We Americans use the word “love” in a wide variety of ways. We “love” apple pie, banana pudding, hamburgers, French fries, and sweet tea. (When I lived in Selma, AL and ate at the Downtowner, I became convinced that “sweet tea” was really just one word with two syllables!)
We “love” our country, the state we are from, our hometown, summertime, springtime, fall (some of us even love wintertime and snow!), the mountains, and/or the beach.
Teenagers “love” their boyfriend or girlfriend.
We “love” to play golf, to fish, to hunt, to hike, our favorite sports team, college football games on TV, our cars and trucks, our dogs and cats, our husband, our wife, our parents, our brothers and sisters, our children and grandchildren, our neighbors, the Lord, the church, and our fellowman.
Yet it should be obvious that we do not “love” all of these in the same way or in the same sense.
The Greeks had four words for the one word we call “love.” Eros referred to romantic or passionate love, and is the word from which we get our word “erotica.” Storge referred to family love, love between parents and children, grandparents and grandchildren, brothers and sisters, etc. Philia referred to the love of friends or brotherly love. Agape referred to selfless love, the kind of love that God has for all mankind and the kind of love that Christians are to have for all mankind.
None of these aspects of love is mutually exclusive, but agape is the highest form of love, and arises from a deliberate choice and act of the will and mind, enabling us to love even our enemies and those who hate us.
In I Corinthians 13:1-7, the apostle Paul sets forth the necessity of agape/love, along with fifteen characteristics of that love. It will help us to know if we are a person of true Christian love by looking at each of these traits. (Note: We will use the New King James Version as the basis for our examination of these traits, with comparisons to other English versions for help in understanding the meaning of the various traits.)
1. Love suffers long. It is patient (NASB, NIV). A person of love is willing to endure or put up with a lot.
2. Love is kind. It is good-natured, gentle, affectionate, and tender. “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted . . .” (Ephesians 4:32).
3. Love does not envy (is not jealous, NASB). It does not have negative feelings toward the good fortune or success of others.
4. Love does not parade itself. It does not brag (NASB) or boast (NIV). A person of true Christian love is not “show off.”
5. Love is not puffed up. It is not arrogant (NASB) or proud (NIV). As David Lipscomb observed, “It does not engage in an inflated opinion of itself” (Commentary on First Corinthians, p. 197).
6. Love does not behave rudely. It is not ill-mannered, discourteous; it does not act unbecomingly (NASB).
7. Love does not seek its own. It is not self-centered or self-seeking (NIV). It is not concerned with its own selfish desires, but is concerned about the good and happiness of others.
8. Love is not provoked. Here I must admit to a little favor of the King James Version for it says, “Not easily provoked,” giving me a little “wiggle room” with people who do sometimes provoke, irritate, and aggravate me. The meaning, however, is that a person of genuine love does not readily take offense or is easily angered.
9. Love thinks no evil. It “does not take into account a wrong suffered” (NASB), “it keeps no record of wrongs” (NIV). “It does not surmise evil and put the worst construction on the action of others” (Lipscomb).
10. Love does not rejoice in iniquity. It does not delight in evil (NIV). Unlike those who approve of the wicked deeds of others (Romans 1:32), the person of genuine love does not find joy in wrong doing, whether in word or deed.
11. Love rejoices in the truth. It is happy at the triumph of truth. It loves to see the truth of the gospel being advanced. It rejoices to see people “walking in truth” (II John 4), rather than in wickedness.
12. Love bears all things. It “always protects” (NIV). “It does not lay bare and expose to public gaze the infirmities and wrongs of the erring and those led into sin” (Lipscomb). Instead, “Love covers a multitude of sins” (I Peter 4:8, NASB).
13. Love believes all things. This does not mean that love is gullible, but it means that it is slow to believe the worst.
14. Love hopes all things. It looks for and optimistically hopes for the best in all people and all situations.
15. Love endures all things. It always perseveres (NIV). It is not driven from the path of right, regardless of the actions of others.
Paul concludes his divine description of love by saying, “Love never fails” (verse 8). Unlike the miraculous gifts of the apostolic age which served a special purpose and then passed away (verses 8-10), faith, hope, and love continue to abide, with the greatest of these being love (verse 13).
Now for a challenge: Go back and read verses 4 through 7 again, and everywhere the word “love” appears, put your name there and see if it is true that (Your Name) “suffers long and is kind . . . does not envy, does not parade itself, is not puffed up,” and so on through all fifteen of the traits. It will make you stop and think about your own life and your own attitude toward others.
“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (I John 4:7-8).