by Peter Ditzel
In Part One, we saw that the word love has many meanings, but that the apostle Paul, in 1 Corinthians 13, specifically defines the love Christians are to have for one another. Let's continue looking at Paul's detailed definition of love in 1 Corinthians 13 and see how he links love to maturity, seeing clearly, and knowing fully.
1 Corinthians 13:5
“…does not behave disgracefully, does not seek its own, is not provoked to anger, thinks no evil…”
Verse 5 continues by saying that love “does not behave disgracefully, does not seek its own, is not provoked to anger, thinks no evil.” The word translated “disgracefully” is aschēmonei. It literally means “behave with a disorganized configuration.” Thus, what it means here is to behave indecently or chaotically in a way that does not conform to decent standards and manners. This behavior makes others feel upset or ill at ease. If someone came to dinner naked, we would feel uneasy. If someone is running around screaming when people are trying to hold a conversation, he or she is causing those people to be upset. These examples are, of course, extremes. But the point is that Paul is writing of behavior that does not conform to accepted patterns and is thus self-centered, inconsiderate of others, and unloving.
“Does not seek its own” is behavior that doesn’t put our own wants ahead of others. Seeking our own wants first is the opposite of love. Love seeks the comfort, happiness, well-being, and so forth, of others. It is putting others ahead of self. When we seek our own interests first, we are not showing the love that God wants us to have. It is entirely unnatural for us to put others ahead of ourselves, but we should be aware of this and ask God, who is the source of all love, for help. We may start off small and slow, but we will grow as we depend on the Holy Spirit to fuel our love.
The Greek word translated as “provoked to anger” is paroxunetai. It is related to the Greek word for acid, and I think a good translation is “irritated.” The King James Version says, “easily provoked,” but “easily” is not in the Greek. Love is not provoked or irritated, easily or not. When we are irritated, we are, consciously or subconsciously, saying in ourselves, “I am being put out, my needs are being trampled, I shouldn’t have to put up with this, and I am not happy about it.” Oftentimes, we will think we are doing well to put up with an irritation. Many times, it will be only minutes or even only seconds after we think this that we explode. Why? Because we were irritated and looking to our own power to keep the irritation under control. If we were looking to God, we would see ourselves for who we are, and that we have no right to be irritated in the first place. These are the kinds of things that drive us to God for help.
Next, we read that love “thinks no evil.” Certainly, what this translation says is a truism. But the Greek is more specific. “Thinks” is not a very good translation of the Greek word. It is logizetai. It means to log something, to record it in a ledger, to take account of, reckon, or impute. Also, the word evil here can also mean bad or injurious and it has a definite article. Thus, this says that love “does not keep an account of the bad.” What bad? The bad things or injurious things or evil done to the person. We see, then, that this can be connected with the previous statement about not being irritated. How do we get irritated? By keeping an account of how someone is injuring us. He does this, that, and the other thing, and finally we reach the last straw and we blow up. Love doesn’t keep an account of wrongs. Thus, it instantly forgives and forgets.
“…does not rejoice over unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth…”
Paul continues by saying that love “does not rejoice over unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth.” The word “rejoice” is from the Greek word chairei. It means to be full of cheer. “Unrighteousness” is adikia, and it means either unrighteousness or injustice. In the Greek here, it has a definite article, so it should be “the unrighteousness,” or “the injustice.” Let’s keep this in mind and go on to the second half of the verse. The words “rejoices with” are one word in the Greek. It is sunchairei. This is chairei, which we have just seen means to rejoice or be full of cheer, plus sun, which means to be in union with. I believe that Paul’s thoughts in the two halves of this verse are directly related. He is saying that love does not rejoice or take any pleasure in the unrighteousness and injustice so common in this world, but it rejoices with the truth of the Gospel.
By simple definition, the opposite of unrighteousness is righteousness, and the opposite of injustice is justice. But Paul contrasts the unrighteousness and injustice with the truth. I believe this is because Paul understands that the truth of the Gospel is the only way to righteousness and justice. That is, by believing the Gospel, we are justified from our sins and given the righteousness of Jesus Christ.
But who would rejoice in unrighteousness? Remember that verse 5 ends by saying, “does not keep an account of the bad.” But this does not end the sentence, so that verse 6 continues the thought. There is a natural tendency to keep an account of people’s badness. By doing this, we eventually get irritated with them. But going hand-in-hand with this, we can also take a perverse pleasure in their sins. Keeping track of the sins of others can help us feel good about ourselves. When we keep tabs on how bad others are, we tend not to see how bad we are. This is rejoicing in their iniquity. The opposite is the truth. The truth says we are all sinners, that trying to make ourselves feel better by keeping account of others’ sins is a lie, and that our only hope is to trust in someone else—Jesus Christ—to save us. It is humbling, but it is freeing and this truth actually causes us to rejoice—to rejoice with it, as Paul puts it.
“…bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
Verse 7 might be called the “all” verse. Yet, the “all things” here must be understood to be limited. This is easiest illustrated with “believes all things.” “Believes” is translated from pisteuei. This word means to be persuaded by, to put confidence in, have faith in, or to trust. We can’t believe all things because some things contradict others. No matter how much love I have, I cannot believe that God exists and that God does not exist. Also, the Bible sometimes specifically tells us not to believe something. In 1 John 4:1, we are told, “believe not every spirit.”
The Bible also says, “Don’t put your trust in princes, each a son of man in whom there is no help.” (Psalm 146:3—WEB). We are not to put our trust in men or even their princes. Of Jesus’ reaction even to the people who saw His miracles, John 2:24 says, “But Jesus did not trust Himself to them, because He knew all men.” The word “trust” here is episteuen, which is a form of the same word as that in 1 Corinthians 13:7. Putting our trust in men is a tenet of humanism, which looks for the good or excellence in men. But Jesus did not trust men because He knew men; He knew they were evil.
Some say that this verse means we are to trust the Scriptures. Certainly, this is true. We are to trust the Scriptures. But it is off topic in this verse. The topic is love, which shows our relationship to others. From this, we can see that by adding the word “things” (it’s not in the Greek) most translations confuse the meaning of this verse. Sometimes it is legitimate to supply “things” in an English translation because it helps the sense. But here, I believe it is better to leave it off. Paul’s focus isn’t on things; it’s on people. And, as I explained at the beginning, it is not on all people, it is on fellow believers. We are not to trust all men, but we are to trust our brethren. We are not to go around being suspicious of our brethren. We are to believe the best about them. This is a way of showing love.
I want to add that we may eventually become convinced from evidence that we cannot believe the best about a professing believer. Paul had to face this about Demas and Alexander the coppersmith (2 Timothy 4:10 and 14). But we should not start out with a negative opinion of a professing believer, and we should not jump to that opinion lightly (see Matthew 7:1; Hebrews 6:9; and James 4:11).
The word “bears” is from stegei, which literally means to “roof over.” Because of this, some scholars translate it here as “covers.” Others say that the ability of the roof to bear the elements is what Paul has in mind in 1 Corinthians 13:7, so they translate stegei as “bear.” Either way, when we bear others’ sins, we are covering them, and when we cover others sins, we are bearing them. So, the translation makes no practical difference, but considering that 1 Corinthians 13:7 ends with another word that means to bear or endure—thus making “bear” here redundant—I think that this should be “cover.” Love covers all.
We see here that love “hopes all.” Elpizei is a common word translated “hope.” It is closely related to trust or belief. We are to hope the best about our brethren. Hope is related to future actions. We don’t assume that a Christian will do what is wrong. We hope for the best.
Lastly, we see in this verse that love is “all enduring.” “Endure” is from the Greek word hupomenei. It literally means to “stay under.” Thus, it means the ability to bear something or to stay with it. Jesus told His followers, “And you will be hated by all on account of My name. But he who endures to the end shall be saved” (Mark 13:13). Hebrews 12:2 tells us that Jesus endured the cross. Paul said, “I endure all things for the sake of the elect” (see 2 Timothy 2:10). Certainly, enduring the cross or enduring persecution for the sake of others is a show of love. But, because of the context of 1 Corinthians 13:7, I think that Paul here means enduring one another. Since Christians are not perfect, we can all be a trial to each other. But we are to endure the things that others do that rub us the wrong way.
So, putting it together, we see this verse as saying that, when dealing with our Christian brothers and sisters, we, in love, cover their sins, believe the best about them, hope for the best about them, and endure their flaws.
“Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they shall pass away; whether there are tongues, they shall cease; whether there is knowledge, it shall pass away. Now we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is partial shall pass away.”
The Greek of the first sentence says that love not at any time falls off. Although we can take this in the sense of a personal application—that we should never stop loving, Paul is speaking on a larger scale. He means that through all of the ages and eternity, there will always be love. Prophecies will stop or “idle down” as the Greek word katargēthēsontai literally means. Once God had given all of the prophecies to His assembly and they were written into the Bible, prophecies stopped. Tongues will “cease.” The Greek word is pausontai. It is the word from which we get our English word “pause.” The gift of tongues was a way that God used to give revelation. It was also a way of witnessing to unbelievers at a time when Christianity was new, and of witnessing against the Jews at a time when God was turning from them as a nation and to the Gentiles (who spoke foreign tongues). But the gift of tongues has now ceased. What is meant by knowledge in this verse is the gift of knowledge—that is, miraculously revealing new knowledge. Once God gave all of the knowledge He wanted to give to the assembly and it was written down in the Bible, the gift of knowledge “idled down” or stopped. But love will never idle down or cease. It will never be outdated or obsolete. It goes on forever.
Paul continues his thought in verses 9-10: “Now we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is partial shall pass away.” The word “perfect” is translated from teleion. It means complete. When we have God’s full revelation for us, then partial revelation through these gifts ceases. We have God’s revelation in the form of the Bible, and these gifts have now ended. (See this Q&A for a further explanation.)
Paul has not really wandered from the topic of love. God’s complete revelation matures us. When we are no longer worried about receiving new knowledge or prophecies or speaking in tongues, we can concentrate on what endures—love.
“When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I thought as a child, I reasoned as a child; but when I became a man, I put away the things of the child.”
The word “child” is nēpios. It literally means, “not speaking” but came to mean any infant or small child. Paul is using this word to contrast someone who does not have mature reasoning powers with someone who does. The word “thought” is ephronoun, and may here be better translated as “understood.” The word “reasoned” is elogizomēn, and it can also mean “reckoned” or “calculated.” The word “man” is anēr, which means “a male.” Here, Paul uses this word, not in contrast to female, but to infant. An anēr is mature. “I put away” is from katērgēka. It is really the same word as in the previous verses that means to “idle down” or “cease.” Paul has done this purposely because this sentence is a further explanation of verses 8-10. The gifts of prophecy, knowledge, and tongues were for the infancy of the ekklēsia, God’s assembly, but love continues.
“For now we see through a mirror by reflection, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.”
Paul is further explaining the idea of infancy and maturity, but now he is using a different analogy to focus on the idea of seeing and knowing. The word “reflection” in this translation is a poor one. The Greek is, en ainigmati. Literally, this means, “in an enigma.” An enigma is something obscure and hard to understand. Old fashioned mirrors were made of metal and reflected very poorly compared to the mirrors we have today. The word “now” also needs further explanation. Several Greek words can be translated “now.” This one is arti. Its shade of meaning is “just now,” “this moment.” Notice Jesus’ use of this word in John 13:7: “Jesus answered and said to him, ‘What I am doing you do not understand now, but you shall know after this.'” This is very similar to what Paul is saying. He is saying that when he looks into an old-fashioned mirror, he is looking at an enigma. It looks something like him, but it is hard to make out. But there is to be a time when he will see his face clearly—face-to-face. Then Paul says plainly that at the present (arti) he knows in part (as in verse 9), but “I shall know.” The word here is not simply “know.” It is epignōsomai, and it means “fully know.” So, he says, “I shall fully know just as I also am known.” “Am known” is epegnōsthēn. It means “was fully known.” He apparently means that he will fully know even as God fully knew him.
The question raised by this verse is, What time period is Paul talking about? Many assume this verse to mean that in this life, we understand only darkly, but in eternity we will know fully. Certainly, this is true, but I don’t think this is what Paul has in mind because it ignores context. Paul has been talking about the infancy and maturity of the ekklēsia. So, in its infancy, the assembly sees only darkly and knows only in part. But in its maturity, it (we) will see clearly and know fully. Thus, I believe Paul is talking about the times in which he wrote, when God was still giving revelation to the assembly through the gifts of tongues, knowledge, and prophecy, as compared to the time when God would stop these gifts because the revelation was full. Today, we are supposed to be mature because we have a full revelation for mature Christians. The question is, do we take advantage of it?
“And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”
Paul’s main topic, of course, is love; and so he gets back to it. Paul states that the three things that abide are faith, hope, and love. “Abide” is from the word menei, which means stay or dwell or endure. Faith, hope, and love endure, but Paul wants his readers to know that the greatest of the three is love.
Some try to claim that keeping the law or observing a Sabbath day are the signs that identify us as God’s people. Jesus tells us otherwise: “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). Let’s keep in mind the detailed definition Paul gives us of the love we are to have for one another and then so live our lives in love that the world knows we are Jesus’ disciples.
We know that we have passed over from death to life, because we love the brothers.
1 John 3:14a
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