Charity [agape love] suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not.…
— 1 Corinthians 13:4
During the next six Sparkling Gems, I want to speak to you about Paul’s words in First Corinthians 13:4-8, where he speaks of love. These powerful verses are like a mirror. If you will be brave enough to look honestly into that mirror, you will find that Paul lists fifteen powerful points about the love of God and how it behaves. By peering into these verses, you will be able to determine if your life is a reflection of the high-level kind of love God wants you to exhibit toward others.
If you discover that your life is a reflection of this love, you can praise God for the great growth and maturity you have attained in your life. But if you find that your life does not reflect the kind of love God wants you to possess, take it as a signal from Heaven that you need to change and become more like Jesus!
Paul wrote, “Charity [God’s high-level agape love] suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Charity never faileth…” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8).
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In these verses, the apostle Paul tells us fifteen primary marks or characteristics of agape love. We are going to be looking at all fifteen of these points; however, before we get into the specific manifestations of agape love, let’s first look at the word agape itself, for this is a very special kind of love, unlike any other in the world.
In First Corinthians 13:4-8, Paul uses the word agape to describe the highest level of love in this world, which is also the kind of love God expects every believer to demonstrate in his or her life. This word agape describes a love so completely different from what the world offers that it is only used in the New Testament to describe God’s love and the love that should flow from the hearts of believers.
Agape is a divine love that gives and gives and gives, even if it’s never responded to, thanked, or acknowledged. You could say that agape is a love that isn’t based on response but on a decision to keep on loving, regardless of a recipient’s response or lack of response. Because agape is such an unconditional love, I call it high-level love. It is the highest, most noble, purest form of love that exists.
- What are the marks of this kind of love?
- How does agape love behave?
- How can you recognize it?
- What is the evidence that a person is moving in this kind of high-level love?
In First Corinthians 13:4-8, Paul describes the characteristics of agape love. God designed these verses to help you determine whether or not you are walking in this kind of high-level love in your own life.
As Paul begins his description of the conduct of agape, he first writes, “Charity [agape love] suffereth long.…” The words “suffereth long” are taken from the Greek word makrothumia, a compound of the words makros and thumos. As noted earlier (see July 25), the word makros means long. The word makros may indicate something that is long, distant, far, remote, or of long duration. The word thumos means anger, but it also embodies the idea of swelling emotions or a strong and growing passion about something.
When these two words are compounded into one, it forms the word makrothumia, which pictures the patient restraint of anger and therefore longsuffering. It can be translated as the words forbearance and patience.
The word makrothumia (“longsuffering”) is like a candle that has a very long wick. Because its wick is long, it is prepared to burn a long time. It is ready to forbear and patiently wait until a certain person finally comes around, makes progress, changes, or hears what you are trying to communicate or teach him. This is the picture of a person whose feelings for someone else are so passionate that he doesn’t easily give up or bow out; instead, he keeps on going and going and going, even though the other person doesn’t quickly respond to him.
So when Paul says, “charity suffereth long,” his words could be rendered:
“Love patiently and passionately bears with others for as long as patience is needed.…”
Dear friend, this means agape love doesn’t throw in the towel and quit. In fact, the harder the fight and the longer the struggle, the more committed agape love becomes. Like a candle with an endless wick, it just keeps burning and burning and burning, for it never knows how to quit. This, of course, is contrary to human nature, which says, “I’m sick and tired of waiting and believing. If that person doesn’t come around pretty soon, I’m finished with this relationship.”
Are you in a relationship that tests your patience? Are you tempted to throw up your arms in exasperation? If so, you need a good dose of agape love to be released in you!
According to Romans 5:5, the agape love of God has already been “shed abroad” in your heart by the Holy Spirit. This means you don’t have to come up with this supernatural love by yourself. The words “shed abroad” are from the Greek word ekcheo, which denotes a pouring forth, a discharge, a spilling out, or something that is dispersed in abundance. In other words, God has magnificently bestowed on you sufficient love to be longsuffering in any relationship or situation.
God’s love has literally been poured forth, dispensed, and shed abroad in your heart. So when you ask the Holy Spirit to help you, He will release a river of this divine love to flow forth from within you and cause you to be supernaturally longsuffering toward that person who has frustrated you so much.
It’s just a fact that human nature is short-tempered and intolerant, but agape is slow to anger, slow to wrath, and doesn’t know how to quit! It supernaturally becomes stronger and more committed the longer it takes to get through to the heart of the one who is loved. This is a miraculous love — a love that transforms and changes people’s lives.
Second, Paul tells us that love is “kind.” The word “kind” is the Greek word chresteuomai, which means to be adaptable or compliant to the needs of others. When agape is working in your life, you don’t demand that others be like you. Instead, agape makes you want to bend over backwards to become what others need you to be for them! Thus, the word “kind” portrays a willingness to serve and to change in order to meet the needs of others. This is completely opposite of selfishness and self-centeredness.
So when Paul writes that love is “kind,” an expanded interpretation of this phrase would mean:
“…Love doesn’t demand others to be like itself; rather, it is so focused on the needs of others that it bends over backwards to become what others need it to be.…”
If this is what Paul means when he says that love is kind, we must look into the mirror and ask ourselves: Do I become what others need me to be, or do I demand that others be like me? Real agape love doesn’t think of itself first. Instead, it is always reaching out, thinking and focusing primarily on the needs of others. The person walking in agape love adapts to those around him in order to touch them, help them, and impact them in a meaningful way.
Third, Paul tells us that “…charity [agape love] envieth not….” The word “envy” is the Greek word zelos, which portrays a person who is radically consumed with his own desires and plans. This is a person so bent on getting his own way that he is willing to sacrifice anything or anyone to get it. You might describe this person as being ambitious and self-centered. He is so consumed with himself that he doesn’t ever think of the needs or desires of others. His own plans are paramount in his mind, and everyone else come after him.
Therefore, when Paul says, “charity envieth not,” his words could actually be rendered:
“…Love is not ambitious, self-centered, or so consumed with itself that it never thinks of the needs or desires that others possess.…”
I long so much to see this terrible flaw uprooted from all our lives! You see, real agape love doesn’t think of itself first but is always looking outward, thinking of the other person rather than itself. So examine your relationships at home, at church, and at work, and ask yourself: Am I committed to seeing others blessed and successful, or am I more committed to my own cause than anyone else’s? If you’re walking in agape love, your greatest concern is that others succeed!
When all these Greek words and phrases are translated together, this could be an expanded interpretive translation:
“Love passionately bears with others for as long as patience is needed; love doesn’t demand others to be like itself, but is so focused on the needs of others that it bends over backwards to become what others need it to be; love is not ambitious, self-centered, or so consumed with itself that it never thinks of the needs or desires that others possess.…”
This is what it means when the Bible says love is patient; love is kind; and love is not envious. Now you must look into God’s “mirror” and see what it tells you about your own life today. Do you demonstrate these characteristics of divine love in your life? Are you passionately patient with others? Do you bend over backwards to be what other people need you to be? Are you more focused on people around you than on yourself?
If your answer is yes to these questions, then praise God for the great growth and spiritual maturity you have gained in your life. But if you see that your life is not reflecting these attributes of God’s love, you still have something to rejoice about — you can be thankful that God has revealed this deficiency to you. Now you can ask Him to help change you and make you more like Jesus!
My Prayer for Today
Lord, I ask You to help me open my heart so that agape love can flow up from within me. I realize that I’ve allowed myself to get clogged up with my own self-interests far too often. I need to be more focused on the needs of others than I am on myself. I realize that the only way I can become this selfless is to yield to the Holy Spirit so He can do a deep work in my life. Holy Spirit, I am asking You today to do whatever is necessary to teach me how to regularly walk in this high-level, agape love of God.
I pray this in Jesus’ name!
My Confession for Today
I confess that I walk in the agape love of God. I am patient with other people. I am also very slow to anger or to get upset. I am so concerned about the welfare of others that one of my chief priorities in life is to become everything I need to be to meet their needs. Other people see me as a friend who wants to help them succeed. Although God has given me my own dreams and desires, I never neglect to help others achieve their dreams and aspirations as well. Because high-level love works in me, I am becoming more and more like Jesus Christ!
I declare this by faith in Jesus’ name!
Questions to Answer
1. Can you say that you are longsuffering and patient with others, or would you have to admit that you tend to be short-tempered and quick to “blow your top” when other people don’t do exactly what you expected them to do?
2. Can you say that you are compliant to the needs of those around you, or would you have to say you are continually demanding that others meet your needs? If we asked people who know you this question, how do you think they would answer? What would their answer reveal about you?
3. Can you say that you are more focused on other people’s needs and successes than on your own, or are you so totally consumed with yourself that it’s been a very long time since you’ve done something sacrificial to help someone else?