The Nature and Operation of Love
1 Corinthians 13:4-7
Charity suffers long, and is kind; charity envies not; charity braggs not itself, is not puffed up,…

The negative view having been presented, the apostle considers the mature and operations of this love, And one characteristic of it, he puts in the foreground of its excellences. It can suffer. A virtue that cannot suffer is hardly a virtue at all. Certainly it is not a virtue that can lay the least claim to divineness. Wedded love, parental love, philanthropic and patriotic love, have to undergo a discipline of pain and sorrow even to symbolize the higher affection of Divine love. This holy love, of which this chapter is so laudatory, derives its very essence from the "Man of sorrows." Short of realizing, in its measure, the agony in the lonely garden and the yet lonelier cross, it dare not, it cannot stop, since only there is its test found. A beautiful aestheticism, moral, perchance semi-spiritual, may follow the lowly Jesus of Nazareth through the windings of his Galilean and Judaean journeys, cling reverently to his person, spread the palm branches in his pathway, and shout its glad hosannas to his Name, and, after all, "forsook him and fled" may be the final record of its weakness. Only when he rises to the sacrificial height of his anointing as the Christ of God's Law and the Christ of God's love, and bears our sins in his own body on the tree - only here, where Jehovah "lets the lifted thunder drop," can the human soul be reconciled first to its own disciplinary sufferings, and learn afterwards, by many conflicts with self, to glory in the cross. But love not only suffers, it "suffereth long." It is patient - patient towards others, and, what is quite as important, patient with itself. And under all its sufferings, instead of being irritable, it is kind. Unsanctified suffering is usually morbid. It broods over its ills; it magnifies its afflictions; often, indeed, it makes us misanthropic. Sweetness of temper and tender outgoings of sympathy are not the common results of painful experiences, but the fruits of the Holy Spirit in them. Fortitude may be shown, and it may be naught but homage at the shrine of self. This love is of God. It takes to its heart God's thought of suffering as chastening, as correction, as the supreme moral necessity of a probationary life, through which we must pass to get any deep knowledge of ourselves. For it is never pleasure, but pain, that holds the key to the secret chambers, where the latent man awaits the voice of God bidding him arise and gird himself with immortal strength. Now, what effect on this love would ensue from suffering that had become habitual and wrought patience and silent enduringness into character? By suppressing a morbid regard for self and quickening the sympathies that give width to the inner life, what would be the specific result on the relations sustained to others? These Corinthians, as we have frequently noticed, were pulling down one and putting up another, were thoroughgoing partisans, were censorious and depreciatory towards those with whom they were disinclined to affiliate. What change for the better would love bring about? St. Paul answers, "Love envieth not." Observe how quickly he turns again to the negative aspects of this "supremely excellent way," and what vigour is imparted to the argument. At every step, contrast aids him by suggesting what love excludes, while its true qualities are set in bolder relief. Envy is pain at the sight of superior excellence in another, and is always a mark of blinding selfishness. According to one's temperament, it is displeasure or something worse, and usually contains an element of hatred.

"Men, that make
Envy and crooked malice nourishment,
Dare bite the best." Of course it leads to strife. It is a fruitful cause of schism, and as schism was a terrible evil in the apostle's view, he could not fail to show its utter inconsistency with this cardinal virtue. Along with this he says, "Love vaunteth not" - a similar idea to the foregoing as to its bad temper, but unlike as to its mood of exhibition. Reference is here made to the foolish display of self importance after the manner of a swaggerer or braggart. Next comes the statement, "Is not puffed up," not inflated or swollen by self conceit; this is followed by, "Doth not behave itself unseemly - is not uncourteous, but studies propriety of manner, and shows the instinct of a right demeanour, from which all good breeding proceeds. The art of behaviour is manifold. It is amenable to circumstances and classes, variable as to outward manifestations, suiting language and other demonstrations to the claims of occasion, and, in all this, its root principle is the same if it be truthful and sincere, since it loses sight of self and ministers to the happiness of others. Christian manners are the offspring of a Christian manner; the manners are external, the manner is internal; so that here, as in all else, form is created by spirit. The tones of the voice, the look of the eye, the muscular play of the countenance, are not physical facts only, but expressions and languages that have modulation, accent, emphasis, direct from the soul. Thus attended, our words take on other, fuller, more inspiriting meanings than those drawn from the dictionary; so that a man's face, figure, gesture, attitude, give a personal import to what emanates from his heart. If one compares the spiritual expression in the face of a Madonna by Raphael with the mere sensuous beauty of the face as depicted by antique art, he sees at once that Christianity has affected art to such an extent as to modify the laws of representation. Expression is the vivid image of the passion that affects the mind; its language, and the portrait of its situation" (Fuseli). It is not extravagant to claim that Christianity has so far changed physiological expression as to spiritualize, and thereby to heighten, its quality and force. But why limit the change to art? The fact is that Christianity has had its effect - a very distinctive and appreciable effect - on what may be termed the physiology of manner, in the intercourse of society. We seldom think of it. We rarely number this among the myriad advantages Christianity has brought to man. Yet the fact is indisputable that Christianity has given to the human voice tones of strength and tenderness never before known, and to the human eye a depth of power, of stillness, of pathos, that, without its grace, had been impossible. Nor can we doubt that this is one of the numerous ways it has adopted to establish a closer relation between mind and matter, and educate the body for the glory of the resurrection. Passing from decorum while yet retaining the general idea in his grasp, St. Pant now mentions the unselfishness of love: "Seeketh not her own." If its deportment is never obtrusive, but always becoming; if it never uses its gifts to remind others of their inferiority, but orders its manners so as to avoid everything which might tend to inflame envy; it goes still further, and manifests its disinterestedness as the soul of the "supremely excellent way." To pursue its own honour and aggrandizement, as if it had a sole proprietary interest in itself and could only exist by existing for its own reputation, influence, happiness, is forestalled by its nature and operations. The "all things" are not its, but "yours," and "ye," one and all, "are Christ's." So he had argued in the third chapter. The echo of the great truth comes back again and again, and once more it is heard in this verse. What St. Paul has just said of love as suffering long, and as kind, as not envying and vaunting, nor conceited and indecorous, are as so many stepping stones to "seeketh not its own." Would it have anything in the universe for itself alone? If so, the very thing itself, the universe itself, would be changed into another thing and another universe, and be no more a joy and a blessedness, but a restraint and an evil and a curse. Instead of a palace, a prison; instead of sublime disinterestedness, sordidness and ceaseless descent in degradation; instead of an ideal in Christ, the idea of virtues as bare commercial utilities, and of the soul as a commodity valued by the market place. Have anything alone? This were loneliness indeed. It were grievous, it were misery, to be isolated even by goodness and greatness from the heart of humanity. It is painful to a true man to be reminded of his superiority at the expense of others, and whenever one welcomes this sort of homage and glorifies himself, he loses truth of manhood. To thank God that we are "not as other men are" is sheer Pharisaism, and all such thanksgiving is worship of self. Love has not a wish, a desire, an aim, an aspiration, bounded by the limits of itself; and as Jesus prayed, "That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us, so is the prayer of the soul in all its greatest moments, and when the cross is nearest by, that it may be one with others, as it longs to be one with Christ and the Father. Every inch that a majestic oak goes upward or spreads laterally, down go its roots; further and wider they spread themselves out, tree above and tree below, preserving, each in its way, proportion and symmetry. And so with love. Reaching that high development indicated by capacity to suffer and yet be kind, by victory over envy and ostentation, and the transformation of daily manners into spiritual grace and beauty, it has so enlarged itself as to afford ample room even for the most generous and magnanimous emotions. It wants to be good and to be better, but where is the best? And as the years move on and the soul grows, this thought comes to be uppermost, "There is a better world;" and not alone in a better nature, and as a better being, but in a better world, it looks for its perfection. A world of love is its demand. The negative idea is still further unfolded in the words, "Is not easily provoked," or, "Is not provoked" (Revised Version). Much of peevishness, of anger, of resentment, springs from wounding the imaginary being whom we call by our name, fondle with our caresses, and idolize in our vanity. This deformed self, though apparelled in gaudy drapery and lifted to an exalted pedestal, is but too conscious of its blemishes and flaws, to be tolerant of criticism or amiable under exposure of its imperfections. It is quick to take umbrage. It is full of suspicion and keenly alive to neglect, real or supposed. A chronic ailment, this self conceit feels any fluctuation of circumstances and is acutely sensitive to wind and weather. On the other hand, love is not provoked; its temper is not quick, nor are its words hasty. How can it be otherwise, when it "thinketh no evil"? By governing its thoughts, it obtains that rare virtue of intellect which consists in no small degree of a mastery over associations and suggestions, and that is probably the most signal triumph of mind over its physical connections. "Imputeth not the evil" (Dr. Kling); "Taketh not account of evil" (Revised Version); and whereas the "evil" is real and palpable, it refuses to bear it in mind, and, by fixing attention and keeping it fixed on the wrong, to aggravate the impression. Here, as everywhere, mark the unity in our constitution. One cannot have a sore finger, or toothache, or painful limb, that the affection is not enhanced by directing thought to it. The blood is inflamed the more, and the nervous susceptibility augmented. So it is with the mind. Can we wonder, then, that St. Paul's insight detected the relation between thinking of injury or injustice, and the moral effect on character? And, finally, as to these repeated negatives, love "rejoiceth not in ininquity," or, "in unrighteousness," but "rejoiceth in [or, 'with'] the truth." It exults not at the overthrow and prostration of others. The downfall of another, even if that other made himself a rival, is no gratification. A human soul, a redeemed spirit, sank in that fall, and love cannot rejoice in such a calamity. "Rejoiceth in [or, 'with'] the truth." Love has been personified all along; truth is here personified. Love approaches moral truth, offers its congratulations, enters into its success, shares its joy. So, then, St. Paul approaches the close of this paragraph by the beautiful picture of love and truth side by side, and happy in the purity and glory of their fellowship. Looking back on the course of the argument, we see love as a meek and gentle sufferer, the traces of pain on its face, yet a sweet and holy reconciliation to the pangs long borne. We see kindness imprinted on the countenance. We discover no sign of envy, of pride and vanity, of overweening self regard, and, wherever the figure moves, its grace and charms are not blurred by unseemly demeanour. Most of all, its eye has an outward look, as if offering its heart to the service of others. And while unpleasant things occur, and wrongs are perpetrated, it is not made ahoy, nor does it nurse malice and resentment, nor rejoice at the retributions that overtake iniquity. Joy, indeed, it has, but its gladdest hours are those when love clasps hands with truth, and when seeketh not its own finds its highest realization in fellowship with truth. But the positive side of love must now be presented. It "beareth all things," that is, "hides to itself and to others" (Bengel), conceals or covers up the infirmities of others, which envy, pride, malice, would not expose, but delight in the exposure. A virtue is most glorious when it courts silence and prizes it as a beatitude. Unwitnessed patience and heroism are grandest when the soul asks no recognition, but abides with its consciousness alone in God. In his four statements in ver. 7 this quiet bearing of the imperfections of other people is first mentioned. And. with what expressiveness of diction! "Beareth all things." That passive strength which bears life's burden is no sudden, still less an early, acquirement. It is a slow growth. Time, as a coworker with grace, has much to do with its excellence. Years only can give it maturity and years full of providence. Consider, too, what a co-education of the body is implied here, what a subduing of recreant nerves, what a check on the blood, what refusals to obey sensations, before one can learn the art of silence as to the faults that annoy and often vex. If it is thus that Christian character is rounded off, we cannot doubt that it is not attainable except through a tedious and protracted experience. But does this bearing with the faults of others comply with the requirements of social duty? Nay, says the apostle, love "believeth all things." It searches for good qualities in men who are disagreeable and even repulsive, and whatever its diligent scrutiny can bring to light amid the mass of infirmities overlaying better traits, yields it genuine pleasure. Colour blindness is not confined to the physical eye. Individuals who are sensitive to the faults of others, and habituated to criticizing them, are generally more affected by nervous annoyance than by conscience, and it commonly happens with such that they seldom look for any redeeming goodness. To estimate the force of circumstances, to study motives, to make charitable allowances, are alien to their tastes and temper. On the contrary, the instinct of love is to believe that others are better, or, at least, may be better, than they seem. So that while love is an heroic believer, it is also a wise doubter, and gives the unhappy idiosyncrasies of men the benefit of its doubts. Because of this, it "hopeth all things." Right believing is an expansive force in the intellect. It is a quickener of imagination. It finds reasons for confidence unknown to him who has the conceit of scepticism, and cherishes it for its own sake, and prides himself on it as a sign of intellectual acumen. Faith acts on the emotions. These two, imagination and sensibility, stimulate hope, that in turn rises above the senses and comprehends, to some extent, the mighty forces engaged on the side of goodness. The power of God in Christianity makes its way slowly to the heart, while Satanic influence is demonstrative to the eye. Hope is not left to itself, but is taught of Christ, who, in the days of his flesh, looked beyond humiliation, obloquy, death, to the glory waiting to invest him. So, then, we may say that large views and large hopes go together, and the grace that "believeth all things" also "hopeth all things." But is a great hope immediately gratified? Never; if it were it would lose its greatness. Hope is a beautiful education, and it is this by holding back its fulfilment and thereby expanding the soul's capacity for the fullest gratification. Hope must have time and opportunity to develop the sense of enjoyability in us before it bestows the reality. Each day of postponement goes onward to the day of realization, which is thousands of days in one. But it educates us in other forms. The delay of hope to meet our anticipations tests our strength and patience. Has the hope a firm hold on our souls? If so, its possessor "endureth all things." Through doubt and darkness, amidst adversity, despite opposing circumstances, love is persistent, and its persistency is the measure of its power. When we reach this ability to endure, waiting in serene patience, submissive to God's will, content with today for what it is in itself, anticipating a coming Joy, but leaving its birth hour to him who keeps the times and seasons for himself, - when we attain this point of experience, we are near the boundary of earthly growth. Passive excellence, such as that pointed out by the word "endureth," seems to be the final work of the Holy Ghost in the human heart. Fitly, therefore, St. Paul finds the climax of expressions (ver. 7) in "endureth all things." True, "beareth," "believeth," "hopeth," are alike related to "all things" with "endureth," and yet this is obviously the consummation of the idea pervading the apostle's mind. Fitly so, we have said, since men are accustomed to regard endurance as the mark of the highest power. It is a trained and balanced power. Body, soul, and spirit are present in the fulness of its strength. There is no disquiet in those sensibilities that are ever creating ripples on the surface of life. There is no agitation in those great depths that once heaved under the fury of the storm. Enduring love has entered into rest, and the repose is God like. - L.

Parallel Verses
KJV: Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,

WEB: Love is patient and is kind; love doesn't envy. Love doesn't brag, is not proud,

The Long-Suffering of Chastity
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