God helps us set aside our own desires and instincts, so that we can give love while expecting nothing in return. Thus the more we become like Christ, the more love we will show to others.
The goal of a person that loves will not be to seek things for himself. Christ taught that the highest happiness is in giving, not getting. Love means not enjoying pleasures which would cause your weaker brother to stumble, even though you think you have a right to. Real love will look beyond its own interests and embrace the concerns of others.
The love is unselfish. A supreme regard to our own happiness is inconsistent with love. Love has a spirit of liberality. So go, give some thing valuable to you away.
The next ingredient in the spectrum of love is: Nor becomes provoked.
Paroxuno can mean “exasperated, irritated, touchy, sharpness of spirit, aroused to resentment.” Real love is not easily driven to irritation or sharpness of spirit.
We look upon a bad temper as a minor weakness, but it is not. A quick temper or touchy disposition is often the one blot on an otherwise noble character.
The sin of the otherwise noble elder brother of the prodigal son in Luke 15:28 was that “he became angry.” How many prodigals are kept out of the Kingdom of God by the unloving character of those who profess to be inside?
An illustration within the book of Corinthians historical context would be in chapter four where there were dissensions and law suits among Christians. Love though is no so provoked.
The Great New England preacher and theologian Jonathan Edwards had a daughter with an uncontrollable temper. When a young man fell in love with her and asked her father for her hand in marriage, Dr. Edwards replied, “You can’t have her.” “But I love her and she loves me,” he protested. “It doesn’t matter,” the father insisted. Asked why, he said, “Because she is not worthy of you.” “But she is a Christian isn’t she?” “Yes,” said Edwards, “but the grace of God can live with some people with whom no one else could ever live.”
Love is seen in a good attitude or temperament. Chuck Swindoll wrote, “The most significant decision I make each day is my choice of an attitude. We my attitudes are right there’s no barrier to high, no valley too deep, no dream to large, not challenge to great for me.”
One day PRESIDENT THOMAS JEFFERSON and a group of companions were traveling across the country on horseback. They came to a river that had overflowed its banks because of a recent downpour. The river had washed away the bridge so each rider was forced to cross it on horseback, fight for his well-being against the currents. Though several riders were preparing to cross a traveler who was not part of their group asked if President Jefferson would carry him across. The President without hesitation agreed. So the man climbed on and the two of they made it safely to the other side. After the stranger had slid off the horse on to dry ground, on of Jefferson’s companions asked, “Why did you select the President?” The man was shocked and admitted he’d no idea that it was the President who’d helped him. “All I know,” He said, “is that on some of your faces was written doubt and no some was faith. His was a faith face. A good attitude has a faith face.
Our next phrase about the love is: Nor take account of (count up) the wrong (evil).
The word logiaomai is a bookkeeping term that means “to count up, to take account of,” as in a ledger or notebook. The thought is keeping score or the desire to settle the account.
Here is mentioned the need of suspicious people. A suspicious person has a negative effect on situations and people he is suspicious of and involved with. If you will think for a moment about the people who influenced you to change you will discover that they were people who believed in you. In an atmosphere of suspicion, men dry up but in a trusting atmosphere they expand and find encouragement. Love does not attribute evil motives or suspicions to others. That is conviction without evidence. Only God can judge the heart.
But this prohibition is not just against suspecting evil of one but it also concerns evil actually done to you by someone. We are to forgive for Christ has forgiven us. Real love will not hold bitter grudges or allow long standing resentments against others, even when the wrongs done against us are spiteful and hurt.
Those that are bringing up some past evil concerning themselves or someone else are out to destroy respect. When we refuse to think evil concerning someone we can respect them, and our respect for a person is the first step toward a person respecting themselves.
Love instead of entering evil as a debt in its accounting books voluntarily passes the eraser over what it endures. Love forgives and removes the record of accountability for the offense. We don’t need to keep record of wrongs to protect ourselves when we are confident that God is in control of the outcome, and when we know that He is looking after our needs.
(Verse 6) Nor rejoices at unrighteousness (injustice).
Unrighteousness (adikiai) means anything not conforming to the standard of the right which is God’s just standard. Unrighteousness denies the truth. All wrong behavior is rooted in a misbelief about reality. All immorality is rooted in a process of self-deception.
Love does not get its kicks out of unrighteousness. Too many Christians are entertained nightly by TV programs that elevate wickedness. Surely God is not well pleased with people who get their entertainment by watching people being beaten, stabbed, raped, yelled at and hated.
Love experiences no joy on seeing faults or falling into sin even of those who are of the opposing party. Love mourns at sin and injustice no matter whose it is. Love does not pass along a juicy morsel of someone else’s failures just because it tastes good to do so. Breaking the news of sin must be for the good of others rather than to promote a “feeding frenzy” around someone else’s embarrassment and pain.
Our society confuses love and lust. Unlike lust, God’s kind of love is directed outward toward others, not inward toward ourselves. It is utterly unselfish. This kind of love goes against our natural inclinations. It is possible to practice this love only if God helps us set aside our own desires and instincts, so that we can give love while expecting nothing in return. Thus the more we become like Christ, the more love we will show to others.
Would the text still read true if you replaced your name for the word love? This definition is God’s yardstick for measuring our progress in love, similar to the height marks we placed on the wall as our children were growing? Are you growing in agape love?