The Characteristics of Love: Part 1

In 1 Cor. 13:1-3, Paul demonstrates to the Corinthians and to us how vital it is to have charity or love by saying the following: (1) Without love I produce nothing of importance (I am worthless), (2) Without love I am nothing and (3) Without love nothing I do, no matter how great it seems, it profits nothing. These three statements demonstrate the essential nature of love. But love is ultimately a way of life and there are actions and behaviors that each and every follower of Christ must embody to create unity and growth. Paul describes for us the characteristics of love in 1 Cor. 13:4-7 in which he describes the special instances of this Christian virtue. 

The way in which Paul speaks of love in these verses would compel one to conclude that he is speaking of a person more so than an attribute. Such a conclusion would not be wrong because all these characteristics make up the very nature of Jesus Christ. Of whom but Jesus, can all these characteristics be said to be perfectly embodied and manifested? But love is by no means limited to Christ as evidenced by the greatest commands in Matt. 22:37-40 where all who would come to Christ must love God first and love his/her neighbor as themselves. And this is exactly what the Corinthians were struggling with and what we struggle with on occasion. There were contentions and strifes among the brethren at Corinth. There were suspicions, jealousies, selfishness, envy, pride and boasting, all of which were inconsistent with love. The only fix to these issues was to re-incorporate the love that they lost and today we also would do well to strive to embody love in these ways and means reflective of our love for God and our love for our neighbor. 

1. Love suffers long (patient) 

The Greek word used in 1 Cor. 13:4 to talk about patience denotes “longanimity” (which comes from the Latin for patience) and it is representative of slowness to anger or passion; longsuffering, patient endurance and forbearance. This particular characteristic of love is opposed to haste and irritability. It deals with the state of mind which can suffer long when oppressed, provoked, and when one seeks to injure us. Here, Paul undoubtedly invites us to think about Jesus but especially the instance in which He was on the cross. Jesus was nailed to a piece of wood and humiliated; nevertheless, He suffered long with His enemies for their sake and the sake of all men when He uttered the words: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Lk. 23:34). That is true love and such love will mend the worst of problems and we ought to practice it.  

2. Love is kind (useful)

The idea expressed by kindness in 1 Cor. 13:4 suggests one that is good-natured, gentle, tender and affectionate. It wishes well. It is not harsh, sour, morose nor ill-natured. Under situations of provocation love seeks to be gentle and mild. Hatred breeds harshness, anger and a desire to have revenge at all costs but love being kind is the reverse of all these. However, the actual Greek word here denotes that love is “useful.” Love seeks to be useful and not only seizes on opportunities of doing good, but searches for them. In Matt. 11:30, Jesus says His yoke is useful. That means it is a yoke that is lined with love. Such is the nature of all Christ's commands, so reasonable in themselves, so profitable to us, and it can be all summed up in one word: love. If we listen to Christ’s commands and obey them, there is no doubt that we will exemplify kindness in our lives towards people in our inner and exterior circles. Love will ensure that it does the most profitable thing for all parties regardless of cost and inconvenience. Lord willing, next week, we will continue to look at the qualities of love.