Characteristics of Love

Mark Mayberry
Clarksville, Tennessee


More has been written about love than any other human emotion, yet tremendous misunderstanding surrounds the subject. In 1 Corinthians 13, the apostle Paul sets forth the various characteristics of Christian love (1 Cor. 13: 1-8). Let us consider his teaching and apply it to our lives.

A. Negative Qualities of Love

1. Envieth not. Love is not jealous (NASV); love does not envy (NIV, NKJV); love envies no one (NEB). Love does not allow us to become filled with jealousy and bitter resentment toward others (Gen. 4:1-8). It causes us to demonstrate a generous spirit, and rejoice at the success and good fortune others enjoy.

2. Vaunteth not itself. Love does not brag (NASV); love does not boast (NIV); love is never boastful (NEB); love does not parade itself (NKJV). This particular Greek word is quite vivid. Arndt and Gingrich define the rood word as "a windbag." Love does not seek the praise and applause of men (Matt. 6:14). It causes us to realize the importance of others, and it limits our esteem of self. Love causes us to give of self rather than to assert self.

3. Is not puffed up. Love is not arrogant (NASV); it is not proud (NIV); love is never conceited (NEB). Pride is a grave sin (Prov. 6:16-19; 16:5). This unbecoming attitude comes from either a haughty over-estimation of one's own importance, or from a grave inferiority complex. Both problems can be cured by an application of Christianity to our lives.

4. Doth not behave itself unseemly. Love does not act unbecomingly (NASV); it is not rude (NIV); love is never rude (NEB); love does not behave rudely (NKJV). This general term has broad range of applications. Love does not act in a disgraceful, dishonorable or indecent way. It avoids anything that is unseemly. It behaves with courtesy, good will, and genuine respect of others (1 Pet. 3:8-12). Sometimes we are nice to others, but hard on those in our family. Let us remember that good manners begin at home.

5. Seeketh not her own. Love does not seek its own (NASV, NKJV); it is not self-seeking (NIV); love is never selfish (NEB). Some people appear to be concerned only with themselves. However, love is the antithesis of selfishness. God teaches us to first consider the needs of others (Phil. 2:1-8).

6. Is not easily provoked. Love is not provoked (NASV, NKJV); it is not easily angered (NIV); love is not quick to take the offense (NEB); it is not touchy (Phillip's Translation). Some of us are quick tempered; we become irritable over little things. However, where there is love, there is self-control (Eph. 4:26; Col. 3:8; Jas. 1:19-20). The flames of wrath are not easily kindled, nor do they keep burning long in a heart filled with love.

7. Thinketh no evil. Love does not take into account a wrong suffered (NASV); it keeps no record of wrongs (NIV); love keeps no score of wrongs (NEB). Paul uses a technical term in this passage. This Greek word was used in commercial dealings to describe entering debits/credits into a ledger. We must not keep a running account of offenses that we have suffered. Dwelling on such things always leads to bitterness and resentment. Love does not harbor a sense of injury (Prov. 17:9; 1 Pet. 4:8). When God forgives, he forgets. He said, "Their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more." We should have the same attitude.

8. Rejoiceth not in iniquity. Love does not rejoice in unrighteousness (NASV); love does not delight in evil (NIV); loves does not gloat over other men's sins (NEB). It is all too characteristic of human nature to take pleasure in the downfall of others. Love finds no pleasure in sin (Prov. 2:10-14). Love can never be indifferent to moral considerations. Christians should be grieved whenever sin is committed. We recognize that God's will has been violated, and also understand that someone has been hurt. Sin harms the transgressor and also those with whom he or she is associated.

B. Positive Qualities of Love

1. Sufferth long. Love suffers long (NKJV); love is patient (NASV, NIV). Love does not quickly become angry at the shortcomings and mistakes of others. In contrast with those who have an explosive temper, love operates with a long fuse. It has an infinite capacity for forbearance (1 Thess. 5:14; 2 Tim. 2:24-25).

2. Kind. Love is kind (NKJV, NASV, NIV). Love demonstrates a good natured and considerate spirit. It is expressed through active good-will. Love seeks out opportunities to help others (Matt. 25:34-40; Eph. 4:31-32). As a poet once said, "I shall pass through this world but once. Any good thing, therefore, that I can do, or any kindness that I can show to any human being, let me do it now. Let me not defer it, or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again."

3. Rejoiceth in the truth. Love rejoices with the truth (NASV, NIV); love delights in the truth (NEB). Love and truth go hand in hand. One cannot truly exist without the other. A love for truth is at the very heart of Christianity (Jn. 8:31-32; 2 Thess. 2:10-12). When the truth is victorious, love shares the gladness of its victory (3 Jn. 3-4).

4. Beareth all things. Love bears all things (NKJV, NASV); it always protects (NIV); there is nothing love cannot face (NEB). Life can be tough, but those who live by the principle of love will not yield to complaining, grumbling or bitterness. They will bravely withstand the trials of life. Love enables us to endure all manner of adversity (2 Cor. 11:23-28; Jas. 1:24,12).

5. Believeth all things. Love believes all things (NKJV, NASV); it always trusts (NIV); there is no limit to its faith (NEB). It is easy to think the worst, but love maintains faith in others. Love looks for the good rather than the evil; it focuses on the bright spots, not the dark shadows. Love is ever ready to make excuses for others; it throws a mantle of kindness over the faults and shortcomings of others. Try to positively interpret the actions of other people. Love refuses to yield itself to unfounded suspicions. It causes us to give others the benefit of the doubt. Unless you are presented with conclusive evidence to the contrary, believe the best about your fellow man (2 Cor. 7:16; 2 Thess. 3:4; Phile. 1:21).

6. Hopeth all things. Love hopes all things (NKJV, NASV); it always hopes (NIV); there is no limit to its hope (NEB). We ought not be pessimistic in our view of others. Rather, we should hope for the best in our fellowman. Love never loses faith in others or in God. Hope looks forward. Love refuses to accept momentary failure as final (Lk. 13:6-9). In a crisis, it does not despair. Rather, it anticipates the ultimate triumph of God's grace.

7. Endureth all things. Love endures all things (NKJV, NASV); it always perseveres (NIV); there is no limit to its endurance (NEB). in the Greek this was a military term that referred to the ability of an army to sustain an assault. It described stedfast endurance in the face of difficulties. Love causes us to bravely persevere. It enables us to overcome the difficulties, persecutions, and temptations which befall us. Christianity provides us with the fortitude to overcome the adversities of life (Heb. 12:1-4). Love is patient in tribulation.

8. Never faileth. Love never fails (NKJV, NASV, NIV); love will never come to an end (NEB). Few things in life will endure, but love is permanent. This beautiful chapter closes with the statement: "And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity" (1 Cor. 13:13). One day faith will become sight, hope will be realized, but love will endure for eternity (1 Cor. 2:9; 1 Jn. 3:1-2).


As we have seen, Christian love (Greek: agape) is a multifaceted jewel. It causes us to be patient with others, and not quickly retaliate against their shortcomings. Love results in active kindness. It causes us to shun evil attitudes such as resentment and envy. Love doesn't allow us to become puffed up with pride; nor does it act in a boastful, rude, or unbecoming way. Instead, we treat others in a courteous and respectful manner. Love is not self-seeking. Selfishness is to be laid aside, and replaced with genuine consideration for the needs of others. Love doesn't allow us to become easily angered. If we truly love others, we will not keep a running ledger of their mistakes. Love produces a genuine morality. Whereas the world takes pleasure in sin, he who practices biblical love delights in the truth. Love is steadfast: it beareth, believeth, hopeth, and endureth all things.

Christian love is the summation of what godly conduct is all about. Without it we will not see God. How well do we manifest this quality in our lives?

Guardian of Truth XXXVI: 15, pp. 468-469
August 6, 1992