Bible Study Notes: 1 Corinthians 13: What is this thing called love?

As we gather:


“That’s not a knife,”  “This is a knife!” Quickly disarmed, the hoodlums run for their lives.

As I read the thirteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians, I see Paul somewhat like Crocodile Dundee. His words seem to say, “That’s not love … this is love!”

Love is the Key to our relationship with God

(1) The whole Law is summed up by the one word, “love (see Leviticus 19:17-18; Matthew 19:19).

(2) Love sums up the Christian’s responsibilities in the New Testament (Romans 13:9).

(3) Love is the capstone, the crowning virtue, the consummation of all other virtues (Galatians 5:22-23; 2 Peter 1:5-7; Colossians 3:12-14).

(4) Love is the goal of Paul’s instruction (1 Timothy 1:5).

(5) Love is the distinguishing mark of the true Christian (John 13:35).

(6) Without love, the value of spiritual gifts is greatly diminished (1 Corinthians 12:1-3).

(7) Love is greater than any of the spiritual gifts and is even greater than faith and hope (1 Corinthians 13:13).

(8) Love endures suffering under persecution, and Christians will be persecuted (Matthew 24:10; 2 Timothy 3:12).

(9) Love is easily lost, without one’s even being aware of it (Revelation 2:1-7).

(10) Love is misunderstood and distorted by the unbelieving world. Confusions between sex and love

(11) Love is vitally important to Christians, for it should govern our relationships with other Christians, especially those with whom we strongly disagree.

Many words for Love

Ancient Greek has four distinct words for love: agápe, éros, philía, and storgē. However, as with other languages, it has been historically difficult to separate the meanings of these words. Nonetheless, the senses in which these words were generally used are given below.

  • Éros (έρως érōs) is passionate love, with sensual desire and longing. The Modern Greek word “erotas” means “intimate love;” however, eros does not have to be sexual in nature. Eros can be interpreted as a love for someone whom you love more than the philia, love of friendship. It can also apply to dating relationships as well as marriage. Plato refined his own definition: Although eros is initially felt for a person, with contemplation it becomes an appreciation of the beauty within that person, or even becomes appreciation of beauty itself. Plato does not talk of physical attraction as a necessary part of love, hence the use of the word platonic to mean, “without physical attraction.” Plato also said eros helps the soul recall knowledge of beauty, and contributes to an understanding of spiritual truth. Lovers and philosophers are all inspired to seek truth by eros. The most famous ancient work on the subject of eros is Plato’s Symposium, which is a discussion among the students of Socrates on the nature of eros.
  • Philia (φιλία philía) means friendship in modern Greek. It is a dispassionate virtuous love, a concept developed by Aristotle. It includes loyalty to friends, family, and community, and requires virtue, equality and familiarity. In ancient texts, philos denoted a general type of love, used for love between family, between friends, a desire or enjoyment of an activity, as well as between lovers.
  • Storge (στοργή storgē) means “affection” in ancient and modern Greek. It is natural affection, like that felt by parents for offspring. Rarely used in ancient works, and then almost exclusively as a descriptor of relationships within the family. It is also known to express mere acceptance or putting up with situations, as in “loving” the tyrant.
  • Agápe (αγάπη agápē) means “love” in modern day Greek, such as in the term s’agapo (Σ’αγαπώ), which means “I love you”. In Ancient Greek, it often refers to a general affection or deeper sense of “true love” rather than the attraction suggested by “eros”. Agape is used in the biblical passage known as the “love chapter”, 1 Corinthians 13, and is described there and throughout the New Testament as sacrificial love. Agape is also used in ancient texts to denote feelings for a good meal, one’s children, and the feelings for a spouse. It can be described as the feeling of being content or holding one in high regard

The Importance of Love in Relation to Spiritual Gifts (13:1-3)

If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.And if I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.

What Love Is Like (13:4-7)

4 Love is patient, love is kind, and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, 5 does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; 7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Characteristics of Love according to Paul

  • Love Is Patient
  • Love Is Kind
  • Love Is Not Jealous
  • Love Is Not Arrogant and Does Not Boast
  • Love Does Not Behave Badly (Act Unbecomingly)
  • Love Is Not Self-Centred (Does Not Seek Its Own)
  • Love Is Not Provoked
  • Love Does Not Keep Notes on Past Offenses
  • Love Does Not Rejoice in Unrighteousness,  but Rejoices With the Truth
  • Love takes no pleasure in unrighteousness. Love sets its mind on what is right:

The Consistency of Love (13:7)

7 [Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love Never Fails (13:8-13)

8 Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. 9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part; 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. 11 When I was a child, I used to speak as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I shall know fully just as I also have been fully known. 13 But now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.


1 Corinthians 13:1-3

  • Why is someone who “speak[s in the tongues of men and of angels” but who is without love like a “resounding gong or a clanging cymbal?”  Reflect on the cheapness of words not backed up by loving conduct.
  • What is the tragedy of possessing gifts but not having any love?
  • What kind of person would give all he possesses to the poor and even surrender his body to the flames without love?  Why does Apostle Paul say that such a person gains nothing?
  • Is there some experience in my life in which I “sacrificed” without love and felt like I haven’t gained anything?
  • What is the end result of a life lived without love (cf. Luke 15:25-32)?

1 Corinthians 13:4-7

  • Think about the life of Jesus based on this passage.  Reflect on how he perfectly fits the description of love.
  • What is the description of love according to the world?
  • How does my idea of what it means to love and to be loved compare with the description of love in this passage?
  • How is it possible for me to love others in this way (cf. Galatians 5:22-25)?
  • In what ways have I been loved by God and his people in terms of the specific way that this passage describes love?

Additional Questions:

1 Corinthians 13:8-13

  • What are the “childish ways” that I need to leave behind?
  • Given Apostle Paul’s description about the “now” and “then,” why is love greater than even “faith” and “hope?”
  • How does this provide the right perspective on the purpose of spiritual gifts and the question of whether or not I have certain spiritual gifts?