1Co 13:1 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.1Co 13:2 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, and have not charity, I am nothing. 1Co 13:3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing. 1Co 13:4Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, 1Co 13:5 Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; 1Co 13:6 Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; 1Co 13:7 Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. 1Co 13:8 Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. 1Co 13:9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. 1Co 13:10 But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. 1Co 13:11 When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. 1Co 13:12 For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. 1Co 13:13 And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.
Does this chapter not stir your soul like no other chapter in the Bible? Is this chapter not one of the most amazing gifts God has given to us, a deep dive into the very attributes and nature of love itself, explained by God who is love itself?
Years ago, we did a conference on the Attributes of God. I made Hal close the conference by talking about the Love of God, and I did that because I suspected he would cry. Which he didn’t do. That turkey. But he came close to being choked up at the end. However, I remember something Hal said: “How do we know that He is love? We have to go to this book and start reading it through. We cannot understand His nature until you see the way in which it is expressed.”
And here, we have the God of love revealing to us the very nature of love, which is more valuable than all the love songs and love poems ever written.
We find this chapter in the middle of 3 chapters correcting the Corinthians about their reckless treatment of the supernatural sign gifts in their assembly. Paul closes chapter 12 by saying, “Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles? Have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret? But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way.” And that more excellent way is brilliantly written in chapter 13, the preeminence of love in action in the age of grace. How many Charismatic and Pentecostal preachers would teach what Paul teaches here, that in lieu of spiritual gifts, they should pursue the more excellent way of love?
Not to mention the fact that Paul tells them in 13:8-10 that spiritual gifts shall fail, cease, and vanish away when that which is perfect is come. What is that which is perfect is come?
How can this not be the completed Word of God? Some might try to argue that this is referring to Jesus Christ, but didn’t He already come? And if Paul was talking about Christ, wouldn’t He say “come again”? Instead of that which is perfect is come, wouldn’t Paul say He which is perfect is come? Did not spiritual gifts exist so that people could hear the Word of God until they had the perfect, completed, written Word of God?
The Corinthians in their selfish carnality had not followed the more excellent way of agape love. Because if you’re living your life according to the very nature and attributes of love, then there should be no divisions among them, no carnal living, no self-indulgence, and everyone in that assembly would be esteeming everyone else above themselves just as God intended. Because love surpasses everything. The very nature of love is a reflection of the very nature of God. Love is the living expression of what God is. Love proves that His life is manifest in us because true agape love that’s exhibited in us showcases to all that we are partakers of His nature, which is love itself. To understand love and to act in love to everyone is to understand and act like God Himself because He is love itself.
The Great Love Chapter of 1 Corinthians 13 is broken down into 3 sections:
The Preeminence of Love. 1-3. Paul says, essentially, if I speak with tongues and have not charity, I’m useless noise. If I have all these extraordinary gifts and all this faith and yet, I have not charity, I am nothing. If I live a life of doing good and being good and yet, I have not charity, all that do-gooding profits me nothing.
Love described in its characteristics. 4-7. Over the course of those four verses, from 4-7, we have no less than 15 separate characteristics of love.
The Permanence of Love, which never fails. 8-13, that now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; and the greatest of these is charity.
Love vs. Charity
There are some who go to great lengths to make a great distinction between love and charity. What we have in this chapter in the Greek is agape love. Both “love” and “charity” are used to translate agape in the Greek. It’s not that “love” and “charity” need to be distinct, but that “love” and “charity” together helps to give us a greater appreciation of the depths of agape in the Greek. Agape isn’t just love. It’s love and charity combined.
We went through Webster’s 1828 definition of both words in our previous message, and we made the point that agape love isn’t just love. Agape love isn’t just having great affection toward something. Agape love is also charity, which is not so much love in action as it is the attitude that produces the love in action, that pre-disposition in our hearts that inclines us to act in love toward everyone. So the supernatural love that God would have manifest in us, isn’t just great affection, isn’t just love in action, but it’s also having that disposition of heart that’s always inclined to act in love toward everyone.
The Attributes of Love
Verse 4. (1.) Charity suffereth long
Notice that the first quality, and arguably the most important quality, that Paul teaches us about agape love, is how love suffers and it suffers long. When you consider the idea of true agape love operating in this sin-cursed world, it’s inevitably that love will suffer. So one of the most important attributes is how love willingly suffers and willingly suffers long. The very nature of love itself is a willingness to continue to love through any and all suffering.
Notice also that love doesn’t suffer forever. Love only suffers long. Webster would define longsuffering as, “Bearing injuries or provocation for a long time; patient; not easily provoked.” Longsuffering is to suffer long and yet baked into the definition of longsuffering is how you suffer long. You’re not just longsuffering but you’re also patient and you’re not easily provoked, which is forbearance. So when Paul says that he’s focused on longsuffering, he’s focused upon the endurance of that period of suffering, and he’s also focused upon patience and forbearance. Longsuffering, patience, and forbearance all go hand-in-hand.
So how would you define patience? Again, Webster, it is “1. The suffering of afflictions, pain, toil, calamity, provocation or other evil, with a calm, unruffled temper...” He’d also say that it’s “2. A calm temper which bears evils without murmuring or discontent. 3. The act or quality of waiting long for justice or expected good without discontent.” So longsuffering is to suffer long. Patience is the calm temper with which you wait long to get through that suffering.
And then there is the third element of longsuffering, which is forbearance. Again, Webster, says, that forbearance is “1. The act of avoiding, shunning or omitting; either the cessation or intermission of an act commenced, or a withholding from beginning an act. 2. Command of temper; restraint of passions.” I like that second definition. Forbearance is command of temper; restraint of passions; it’s the restraint of acting in the flesh, especially when you’re being persecuted. So when Paul tells us here that he’s focused on longsuffering, he’s telling us that he’s focused upon enduring that hardship, suffering long. He’s also focused upon patience, the calm temper with which you wait long to get through that suffering. And he’s also focused upon forbearance, command of temper, the restraint of acting in the flesh. Longsuffering, patience, and forbearance are distinct and yet, they’re all very interconnected, because to master the art of longsuffering is to also master patience and forbearance.
Remember what the Lord said of Himself to Moses. He said in Exo 34:6 And the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed, The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth... In the context of His relationship to Israel, He was longsuffering. He would suffer long the iniquities of His people in order to give them a chance to repent, to change their course, and to have their sins covered through the sacrificial system, which would stay His judgment for their disobedience until all their sins would be paid at Calvary. He needed the law and sacrifices as a system of checks and balances to keep His people in line until the Lord would pay for all those sins on the cross. But when it comes to the Lord, longsuffering certainly includes patience and forbearance, but longsuffering would also take on another meaning.
With the Lord, longsuffering means that He’s willing to hold back His wrath for a long time.But notice that longsuffering is not forever-suffering. Longsuffering has an expiration date, as exemplified in the story about the flood. You remember how the Lord said in Gen 6:3 “My spirit shall not always strive with man…” The Lord will suffer long, but His longsuffering also has an expiration date. In 1 Pet. 3, he writes about the time when the Lord “preached unto the spirits in prison,” and he says in 1Pe 3:20 “Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.” The sin was so heinous that God was extremely longsuffering those 120 years while He waited on Noah to build his ark.
Peter also had something else interesting to say about longsuffering.
2Pe 3:14 Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye may be found of him in peace, without spot, and blameless. 2Pe 3:15 And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; 2Pe 3:16 As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.
Here Peter is dealing with the scoffers who are saying, “Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.” Peter points to Paul and reminds them that Paul already taught them all that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation. Instead of God judging the world and bringing Israel through the Tribulation for the rejection of His Son, God delayed His judgment, and His longsuffering is an opportunity for salvation to all the world before He unleashes His wrath. The longsuffering of our Lord is salvation. The very nature of this dispensation of grace we’re in has to do with the fact that God is withholding His wrath, and instead, He is pouring out His grace. The very foundation of the dispensation of grace is that it is a dispensation of longsuffering. We know from I Tim. 1:16, Paul is a pattern of God’s longsuffering to them who would hereafter believe on Him to life everlasting. The very characteristic and nature of the dispensation of grace is centered around God's longsuffering. The time had come in Acts 2 at Pentecost when the wrath of God was ready to be poured out, and God interrupted all the pouring out of His wrath onto the world by implementing a period of grace, an age in which God's wrath would be withheld through longsuffering. God’s longsuffering with grace is the pattern for our age. And this is why Paul was focused on longsuffering when he endured hard times.
Just as God was longsuffering with him while he persecuted the church, Paul was to be longsuffering with everyone else while they persecuted him. Just as God demonstrated longsuffering, patience, and forbearance to the chief of sinners, Paul was to likewise demonstrate God’s longsuffering, patience, and forbearance to every sinner.
Even God the Father suffers long.
Rom 9:22 What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: Rom 9:23 And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory, Rom 9:24 Even us, whom he hath called…
Here we have put on display for us the longsuffering of God the Father. What if? I wonder if the Father asked Himself that. What if? What if he chose to suffer long and all those unbelievers on a path to destruction because of their rejection of Him, what if, He were to implement a period of grace in which all those vessels of wrath fitted for destruction could become vessels of mercy to make known to the world the riches of the glory of His grace? The point is, longsuffering has an expiration date, but longsuffering also has an endgame in mind. Longsuffering isn’t pointless. Longsuffering isn’t meaningless. Longsuffering has an endgame in mind, and that endgame to longsuffering is salvation of souls. One could easily say of this verse as it was said of the Lord, the longsuffering of the Father and the Son is an opportunity for salvation.
Even the Holy Spirit suffers long.