A Study of 1st Corinthians 13:4

The first three verses of 1st Corinthians 13 make it clear that if we do not have “agape”, or if we do not have the love of God that is shed abroad in the hearts and souls of those who are truly children of God, then we have a clear sign that we are not saved. Let us begin there today, and let us review the necessity of Agape.

The necessity of Agape (1 Corinthians 13:1-13, Ephesians 1:4-6)

1 Corinthians 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.

1 Corinthians 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.

1 Corinthians 13:3
And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.

1 Corinthians 13:4
Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,

1 Corinthians 13:5
Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;

1 Corinthians 13:6
Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;

1 Corinthians 13:7
Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.

1 Corinthians 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.

1 Corinthians 13:9
For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.

1 Corinthians 13:10
But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.

1 Corinthians 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.

1 Corinthians 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.

1 Corinthians 13:13
And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.

Now the question remains, “Do we have charity?” and thus let us dig into the following four verses and find out if we do have that charity that the Bible speaks about.

Therefore the title of today’s article is, “Do We Have Charity?”

Let me state up front that the word that is translated “charity” in 1st Corinthians 13 is the Greek word agape The English word “to love” comes out of two Greek words: agapao and phileo. Whenever a love comes out of the will of man it is the word agape. Whenever a love comes out of the feelings of man it is the word phileo. For example, to love our neighbor as ourselves by giving him a gospel tract is “agapao”, whereas to have pity on a beggar and give him alms is “phileo”.

And even though throughout the entire chapter 13 the translators chose to use the word charity, we want to take note that throughout the entire chapter 13 the Greek word agape is used, which never has the meaning of almsgiving.

What is it that we must absolutely have, or else we evidence that we have not been regenerated?

It is agape, whereas phileo is optional.

For example, when God commands us to love our fellow man in the church, it is conceivable that we do not love him with our feelings, for we are repulsed by something of his personality. But we have made a decision to love him and to do him good, for that is what we are commanded to do. Nevertheless, this does not remain a coldhearted action on our part, for God also commands us to pray for our brethren in the church. And when we pray for someone, and pray sincerely, the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost for this person, and we are growing in love for our fellow brethren. This is the love shown in 1st Corinthians 13.

We can take as our example the love, agape, that Christ has for us, which is a love that was an impulse of His will. Every single individual of the entire human race looks repulsive in the eyes of God, for God is repulsed by the multitude of our sins. But in eternity past the Father chose a bride for His Son out of this repulsive human race, and therefore He chose a certain number of people (Ephesians 1:4) whom He chose to love with an unconditional agape, for He chose to love us according to the good pleasure of His will (Ephesians 1:5). It had to be an unconditional love, for if God would have made it conditional, any condition would have become a law, then no one of those He chose would have made it, NO NOT ONE, for man is not able to obey any law of God perfectly.

And so He washed us from our sins by having Christ pay for our sins on the cross, and He made us accepted in His Beloved, which refers to Christ, to the glory of His grace (Ephesians 1:6).

It means that He would have to give us the status of adopted sons and daughters freely, for as the bride of Christ we enter into His family. We were drafted to come into His family, and therefore He made us joint heirs with Christ, joint heirs of the New Heaven & New Earth.

This, in a nutshell, is the entire Gospel of grace. This is the good news for all those whom God has chosen from eternity past. And this is the love, agape, that God has for us, and that Christ has for us, and this is the love that initially was an impulse of His will, but eventually it included His pity for us, who are bankrupt and poor beggars, for we were unable to help ourselves. This is the love, agape, that we must have for the brethren in church as much as we must have it for our wife, as I have already explained last week.

Now we have to find the answer to the question:

Do we have this agape?

Do we have this charity?

God helps us along to the answer by defining for us what He means by charity, or agape.

“Charity Suffereth Long” (1 Corinthians 13:4, Proverbs 10:12, Proverbs 15:1, Proverbs 17:9, 1 Peter 4:8)

1 Corinthians 13:4
Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,

Charity suffereth long and is kind. Of all the characteristics of agape that are mentioned here in 1st Corinthians 13 here are the two characteristics that stand out with head and shoulders that describe the nature of charity. Let us think of the context. There were contentions and strifes at the church of Corinth; there were suspicions, and jealousies, and heart burnings; there would be unkind judging, and imputation of improper motives, and selfishness; there was also envy, and pride, and boasting, and all of these were inconsistent with love.

And in this environment God, through the hand of the apostle Paul, designed to correct these evils, and to produce a different state within the church by exercising love. Thus, when God says here “charity suffereth long”, He uses a word here which means: slowness to anger, or slowness to passion, or long suffering, or patient endurance, or forbearance. It is opposed to “haste”, and to passionate expressions, and to irritability.

And thus, when God says, “charity suffereth long”, He refers to the state of mind which can bear long when we are oppressed, or when we are provoked, or when we are gossiped about, or when someone seeks to do us harm.

In these matters of interpersonal relationships we find that the Prophecy of Proverbs is a goldmine. For example, we must hold back and not lash out in anger trying to defend ourselves, for God is our defender. God says in Proverbs 10:12, “Hatred stirreth up strifes: but love covereth all sins.”

What did God mean thereby?

If in the course of a discussion we are being attacked, or we are being provoked, or the subject of a gossip about us is being brought up as a matter of accusation, then if we try to defend ourselves we are risking that the discussion turns into an atmosphere of hatred, and God says that hatred does not solve anything but stirs up strifes.

God will defend us, and in time we shall be vindicated.

On the other hand, when we are attacked and we respond with love, God says that “love covereth all sins”.

Whose sins are covered?

The sins of the attacker are his sins, and God will deal with him; we are no mediator in his sins. But our sins, which are many, will be covered, and will not be laid out for all to see. Remember that true atonement of our sins can only be done by Christ on the cross. The covering of our sins in the eyes of God can only occur on the cross, but our sins in the eyes of the world will be covered when we respond in love.

God teaches us exactly the same thing in Proverbs 15:1, where He says, “A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger.”

And so, the subject of longsuffering must be foremost in our minds when we are dealing with our fellow man. We must constantly remind ourselves what we preach, and what the Word of God says. It does not mean that from now on our dealings with others will be smooth and without any wrath. We are human, and we are subject to many temptations, and we are not always responding to other people’s accusations as true saints, but sometimes we to can respond in ways that are not good.

Let me bring up two other examples of longsuffering. God says in Proverbs 17:9, “He that covereth a transgression seeketh love; but he that repeateth a matter separateth very friends.”

If we cover a transgression, or an accusation, or a matter in which we are being provoked, by passing it over, we will find that the discussion turns into loving one another. But if we repeat the matter of the accusation, or we repeat the matter in which we are being provoked, we run the risk that we are losing friends, or worse, that our friends will side with our enemies.

In the first Epistle of Peter we find many nuggets of interpersonal relationships, such as: Christ is our example, and guidance for husbands and wives, and be of one mind toward one another, and how a Christian should act in this world, and rejoicing in trials, and cast your care upon Him. But today we will look only at 1 Peter 4:8, “And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins.”

Whose sins are being covered?

Our sins are covered for the world.

Only the atonement of Christ on the cross can cover our sins in the sight of God. No action on our part can contribute one iota to the actual covering of our sins before God. But we can make our lives on this earth more pleasant by having fervent charity among the brethren. And by fervent charity is meant that we not only extend our love to the brethren because we were commanded to do so, not only extend our love to the brethren because we have to, but because we want to.

We fervently want to have a loving relationship with our brothers and sisters in Christ, even though they live far away. We realize that this might be a problem in our congregation, because some of us live 100 miles away from others whom we want to befriend. This is a problem, but not an insurmountable problem. What we need is some initiatives in this direction.

But the question that we are facing today is this:

Do we have charity?

Are we longsuffering toward our fellow man?

When we talk with our brethren of the church, are we slow to anger, or slow to passion, and passing over points of friction, and can we bear long with them knowing that God ultimately will set the record straight?

Or are we immediately on fire, and want to win the debate, and want to have the last word. Think about this now, and see what our behavior was in the past, and if we have to change our attitude, and if we perhaps have to change our style of discussion.

For Christ has not called us to be His debaters, but His witnesses. When we witness that we are the children of God, we must show with our actions that the love of God was indeed shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost, and this would show up in our speech as well.

“Charity is Kind” (1 Corinthians 13:4, 1 Thessalonians 5:14, 1 Thessalonians 4:9, Ephesians 4:32, Matthew 6:14-15)

1 Corinthians 13:4
Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Be kind toward one another.

Here is another characteristic of charity, or agape, that shows up in our speech.

Are we kind towards one another when we speak?

Are we making friends?

Are we accepting one another as equals, not trying to dominate a discussion?

Believe me, nobody likes a man who knows it all, for the simple reason that such a man does not exist. If we have studied long and hard in the past, then let us share our knowledge in a non-threatening way, in love accepting one another as Christ has commanded us. This is the way to make friends. And be at peace when others do not believe us, for most of the time it is not life threatening to us if we do not win the debate. Let us now look at a couple verses, and see if we can make this subject matter a little clearer.

The church in Thessalonica were a congregation who from the beginning were full of love towards one another. We can read that in 1 Thessalonians 4:9, where we read, “But as touching brotherly love ye need not that I write unto you: for ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another.”

And although this verse speaks of brotherly love, we should be aware that the word agape is used, not the word phileo. We read here in 1 Thessalonians 5:14, “Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all (men).”

Here is a very good example of being kind. It does not mean that we must become a push-over, but that we are firm toward them that are unruly. This means that we must be firm toward them who try to lord it over the rest of the congregation. They are the ones that are unruly, because they hate the present rules and want to establish their own rules. In other words, by being stern with those that are unruly we are kind to the rest of the congregation. And we are also kind to the congregation when we are kind to the feeble minded, which means to those who have not had the opportunity of gaining a knowledge of the Word of God. Be kind to them, for the Father loves them as much as He loves us. Comfort the feeble minded, and support those that are weak in the faith, such as little children and those that are new in the faith. Perhaps in time they will be as strong in the faith as we are.

And “be patient to all”. The word men is in italics, and was added by the translators. Be patient with the children, for they must still learn the gravity of worshipping God. Be patient with the teenagers, for they must still learn the gravity of the Judgment of God. Be patient with the young adults, for they must learn that to be a successful parent we must raise our children in the fear and admonition of the Lord. Be patient with the old men and the old women, for they have missed the opportunity to be taught, and now is their opportunity to get to know the Lord Jesus Christ and the Father who sent Him. Be patient with elders and deacons who are supposed to know, for now is their opportunity to learn to be teachers of the Word of God and to learn how to teach the sovereignty of God in the church and in the world, and to learn how to be kind and compassionate towards our fellow man. And be patient with all those who seem to have no love for their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. They too can be redeemed if the Lord wills.

When we look at 1 Corinthians 13:4, and we read, “Charity is kind” we realize that the word for “kind” means to be good-natured, gentle, tender, and affectionate. Love wishes well to our neighbor. It is not harsh, or sour, or morose, or ill-natured. Tindal writes “love is courteous”. The idea is that under all provocations and confrontations love is gentle and mild. But hatred results in harshness, severity, unkindness of expression, anger, and a desire of revenge. Watch out for those symptoms. But love is the reverse of all these. A man who truly loves another will be kind to him, and desires to do him good; he will be gentle, not severe and harsh; he will be courteous because he desires his happiness and does not want to hurt his feelings.

Let us hear what God says how we should behave in the church when we claim that we are Christians, which means of the family of Christ, when we claim that we are the Bride of Christ, and when we claim that we love one another.

God says in Ephesians 4:32, “And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.”

Now, this was the reason why the Lord Jesus after the last Passover meal washed the disciple’s feet. Ceremonially it meant that the disciples should wash one another’s feet, meaning that they should forgive one another their sins. Their conscience had become dirty in walking through this world, which is symbolized by their dirty feet.

And thus while they washed one another’s feet they forgave each other their little annoyances, for Christ had already washed their souls clean.

Therefore, God says in Ephesians 4:32, “And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.”

Tenderhearted means that mutual forgiveness must be guaranteed within the body of Christ. It cannot be that one member of the family of Christ cannot forgive another member. If this kind of unforgiveness shows up, it means that one of the parties, or perhaps both parties, are not saved, because they do not have the love of God in their hearts. Therefore it is absolutely mandatory that within the body of Christ we will forgive one another, for the Lord Jesus said in Matthew 6:14-15,

Matthew 6:14
For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you:

Matthew 6:15
But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

By forgiving one another we do not let the other party off the hook. They still have to answer to God for their own sins. But we let ourselves off the hook, for by forgiving them their trespasses we in turn receive peace in our hearts, and we can put the offending party and their offense out of our mind.

“Charity Envieth Not” (1 Corinthians 13:4, Mark 15:10, Galatians 5:26)

1 Corinthians 13:4
Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,

“Charity envieth not” because if we love one another then we rejoice with one another. We would not envy someone else because of God’s favor resting upon him. If God considers that person and decides that out of God’s providence that person should get a little more than most other people do, then we should appreciate the wisdom of God to do such a thing.

Remember that envy is a grievous sin.

If covetousness is a deadly sin, for it is synonymous with idolatry, then envy, which is worse than covetousness, is even more of a grevious sin.

We can see the effects of this terrible sin in the lives of the scribes and Pharisees at the time the Lord Jesus walked on this earth, for we read that Pilate saw their envy. We read in Mark 15:10, “For he knew that the chief priests had delivered him for envy.”

They were envious that the Lord Jesus would draw all people to Himself, and thus He had to go. But their hatred of Him was so great that they resorted to murder, and thus the Lord Jesus was captured before they had an accusation to blame Him off.

This is what envy does.

It leads to hatred and even to murder. We also see it in the lives of Cain and Abel how envy leads to murder. Make sure we understand that we can actually have murder in our heart before we resort to the actual act of killing someone.

Envy usually lies in the same line of business, or occupation, or rank. We do not usually envy a head of state, or a conqueror, unless we are aspiring to the same rank. The farmer envies another farmer. The teacher envies another teacher. The physician envies another physician who is more successful than he is.

The correction of all these is love, or agape. If we loved others, we would not envy them, but we would be thankful to God that He has blessed them with some extra gifts.

After listing 18 works of the flesh, and 9 fruits of the Spirit, God gave us a last push on the matter of envy. Even though He had already stated this work of the flesh in verse 21, the Lord counted it worthy to repeat this warning concerning envy. He says in Galatians 5:26 “Let us not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another.” We see here that to envy one another is part of the desire for vain glory, which is a desire to be rich in the world and to have many things with which we can parade before others; but it is all vain glory. And this matter of vain glory is related to the following two items on the list.

“Charity Vaunteth Not Itself” (1 Corinthians 13:4)

1 Corinthians 13:4
Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,

The Greek word translated “vaunteth” occurs only in this place, and nowhere else in the New Testament. The idea is that of boasting, or bragging, or vaunting. It has the notion of boasting or of vaunting of our own excellencies or gifts. The definition of the verb “to vaunt” is “to make a vain display of our own worth or accomplishments.” And thus it is related to pride, or boasting, or being puffed up.

Charity does not boast of itself; and that is obvious. Charity does not brag about how good and lovely we are. And instead of claiming how good and lovely we are, we need to ask ourselves if we do have charity for one another.

Do we love our brothers and sisters in Christ?

Is that so, or is it not?

Where is the evidence?

Remember that our love for one another will show itself in our actions. Let us then look at our actions and see how little we do for one another, and ask ourselves if perhaps we can do more for one another. You may reply that you are already doing a great deal for the community at large. That is fine, but that is not where your priorities lie.

Your priorities are your brothers and sisters in Christ in the church.

And is our concern for one another flowing over to our children?

This, I believe, is the weakest link in our interpersonal relationships. Pray to God that we as a church may grow in the grace and the knowledge of the Lord, and that we may look at Jesus as our example.

And pray to God that He will strengthen our love for one another, for we need it.

But God, for us, His people, in His infinite wisdom and love for us has kept us in the faith, and has counted us worthy to remain standing faithfully in this world full of apostacy and idolatry. Show God our gratitude for His unspeakable love and grace.


By Alfred J. Chompff

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