What is love? Is it possible to define something that seems so mysterious and elusive? Just how elusive the definition of love is, becomes evident as we compare different individual’s definitions of love. We hear about cases of so-called, “Love at first sight.” Love has been likened to “temporary insanity,” and “a strange bewilderment.” It’s been called “a fire that rages in the heart.” The Holy Spirit through the apostle Paul describes rather than defines love in terms of fifteen portraits which reveal that love neither an emotion, nor an idea nor a motive. Love is a word that can only be properly defined in terms of action, attitude, and behavior. Paul has no room for abstract, theoretical definitions; instead, he wants us to know what love looks like when we see it. Thus, he paints fifteen separate portraits of love – fifteen verbs, all of which have “love” as their subject.
As we look upon the portrait of love painted in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, what ought to stand out most clearly is Christ, who this text portrays most beautifully. Enjoy the following exercise: Read verses 4-7 again, and as you do, replace the word “love” with “Christ;” for each of the fifteen portraits think of an example from the life of Christ in the Gospels, where He portrayed that particular portrait. For more than anything, 1 Corinthians 13 is about Jesus Christ who is love incarnate.