Characteristics of Love

by Spiros Zodhiates

The Nature of Love-Part 1 of 8

The Nature of Love-Part 1 of 8

"Charity [love] suffereth long, and is kind . . ." (1 Cor. 13:4)

Editor's note: In this new series, Dr. Zodhiates elaborates on the Apostle Paul's magnificent description of the supreme Christian evidence-love.

The apostle, having shown (in vv. 1-3) the moral worthlessness and unproductiveness of the [hypothetical] Christian who has many supernatural gifts and performs seemingly heroic acts without love, now depicts in rapturous praise the character that consists of just this one indispensable virtue. Never have such compressed and yet comprehensively descriptive words been written about what we would call an abstract quality of life.

Every one of the moral excellences that he enumerates tells of its powerful influence, for they are no mere abstractions but are based on concrete experience, and are purposefully but discreetly aimed at the special faults exhibited by the Corinthians. And just as Paul personifies Sin, Death, and the Law in his epistle to the Romans, so here in the book of 1 Corinthians he personifies Love.

We have fourteen descriptive statements in pairs. The first pair of characteristics is positive: "Love suffereth long, and is kind." These are followed by four pairs of negative characteristics, the last member being stated both negatively and positively (1 Cor.13:6):

"Love envieth not; love vaunteth not itself.

Love is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly.

Love seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked.

Love thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth."

And then we have two more pairs of positive characteristics (v. 7):

"Love beareth all things, believeth all things,

Love hopeth all things, endureth all things."

Let us heed Saint Chrysostom's admonition regarding these words: "Do not run past this description, beloved, but examine each point of it with care, that you may discern both the richness of the subject and the great artist's skill."

"Love suffereth long, and is kind." This is the first characteristic of love. And the last one in this description of love is like unto it: "Love endureth all things."

When we remember that "God is love," we see that Paul does well to begin with that which is a special attribute of God Himself-an attribute which the Lord emphatically announced to Moses on Mount Sinai, when He called Himself "The Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth." The Law, the prophets, the psalms, and the epistles of Peter and Paul re-echo the gracious assurance that our God is "slow to anger, plenteous in mercy, and of great kindness." So, in God's children, who have appropriated His love, their likeness to Him will be seen in a love that is not quick to take offense, much less to seek revenge; that bears patiently with the wrongdoer, not rendering evil, but striving to overcome evil with good; being kind and gentle and forgiving, not only in thought, but in word and in deed.

Paul was concerned not only with the way that the noisy and boastful ones among the Corinthian believers were behaving, but also with how their quiet and staid fellow worshipers should behave toward them. To apply one rule of Christian behavior for the imperfect and the perfect (if such there be), he says, "Love suffereth long and is kind."

It is quite possible for us to be strong in theology, earnest in rebuke and exhortation, gifted in spiritual discernment, zealous for the truth, generous in support of the gospel, and unusually strong in faith, yet have it all count for nothing, because we lack the spirit of love. We may be richly gifted, yet censorious toward other Christians who seem to us to lack in consecration, or who fail to understand the truth as we do. We may be unkindly severe in our criticism of the dress or manner of worship of those who do not agree with us in these matters. And this unloving spirit can spoil all our other graces.

Remember, more people have been attracted to Christianity by a believer's kindness than through zeal, eloquence, or learning.

From To Love Is to Live, an exegetical commentary on 1 Corinthians 13, © 1967, revised 1998.
Available from AMG Publishers.