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Understanding Biblical Love (agápē)

Updated: Jul 22, 2020

Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.

1 Corinthians 13:4-8

Jesus gave a new commandment, "That ye love one another as I have loved you"(John 13:34-35). This new commandment raises the bar for the expression of love among the disciples of Christ. The Apostle Paul goes on the define this love (agape) in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8. In this passage the Apostle outlines fifteen characteristics of love. In the above video Pastor Kent Jacob examines this passage and shares his understanding of the meaning of these characteristics of love. He provides definitions of each of the fifteen characteristics of love. A few question are included at the end for personal reflection.

Love suffers long (long-suffering; patience; endurance)

To be patient in bearing the offences and injuries of others. Being mild and slow in avenging; slow to anger; slow to punish. To have forbearance or fortitude. Longsuffering is that quality of self-restraint in the face of provocation which does not hastily retaliate or promptly punish; it is the opposite of anger, and is associated with mercy. Patience is the quality that does not surrender to circumstances or succumb under trial; it is the opposite of despondency and is associated with hope.

Love is kind (gentle; to do good to others)

To be kind, to show one's self mild, gentle: to use kindness; to be gracious; to be good-natured, tender, affectionate; to be courteous, polite. A man who truly loves another will be kind to that person, desirous of doing good; will be "gentle," not severe and harsh; will be “courteous" because he desires the other person’s happiness, and would not intentionally cause him agony or grief.

Love does not envy (not envious or jealousy)

To envy is to be zealous "against" a person; to be jealous of; to feel uneasiness, embarrassment, or discontent at the sight of the achievements, excellence or reputation enjoyed by another; to be unhappy at another's prosperity; and to fret oneself on account of his real or fancied superiority. Love does not envy the happiness which others may enjoy but it delights in their welfare; and as their happiness is increased by their endowments, their rank, their reputation, their wealth, their health, their domestic comforts, their learning etc., those who are influenced by love rejoice in all this. They would not attempt to diminish it; they would not embarrass others in their possession nor would they detract from that happiness; they would not complain or be despondent that they themselves are not so favoured.

Love does not vaunt itself (not boast or brag about oneself)

Charity does not vaunt itself. It is not ostentatious (i.e. to have a pretentious or showy display intending to impress others). Love is not a proud boaster of what he has, his abilities, his accomplishments; his wisdom, riches, honour, strength, or spiritual gifts; One who is influenced by love does not boast about what he does, since what he does, is done from a principle of pure love, and with a view of giving glory to God. His motive is not to be seen of men, or to gain their esteem and applause. Love does not seek measures and opportunities to promote his own honour and interest, without considering what will be the consequence, nor is he rash with his mouth, or hasty with his lips, to utter anything inappropriate before God or men. Further, Love does not speak deceitfully or hypocritically, for nothing is more contrary to true genuine love than deceit and hypocrisy.

Love is not puffed up (not proud, conceited)

Love is not swollen with pride, or elated with a vain conceit of oneself, of his abilities, of his learning, eloquence, wisdom, and knowledge. Love is not intent on proudly lifting up himself above others. It does not look down on others with contempt or disdain. Charity, or the grace of love, edifies and preserves persons from being puffed up with themselves, or one against another. Humility is therefore, an attribute of love.

Love does not behave unseemly (not rude, unbecoming)

To behave unseemly is to act improperly, unbecomingly, disgracefully or even dishonourably. It is to be indecent, immodest, vulgar. That which is against accepted moral behaviour. Love is not so inclined. Love seeks that which is proper, suitable or appropriate in the circumstances and relations of life in which we are placed. True love would lead to the avoidance of profane and indecent language, improper allusions, double meanings and innuendoes, coarse and vulgar expressions, because such things are repulsive to the ear, and offensive to the heart of purity. Love is given to purity and behaves decently.

Love does not seek her own (not self-seeking, selfish, self-centred)

Love is not selfish. Those who embody true, biblical love do not insist upon their own way or their own rights. They do not take any thought for themselves nor pursue their own interests. They are unselfish. Genuine love does not seek its own happiness exclusively or even mainly. Instead, it seeks the welfare of others as more important than its own — even when personal sacrifice and self-denial become necessary. This does not mean that we should completely neglect our own health and welfare or that we should entirely disregard ourselves. It emphasises that our happiness, comfort, and interests are not to be our main priority, especially not at the expense of others.

Love is not easily provoked (not angered easily)

To be provoked is to excite to indignation or wrath. We therefore understand that love is not provoked to anger or roused to anger. One who is under the influence of love is not "prone" to violent anger or exasperation; it is not his character to be hasty, excited, or passionate. He is calm, serious, patient. He looks soberly at things; and although wrong may be done to him, he governs his passions, restrains his temper and subdues his feelings. True love does not give way to sudden bursts of feeling. When offended, love looks kindly on other’s actions; considers the best of the motives; contemplates that it is possible that the nature of or the reasons for the conduct was mistaken; seek or desire explanation; wait till all angles of the matter can be pondered; and think it possible that the action may have been influenced by good motives, and that there may be a satisfactory explanation the conduct.

Love thinketh no evil (does not harbour evil thoughts)

It means, love does not reckon, charge, or impute to others any evil intention or design. Love is not malicious, severely critical of other, disposed to find fault, or to impute improper motives to others. A person under the influence of love is not disposed to "think" that there was any evil intention even in cases which might tend to irritate or exasperate us. When we truly love someone we think well of them. We will not think ill of his/her motives, opinions, or conduct until we are compelled to do so by the most irrefutable evidence. Does not hold grudge does not keep record of wrong that is done.

Love does not rejoice in iniquity (does not delight in unrighteousness, sin or wrong doing)

True love hates sin and is not pleased when unrighteousness is done by anyone. There is no desire to participate in that which displeases God. Love does not rejoice over the immoral behaviour, sinful habits or “vices” of other people. Love would not take delight when others fall into sin or are guilty of crime. It takes no pleasure to see an adversary fall into an error or sin, by which can lose his reputation and his interest ruined. On the contrary, the man influenced by this love, is truly sorry for either the sin or folly of even an enemy. He takes no pleasure in hearing or in repeating this, but desires it to be forgotten for ever.

Love rejoices in truth

Truth in this context is placed as being opposite to iniquity. It means righteousness, virtue, piety, goodness. Truth also refers to that openness and honesty of mind which is free from insincerity, pretence, deception, falsehood and hypocrisy; It is sincerity of mind and integrity of character. It is a manner of life in harmony with divine truth. This is the truth that Love rejoices. The false love may compromise "the truth" by glossing over "iniquity" or unrighteousness. Love does not rejoice in the "vices," but in the "virtues" of others.

Love bears all things (to forbear, endure patiently; to hide, conceal, cover)

Love would hide or conceal the faults and imperfections of others. It would not cause or encourage open or public ridicule of someone’s shortcoming. In regard to the errors and faults of others, there is a disposition not to “notice”, give any undue publicity to them, or to revenge them. There is a willingness to “bear” with them patiently — to forbear. Love endures personal distress without divulging to the world. Love freely forgives the trespasses against him, covers them with the mantle of love, and industriously hides and conceals them from others.

Love believes all things

Takes the best and kindest view of others and circumstances, as long as it is possible to do so. There is a disposition to believe others may have had good and proper motives in what was done, and that there was no ill intent i.e. to give the other person the benefit of the doubt. With love, there is a willingness to believe, as far as can be, that what is done is done consistently with friendship, good feeling, and virtue. Love trusts, is not overly suspicious, and is ready to think of others in a favourable way. This does not mean that love is naive, gullible and easily deceived. Love is unwilling to believe ill reports of persons, unless it is open, glaring, well supported, and there is full evidence of it. Love is willing to overlook past sins and failures and trust that God is at work in the other person.

Love hopes all things

Hope is futuristic. It considers what will… and looks at it from a positive perspective. Love, therefore, hopes that all will turn out well. It is optimistic. This means that with love we never give up on each other. We believe in the other person and have a hopeful attitude for the future.

Love never fails (never ends)

Love is an eternal virtue. It never comes to an end, it never falls away, nor fails; Love does not cease to be in existence. It is never defeated. Love persists against all opposition. The context implies that when other gifts are no longer necessary, love remains, it will still be there. It is permanent. God is eternal, and since love is an attribute of God’s character, it is also forever. It can never be defeated or overcome; it remains no matter what. Since love cannot be destroyed and love will continue through eternity.


  1. When we think of love, our first thought may be, “I am not being loved properly”. In light of this study, how do you deliver love? Do you love others the way 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 defined love to be?

  2. Which of the characteristics of love do you need to improve on?

  3. When you consider the description of love given in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8, do you notice that none of the characteristics of love described an emotion or feeling? What are your thoughts on this?"

Compiled and adapted from the following sources:

Notes on the Bible by Albert Barnes [1834]

Exposition of the Entire Bible by John Gill [1746-63]

Heinrich August Wilhelm Meyer's NT Commentary

Benson Commentary on the Old and New Testaments

Matthew Poole's Commentary

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