1 Corinthians 13:4-5a (Love is …)

spiritual gifts

(1Co 13:4-7 ESV) Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Now, let’s take a step back. This is not a chapter on weddings. Paul is not address marriage. He is discussing congregational life. This is how a Christian congregation is supposed to behave. This is what the world is supposed to see when they see a church.

If the church were to live 1 Cor 13, there’d be far less criticism of the institutional church and far less insistence on mission somehow separate from the church. For the church to be the church, the church must live agapē. It’s not complicated; it’s just not easy.

PS — The commentaries are often quite good on this passage, and I have little to add but to point to the words of others.

Patient

The word translated patient can simply mean “to remain tranquil while waiting,” but here the meaning is “to bear up under provocation without complaint, be patient, forbearing” (BDAG). That is, it is to be “patient in suffering.” As a divine attribute, patience “is especially characteristic of God, suggesting God’s forbearance of sinners.” Thiselton translates the first verb “waits patiently” in order to preserve the active verb idea of the Greek. He suggests love waits patiently “not only because it deals patiently with the loved one but also because it recognizes that the right timing plays a huge part in securing the welfare of the other.”

Roy E. Ciampa and Brian S. Rosner, The First Letter to the Corinthians (Pillar NTC; Accordance electronic ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010), 642.

Kind

The other side of this is that love is kind (chrēsteuomai). This is the only occurrence of the verb in the New Testament and it is not found before this. Some have felt that Paul coined it. The corresponding adjective may be translated ‘good’ (15:33), or ‘kind’ (Eph. 4:32). Perhaps we are not wrong in suggesting that Paul’s verb combines the two meanings. Love reacts with goodness towards those who ill-treat it; it gives itself in kindness in the service of others.

Leon Morris, 1 Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary (Tyndale NTC 7; IVP/Accordance electronic ed. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 177.

Envy, boast, arrogant

While we need not doubt that the Corinthians were marked by jealousy or envy with respect to each other’s spiritual gifts, there is no reason to think the problem was confined to that issue. The contrasts that would have existed between the social elites in the congregation and those brothers and sisters who were less well off would have provided many opportunities for envy, especially as those who had nothing were humiliated (11:22) as one person remained hungry while another became drunk (11:21), or as the wealthier members were able to use the legal system to their advantage while those of lesser means could not (6:1-8). As Thiselton points out, “[t]he envy which is carried over from a status-seeking, non-Christian Corinthian culture into the Christian church is … deemed to be incompatible with love, which does not begrudge the status and honor of another, but delights in it for the sake of the other.”

Roy E. Ciampa and Brian S. Rosner, The First Letter to the Corinthians (Pillar NTC; Accordance electronic ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010), 643.

And we’d be more than a little naive to imagine that the same problem doesn’t exist in contemporary churches. In fact, there’s a marked tendency in today’s churches to stratify based on economic status. Well-off Christians tend to attend congregations filled with the well off. The poor tend to attend congregations filled with the poor. Some of this is occasioned by geography, but my experience is that it’s much more a matter of personal comfort and culture. The college educated prefer to associate with like people with like interests. After all, it can uncomfortable to be much wealthier or much poorer than the rest of the church. It can uncomfortable to be unable to dress as the rest of the church dresses, to drive a car like the rest of the church drives.

It’s easy to envy, and it’s easy to imagine that you make people not like yourself uncomfortable, even when it’s not true. I remember a woman who was miserable at my congregation because she was the only woman her age without a college degree — and yet no one but her knew she had no degree. She had convinced herself that she was being looked down on by her better educated friends, who in fact didn’t know and didn’t care.

Paul would have had no patience with such thinking. First, he would have insisted that everyone in the same city be a part of the same church. There is one body.

Second, he would have urged the wealthy not to be ostentatious — not to display their wealth in their clothing, jewelry, and vehicles — to be generous not only in giving but in refusing to show off, even unconsciously, their wealth. Paul would not have tolerated an unwritten dress code designed to make everyone dress like the wealthy. He doubtlessly would have preferred that members all wear affordable jeans rather than expensive suits. Take the savings and give it to the poor!

Rude

Love is not rude, where the verb (aschēmoneō) means ‘what is not according to proper form (schēma)’, and thus anything disgraceful, dishonourable, indecent. It is a general term with a wide range of meaning. Love avoids the whole range of unseemliness. Love is not self-seeking (‘does not seek its own things’), which might be understood as ‘does not insist on its own way’ (RSV) or ‘is not selfish’ (GNB). Both arise from self-centredness and this is the very opposite of love.

Leon Morris, 1 Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary (Tyndale NTC 7; IVP/Accordance electronic ed. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 178.

“Rude” therefore is not strong enough. KJV has “unseemly.” The same word is used of sexual impropriety in other contexts. The Greek word is used to mean “disgraced” or “naked” in the Septuagint. “Dishonorable” works if we remember that Paul lived in an honor culture.

The cognate noun meaning “behavior that elicits disgrace” appears in a vice list in Romans 1:27 and the cognate adjective used to refer to something “that is not openly done, displayed, or discussed in reserved society because it is considered ‘shameful, unpresentable, indecent’, or ‘unmentionable’” (BDAG), was used in 12:23.

Roy E. Ciampa and Brian S. Rosner, The First Letter to the Corinthians (Pillar NTC; Accordance electronic ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010), 645.

Love does not leer. Love does not lust. Love does not dehumanize the other as a sex object. Love does not objectify. Love does not seek to use for one’s own gratification. Love does not make others feel uncomfortable. Love does not seduce.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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2 Responses to 1 Corinthians 13:4-5a (Love is …)

  1. Ray Downen says:

    How easy it is to act contrary to the apostolic advice to Corinthian Christians. Perhaps especially so when our interaction is not face-to-face.

  2. R.J. says:

    Maybe a better translation would be “love is not discourteous toward others(like the Corinthians conducting an egotistical chaotic assembly without any regard building others up). The Greek term should not be understood as a strict code of decorum and propriety. But as common courtesy. Or…

    “Love is not [ethically] indecent”.

    It does no harm to it’s neighbor.

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