A Portrait of Love: The Characteristics of Christlike Love (1 Corinthians 13:1–13)


Read: 1 Corinthians 13:1–13

“A new commandment I give unto you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one to another.” (John 13:1–13)

Did you know that Jesus said that the ability to love other people is one of the primary ways for recognizing a true Christian?

Many people claim to be Christians. In fact in some situations people have found it profitable, both economically and politically, to take on the name “Christian.” However, the Bible teaches there is a difference between a person who professes to be a Christian and a person whom Christ recognizes as a Christian.

Jesus tells us that the badge of a true Christian is the ability to love others as He loved us (John 13:34-35). In harmony with Jesus’ teaching on love, the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 says that the ability to love other people is more important than any spiritual gift a person might have.

As we study 1 Corinthians 13, we will observe the prominence of love (1 Cor. 1:1-3), the properties of love (1 Cor. 1:4-7), and conclude our study with a listing of the people God commands us to love.

The Prominence of Love (1 Cor. 13:1–3)

Paul opens his chapter on love by telling us that the ability to love others is more important than any of the spiritual gifts. For example,

  • loving others is more important than the ability to speak with the tongues of men or angels (13:1).
  • It is more important than the gift of prophecy or the ability to understand all mysteries (13:2a).
  • To love others as Christ loved us is of greater importance in His eyes than possessing all knowledge or having mountain-moving faith (13:2b).
  • It is even more important than compassion and generosity. Paul said, “Though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not love, it profits me nothing” (13:3).

According to Jesus and Paul, the ability to love others as Christ loved us is an absolute necessity if one wishes to be identified as a true Christian.

Each of the spiritual gifts and graces mentioned in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 are valuable and important to the health of the church, but without Christian love, spiritual gifts profit a person nothing.

Since love for others is so important, it is crucial that we identify its characteristics and seek to learn what Christlike love looks like in everyday experience.

The Properties of Love (1 Cor. 13:4–7)

The properties or characteristics of a Christlike love are best understood in the context of our responses and reactions to other people and unpleasant circumstances, for our responses reveal who we really are.

Paul says that a Christlike love has fifteen characteristics. Please notice that none of the fifteen are emotional or sentimental. Each is behavioral.

Love suffers long (13:4)

Love is patient. Love demonstrates itself by patiently enduring unpleasant circumstances and irritating people.

Love is kind (13:4)

Love, in addition to being patient, is gracious and kind to all. Love looks for a way to encourage others. It is the opposite of an attitude of criticism or fault-finding.

When people lack wisdom and make terrible choices, love enables a Christian to remain patient and kind. Love will endeavor to instruct them, correct them, and help them, but will do so without sarcasm or a demeaning attitude.

When a person is overtaken in a fault, love labors to restore that person in the spirit of meekness (Gal. 6:1).

Love does not envy (13:4)

Love is not envious or jealous of the natural abilities, spiritual gifts, or successes of others. The person who envies the happiness or success of another lacks Christian love.

Love does not brag (13:4)

Love makes no parade of one’s own abilities, successes, or sacrifices. Love is not boastful, trying to impress others.

Love is not puffed up (13:4)

Love is not conceited or arrogant. Love does not put on airs of being superior to others. It does not cherish inflated ideas of its own importance. It is not proud.

Love does not behave itself unseemly (13:5)

Love is never rude or unmannerly. Love’s presence or absence is seen, not when addressing those in superior position or power, but when addressing those under your authority or when dealing with annoying circumstances.

Love seeks not her own (13:5)

Love does not insist on having its own way. It is not self-seeking. Love does not pursue selfish aims. Love is willing to forfeit its own rights.

Love is not easily provoked (13:5)

Love is not touchy, irritable, or quick to take offense. This does not mean a Christian won’t feel the hurt of unkind criticism or rejection. But it does mean a Christian will reject the urge to get even. Love enables a person to remain kind and sweet when wronged.

Love thinks no evil (13:5)

Love keeps no score of wrongs. It bears no malice nor is it resentful.

Love rejoices not in iniquity (13:6)

Love takes no pleasure in bad news. It is never glad when others have problems. Love finds no pleasure in anything that is unrighteous or wrong.

If you love others, you do not want to hear bad news about them. Love’s response is: “If it’s bad news, please don’t tell me. However, I will be happy to hear anything good about them.”

Love talks about the problems and sins of others only when the demands of righteousness require it, and then only to those who are part of the solution (the restoration process).

Love rejoices in the truth (13:6)

Love does nothing that needs to be concealed. Love is open, honest, and transparent. It is always glad when truth prevails, but not at the expense of hurting others.

If there is a report of something right or truthful going on, love will quickly rejoice over it.

Love bears all things (13:7)

Love knows no limit to its endurance. There is nothing it cannot face. It is willing to overlook the faults of others and is always slow to expose them.

Love has a back bone, but it follows Matthew 18:15-17 in the spirit of Galatians 6:1 when confronting sin.

Love believes all things (13:7)

Love is always eager to believe the best of others. Love looks for the best interpretation of any situation rather than being suspicious of the deeds and motivations of others.

Love, however, is not gullible. It has discernment, and it can administer strong discipline. (John 2:24; Jeremiah 9:4-5).

Love hopes all things (13:7)

Love does not lose hope even when repeatedly disappointed. It seeks to use words of hope and encouragement in all situations, no matter how seemingly hopeless things look.

This hope springs from trust in God’s sovereign power.

Love endures all things (13:7)

Love provides the power to endure anything. It endures without limit. Since love is not a feeling or emotion, it never gives up. Love provides the ability to put up with awkward and unhappy situations caused by unloving, stubborn or sinful people.

Christian love is the God-given antidote that conquers pettiness and selfishness. It originates from God, flows through the Christian by the ministry of the Holy Spirit, and encompasses the unlovely and ungodly (Romans 5:5-6).

This is why Jesus declares Christian love to be the distinguishing characteristic of His followers: “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:35).

The greatest evidence that heaven has invaded our lives, our homes, and our churches, is the presence of Christian love.

The People We Must Love: Various Scriptures

We close our sermon with a listing of the people God commands us to love. In addition to loving God, we are to love our neighbor (Mat. 5:43) and our enemies (Mat. 5:44). Husbands are to love their wives (Eph. 5:25) and wives are to love their husbands and their children (Tit. 2:4).

Christians are to love one another with a pure heart fervently (1 Pet. 1:22). By love Christians are to serve each other (Gal. 5:13). We are to “increase and abound in love one toward another” (1 Thes. 3:12).

And since the fruit of the Spirit is love (Gal. 5:22), Christians are commanded to walk in love (Eph. 5:2), making sure to keep on the breastplate of faith and love (1 Thes. 5:8).

Developing a Christlike Love

Someone has observed that most Christians have just enough religion to make them critical but not enough to make them loving. Even if we don’t agree with the observation, I think we can agree that we all can improve in the area of Christlike love.

Let’s close this sermon with a personal question: “How can you and I develop a Christlike love?

In attempting an answer, I think we all can agree that it will require the enabling of the Holy Spirit. But we also need to understand that it will require a deliberate choice on our part. Since Christlike love is not an emotion or a feeling, what is it?

May I suggest the following definition? Christlike love is a willing, self-sacrificing commitment to secure at any cost the highest good of its object without regard to the object’s attractiveness or repulsiveness, worthiness or unworthiness, or the prospect of reciprocation, while remaining patient and kind.

I trust this sermon has convicted and challenged you as much as it has me. May God help us one and all to be more loving to each other.

Originally published in God’s Revivalist. Used by permission.

Allan Brown
Allan Brown
Dr. Allan Brown is Professor and Chair of the Division of Ministerial Education at God's Bible School & College. He holds his PhD in Old Testament Interpretation from Bob Jones University and is the author of several books and articles.