1 Corinthians 13:
The Greatest of These is Love

1 Corinthians 13:  The Greatest is Love

1 Corinthians 13 is the "love" chapter of the Bible.  If you want to know the definition of love, 1 Corinthians 13 is the chapter you want to read. 

In the overall context of this chapter, the writer in actually addressing spiritual gifts.  But of all the gifts that have been given, there is something better.  That something is love.   

In chapter 12, the Christians were being childish in how they viewed spiritual gifts.  Some thought that their gift was better than another gift.  They were of more importance to the church than someone who had a different gift.  This led to them acting arrogant and mistreating other Christians.  

Paul reminds them that all the spiritual gifts come from the same Holy Spirit.  It did not matter what gift you had.  Everyone in the congregation was valuable. 

At the end of chapter 12, the writer points them to something even better.  


1 Corinthians 12.31:  “But earnestly desire the best gifts. And yet I show you a more excellent way.”  

There is something that is more excellent than all the spiritual gifts that man could ever perform.  1 Corinthians 13 tells us that the "more excellent way" is love.  

You cannot turn water into wine.  You do not have the ability to speak in languages that you have never studied.  You cannot lay hands on someone and heal them of a terminal illness.  But you can do something that is even greater than all of the miracles that have ever been performed.  You can love.  







The Greatness of Love

1 Corinthians 13.1:  “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal.”  

This verse refers to the ability to speak in languages that you have not previously studied.  If you can speak languages that you have never studied before, but you do not love the way you are supposed to love, you are just making a bunch of noise that doesn’t mean anything.  Love is greater than anything that you could ever say.  

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, but have not love, I am nothing.”

This verse refers to the ability to prophesy.  Suppose you received divine revelation or prophecy and had the ability to know the mind of God and could tell people what God was thinking.    If you had this ability but did not love the way you were supposed to love, you are nothing.  

Suppose you had the knowledge of everything and could win jeopardy hands down.  Suppose you could answer any question someone asks, and you could answer it correctly every time.  If you do not love the way you are supposed to love, then you are nothing.  

Suppose you had a faith that was so strong, so unwavering, so unassailable, so complete that there is no room for growth.  It is a faith that could relocate a mountain.  If you did not have love, your faith means nothing.  Love is greater than anything that you could ever have.

1 Corinthians 13.3:  “And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.”

Suppose you take everything that you own and sell it, and take the money and donate it to charity, but you do not love the way you are supposed to love, then it does you no good.  

Suppose you suffered death as a martyr to prove that you are dedicated, but you do not love the way you are supposed to love.  This verse says that there is no benefit.  Love is greater than anything that you could ever do.  

These three verses emphasize the fact that love is the most important quality to possess for any Christian.


The Description of Love

After we see the greatness of love in the first three verses of 1 Corinthians 13, Paul begins to show what love does and does not do.  He described love in 1 Corinthians 13.4-7.  Let’s see if we can figure out what Paul is saying.


1 Corinthians 13:4

1 Corinthians 13.4:  “Love suffers long and is kind”  

The phrase “suffers long” comes from a single Greek word which is makrothumeo.  This is a compound Greek word and breaks down like this:

  • The first part is “makro” meaning “long.”  
  • The second part is “thumos,” and this is the word for anger.  
  • When you put these two words together you have a word that literally means “long to anger.”

When you love you the way you am supposed to love putting the interests of others ahead of your own, then it will take a long time before you reach the point where you are angry at someone and lose your temper.

Not only is love long to get to the point of anger, but love is kind.  In context, Paul is writing about spiritual gifts in chapter 12.  There were some who thought they were superior and were mistreating others because they thought their gifts were better.  

Paul is saying to these who are being mistreated that love is slow to come to anger.  Instead of getting angry, love responds to being mistreated with kindness.  

If you love the way you should, then it will take me a long time to get angry when you are mistreated.  Instead, you will respond to being mistreatment with kindness.  

1 Corinthians 13.4:  “love does not envy”

Envy is a word that describes passion.  Envy is to be distinguished from jealousy.  Jealously desires to have the same thing that someone else has.  Envy desires to deprive someone of what they have.  If you see that someone has a nice car and you are envious, that means that since you cannot have it, you don’t want them to have it either.  

Paul says that love does not envy.  When we love one another the way we are supposed to love, we are not going to be envious.  We will not think that it is unfair that we don’t have what they have, and want it taken away from them.  You don’t make it about myself.    Love does not do that. 

1 Corinthians 13.4:  “love does not parade itself”

The Greek word for “parade itself” is “perperuomai.”  There are certain breeds of toads that will make a lot of noise.  It sounds like a bunch of toads, but when you look, you only see one toad, and you realize that all that noise was being made by a single toad.  

Have you ever seen a one man band?  He has a drum, a harmonica, a trumpet, and a host of other instruments, and he is playing them all himself.  He ends up making a lot of noise.  He is a one man parade.  All of this captures the idea of someone calling attention to himself.

When you love, you are more interested in giving yourself to others, lifting them up rather than calling attention to yourself.

1 Corinthians 13.4:  “is not puffed up.”

Love does not inflate himself for the purpose of getting attention.  Love diverts attention away from self and toward others.  Love is selfless rather than being selfish.  Paul put it this way in Philippians 2.1-4

Philippians 2.1,2:  “Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.”

Paul is writing about love.  He writes about the comfort of love and having the same love toward one another.  Now watch what it means to have this same love.

Philippians 2.3,4:  “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.”

Love steps away from self for the sake of others.  Love is humble as it seeks to lift up others while lowering self.  When you act selfishly, you lift yourself up.  You puff up yourself.  You parade yourself.  You want everyone’s attention on you.  Often when you do that, it comes at the expense of someone else.   Do you put others down so that you can lift yourself up and make yourself feel superior?  Love doesn’t do that.  Love humbles itself so that others can be lifted up.  


1 Corinthians 13:5

1 Corinthians 13.5:  “is not rude.”

The word translated as “rude” comes from the root Greek word “echo.’  It means, “to hold.”  It has in front of it, the letter “a.”  When the letter “a” acts as a prefix to a word, it negates the word.  Literally, this word means, “not to hold.”  It is describing the idea of not holding your composure. Love does not lose composure.  

When you love, you are not going to lash out in anger acting in a way that is inappropriate for civilized society.  You are not going to get bent out of shape.  You are going to maintain your form of civility, and keep yourself under control.   You are going to watch what you say, and be careful how you say it.  You are going to watch what you do and how you do it.  Love makes you a gentleman.

1 Corinthians 13.5:  “does not seek its own”

Love does not demand to have its own way.  To seek carries the idea of searching far and wide to find and obtain something.  Love does not go on a mission to seek and find its own way.

1 Corinthians 13.5:  “is not provoked”

The word “provoke” comes from the Greek word “paroxuno.”  It breaks down like this:

  • Para:  “by the side.”
  • Xuno:  “to sharpen.”
  • Put together, it means “to sharpen by the side.”

It is a word that describes someone sharpening a knife by rubbing it on the side of some implement used to sharpen it.  Eventually, the word came to means “challenge.”  

If you love the way you am supposed to love, you will not allow the way someone mistreats you provoke you to anger.  Love doesn’t allow others to provoke it.

1 Corinthians 13.5:  “Thinks no evil”  

The word translated as “thinks” is “logizomai.”  This is where we get our English word “logic.”  Love does not logically think of things to do that are evil.  Love does not logically draw conclusions which are evil.  Someone might logically conclude that the only reason you are being nice is because you want something from him.  Love doesn’t do that.  Love thinks the best about people.


1 Corinthians 13:8

1 Corinthians 13:6

1 Corinthians 13.6:  “does not rejoice in iniquity”

The idea of “iniquity” is one who does not do what is right.  It describes someone who does harm to another.  It is someone who does not do what is right, but has caused damage that is physically, emotionally, or spiritually.

This is not referring to the person that does harm, but the person who rejoices at the suffering of another.  Have you ever wished harm to come to someone?  Have you ever been glad to see someone who wronged you suffer in some way?  Have you ever hoped that the person who hurt you gets what they deserve?  Do you rejoice if they do?  Even when their suffering is deserved, Paul writes that love does not rejoice over the suffering of another. 

How are we supposed to treat those who harm and injure us?  Are we supposed to respond with the same harm they caused us?  Let’s read the words of Jesus Himself.

Matthew 5.44:  “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you,”  

Are we to repay evil for evil?  Are we to treat as enemies those who mistreat us as some were teaching?  Jesus says that we are to love our enemies.  Jesus explains further.  

  •  “Bless those who curse you.”  The word “bless” literally means “to speak well.”  The word “curse” means those who call on God to strike you down.  Jesus says that when someone calls on God to strike you down, you are not to do the same.  Instead, you are to speak well of them.  
  • “pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you”  We are to speak well of those who call on God to strike me down, and to ask God to bless those who falsely accuse me of evildoing or try to hurt me in some way.

This is what love does.  Love does not rejoice over the suffering of those who mistreat us.  Jesus tells us that we are to love our enemies by doing good to those who hate us.  Instead of speaking evil of them, we are to speak well of them.  Instead of wishing harm to come upon them, we are to pray for them.  Why?  Because love does not rejoice in iniquity.  

1 Corinthians 13.6:  “but rejoices in the truth.”

What is truth?  That very question was asked by the governor of Judea who presided over the trial of Jesus Christ  (John 18.38).  If you back up to John 17.17, Jesus prayed to the Father and said, “Your word is truth.”  Truth is the word of God.  

What does this truth do?  In John 8.32 where Jesus said that “the truth shall make you free.”  Just a couple verses later, Jesus explains that truth frees us from the bondage of sin.  Here is the word of God which is truth.  This truth, when read and obeyed, sets us free from our sins.

Take this thought back to 1 Corinthians 13.6.  What we have in 1 Corinthians 13.6 is a contrast.  When you love the way you are supposed to love, you are not going to rejoice over your enemies being punished for their wrongdoing.  You are not going find pleasure when those who have wronged you suffer.  Love doesn’t do that.  Instead, love rejoices in their being made right.  You don’t want your enemies to suffer.  You want them to be saved.  You want those who have wronged you to reconcile with you.  Who wants to live a life filled with anger and resentment over those who have done them wrong?  


1 Corinthians 13:7

1 Corinthians 13.7:  “love bears all things”

The word for “bear” is a verb form of a Greek word that means “roof.”  The phrase “bears all things” translates a word that means “puts a roof over all things.”  Why would you put a roof over something?  You do so to protect it.

Love puts a roof over someone and protects him by concealing him from everyone else.  You have been wronged.  But you do not want anyone else to know about it.  You are going to protect their reputation.  You are going to conceal what they did.  You are not going to advertise it and call attention to it.  You are not going to spread rumors.  Instead, you are going directly to the one who wronged you to make it right.  This is between you and me.  

That’s what love does.  When you love the way you are supposed to, you are going to protect the one who mistreated you.  

1 Corinthians 13.7: “love believes all things.”

Simply stated, love believes the best in people unless the evidence proves otherwise.  It isn’t going to jump to conclusions.  It isn’t going to gossip.  It isn’t going to listen to gossip.  When you love the way you are supposed to, you are going to believe the best in that person until you get to the bottom of it, and the evidence tells you otherwise.  That’s what love does.   

Suppose someone hurt you in some way.  What’s the first thing you need to do?  You need to go to him privately and tell him that he hurt you.  The reason you need to go to him is because there could be any number of reasons why he did what he did.  It could be that you misunderstood.  It could be that what was said was taken out of context.  So you go to him, and you work it out to clarify things.  

Suppose that what you do is condemn him before you even have a chance to hear him out.  You assume he is guilty.  You go and tell others what he did to you.  You might even exaggerate the details to really inflame your emotions against him.  Love doesn’t do that.  Love believes the best in someone unless the evidence proves otherwise.

1 Corinthians 13.7:  “Love hopes for all things.”  

Love believes the best in people, and love hopes for the best.  Love believes the best in people and hopes that everything is as it believes it to be until the evidence says something to the contrary.   Love is not just self-controlled.  Love is gentle in how it deals with people.  

Think about this person that hurt you.  Are you sure that they did what you think they did?  Are you sure you have all the details and did not jump to conclusions?  Are you sure that there was not a context or a circumstance that might make what they did understandable?  Are you sure that you know what happened, why it happened, and when it happened?  Love makes certain.

When you think about that person who has hurt you, you are commanded by God to step away from those hurt feelings.  Instead, believe the best in others, and hope for the best in others.  In other words, step away from those hurt feelings and treat them with love.

1 Corinthians 13.7:  “love endures all things”

The word translated as “endures” is the Greek word “hupomeno.”  This is another word that can be broken down into two parts.

  • Hupo is a verb that means “to remain.”
  • Meno is the Greek word for “under”.  

Putting the two together, you have this concept of remaining under the pressure.  Instead of giving up when you are under pressure, you stand your ground and remain under the pressure.  Here it is translated as “endure.”

When someone mistreats you, you are going to protect them by keeping what they have done between you and him.  Nobody else needs to know about it.  

Not only are you going to keep the matter private, but you are going to remain under the pressure.  That is, you are not going to give into the temptation of losing control and responding to what he did to you by being unkindness toward him.

You hear people say that they don’t like the way someone treated them, so they determine to retaliate or treat them in a way that is unkind.  Love doesn’t do that.  Love says that you are going to keep it between you and him, and you are not going to allow it to affect the way you treat him.  


Conclusion of 1 Corinthians 13

1 Corinthians 13.8-12:  “Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part.  But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.” 

The ability to miraculously speak the mind of God because of divine inspiration will come to an end.  The ability to speak another language that you have never studied will come to an end.  The ability to have knowledge without ever having studied to gain that knowledge is going to come to an end.  

In contrast to prophecies that will fail, tongues that will cease, and knowledge that will canish way, love will never fail.

1 Corinthians 13.10-12:  “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.” 

Simply put, the knowledge that they had in the first century was revealed to them in bits and pieces.  But the time would come when the full revelation of God would be known.  

1 Corinthians 13.13:  “And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” 

You will never have the ability to walk on water.  You will never have the ability to take a few loaves of bread and fish and feed five thousand people.  You will never be able to calm the sea with the wave of a hand.

But you can love.  You can act in a way that is in the best interest of others.  We can forgive those who have hurt us.  We can humble ourselves so that we see ourselves as being here to help others.

Of these three qualities that must be a part of the life of every Christian, which one is the greatest?  Paul writes that “the greatest of these is love.”  The Bible tells us that how we feel about each other is even greater than your faith in God, and is even greater than your hope of heaven.  



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