I think there may be many of us who wonder what love looks like. You did not see it modeled at home. You have found it difficult to sustain relationships. So you want to know what love looks like.
Well, 1 Corinthians 13 is the place to begin.
Paul gives seven distinguishing marks of genuine love in these verses.
Seven Distinguishing Marks of Genuine Love
1. Love’s Patience
Love is patient… (1 Corinthians 13:4)
God’s Word has a wonderful way of bringing us down to earth. If you say to me, “Colin, do you love your kids?” I will say, “Yes, of course I do.”
If you say, “Colin, are you patient with your kids?” I will say, “…Could do better…”
Think about a person you care about. Do you want them to feel your love? Be patient with him. Be patient with her. Be patient with them. Grow in patience, and you will deepen your love.
Another way of translating what Paul says here is “love suffers long.”
Love expands your capacity to put up with difficult people and desperate situations.
That’s a wonderful thing because you can’t live in this world without coming across difficult people and desperate situations. If you expect to that everybody is going to care for you and seek the best for you in this world, you are going to be disappointed.
Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble!”
Living in this world, you have to develop the capacity to handle the injuries, disappointments, frustrations, let-downs, conflicts, and offenses that you will experience throughout the course of your life.
How do you develop that capacity? How do you live in a world like this, when people will wrong you and disappoint you in so many ways?
Answer: Love will give you the capacity to suffer long. Growing in love will give you the resilience you need to live in this fallen world.
2. Love’s Generosity
Love is kind. It does not envy. (1 Corinthians 13:4)
Scripture always brings us down to earth. We like to flatter ourselves about our character, but God’s Word searches us out.
If I asked, “Do you love your best friend?” most of you would say, “Yes I really love my best friend.”
But if I asked, “Are you generous to your best friend?” there would probably be a range of different answers.
Love is kind. Love is generous. The degree to which you are growing in kindness is the degree to which you are growing in love.
Someone has said that “the greatest thing a man can do for his Heavenly Father is to be kind to some of his other children.”
If you want to grow in love, try to bring pleasure to those God has placed around you in every way that you can.
Henry Drummond says,
Whenever you attempt a good work you will find other men doing the same kind of work and probably doing it better.
Here you are raising a child – someone else is doing it better.
Here you are running a business – someone else is doing it better.
Here you are serving in ministry – someone else is doing it better.
Whatever you are doing, there is always competition.
Now, how are you going to respond to that?
You meet up with someone from your college years, and it becomes very obvious that they have prospered more than you. How do you react?
Can you rejoice in the blessing they have received from God? Or do you come away saying, “Why did that not happen for me?”
It doesn’t really matter how talented or hard-working you are because there will always be someone else who does better, who is paid better, who looks better, and who is better.
How are you going to handle the greater success of other people?
Grow in love, and you will be released from envy. Cultivate a generous spirit, and you will be blessed.
3. Love’s Humility
Love does not boast. It is not proud. It is not self-seeking. (1 Corinthians 13:4-5)
The word that is translated “proud” here literally means “a wind bag.” This is a person whose conversation is mainly about himself or herself.
There’s a phrase that’s sometimes used to describe this kind of person: He was a missionary to the “When I” tribe: “When I did this, and when I did that…”
Alan Redpath once said,
When a man begins to boast, he is advertising his emptiness and his ignorance. There is no swagger about love. It is too big for that. The Lord Jesus Christ never ‘showed off.’ His greatness was revealed not merely in what He displayed, but in the things He suppressed.
“Love is not self-seeking” means that when you are growing in love, you don’t always have to get your own way.
Jonathan Edwards wrote,
A person of selfish spirit is ready to make much of the afflictions that he himself is under, as if his privations or sufferings were greater than those of anybody else.
Speak to anyone who has gone through major suffering – cancer, sudden bereavement, tragedy –and you will find someone who visited them and spent a great deal of time talking about their own indigestion or some other ailment!
The person who is self-seeking makes much of his or her own difficulties and, as a result, becomes insensitive to the needs and pain of others.
Love is not self-seeking.
Do you want to grow in love?
Stop being obsessed with yourself. Start taking a genuine interest in other people.
Love will release you from preoccupation with yourself.
Love begets forgetfulness of self, and forgetfulness of self is health.
4. Love’s Courtesy
Love is not rude. (1 Corinthians 13:5)
If you are in a situation where love is burning low, then this is the simplest place to begin.
Courtesy! Love is not rude.
Practice courtesy in the way that you speak:
Courtesy is like oil in the machinery of human relationships.
Practice courtesy in the way that you listen:
We all know what it is to barge in on what another person is saying with what we want to say. But love is not rude.
Courtesy says, “I will listen. I am interested in what this person is saying. I value what they think.”
Practice courtesy in the words you withhold:
It is easy to slip into the habit of speaking about people we love in a way that highlights their faults and their weaknesses. “Oh, he’s always like that.”
If you truly love someone, you will want others to think the best of them. Don’t bring out the worst in the person you love.
Love covers over a multitude of sins. Courtesy is discreet.
Practice courtesy in the words you withhold.
5. Love’s Restraint
Love is not easily angered. It keeps no record of wrongs. (1 Corinthians 13:5)
Love is not easily provoked, not irritable, not touchy, and not easily upset or offended.
Do people feel that they have to handle you with kid gloves? Do they feel cautious to speak to you freely because they are not sure how you will react?
It is not love that makes you like that.
In Jesus’ story about the prodigal son, there was an older brother who stayed at home. He was dutiful, loyal, hard-working, and upright, but there was a coldness in his soul.
When the father threw a party for his wayward brother who had returned home, the older brother “became angry, and refused to go in” (Luke 15:28).
Bad temper is a sure sign of a poisoned soul.
Have you ever caught yourself reacting sharply and then said to yourself, “Now why did I do that?” If you are burning on a short fuse, it tells that something has gone sour within you.
What can you do about that?
You need a fresh filling of the love of Christ.
Love will help you to exercise restraint on the frustrations that you feel. It will help you to keep your poise when you are provoked. Love is not easily angered.
Jonathan Edwards points out that there are many situations in which it is legitimate for a Christian to be angry. But he warns us about the danger of being angry for a long time:
If a person allows himself long to hold anger towards another, he will quickly come to hate him. And so we find that it actually is among those that retain a grudge in their hearts against others for week after week, and month after month and year after year. They do in the end truly hate the person against whom they thus lay up anger, whether they own it or not.
Then he says,
Ask yourself, “What good has been obtained by your anger, and what have you aimed at in it?”
Then love’s restraint is seen in this: It keeps no record of wrongs. Love is selective in its recall.
Love will choose to remember the good about a person, rather than to dwell on the wrongs they may have done.
6. Love’s Joy
Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth. (1 Corinthians 13:6)
Love finds no pleasure in other people’s failures.
When a man has fallen, love will think about the battle he must have fought and the struggle he must have had before he went down.
Love always thinks the best. It never presumes the worst.
Have you ever found yourself jumping to conclusions, only to discover that you had completely misjudged a situation?
Elijah presumed the worst when he came to the conclusion that the erosion of faith in Israel had become so desperate that he was the only one left who truly worshipped the Lord. But when God told him the truth, it turned out that there were 7,000 who had not turned the knee to Baal.
Eli came into the house of the Lord and saw a woman called Hannah. She was praying in her heart, so her lips were moving, but there was no sound. Eli presumed the worst, and he was quite sure that she was drunk.
He decides to confront her: “How long will you keep getting drunk. Get rid of your wine!”
Then he found that he had completely misjudged the situation and that this was a godly woman who was pouring out her soul to God in prayer, and God was listening.
How often on thorough examination have we found better things of others than we have heard and that at first we were ready to judge.
Could it be that a gloomy pessimism has taken root in your soul?
Do you find that your instinctive reaction is one of suspicion? Have you cultivated the habit of presuming the worst, rather than thinking the best? You need to be renewed in love.
7. Love’s Consistency
Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (1 Corinthians 13:7)
Notice the word “always.” Love is consistent. And it never gives up.
God is calling us to live like this, not just on Sundays, high days, and holidays, but every day.
Love is not an occasional gesture but an obvious aspect of character.
So here is a snapshot of what genuine love looks like: It is patience, generosity, humility, courtesy, restraint, joy, and consistency.
Examine Your Love
Look at your life at work and at home. Ask yourself these questions honestly:
With whom do I most need to be patient at this time?
Where do I need to be more generous? Which of my friends am I most likely to envy?
Who do I need to listen to better at this time?
How can I become more courteous?
Where are I showing bad temper or a sour spirit or self-pity?
Is there somebody whose difficulties have caused me pleasure?
What good thing in another person’s life has brought me joy this week?
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