How to Love as God Loves

How to Love as God Loves

Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude.  Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  — I Corinthians 13

I’ve read this very well known text countless times, mostly at weddings.  The word in the Greek that the Apostle uses are various cognates of the familiar agape–or love.  What’s fascinating for me is that agape as a word, and the idea of loving in general, had been evolving even before Paul got a hold of it.  Before the coming of Christ, agape is neither a commonplace Old Testament word, nor did it appear very much in Greek literature.

With primitive humans love was entirely emotion.  It roughly equated to lust.  It was the sexy intoxication that overtakes lovers.  Back when religion focused on fertility, love was something that drove the gods and goddesses to procreate and in so doing to enrich and enliven the earth.  Worship was similarly sensuous.  It was all feeling.  What happened in the pagan temples entailed sexual reenactment, maybe with cult prostitutes and other kinds of ecstatic expression.

In the centuries leading up to the coming of Christ, love came to be seen as emotional to be sure, but now with an element of moral willfulness.  When Jesus says: “Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength…and your neighbor as yourself, ” he’s aligning himself with the basic character of Israel’s faith.

The new situation that Jesus brought into the world and proclaimed in his life and teaching, lifted the idea of love to a new level.  The little-used word family, agape, back in the First Century had a vague meaning, equating roughly to satisfaction or mercy.   That vague term, however, became the very concept into which Paul and others breathed profound new significance.  Agape in Paul’s mind, agape or love, had become the organizing center of all Christian behavior.

Jesus’ New Order–the Kingdom of God

Jesus’ coming, execution, and return from the grave opened up a magnificent new vista on how God was loving his Creation.  The arrival of a new order–namely, the Kingdom of God–enabled a new order of human living.  At the center of this new ethos was love.

No one understood this more deeply than Paul.  This passage on love is no Hallmark Card sentimentalism.  Paul gives us here the character qualities not only of God’s being, but also of those whose life is transformed by following Jesus.  I Corinthians 13 doesn’t stand alone.  Paul is discussing Spiritual gifts, the different abilities which the Holy Spirit gives to individuals for their functioning in the community of Christ followers.  Wouldn’t you think that if someone were gifted by the Spirit to teach or discern spirits, that this capacity would be sufficient in its own right? What Paul is pressing upon us is that even spirit-given abilities are without value unless exercised in love.

Understanding the Love Jesus Brought

In I Cor. 13:4-7, Paul gives us an expansion of several descriptors of agape.  I’ve extended the idea and expanded on each of these in the chart below.  These definitions are not my ideas but summaries of the articles on each word in Kittel’s, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament.

Because love is so central, because it reflects Jesus’ essential nature, and because it has expanded in significance as a result of the  Christ-event, I find Paul’s discussion here to be gloriously practical.   I need to embody all of this.  And having a simple list is a big help for painting a picture of how a disciple of Jesus ought to be developing.  It’s equally useful as an examination of conscience.


Greek WordTranslationExpansion or Nuances of the Greek Word
μακροθυμειhas patienceSuffers long; waits patiently; spans
between the grace and wrath of God. Not
overlooking but restraint which stands
alongside of anger and postpones
activation of wrath. God’s patience
kindles people’s patience. Love knows
how to wait despite suffering.
χρηστευεταιis kindKindness. A mixture of gentleness and
helpfulness. Often a description of God’s
mode of operation toward people. Love is
indulgent in the best sense
ϕυσιουταιis not puffed upTo inflate; puff up; arrogant. From the
word for bellows
περπεπρυετυαιis not vaingloriousTo boast; bluster; arrogance of speech.
Loquacious; talkative; exaggerating;
wounding with words. Love is careful with
παροξυνεταιnot quickly provokedTo provoke or irritate; stir to anger; incite.
Love does not pick a fight or stimulate
another to lash back.
λογιζεταιreckons not evilTo reckon; charge with; impute; keep track
or score. Love does not rack up demerits
against the beloved.
ζητειseeks not the things
of its own
To seek; desire; inquire into; wish for.
Also expecting or patiently waiting for. To
seek one’s own suggests an attitude of
getting what’s coming to me. Love doesn’t
lay claim to what it feels it is entitled to.
ζηλοιis not enviousZeal for or earnest desire. To strive after
with envious greed. Grasping. In this
context love does not make of the beloved
hunted prey. Love backs off for the sake
of the beloved’s freedom.
ασχημονειacts not unseemlyTo not act improperly or unseemly.
Derived from root meaning bearing or
personal carriage. Not dishonorable,
unbecoming. Love knows how to act.
αληθεια[rejoices with the]
Freedom from error; truth; sincerity;
honesty; integrity. The speech, action, or
thought of a person of integrity. Certainty
or force; genuine. The “real state of
affairs.” Love is glad when the truth is
spoken or revealed.
αδικια[rejoices not at]
Wrong; injustice; unrighteousness. Love
isn’t glad when wrong or lawlessness
takes place.
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