by Shawn Brasseaux
In today’s world and culture, the word “love” is used very flippantly. Many people speak of it, but very few know what it is. While people have their minds focused on the upcoming “Valentine’s Day,” with all its distorted views of love (fornication in paganism), we offer this sound doctrine from God’s Word to correct the misunderstandings of what love really is.
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The thirteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians is often wrongly referred to as “the Bible’s great love chapter,” when it is, in fact, the Bible’s great charity chapter. As we will see, while the words charity and love are often used interchangeably, they are not entirely synonymous. The Apostle John, writing to the nation Israel, writes about love in 1 John 4—this is “the Bible’s great love chapter.” Although we understand that 1 John is not written to us as members of the Church the Body of Christ, we can learn about love, and specifically, God’s love for us.
In 1 John 4:8b,16b, we read, “God is love.” Let us read some of the other “love” verses in 1 John 4 KJV:
“9 In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.
10 Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another….
19 We love him, because he first loved us.”
How did God commend His love for us? By sending His Son, Jesus Christ. Everyone is familiar with John 3:16—“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Did they ever read 1 John 3:16? “Hereby we perceive the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” (By the way, for those who encourage us to remove the King James’ italicized words, I think they would agree that the italicized clause “of God” should be left intact here!) The issue is not how much we love God, but rather how much He loves us! God first loved us, and in Jesus Christ, He has given us the capacity to love Him in return.
The word “love” (or its forms “loved,” “loveth,” “beloved,” et cetera) appears some 640 times in the King James Bible. “Love” first appears in the Bible in Genesis 22:2, when the LORD commands Abraham, “Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.” Abraham offering his “only begotten son” on Mount Moriah (Hebrews 11:17) is a preview/type of what God the Father would do 2,000 years later when He would offer up His “only begotten Son” on Mount Calvary (John 1:18)!
Earlier, in 1 John 4:8, we read, “God is love.” Love is the very nature of God. True love originated from God: God is the source of true, unfeigned (genuine), pure love. For instance, in Matthew 3:17, God the Father says that Jesus Christ is His “beloved Son, in whom He is well pleased” (cf. Matthew 17:5; Mark 1:11; Mark 9:7; Luke 3:22; Luke 9:35). John 3:35 says, “The Father loveth the Son” (cf. John 5:20; John 10:17; John 15:9). John 14:31 says that Jesus Christ “loved the Father.” In John 15:9, Jesus told His apostles that He loved them just as His Father loved Him. How much did God the Father love Jesus Christ? As much as Jesus Christ loved His disciples! And just how much did Jesus Christ love His disciples? Jesus explained in verse 13, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” Jesus loved His friends, the nation Israel, so much that He eventually died for them (see Matthew 20:28). For their sakes, He was willing to give all that He had! Although we will discuss it later, this is what Paul meant when he wrote of “being spent for others” (2 Corinthians 12:15).
By dying on behalf of His friends, Jesus was demonstrating the love that He and His heavenly Father shared. In John 17:23, Jesus prayed to His Father: “[Thou] hast loved them [His disciples], as thou hast loved me.” The Father loved His friends so much that He was willing to give up His Son for them! In verse 24c, Jesus continues praying, “for thou [Father] lovedst me before the foundation of the world.” The Son was willing to give up His life because He loved the Father, and the Father was willing to give up His Son because He loved Israel!
Moreover, when we come to the ministry of the Apostle Paul, we learn that Christ Jesus did not just die for His friends, Israel (the “many” of Matthew 20:28), but that He died for the entire world, His enemies, the Gentiles! Romans 5:8-10 KJV explains:
“8 But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
9 Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.
10 For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.”
In 1 Timothy 2:6, we read that Jesus Christ “gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.” Until the ministry of Paul, God was only offering salvation to Israel. Today, in our dispensation, Paul declares the Gospel of the Grace of God: it was the love of God for all of mankind that sent Jesus Christ to Calvary, and it was the love God the Son (Jesus Christ) had for His Father that sent Him to Calvary. Again, this is the Bible’s definition of love—willing to be spent for others (and this attitude will result in charity, an action that proves that love). That Gospel of the Grace of God declares that Christ Jesus died for our sins, the wretched people that we are, shed His innocent blood for us, the guilty sinners, and that He was buried to put away our sin and sins, and that He was raised again the third day to give us His life when we trust Him alone as our personal Saviour (1 Corinthians 15:1-4)! Friends, God’s love for us could not be any clearer.
THE LOVE OF CHRIST CONSTRAINETH US
In 2 Corinthians 5:14, we read: “For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead.” Our Christian lives are not driven by our love for God; they are propelled by God’s love for us! It is God’s love working in us… it is the love of Christ! Romans 8:37 speaks of “him [Jesus Christ] that loved us.” Now, we move come to the issue of “charity.”
CHARITY DEFINED AND EXPLAINED
“Charity” appears 28 times in the King James Bible (unfortunately, modern Bibles omit the word “charity” and replace it with “love”). The first time “charity” appears in the King James is 1 Corinthians 8:1: “…Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth.”“Charity edifieth”—it builds up and strengthens. But, what is charity? A simple definition of charity is “the outward working of love; love in deed.” In 1 Thessalonians 1:3, charity is referred to as the “labour of love”—the love of God working in us, causing our Christian service to reflect that love (helping others, caring for others, seeking the best interest of others, and so on).
The Apostle Paul defined charity in 2 Corinthians 12:15: “And I will very gladly spend and be spent for you; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved.” Paul was willing to “gladly spend and be spent” for the Corinthians—he sought their highest good, even if it meant a loss for him. As we discussed earlier, remember that this was the same love of God that operated in Jesus Christ when He went to Calvary’s cross for us.
Human nature is selfish. Naturally, we only think about ourselves: “How can I benefit from this? What can I get?” According to the Bible, this is the antithesis of love and charity. Love causes you to think of others, while charity causes you to do for others. That is, God’s love causes us to focus on how others can benefit from a situation, while charity is the outworking of love to bring about an action that will benefit others.
Now, here is where we can use 1 Corinthians 13, the Bible’s great charity chapter. The Corinthian believers were abusing spiritual gifts (see 1 Corinthians 12:1 and 14:1), especially the gift of tongues (see 1 Corinthians chapter 14). Thus, the context of 1 Corinthians 13 is spiritual gifts. These believers were using spiritual gifts to draw attention to themselves, so Paul wrote, “He that speaketh in an unknown tongue [gibberish] edifieth himself; but he that prophesieth edifieth the church” (1 Corinthians 14:4). Corinth was fixated on emotional upheavals and experiences (today’s charismatic movement). The assembling of the saints at Corinth was nothing more than a circus act that caused the lost world to sneer and blaspheme God (1 Corinthians 14:9,23,40, et al.). It made a mockery of Christian service and grace living.
The Holy Spirit through Paul wrote 1 Corinthians chapter 13 in order to show the Corinthians that love led the Christian to use his spiritual gift for others’ benefit, not for his benefit. By looking at the outward working of love (charity), we see what God’s love really is all about. According to 1 Corinthians chapter 13:
- verse 4 – “charity suffereth long” (God’s love is longsuffering and patient)
- verse 4 – “charity is kind” (God does not want you to serve Him in fear; compare 1 John 4:18)
- verse 4 – “charity envieth not” (God’s love does not covet)
- verse 4 – “charity vaunteth not itself” (God’s love is not boastful)
- verse 4 – “charity is not puffed up” (God’s love is not prideful or arrogant)
- verse 5 – “charity doth not behave itself unseemly” (God’s love does not act inappropriately or unruly)
- verse 5 – “charity seeketh not her own” (God’s love is not selfish)
- verse 5 – “charity is not easily provoked” (God’s love is patient)
- verse 5 – “charity thinketh no evil” (God’s love is not quick to falsely accuse)
- verse 6 – “charity rejoiceth not in iniquity” (God’s love hates evil)
- verse 6 – “charity rejoiceth in the truth” (God’s love promotes and encourages the Truth, His Word; John 17:17)
- verses 7 & 8 – “Charity beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Charity never faileth….” (God’s love cannot be hindered, God’s love can endure anything, and God’s love is reliable and trustworthy—God’s love will NEVER EVER fail, and Calvary is all the proof you need of that!) 🙂
Romans 12:10 describes our Christian service: “Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another;” Again, “preferring one another” is love—seeking the other person’s highest good, putting them ahead of yourself, even if it means you must sacrifice something (time, energy, resources, and so on). This is what Paul meant in 1 Corinthians 10:24 when he wrote, “Let no man seek his own, but every man another’s wealth.”
The Bible says in 2 Corinthians 6:6 that the “love unfeigned” (the love of God working in them) drove Paul and his coworkers in the ministry to continue in their Christian service, despite the hardships, so that others would benefit from their ministry work.
Philippians 2:3-4 further explains love and charity, “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.” And then Paul provides an example of someone who had this mental attitude—JESUS CHRIST (verses 5-11)!
In Romans 13:8-10, God through Paul instructs Christians, “love one another… therefore love is the the fulfilling of the law.” When we let the love of Christ constrain us—us letting Christ in us love the person—we will fulfill the law in our Christian service! If we Christians allow the Holy Spirit work in us, we will not steal, kill, covet, lie, or commit adultery. Again, we will be seeking the other person’s highest good. Our lives will be filled with the love of God, and others will see it, bringing praise and glory to the Lord Jesus Christ, whose love they see operating in us!
Love, as defined by the Bible, is putting others ahead of yourself. To seek their highest good, even if it means we have to forfeit something (time, energy, resources, and so on). God’s love for them will result in charity, God’s love motivating you to serve them. Now, please understand that God NEVER expects us to be doormats, and we are NOT to let someone take advantage of us. The grace of God teaches us that if God’s love sent Jesus Christ to Calvary’s cross to die for our sins, so we could be saved, then we should allow the indwelling Holy Spirit to cause God’s love to work in us, to “constrain” us, to push us forward, so that we can tell others about that love and we can let Him live His life in us for His glory by having lives filled with charity. Then, God them His love He has for them by using our lips and our lives… so that we can demonstrate “God is love!”