1 Corinthians 13:4-8 is one of the most popular Bible verses about love. You’ve likely heard it read at a wedding. In the passage the Apostle Paul gives 15 characteristics of love to encourage and challenge the church in Corinth.
For us today the 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 meaning holds some incredible truth that we should not ignore. This passage reminds us both of the love that God has for us and also the love that we are to display towards those around us.
Before we look at the 1 Corinthians 13 meaning, let’s look at why Paul wrote those words to this church.
The Context Of 1 Corinthians 13:4-8
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 1 Corinthians 13:4-8
We tend to think of the Bible as a single book. But in reality the Bible is a unique collection of 66 books. Some are filled with poetry, some history, and some personal letters. And that’s why it’s important when we pick up the Bible that we understand what we are reading. If we don’t we can miss how a passage applies to our lives today.
In the case of 1 Corinthians, this was a letter written to the church in Corinth. Now this city was a major commercial center in Paul’s day. And it was also known for immorality, idol worship, paganism, and some pretty crazy debauchery.
Paul writes to this church because they are struggling to exist in a culture like this and disunity is starting to form. Paul wrote this first letter to address these issues.
In the second half of this letter Paul spends much of his time addressing the lack of love within the church. They had forgotten the love that Christ displayed for them and were failing to show that same love to those around them.
This leads us to the now famous “love chapter.” The words used here are active verbs in which Paul was challenging this church to live out.
But before he gives these words, he starts off 1 Corinthians 13 with a reminder as to why this is important. In 1 Corinthians 13:1 he argues that without love nothing really matters. In fact, he says without love all our efforts are just a “clanging cymbal” or a “resounding gong.” In short, ineffective and rather annoying.
We need love. Love is what is most important and what can actually bring about change. This echoes Jesus’ words in John 13:35, that we are to be known by our love. This is the root of everything followers of Jesus should do.
And with that, Paul launches into 15 characteristics of love. Let’s look at the meaning of 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 and see what it teaches us.
1 Corinthians 13:4-8 Meaning
Now that we know the context, I want to break down these characteristics. Since there are so many we will only look briefly at each one.
Love Is Patient Meaning
Patient love is persistent. It’s choosing to love even when you don’t feel like it or the other person isn’t deserving of it. It’s a love that’s based off a commitment, not a feeling. This love perfectly describes God’s love for us.
Love Is Kind Meaning
In a world that wants to give people what they deserve and that is quick to cancel people for their mistakes, the Bible shows us a different way. Love, true love, is kind. This implies that we react with kindness and goodness, rather than harshness. Again, think of how God responds to us in his love. This isn’t to say love doesn’t rebuke, but that those are done in a gentle way with love at the center.
Love Does Not Envy Meaning
In Western culture we are obsessed with ourselves. We want, and think we deserve, what others have. And when someone gets “ahead” of us, we envy them. But true love doesn’t envy, it celebrates. Love is not displeased when others experience the success we want.
Love Does Not Boast Meaning
Boasting is bragging, it’s praising ourselves, thinking we are better than others. True love doesn’t boast, but it recognizes our achievements are where our value is found. We don’t need to prop ourselves up to make ourselves feel better because we are already enough in Christ.
Love Is Not Proud Meaning
Pride is feeling overly self-confident in our own abilities, we hid our mistakes and project confidence. We see this attitude all over in our culture. But love requires a different approach: humility. God calls us to a life of humility in which we rely on God for our strength and provision.
Love Is Not Rude Meaning
Remember love is kind, therefore it cannot be rude. Love must care for others, respect their feelings, and share their concerns. Love does not act disgracefully, it honors.
Love Is Not Self-Seeking Meaning
We are naturally selfish; we don’t have to try hard to think about ourselves. But love requires that we put aside this tendency and think about others. This kind of love doesn’t insist on getting its way or prioritizing itself. Rather it focuses on the needs of others.
Love Is Not Easily Angered Meaning
This goes back to “love is patient.” When we are wronged we typically rush towards anger and revenge. They deserve it after all. But this kind of love challenges us to pause for a minute and reflect on what God does for us when we make a mistake. True love is not easily angered.
Love Keeps No Record Of Wrongs Meaning
Here’s the reality. We’ve all been wronged AND we’ve all wronged others. And what Paul is saying here is true love doesn’t hold those wrongs that have been done to us against the wrong doers. Instead, we should practice forgiveness.
This can be exceptionally challenging for many and more than we can deal with in this post. For more check out: What Does The Bible Say About Forgiveness?
Love Does Not Delight In Evil But Rejoices With Truth Meaning
Love focuses on living in God’s truth and not evil. The world is constantly telling us all the things we need to be happy and satisfied. But love doesn’t pay attention to those and instead rejoices in God’s truth.
Love Always Protects Meaning
Love protects, it stands with the oppressed and hurting. But not only that, love also calls out sin in others. Not to bring shame or harm, but to correct and protect others from going down a path than will hurt them.
Love Always Trusts Meaning
Love trusts, even when things don’t make sense. God will often lead his people down paths that may seem scary or even like the wrong way. But love trusts, it understands that God can see things we cannot, and it trusts God to lead us through.
Love Always Hopes Meaning
Similar to the previous, love ALWAYS hopes. Even when there seems to be no reason for hope, love finds it. Love is centered firmly on what God has done for us. And no matter what we are facing we can have reason to hope because of what he has done for us.
Love Always Perseveres Meaning
Love doesn’t give up when the going gets hard, it perseveres. So often in our culture when things get hard we bail. But true love goes through the difficult trails trusting that God will lead them through.
Love Never Fails Meaning
Here’s the promise that Paul ends on: love will never fail. God will never fail. He will complete the work he has promised. You are not forgotten, too lost, or broken beyond repair. His love for you will never fail. And one day all things will be made new.
3 Ways You Can Apply the 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 Meaning To Your Life
One thing I love about the Gospel is that it’s surprising easily to understand. Living it out is another story, but it is simple. And I think this passage perfectly encapsulates the Gospel and gives us some powerful ways we can live it out.
So, let’s distill the 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 meaning into three simple ways that you can live it out.
1. Focus On God’s Love For You
This is where it starts. God’s love for you. We can do nothing else until we understand the love that God has for us.
Go read attributes found in this passage again. Seriously, go read through it one more time.
That is God’s love for you. That’s how his love looks like in action. He shows you patience, kindness, and goodness. He protects you, looks out for you, and gives you hope. He will never fail you.
You need to let that soak in. The depth and beauty of his love for you. That should be something that you reflect on daily.
2. Reflect On How You Love God Back
God’s love for us should motivate us to love him back. He’s gone to great lengths and paid a steep price to show us his love. And in response, when we accept his love, we love him back.
That means we commit time to our relationship with God. We carve out time to pray. Find ways to connect with him. Study his word AND listen to what it says.
Loving God means that we submit to him. Why? Because he loves us and wants what is best for us. We can trust him because he won’t lead us astray.
3. Evaluate How You Are Loving Those Around You
In Matthew 22:37-40 Jesus was asked, “What Is The Greatest Commandment In The Bible?” His response was simple and surprising. Love God AND love those around you.
We cannot say we love God and hate those around us. Our love for God is shown in how we treat the people we interact with. Every follower of Jesus is commanded to display the same love that was shown to us first.
It’s important in this that we don’t forget the first point we looked at, God’s love for us. BECAUSE of what God has done for you, you are to do the same for others. This is our response, to sacrificially love as we have been loved sacrificially.
So, ask yourself: Am I loving those around me as Jesus has loved me?
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Thanks for reading this blog post on the 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 meaning. I hope that it helped you better understand these 15 characteristics of love. If it did, you would share it with a friend so they too can benefit?
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