Alcoholics Anonymous:  In the Greek language, there are 3 words for love, Agape: spiritual, Phileo: brotherly, and Eros: sensual. These last two, Phileo and Eros, are totally unpredictable in nature, having an air of expectation about them. Being imperfect and unreliable, our dependence on these two types of love creates much confusion and suffering in our life. Whereas, Agape, being perfect and unconditional by nature, is the type of love we can give away and remove our expectations of having it returned. The Agape groups, interwoven throughout Alcoholics Anonymous in many cities and states, use the following definition of Agape as the basis for their group conscience: "Spontaneous self-giving love, expressed freely, without calculation of cost to the giver, or merit on the part of the receiver."

We in the Agape groups realize that this is a difficult definition to live up to, and many of us fall short; however, we know and feel in our hearts that it is attainable, believing that with the help of our Higher Power all things are possible. Unfortunately, while trying to progress toward the spiritual goal of Agape love, we sometimes let ourselves open for ridicule and criticism. Our open display of love for another is sometimes unnerving for those who have not experienced our ways. We understand and remember many of the situations during our past way of living which had a tendency to close our minds to any open display of affection. Many of us had contempt for Agape prior to investigating it, and some of us simply could not handle it at first. Because we have been there, we are sure there are others who might have the same feelings today. To these people we of the Agape group simply say, "We love and need you and wait for you should you ever need us."

Essentially, Agape is AA. We use the 12 Steps and 12 Traditions, recite the Serenity Prayer and read the "How It Works" before every meeting. So what's the difference between Agape and AA? The only difference is the overarching focus on unconditional acceptance (Agape love) which creates an extremely safe and positive atmosphere in which to be oneself. This degree of safety provides an atmosphere where we are more likely to get into the often overlooked "nooks and crannies" and the "exact nature" of that which is preventing us from growing one day at a time.

Thomas Aquinas:  After showing that charity is so necessary that without it no spiritual gifts are sufficient for salvation, the Apostle now shows that it is so useful and of such efficacious strength that through it all virtuous works are completed. First, he makes two quasi- general statements: secondly, he mentions in particular the virtuous works which are completed by charity (v. 4b).

Barnes & Murphy:  Paul now proceeds to illustrate the "nature" of love, or to show how it is exemplified. His illustrations are all drawn from its effect in regulating our conduct toward others, or our contact with them. The "reason" why he made use of this illustration, rather than its nature as evinced toward "God," was, probably, because it was especially necessary for them to understand in what way it should be manifested toward each other. There were contentions and strifes among them; there were of course suspicions, and jealousies, and heart-burnings; there would be unkind judging, the imputation of improper motives, and selfishness; there were envy, and pride, and boasting, all of which were inconsistent with love; and Paul therefore evidently designed to correct these evils, and to produce a different state of things by showing them what would be produced by the exercise of love.

Joseph Beet:  The excellence of love, asserted negatively in vv. 1-3, will now be made apparent by a description of its various manifestations in human conduct: positive descripton, v. 4a; negative description concluding with a positive contrast, vv. 4b-6; final positive description, v. 7. That these verses say nothing about spiritual gifts, and retain their full force even though gifts be absent, proves that, whereas gifts without love are worthless, love even without gifts retains its value undiminished. No stronger proof of the value of love can be given. Thus the contrast of vv. 1-3 increases the force of vv. 4-7.

Verses 4-7 define clearly Paul's use in ch. 13 of the word "love". It is a principle of action prompting us to use our powers and opportunities for the good of others, and to draw them to us that we may share, and thus remove, their sorrow, and that they may share our good. This principle appears, more or less perfect and intelligent, in all true human love. It is the mainspring of the entire activity of God. And so far as it rules our conduct are we like God. Of this principle, these verses are the strongest commendation. For the man in whom these traits of character meet commands, even though he have no special gifts, our highest respect. And all these traits of character are a natural outworking of the one principle of love. For a lack of any one of them proves that love is deficient. This practical picture of love also makes us feel by contrast the worthlessness of the character described in vv. 1-3.

For shorter, but similar, personifications of love, see 8:1, Rom. 13:10. In Clement's Epistle, ch. 49, is an evident copy of these verses. Compare also the praise of 'wisdom' in Prov. 8 and 9.

John Albert Bengel:  he aGApe-, love) He points out the nature of love. He does not say, love speaks with tongues, prophesies, gives to the poor: but it is long-suffering. This is a metonymy for the man, who has love. But Paul chiefly mentions those fruits of love, necessary in the use of the gifts, which he requires from the Corinthians, and without which there may be prophecies, but there can be no profit. If we take 1 Corinthians 8:1, we may advantageously compare together the delineation of love which Paul adapted to the Corinthians, and the delineation of wisdom, which James in like manner adapted to [portrayed for] those to whom he wrote, Jam 3:17. The twelve praises of love are enumerated by three classes, 1 Corinthians 13:4-7—(if we reckon together one pair at the beginning, and two pairs at the end).

Joseph Benson:  Here the apostle attributes to love the qualities and actions of a person, in order to render his account of that divine grace the more lively and affecting.

E. W. Bullinger:  These two words are not used indiscriminately. Agapaô, never means to kiss; fileô, never means to acquiesce or cherish with reverence. Fileô denotes the sense or passion of love, but in agapaô is implied the cause of fileô. Agapaô is to make much of a thing, to admire for some good and sufficient reason, but fileô denotes the love which springs naturally from the thing loved, even where no just cause of love exists. Agapaô is never used of an improper love; fileô is. Hence, in the N.T. fileô is never used of man's love to God, but agapaô always. Both words are used of God's love to man, agapaô, when He is said to "Love the world," (John 3:16, etc.) and when He wishes men good, and seeks their salvation; and fileô is affirmed of His love to His people who please Him, (John 16:27, etc.) Again, fileô is used of Jesus' love for Lazarus, (John 11:3,36); but in verse 5 the word is agapaô, because there the sisters are included, and therefore this word was more correct. Again, we are commanded to love our enemies, etc., but here agapaô is used, never fileô; love cannot be required in this case, though compassion and kindness are. Again, in John 21:15-17, in the first question Jesus uses agapaô, but Peter uses fileô in his reply; this is repeated, and then Jesus uses Peter's word in the third question. Once more, to love (fileô) life, from an excessive desire to preserve it, and so to lose sight of the real object of living, is reproved by our Lord, (John 12:25.) Whereas to love (agapaô) life, is to consult its real interest. Other examples may be traced out with much profit, e.g. Mark 10:21."

Agapaô is the verb form, usually rendered as 'to »love«'. Agapê is the noun form, often rendered as either '»love«' or '»charity«'. Agapêtos is a past participle of the verb, often used as a noun and rendered as '»beloved«'.

ETYMOLOGICAL NOTE: In his definition of the verb agapaô [#25G], Strong relates it to the Hebrew word 'âgab, which he defines as "a prim. root; to breathe after, i.e. to love (sensually)" [#5689H]. Strong's reference of agapaô to 'âgab seems to be based on phonological similarity. There are several possible explanations for this correspondence. Firstly, all languages having been formed through Yahweh's confusion of language at Babel, it is possible that both words may be derived from the same original root. A second possibility is that it was borrowed from Hebrew 'âgab into Greek, being rendered as agapaô. A third possibility is that of 'random' coincidence. Who knows? Bullinger's statements about the attestation of agapê/agapaô in Classical Greek literature contradict the first and third hypotheses, and suggests that the Septuagint translators simply borrowed the word directly from the 'âgab, having no real equivalent for it in Greek. This in turn suggests a stronger meaning for 'âgab than Strong's definition. With regard to Bullinger's definition of and note regarding agapê/agapaô, the word has been since his time attested in non-Judeo-Christian literature [BAG] and it must be pointed out that Bullinger appears to have overlooked the agapê of the scribes and Pharisees in Luke 11:42-43 where Jesus' usage of agapê/agapaô would seem to be the exception which verifies the rule: »But woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass over judgment and the love of God: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. Woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye love the uppermost seats in the synagogues, and greetings in the markets.« These things having been said, it can still be seen in the occurrences of the word that Bullinger's observations are nevertheless essentially correct.

John Calvin:  He now commends love from its effects or fruits, though at the same time these eulogiums are not intended merely for its commendation, but to make the Corinthians understand what are its offices, and what is its nature. The object, however, mainly in view, is to show how necessary it is for preserving the unity of the Church. I have also no doubt that he designed indirectly to reprove the Corinthians, by setting before them a contrast, in which they might recognize, by way of contraries, their own vices.

Stephen J. Cole:  These verses are the most eloquent and profound words ever written on the subject of love. To comment on its parts is a bit like giving a botany lecture on a beautiful flower--if you’re not careful you lose the beauty and impact of it. But we can profit from understanding the parts and applying it to family relationships.

In verses 1-3 he shows the preeminence of love, that love is greater than all spiritual gifts because without love, gifts are empty. In verses 4-7 he shows the practice of love, how love is greater than all spiritual gifts because of its selfless characteristics. In verses 8-13 he shows the permanence of love, that love is greater than all spiritual gifts because it outlasts them. We’re going to focus mainly on verses 4-7, where Paul describes how love acts. While in English most of these words are predicate adjectives, in Greek they are verbs. Love is not talk; it is action.

We’re all prone to apply verses like these to others: “My mate and my kids could sure use a lesson in love. But me? I’m basically a loving person. I’m really easy to get along with.” But I ask each of you to forget about everybody else and ask God to apply these verses to you.

Paul enumerates 15 characteristics of love to show how love acts or what it looks like in everyday life. A New Testament definition of agape is “a caring, self-sacrificing commitment which shows itself in seeking the highest good of the one loved.” Jesus Christ, in His sacrificial death on the cross, is the epitome and embodiment of this kind of love. A whole series of sermons could easily be preached on these qualities of love. But let’s look briefly at each of them.

Alfred Davis:  Love is the "will" and "choice"

  • to accept
  • to support
  • to care for
  • to forgive
  • to give
  • to serve
  • to nurture the growth of
others, for their well-being (not your own)

and is carried out in a way that is

  • unconditional
  • selfless
  • sacrificial
  • upbuilding
and expresses itself in the following behaviours:
  • patience
  • kindness
  • respectfulness
  • humility
  • gentleness
  • peacefulness
  • tolerance
  • fairness
  • endurance
  • loyalty

Henry Drummond:  I ask you to look at it. It is a compound thing, he tells us. It is like light. As you have seen a man of science take a beam of light and pass it through a crystal prism, as you have seen it come out on the other side of the prism broken up into its component colors—red, and blue, and yellow, and violet, and orange, and all the colors of the rainbow—so Paul passes this thing, Love, through the magnificent prism of his inspired intellect, and it comes out on the other side broken up into its elements.

In these few words we have what one might call


the analysis of Love. Will you observe what its elements are? Will you notice that they have common names; that they are virtues which we hear about every day; that they are things which can be practised by every man in every place in life; and how, by a multitude of small things and ordinary virtues, the supreme thing, the summum bonum, is made up?

The Spectrum of Love has nine ingredients:

  1. Patience  "Love suffereth long."
  2. Kindness  "And is kind."
  3. Generosity  "Love envieth not."
  4. Humility  "Love vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up."
  5. Courtesy  "Doth not behave itself unseemly."
  6. Unselfishness  "Seeketh not its own."
  7. Good temper  "Is not provoked."
  8. Guilelessness  "Taketh not account of evil."
  9. Sincerity  "Rejoiceth not in unrighteousness, but rejoiceth with the truth."
Patience; kindness; generosity; humility; courtesy; unselfishness; good temper; guilelessness; sincerity—these make up the supreme gift, the stature of the perfect man.

You will observe that all are in relation to men, in relation to life, in relation to the known to-day and the near to-morrow, and not to the unknown eternity. We hear much of love to God; Christ spoke much of love to man. We make a great deal of peace with heaven; Christ made much of peace on earth. Religion is not a strange or added thing, but the inspiration of the secular life, the breathing of an eternal spirit through this temporal world. The supreme thing, in short, is not a thing at all, but the giving of a further finish to the multitudinous words and acts which make up the sum of every common day.

Charles Ellicott:  Here follows a description of love. Descriptions of positive characteristics and negations of evil qualities are now employed by the Apostle in what he would have us believe to be his impossible task of adequately describing true love.

Lee Gatiss:  Love Changes Everything (Verses 4-7). Paul now goes on to define this love. He does so in such a way that the Corinthians can be left in no doubt that this is a rebuke and they must change, since they fall short on these specific things. This is the sort of love which, if universally practiced, would put an end to all the divisions in the Church. Love is personified throughout this section, but it is obvious that Paul means “the person who loves” is patient, kind et cetera. The fact that love is personified reminds us that “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16) and that true love is only seen in us when we imitate God, by imitating Jesus.

John Gill:  The apostle, in this and some following verses, enumerates the several properties and characters of the grace of love; and all along represents it as if it was a person, and no doubt designs one who is possessed of it, and in whose heart it is implanted and reigns.

Matthew Henry:  Some of the effects of charity are stated, that we may know whether we have this grace; and that if we have not, we may not rest till we have it. This love is a clear proof of regeneration, and is a touchstone of our professed faith in Christ. In this beautiful description of the nature and effects of love, it is meant to show the Corinthians that their conduct had, in many respects, been a contrast to it. Charity is an utter enemy to selfishness; it does not desire or seek its own praise, or honour, or profit, or pleasure. Not that charity destroys all regard to ourselves, or that the charitable man should neglect himself and all his interests. But charity never seeks its own to the hurt of others, or to neglect others. It ever prefers the welfare of others to its private advantage. How good-natured and amiable is Christian charity! How excellent would Christianity appear to the world, if those who profess it were more under this Divine principle, and paid due regard to the command on which its blessed Author laid the chief stress! Let us ask whether this Divine love dwells in our hearts. Has this principle guided us into becoming behaviour to all men? Are we willing to lay aside selfish objects and aims? Here is a call to watchfulness, diligence, and prayer.

Heinrich Meyer:  Love is personified; the living concrete portrait of her character, in which power to edify (1 Corinthians 8:1) reflects itself, is presented as if in sharply drawn outline, with nothing but short, definite, isolated traits, positively, negatively, and then positively again, according to her inexhaustible nature.

W. Robertson Nicoll:  THE QUALITIES OF CHRISTIAN LOVE. The previous vv. have justified the kath' hyperboLE-N of 1 Corinthians 12:31. The loftiest human faculties of man are seen to be frustrate without love; by its aid alone are they brought to their proper excellence and just use. But this “way” of Christian attainment has still to be “described,” and the promise of 1 Corinthians 12:31 b fulfilled. So while 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 have proved the necessity, the rest of the chap. shows the nature and working of the indispensable aGApe-. The Corinthians may see in this description the mirror of what they ought to be and are not; they will learn how childish are the superiorities on which they plume themselves. (a) The behaviour of Love is delineated in fifteen exquisite aphorisms (1 Corinthians 13:4-7); (b) its permanence, in contrast with the transitory and partial character of the prized chaRISmata (1 Corinthians 13:8-13).

1 Corinthians 13:4-7. In 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 Paul’s utterance began to rise with the elevation of his theme into the Hebraic rhythm (observe the recurrent aGApe-n de me- Echo-, and the repeated ouDEN) which marks his more impassioned passages (see e.g., Romans 8:31 ff., Ephesians 1:8 ff.; on a smaller scale, 1 Corinthians 3:22 f. above). Here this rhythm dominates the structure of his sentences: they run in seven couplets, arranged as one (affirm.), four (neg.), and two (aff.) verse-lines, with the subject (he- aGApe-) repeated at the head of the 2nd line. The verse which closes the middle, longer movement becomes a triplet, making a pause in the chant by the antithetical repetition of the second clause. The paragraph then reads as follows:

“Love suffers long, shows kindness.
Love envies not, makes no self-display;
Is not puffed up, behaves not unseemly;
Seeks not her advantage, is not embittered;
Imputes not evil, rejoices not at wrong.
but shares in the joy of the truth.
All things she tolerates, all things she believes;
All things she hopes for, all things she endures.”

The first line supples the general theme, defining the two fundamental excellencies of Love—her patience towards evil, and kindly activity in good. In the negative movement, the first half-lines set forth Love’s attitude—free from jealousy, arrogance (cf. 1 Corinthians 4:6 b), avarice, grudge-bearing; while the second member in each case sets forth her temper—modest, refined in feeling, placable, having her joy in goodness. The third movement reverts to the opening note, on which it descants.

Matthew Poole:  Lest the Corinthians should say to the apostle: What is this love you discourse of? Or how shall we know if we have it? The apostle here gives thirteen notes of a charitable person.

A.T. Robertson:  Verses Matthew 4-7 picture the character or conduct of love in marvellous rhapsody.

John Wesley, Sermon 22:  Because of the vast importance of this love, -- without which, "though we spake with the tongues of men and angels, though we had the gift of prophecy, and understood all mysteries, and all knowledge; though we had all faith, so as to remove mountains; yea, though we gave all our goods to feed the poor, and our very bodies to be burned, it would profit us nothing," -- the wisdom of God has given us, by the Apostle Paul, a full and particular account of it; by considering which we shall most clearly discern who are the merciful that shall obtain mercy.

Jeffrey Brian White:  agapaô/agapê/agapêtos

agapaô = "to regard, (Lat., diligere) esteem, (the principle of internal feeling of delectation and kindliness,) to acquiesce with satisfaction, to cherish with reverence, to love, considered in reference to the will (elsewhere translated beloved.)" [Bullinger] "perh. from agan (much) [or comp. #5689H]; to love (in a social or moral sense)" [#25G]

agapê = "love. [A word not found in the profane writers, nor in Philo and Josephus, nor in Acts, Mark, and James. It is unknown to writers outside of the N.T. filanthrôpia, philanthropy was the highest word used by the Greeks, which is a very different thing to agapê, and even far lower than filadelfia. Filanthrôpia in its fullest display was only giving to him who was entitled to it his full rights.] Agapê denotes the love which springs from admiration and veneration, and which chooses its object with decision of will, and devotes a self-denying and compassionate devotion to it. Love in its fullest conceivable form." [Bullinger] "from agapaô; love, i.e. affection or benevolence" [#26G]

Back to Top

Back to Study Love Main Index