By Gary L.W. Johnson

INTRODUCTION:Love to God,” proclaimed Jonathan Edwards, “will dispose a man to honour him, to worship and adore him, and heartily to acknowledge his greatness and glory and dominion. And so it will dispose to all acts of obedience to God; for the servant that loves his master, and the subject that loves his sovereign, will be disposed to proper subjection and obedience. Love will dispose the Christian to behave toward God, as a child to a father; amid difficulties, to resort to him for help, and put all his trust in him; just as it is natural for us, in case of need or affliction, to go to one that we love for pity and help. It will lead us, too, to give credit to his word, and to put confidence in him; for we are not apt to suspect the veracity of those we have entire friendship for.  It will dispose us to praise God for the mercies we receive from him, just as we are disposed to gratitude for any kindness we receive from our fellow-men that we love. Love, again, will dispose our hearts to submission to the will of God, for we are more willing that the will of those we love should be done, than of others. We naturally desire that those we love should be suited, and that we should be agreeable to them; and true affection and love to God will dispose the heart to acknowledge God’s right to govern, and that he is worthy to do it, and so will dispose to submission. Love to God will dispose us to walk humbly with him, for he that loves God will be disposed to acknowledge the vast distance between God and himself. It will be agreeable to such an one, to exalt God, and set him on high above all, and to lie low before him. A true Christian delights to have God exalted on his own abasement, because he loves him. He is willing to own that God is worthy of this, and it is with delight that he casts himself in the dust before the Most High, from his sincere love to him.” 

What is the nature of this kind of love?  Everybody has a definition of what love means to them. We really are not interested in developing a widespread census on what definition of love meets with the greatest approval. Even in evangelical circles love is often confused with sentimentalism. Ann Douglas defines sentimentalism this way. “Sentimentalism is a cluster of ostensibly private feelings which always attains public and conspicuous expression. Privacy functions in the rituals of sentimentalism only for the sake of titillation, as a convention to be violated. Involved as it is with the exhibition and commercialization of the self, sentimentalism cannot exist without an audience. It has no content but its own exposure, and it invests exposure with a kind of final significance.” 

Sentimentalism has often manifested itself in the kind of music we sing in our churches (whether it is an older hymn like In the Garden or a contemporary one like In Moments Like These, I Sing Out a Love Song to Jesus). Take a trip to your local Christian bookstore and you will see displayed the overly sentimental or sugary sweet nature of much that passes for Evangelicalism today.  Precious Moments figurines with Bible verses. Posters with cute little bunnies and kittens with similar Bible phrases-these are the expression of love that many Christians, sadly, identify with. 1 Corinthians 13 (one of the better known chapters in the Bible in terms of content but not its meaning) is often simply called the love chapter. Without getting side-tracked over the question of the cessation of certain spiritual gifts that the Apostle addresses in passing, let us examine what Paul has to say about the nature of Biblical love.


Chapter 12 ends with a series of interrogatives (are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?), an admonition (eagerly desire the greater gifts) and concludes with a promised explanation (and now I will show you the most excellent way). The Corinthians were preoccupied with the demonstration of the extra-ordinary gifts to the point that they behaved in a decidedly sinful manner. Paul does not denigrate spiritual gifts (they are important) but they can become problematic, especially as D.A. Carson has noted “if too much attention is paid to them, believers may overlook the absolutely crucial importance of the entire way of life that ought to characterize every believer, every person who has been baptized in the Holy Spirit.


One of the major problems with the Christians in Corinth centered around a form of self-centered individualism (Note how Paul in this chapter put himself in the first-person to underline this point). The church is not rooted and grounded in the CHARISMATA (spiritual gifts) but in love-this is the vital element of the body of Christ. Ridderbos observes, “Just because love, even as faith and hope, is the mode of existence of the Christian church, it must reveal itself in this bond to the brethren, in placing itself at the service of this upbuilding; therefore Christian love is not individualistic, proudly separative, but always above everything else concerned with the body and not the individual. For this reason to lack this love means to be nothing, with whatever brilliant charismata one may be endowed. For without love there is no communion with the body, in which alone a share in Christ is to be found.” 

True love (as opposed to selfish love) is essential to a true and living faith. Jonathan Edwards wrote, “Love is no ingredient in a merely speculative faith, but it is the life and soul of a practical faith. A truly practical or saving faith, is light and heat together, or rather light and love, while that which is only a speculative faith, is only light without heat; and, in that it wants spiritual heat or divine love, is in vain, and good for nothing. A speculative faith consists only in the assent of the understanding; but in a saving faith there is also the consent of the heart; and that faith which is only of the former kind, is no better than the faith of devils, for they have faith so far as it can exist without love, believing while they tremble.”  Paul’s point in these verses is clear. Spiritual gifts, regardless of their particular character, can in fact be exercised in a selfish self-serving fashion.  The Apostle is not depreciating their value, but he refuses to laud any gift or ministry unless it is done in love.


Everything Paul has to say about love is behavioral nothing is abstract or sentimental. Notice how love is described in terms of what it is not and in terms of what it is. Likewise, note how the Apostle personifies love. When love is absent a multitude of evils are seen. Finally, observe the repeated use of the word always. Love, as Paul describes it, is not whimsical or simply a fleeting feeling that needs the right circumstances or surroundings before it is evident.

IV.       THE PERMANENCE OF LOVE (13:8-13)

Having contrasted the charismata with love, Paul now contrasts the duration of the gifts (temporal) with that of love (permanent). Time does not permit an extended discussion of what Paul means in 13:10 by the coming of perfection-I would say, however, that the point Paul is making is obvious-(whatever our position may be on the question of the extra-ordinary gifts) whether you speak in tongues or not-do you love like this? Does love as Paul has described it manifest itself in your behavior?

CONCLUSION: We are commanded by our Lord in John 13:34 to love one another. In John 15:12 Jesus instructs with these words “This is my commandment, that you love one another, as I have loved you.” Jonathan Edwards grasped the meaning of these words when he wrote, “Such was the love of Christ to us, that he did, as it were, spend himself for our sakes. His love did not rest in mere feeling, nor in light efforts and small sacrifices, but though we were enemies, yet he so loved us, that he had a heart to deny himself, and undertake the greatest efforts, and undergo the greatest sufferings, for our sakes. He gave up his own ease, became poor, and outcast, and despised, and had not where to lay his head, and all for us! And not only so, but he shed his own blood for us, and offered himself a sacrifice to God’s justice, that we might be forgiven, and accepted, and saved!


 J. Edwards, Charity and Its Fruits (rpt. Banner of Truth, 1982), p. 6.  A. Douglas, The Feminization of American Culture (Noonday Press, 1977), p. 254.

D.A. Carson, Showing the Spirit: A Theological Exposition of 1 Corinthians 12-14 (Baker, 1987), p. 57.

H. Ridderbos, Paul: An Outline of His Theology (Eerdmans, 1975), p. 296.

Edwards, op. cit. p. 13.

Edwards, op. cit. p. 179.

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