Sixteen Characteristics of Love

August 19 Day 231

Sixteen Characteristics of Love

I tried following the example of a missionary, I once heard about, who each day would read the four verses from today’s New Testament passage, which lists the sixteen characteristics of love. For the word ‘love’ she would substitute her own name. When she reached a characteristic that she knew was not true of her, she had to stop. Her aim was, one day, to get through the whole list.

The four verses (1 Corinthians 13:4–7) start with ‘love is patient’. So I substituted my own name and started with ‘Nicky is patient’. I do not think it will come as any surprise to those who know me well that I had to stop there!

The great evangelist D. L. Moody was once staying with a group of friends in England. One evening they asked Henry Drummond to read and expound on a portion of Scripture. After some urging, Henry drew a small New Testament from his pocket, opened it at 1 Corinthians 13 and began to speak on the subject of love. D. L. Moody wrote in response:

‘It seemed to me that I had never heard anything so beautiful. The one great need in our Christian life is love, more love to God and to each other. Would that we could all move into that love chapter and live there.’

We get an idea of what Henry Drummond must have said that evening in his book The Greatest Thing in the World. He writes: ‘What is... the supreme good? You have life before you. Once only you can live it. What is the noblest object of desire, the supreme gift to covet? In 1 Corinthians 13 Paul takes us to Christianity at its source; and there we see ‘the greatest of these is love.’

God is love. We deceive ourselves if we think we can love God and hate other people (1 John 4:20). Love should be number one on your spiritual priority list. It should be the main thing in your life. Love is, indeed, the greatest thing in the world. It is, in the words of St Paul, ‘the most excellent way’ (1 Corinthians 12:31). 

1. Enjoy God’s love for you

Psalm 100:1-5

The psalmist exhorts us to ‘Shout for joy to the Lord… Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs’ (vv.1–2). He tells us to ‘enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name’ (v.4); ‘Enter with the password: “Thank you!”’ (v.4, MSG); ‘Be thankful and say so to Him’ (v.4, AMP).

Why? What is the reason for such joy, thanksgiving and praise? The psalmist gives the answer in verse 5: ‘For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.’

God is good and he loves you. This pretty much sums up the message of the entire Bible. It is his love that is the source of our love: ‘We love because he first loved us’ (1 John 4:19). Understand, believe and accept that he loves you and enjoy his love.

Lord, I thank and praise you for your amazing love for me. Thank you that your love endures forever. Thank you that your love is the source of my love for you and for others. Help me to enjoy your love today.

2. Embrace a life of love

1 Corinthians 12:27-13:13

Henry Drummond explains that at the beginning of this chapter we have love contrasted; in the heart of it, we have love analysed and towards the end we have love defended as the supreme gift.

  • Love contrasted
    The description of love in 1 Corinthians 13 is one of the most beautiful and best-known passages in the entire New Testament. Many non-churchgoers would recognise it as being read at weddings. Paul places it in the middle of his teaching about the gifts of the Holy Spirit in the body of Christ.

He lists nine gifts in 1 Corinthians 12:27–30. At the start of chapter 12 he also listed nine gifts. There is an overlap of five. So thirteen gifts of the Holy Spirit are listed in all. Paul has been describing the importance of these gifts for the body of Christ to function fully.

He is not diminishing the importance of gifts by talking about love. Rather, he is saying ‘gifts are very important, but love is even more important.’ We desperately need the gifts of the Holy Spirit to be properly exercised in the church today. However, as in Paul’s day, love is even more important. It is ‘the most excellent way’ (v.31).

In fact, Paul says if we have all the gifts and give everything we have to the poor and die the death of a martyr but we have not love, we gain nothing (13:1–3). He is not criticising the use of the gifts, such as speaking in tongues and prophecy (vv.1–2), anymore than he is criticising philanthropists or martyrs (v.3). He is simply stressing the importance that everything you do should be done in love.

  • Love analysed
    Paul then lists sixteen characteristics of love. Every time I read this list I feel deeply challenged. I know how far short of all these characteristics – not just the first one! – I so often fall. I like The Message translation:

            ‘Love never gives up [‘Love is patient’, NIV]
            Love cares more for others than for self.
            Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
            Love doesn’t strut,
            Doesn’t have a swelled head,
            Doesn’t force itself on others,
            Isn’t always “me first”,
            Doesn’t fly off the handle,
            Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
            Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
            Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
            Puts up with anything,
            Trusts God always,
            Always looks for the best,
            Never looks back,
            But keeps going to the end’ (vv.4–7, MSG).

  • Love defended
    Love is permanent. Everything else is temporary. All the gifts of the Spirit will one day be unnecessary. Some have argued that what Paul is saying here is that the gifts of the Spirit (such as speaking in tongues) would cease at some point in history. In fact, he is saying the very opposite. He is saying that the gifts of the Spirit will not cease until we see Jesus ‘face to face’ (v.12). As yet we do not see Jesus ‘face to face’ and therefore the gifts of the Spirit have not yet ceased. We still need them desperately.

But, the greatest thing in the world is love. Faith, hope and love are a great trilogy, but ‘the greatest of these is love’ (v.13).

Lord, we desperately need this kind of love in the church today. Help me grow in love to reflect the way St Paul describes. May I make my love for you, and for others, the highest priority of my life.

3. Ensure that love is the main thing

Song of Songs 5:1-8:14

The word ‘love’ or ‘lover’ appears over and over again in the Song of Songs. It is all about romantic love between a lover and his beloved. They are overcome by love for one another. The beloved says that she is ‘heartsick with love for him’ (5:8, MSG).

There is a strong element of physical and erotic love. Both describe the physical beauty of their marriage partner (5:10–16; 6:4–9). As one commentator put it, ‘The Song of Songs is a long, lyric poem about erotic love and sexual desire – a poem in which the body is the object of desire and source of delight, and lovers engage in a continual game of seeking and finding in anticipation, enjoyment and assurance of sexual gratification.’

But their love goes way beyond the physical and the erotic. The beloved says, ‘This is my lover, this is my friend’ (5:16c). There is nothing better in marriage than having someone as your partner, your lover and your best friend.

In yesterday’s passage the lover says, ‘You are a garden fountain, a well of flowing water’ (4:15). Each human being has a never-ending flow of beautiful and wonderful resources.

As the Song of Songs draws to an end, there is a beautiful description of the never ending quality of love: ‘Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm; for love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave’ (8:6). And now, after the resurrection of Jesus, we can say that love is even stronger than death: ‘Love never fails’ (1 Corinthians 13:8).

Again, I like The Message version:

‘The fire of love stops at nothing –
   it sweeps everything before it.
Flood waters can’t drown love,
   torrents of rain can’t put it out.
Love can’t be bought, love can’t be sold –
   it’s not to be found in the marketplace’ (8:6c–7, MSG).

Thank you, Lord, that your love for me is like a fire that stops at nothing. May my love for you be the highest priority in my life. Thank you that your love cannot be bought or earned, but only gratefully and humbly received.

Pippa Adds

1 Corinthians 13:1–7

These extraordinary verses need to be read constantly in homes, schools, businesses… everywhere. They should be studied, learnt and practised.

References