1 Corinthians 13


Is part of a letter that the Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Corinth where he:

       Thanks God for their salvation and giftedness (1:4-9)

       But corrects them on such things as:

         Ch. 1-4 - Divisions, quarreling, and jealousy

         Ch. 5-7 - Sexual immorality, taking each other to court

         Ch. 8-10 - Abuse of Christian freedom and idolatry

         Ch. 11 - Abuses in taking the Lord’s Supper

         Ch. 12,14 - Abuses of spiritual gifts – especially tongues and prophesy

         Ch. 15 - Failure to believe in the resurrection


1 Corinthians 13 is often referred to as “the Love Chapter”
(The Greek word for love is used 9 times in 13 verses!)

          What kind of love is Paul talking about in 1 Corinthians 13?

       Not eros love (a sexual love – Prov. 7:18)

       Not philos love (a friendship love – Jn. 11:3)

       In 1 Corinthians 13 Paul refers to agape love:

         A regard, respect, and caring concern for another person that does not depend on the worthiness or “lovableness” of that person (cf. Rom 5:8, Luke 6:32-35)

         An act of the will which places the welfare of others above the interests of oneself (cf. Phil 2:1-5ff)

         The NT standard for agape love is Christ’s sacrificial love for His people (John 13:34)


Some Profound Statements Made Concerning (agape) Love in the NT

         Jesus taught in Matthew 22:36-40 that the entirety of OT teaching hangs on two love commands:

         Love God with all your heart and soul and mind

         Love your neighbor as yourself

         Paul makes it even simpler: For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself." (Galatians 5:14 - ESV)

         If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. . . . But love your enemies. . . expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great. . . (Luke 6:32,35a - ESV)

         Let all that you do be done in love. (1 Corinthians 16:14 - ESV)

         Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. (1 John 4:8)


Analysis of the Text of 1 Corinthians 13

In 1 Corinthians 13:1-13, Paul uses three approaches to teach us about Christian love:

13:1-3 – In the first approach Paul uses three extraordinary hypothetical examples to teach us that love is the essential ingredient in the Christian life.


13:1 – A person with extraordinary giftedness in languages without love becomes just a lifeless noisemaker

 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 

What does it mean to “speak in tongues”?

         The Greek word for “tongue” can refer to a language

         Thus to “speak in tongues” means to speak in languages

         Earlier in this letter (1 Corinthians 12:10), Paul lists the ability to speak in “different kinds of tongues” along with other spiritual gifts like the ability to perform miracles, prophesy, etc.

         Thus “speaking in tongues” in this context probably refers to an extraordinary ability to speak in other languages – perhaps like what happened on the day of Pentecost:

        All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. Utterly amazed, they asked: "Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? (Acts 2:4-8)


        The Corinthians apparently valued their ability to speak in tongues (cf. chapter 14)

        But Paul says that even if they were given the ability to speak an angelic language, they are still just a noisemaker if they don’t have love.


13:2 – A person with extraordinary giftedness in spiritual knowledge and faith without love is a spiritual zero

If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.

What is the “gift of prophecy”?

         A person with the “gift of prophecy” was a person who received direct revelation from God and then communicated that revelation to others

         Sometimes the prophecy involved a prediction of some future event (Acts 11:27-28; 21:10-14)

         Usually prophecy also involved instruction and exhortation from the Lord:

        But everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort. (1 Corinthians 14:3)

What are "mysteries"?

         In the New Testament, a mystery is something that can only be know by divine revelation


        Later in this letter (14:1) Paul will encourage the Corinthians to “eagerly desire” the gift of prophecy even above the other spiritual gifts (especially tongues) – nevertheless, prophecy without love is of no spiritual value

        Knowledge was apparently important to the Corinthians as Paul uses the word (gnosis) quite a bit in writing to the Corinthians – but without love it is of no value.

        Jesus talked about a faith that could move mountains (Matthew 17:20; 21:21; Mark 11:22-23), but again, without love such a faith is of no value.


13:3 – A person of extraordinary generosity and self sacrifice without love gains nothing for their efforts\
A brief lesson in “textual criticism”:

         Among the early manuscripts we have for this verse, we find two possible readings:

        If I give all I possess to the poor

        and surrender my body

         to the flames (kauthesomai)


         that I may boast (kauxesomai)

        but have not love, I gain nothing.

         Scholars are not certain which reading is the original reading.

         But notice that while the readings differ significantly in meaning, neither reading changes Paul’s argument in the least.

         Contrary to what some liberal scholars claim, only about 1% have even this much uncertainty (i.e. where scholars are unsure of the original and the difference in meaning is significant).

         And even in this rare category, as we see in this verse, no significant bible teaching is in question due to such a variation.


     Even acts of extraordinary sacrifice, which when viewed by others might even seem to show love - if they are not motivated by love then they do not benefit the person doing them.

The material on this page was presented in a series of four sermons on 9/24/2006 by Bob Connolly at Enola Baptist Church (located in in Enola, AR) . Unfortunately the first three sermons were not recorded, but the fourth sermon is available by clicking on the link below. The sermon begins with a overview of the entire chapter  and then gives a detailed, practical analysis of verses 4-13. (Note : To download this sermon, right click the link and select "Save Target As. . . ")

Listen to sermon on 1 Corinthians 13:4-13


13:4-7 – In the second approach Paul uses 15 practical examples to teach us how love behaves.

  One important  grammatical point that affects our understanding of these four verses:

        "Most English translations render the Greek as if it used adjectives to describe the nature of love ‘timelessly,’ e.g., love is patient; love is kind; etc.

        But the nature of love is expressed by Paul in a series of verbs, the active character of which may not be fully indicated by adjectives

        Our translation strives to preserve the verbal structure of the Greek, as against the adjectival structure of many English translations”

        (Anthony C. Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, Eerdmans Publishing, 2000, p.1046)

Thiselton Translation:

4 Love waits patiently, love shows kindness. Love does not burn with envy; does not brag – is not inflated with its own importance.

5 It does not behave with ill-mannered impropriety; is not preoccupied with the interests of the self; does not become exasperated into pique [irritation or anger]; does not keep a reckoning up of evil. 

6 Love does not take pleasure at wrongdoing but joyfully celebrates the truth. 

7 It never tires of support, never loses faith, never exhausts hope, never gives up.

(Thiselton, p. 1026)

Love waits patiently

         Literally means “long-tempered” (as opposed to short-tempered) or “long suffering”

         Examples of other NT uses:

        1 Thessalonians 5:14 - And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone.

        In 2 Peter 3:9, the patience of the Lord is seen in waiting for the appropriate time to return - The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

        In Hebrews 6:15, the writer commends Abraham as a model of one who waits patiently for God’s timing - And so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised.

         “Love waits patiently not only because it deals patiently with the loved one but also because it recognizes that the right timing  plays a huge part in securing the welfare of the other. Love does not blunder in.” (Thiselton, p.1047)

Love shows kindness

       This verb appears only here in the NT and only in Christian literature outside the NT.

       But the adjective and noun forms of the word occur frequently in ancient Greek literature – so there is no doubt about the meaning of the word.

         The word suggests the warm generous welcome the Christian always gives his brothers . . .does his utmost to be thoughtful, helpful and kind, always in a pleasant way.” (Thiselton quoting C. Spicq, p.1047)

Love does not burn with envy

      The Greek word used here can have either a positive or negative connotation depending on the context – but in either use it conveys a strong passion.

         For example it is used positively in 12:31: But eagerly desire the greater gifts

         When used negatively as it is here, it means to burn with envy

         Love. . . does not begrudge the status and honor of another, but delights in it for the sake of the other.” (Thiselton p.1048)

Love does not brag

      This Greek verb appears only here in the NT, but it does appear in other first century Greek literature.

       An even better translation might be, “love does not play the braggart” (Robertson, Word Pictures, IV, p.178)

      The verb connotes status seeking and an attitude of superiority.

Love is not inflated with its own importance

         The Greek word here (phusioo) comes from a word that was used to refer to a pair of bellows.

         This becomes a colorful and vivid metaphor for becoming blown up with self-importance like the frog in Aesop’s fables. (Thiselton p. 355)

       The word appears only seven times in the NT, six of which are in this letter!

       Here Paul contrasts love which involves respect and concern for the welfare of others with an inordinate desire for status and recognition.

         How much behavior among believers and even ministers is actually “attention seeking” designed to impress others with one’s own supposed importance?  (Thiselton p.1049)

Love does not behave with ill-mannered impropriety

         The verb used here appears only in one other place in the NT: If anyone thinks that he is not behaving properly toward his betrothed (1 Corinthians 7:36 - ESV)

         The adjectival form of this word appears only in 1 Corinthians 12:23 where Paul alludes to “unpresentable” parts of the body, i.e., those which good taste and public decorum expect to be clothed.

         In all three contexts there is a contrast between courtesy, good taste, and good public manners on one hand and self gratification regardless of appropriate behavior and decorum on the other.

         In other words, “love does not act in ways that are contrary to the requirements of propriety and good order” (Thiselton quoting J. Hering, p.1049).

Love is not preoccupied with the interests of the self

         Here we see a contrast between agape love and eros love:

        eros love seeks to gratify its own desires

        agape love seeks to benefit the other person

         When God’s agape [love] is shed abroad in a man’s heart through the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5) his life gains a new center. The emphasis is transferred from his own ego to Christ. (Thiselton quoting A. Nygren, p. 1051)

         Agape love is not looking for its own advantage, but for the good of others

        For Christ did not please himself. . . (Romans 15:3 -  ESV)

        Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others. (1 Corinthians 10:24)

Love does not become exasperated into  irritation or anger

         This word implies that one has been on the receiving end of provocative or irritating behavior which, were love not present, would result in exasperation

         This exasperation then would be expressed either as irritation or anger

         “Love, Paul urges, does not become exasperated into pique [irritation or anger],

        partly because patience delays exasperation and

        partly because lack of self-interest diverts a sense of self-importance away from reacting on the grounds of wounded pride:

        ‘it is not embittered by injuries, whether real or supposed’”

        (Thiselton, p.1052)

Love does not keep a reckoning up of evil

         The verb logidzomai used here is an accounting term which can refer to a reckoning up of money

         Here Paul refers to the “reckoning up” of evil (kakos)

         “[Love] does not lay the evil which it suffers to the charge of the wrong-doer. Instead of being resentful, it is forgiving.” (Charles Hodge, I&II Corinthians, Banner of Truth, 1978, p.270)

         “Love does not have ‘the habit still widespread even among Christians of keeping a reckoning of the faults of others’” (Thiselton quoting J. Hering, p. 1054)

Love does not take pleasure at wrongdoing

         The phrase (translated “does not rejoice in unrighteousness” in the NASB) could refer to a general enjoyment and/or approval  of unrighteousness like Paul speaks of in Romans 1:32 -  Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

         But in this context, all of the other items listed have to do with how a loving person should treat others.

         Therefore Paul probably has a more specific idea in mind – something to the effect that love does not gloat over other people’s failures.

         “If we genuinely love a person, we should not take pleasure at conduct which affords us the opportunity to lecture them or rebuke them about their wrongdoing.” (Thiselton, p.1054)

But love joyfully celebrates truth

         The second half of the verse is in contrast with the first – separated by the word “but”  - [love] does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth (NASB)

         The second “rejoice” (in the NASB) is the same word in the original as the first “rejoice” only with an added prefix (sun-) which changes the meaning to “rejoice with” or “celebrate”

         Genuine love is free to seek truth, without anxiety about whether it helps or hinders one’s personal agenda.

         The symmetry of v. 6a and  v. 6b is now apparent . . . Love takes no pleasure in someone else’s failure, and delights in integrity and reality. If the situation is bad, love wants to help; if the situation is good, love wants to celebrate. (Thiselton, p.1056)

         Compare with Romans 12:15 - Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.


Note on the traditional translation of 1 Corinthians 13:7:

         The traditional translation of 1 Corinthians 13:7 - [love] bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things is somewhat misleading.

         If we take this translation at face value, for example, we would believe everything?! What all would that include?!

         The NIV avoids this problem and conveys what is more likely the true sense of the original: [love] always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

         The all here should describe the unlimited extent which love demands that we “bear. . . believe. . . hope”, etc., not the unlimited extent of the content of what we bear, believe in, or hope for.

Love never tires of support

         The exact meaning of this verb (stego) is open to debate.

         Scholars generally agree that it is in the same family of words as the word for “roof” (stege) – cf. Mark 2:4

         Thus it could mean:

        To cover (like a roof covers a house) love throws a cloak of silence over what is displeasing in another person (BAGD)

        To bear (i.e. put up with, cf. 1 Cor. 9:12) although this would seem to be a repeat of the last word in the verse

        To protect (NIV)

        To support "like a mother’s love which ceaselessly gives support to her child" (Thiselton, p.1058)

Love never loses faith

         “Is not suspicious, but readily credits what men say in their own defense.” (Hodge p.271)

         “Not that a Christian . . . strips himself of wisdom and discernment . . . not that he has forgotten how to distinguish black from white!” (Thiselton  quoting Calvin, p.1059)

         “But being rid of ‘ill-founded suspicion’” (Thiselton  quoting Calvin, p.1059)

         “‘Believing the best’ about all people” (Thiselton  quoting Augustine, p.1060)

Love never exhausts hope

         “Hopes for the best with regard to all men” (Hodge p.271)

Love never gives up

         “The word [hupomeno] is properly a military word that means to sustain the assault of an enemy. Hence it is used in the New Testament to express the idea of sustaining the assaults of suffering or persecution, in the sense of bearing up under them, and enduring them patiently.” (Hodge p.271)

         “Finally [hupomeno] refers to an endurance of setbacks and rebuffs which never gives up on people, whatever they do. . .This is agape, Deluz observes; ‘Like Christ on the cross, love endures scorn, failure, ingratitude . . . At the end shines out the light of Easter. For love never ends.’” (Thiselton, p. 1060)


13:8-13 – In the third approach Paul teaches the superiority of love over all other Christian gifts and virtues.

13:8-10 – Love is eternal; the gifts are temporal.

        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. 

        9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 

        10 but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears.

13:11-12 – Two Illustrations demonstrating the superiority of the eternal state over the present state.

         Illustration #1:

        11 When I was a child,

        I talked like a child,

        I thought like a child,

        I reasoned like a child.

        When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. 

          The impression which the sight of the heavens makes on the mind of the child is for the child a just and true impression . . .Yet that impression is very different from that which is made on the mind of an astronomer. In like manner our views of the divine things will hereafter be very different from those which we now have. But it does not thence follow that our present views are false. They are just as far as they go, they are only inadequate.” (Hodge, p.273)

         Illustration #2:

        12 Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror;

        then we shall see face to face.

        Now I know in part;

        then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

          It was common in the first century to use a mirror as a metaphor for indirect knowledge.

         “Fee correctly perceives Paul’s use of the mirror metaphor to indicate indirect knowledge. Here the limitations, fallibility, and ‘interests’  of the observation and inference can lead to mistaken judgments and opinions” (Thiselton, p.1069)

13:13 – Of the three eternal virtues (faith, hope, and love), love is the greatest.

         Love is the greatest of the three eternal virtues: faith, hope, and love:

        And now these three remain:


         hope and


        But the greatest of these is love.

         Note: faith and hope continue in eternity, but in a different form than the present:

        We live by faith, not by sight. (2 Corinthians 5:7)

        But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? (Romans 8:24B)