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5. A Loving Husband in Action (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

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October 15, 2017

How would you describe a mature Christian? What should be the most obvious characteristic of one who walks daily with Jesus Christ as his (or her) Savior and Lord?

Some might say, “The heart of the Christian message is the Bible. Therefore, a spiritually mature Christian is one who knows the Bible well. He studies it diligently. He can explain the core doctrines of the faith. He can cite many passages from memory. Since we can’t know God apart from how He has revealed Himself in His Word, Bible knowledge is the essential mark of maturity.”

Another might say, “Bible knowledge is no good unless you believe its message with all your heart. Great faith in God and the promises of His Word is the mark of maturity.”

“But,” someone else may respond, “faith without works is dead. A spiritually mature person is one who shows his faith by his good deeds. Show me a person with good works and there you’ll see a spiritually mature person.”

“Yes,” says another, “but a person like that may fall away in a time of persecution. The real mark of a mature believer is his perseverance in a time of persecution. If he trusts God even to the point of martyrdom, he is truly spiritually mature.”

Who is right? According to the apostle Paul, none of them. They all missed the central mark of Christian maturity. In fact, you can add up all of those qualities together—great knowledge of the Bible and even the ability to expound it eloquently and powerfully; faith that moves mountains; good deeds; and perseverance even to martyrdom—but if you lack another quality, the sum of your spiritual maturity is zero.

That quality is Christian love (agape). Paul makes this argument in probably the most profound, eloquent treatise on love both in the Bible and in all literature. The Corinthian church was emphasizing a good thing, spiritual gifts, to the neglect of the best. They were using their gifts apart from love. Paul makes the point that the use of their God-given gifts would amount to nothing if the Corinthians did not make love their priority.

In verses 1-3 he shows the preeminence of love: it is greater than all spiritual gifts because without love, gifts are empty. Love is greater than tongues, prophecy, knowledge, faith, good deeds, and even martyrdom. If you do all of these things without love, you’re a spiritual zero.

In verses 4-7 he shows the practice of love: it is greater than all spiritual gifts because of its selfless characteristics. As I’ve often explained (based on several Scriptures), biblical love is a self-sacrificing, caring commitment that 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. We are (Eph. 5:2) to “walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.”

In verses 8-13 he shows the permanence of love: it 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.

While all Christians are to love others, even our enemies (Matt. 5:44), and our text was written to help a divided, spiritually immature church, Paul’s command (Eph. 5:25), “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her,” shows that husbands especially are responsible to set the example of love in their families. A professing Christian family where the husband and father does not set the example by practicing love is missing the most important characteristic of a Christian home. So my main focus in this message is that …

Practicing selfless love is the priority for every Christian husband.

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 easy to get along with. I’m basically a loving person.” But I ask each of you to forget about everybody else and ask God to apply these verses to you. Paul enumerates 15 characteristics (which we can combine into 13) of love to show how love acts or what it looks like in everyday life. Let’s look briefly at each of them.

1. Selfless love is patient.

Ouch! He nails me right off the bat! I often fail to be patient with my wife and when our children were still in the home, I was often impatient with them. Patience is a quality that I practice beautifully when I don’t need it. But when things start to irritate me, I not only lack patience; I don’t even want to be patient!

The Greek word comes from two words meaning, “long-tempered.” If you’re patient, you’re slow to anger. You endure personal wrongs without retaliating. You graciously bear with others’ imperfections, faults, and differences. You give them time to change and room to make mistakes without coming down hard on them. Does that describe you, men, with your wife and children?

Dr. Thomas Cooper was a man who had developed this quality to a far greater extent than I. During the late 1500’s, Dr. Cooper edited a dictionary with the addition of 33,000 words and many other improvements. He had already been collecting materials for eight years when his wife, a rather difficult woman, went into his study one day while he was gone and burned all of his notes under the pretense of fearing that he would kill himself with study. Eight years of work was a pile of ashes!

Dr. Cooper came home, saw the destruction, and asked who had done it. His wife told him boldly that she had done it. The patient man heaved a deep sigh and said, “Oh Dinah, Dinah, thou hast given a world of trouble!” Then he quietly sat down to another eight years of hard labor, to replace the notes which she had destroyed. (Paul Tan, Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations [Assurance Publishers, #2350.) Next time you think you’ve arrived at being patient, that story should give you something to aim for!

2. Selfless love is kind.

Kindness is patience in action. The Greek word comes from a word meaning “useful.” A kind person seeks to be helpful. He looks for needs and opportunities to meet those needs without repayment. The word was used of mellow wine, and suggests a man who is gentle, who has an ability to soothe hurt feelings, to calm an upset person, and to help quietly in practical ways. He is tender and forgiving when wronged.

The test of whether you are kind is when you do something nice for someone who is ungrateful or even mean in return. When He instructed us to love our enemies, Jesus pointed to God as our example, explaining (Luke 6:35), “for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men.” God’s kindness should bring sinners to repentance (Rom. 2:4). His kindness should motivate us to put aside all malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander, and to long for the pure milk of the word so that by it we may grow in respect to salvation (1 Pet. 2:1-3).

Applying this to husbands, would your wife and kids describe you as kind? Do you think about their needs and try to meet those needs? Are you sensitive to their feelings? Do you treat your wife and children with kindness to set the example in your home? Love is not gruff and mean; love is kind.

3. Selfless love is not jealous.

The word means to eagerly desire, and it is used both positively and negatively in the Bible. Positively, God is a jealous God who does not tolerate any idolatry on the part of His people (Ex. 20:5; 34:14). He commends those who are jealous for His honor (Num. 25:13). In that sense, a loving husband is jealous to preserve the sanctity of his marriage. He doesn’t allow anything in himself or in his wife to come between their exclusive fidelity.

But he is not jealous in the negative sense of being greedy, selfish, and possessive. A sinfully jealous husband wants to have his wife totally to himself so that she can meet his needs. He denies her freedom to spend time with her family or with other women friends. He resents the time she spends with the children. He doesn’t trust her when she’s out of his sight or his control. Jealousy is a deed of the flesh, often associated with anger and quarrels (2 Cor. 12:20; Gal. 5:20; James 4:2).

4. Selfless love does not brag and is not arrogant.

These ugly twins are related. They both stem from selfishness and are the flip side of jealousy. A bragging, arrogant husband thinks he knows it all and treats his wife as if she were stupid. He often puts her down either verbally or with a look of disgust. Bragging reveals a proud heart.

A bragging, arrogant husband is competing with his wife for glory. He says things like, “After all I’ve done for you, and you treat me like this!” But love doesn’t seek to build up me; love seeks to build up the other person. Love is humble. The humble, loving husband is aware that everything he has, including his wife, is an undeserved gift from God (1 Cor. 4:7). So he doesn’t boast in himself, but thankfully uses what God has given him to serve her.

5. Selfless love does not act unbecomingly.

Some translations (NIV, ESV) read, “It is not rude.” Love has good manners. It tries to put others at ease. It’s courteous, polite, sensitive to the feelings of others, and tactful. A loving husband considers how he would feel if he were in his wife’s place and treats her as he would want to be treated. He doesn’t make fun of her mistakes or weaknesses. He doesn’t put her down with sarcastic comments. He treats her with respect and honor. Rudeness stems from thinking of ourselves, often at the expense of others.

When a couple is courting, the man will run around the car in a driving rainstorm to open the door for his sweetheart. Five years after they’re married, he says, “What’s the matter? You got a broken arm?” Love is considerate. It’s not rude.

6. Selfless love does not seek his own.

The ESV translates, “It does not insist on its own way.” A loving husband does not demand his rights. Alan Redpath (source unknown) said, “The secret of every discord in Christian homes, communities and churches is that we seek our own way and our own glory.” Selfishness is the root problem of the human race; it is the antithesis of love, which is self-sacrificing.

Elisabeth Elliot was once speaking on this subject to an audience that included some young children who were sitting right in front of her. As she spoke, she wondered how she could make this plain to them, so that they could apply it. Later, she got a letter from one of those children, a six-year-old boy, who wrote, “I am learning to lay down my life for my little sister. She has to take a nap in the afternoon. I don’t have to take a nap. But she can’t go to sleep unless I come and lay down beside her. So I lay down with my little sister.” (In, “Back to the bible Today,” Jan.-Feb. 1994, p. 5.) That boy is learning not to seek his own, but to love!

If husbands and wives, as well as children, would apply this verse as that little boy did, our homes would be free of conflict. We would reflect the spirit of Jesus Christ, who did not come to be served, but to serve and to give His life a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). Aren’t you glad Jesus didn’t insist on His rights? He would have stayed in heaven and we wouldn’t be saved!

7. Selfless love is not provoked.

J. B. Phillips paraphrases, “It is not touchy.” A loving husband does not have a short fuse or a hair-trigger temper. He doesn’t make his family walk on eggshells for fear of setting him off. He doesn’t explode when some little thing that doesn’t go his way. He doesn’t use his temper to intimidate, control, or punish. Some guys excuse their anger by saying, “Sure, I have a bad temper. But I get it all out and it’s over in a few minutes.” Bombs work like that, too! But look at the devastation a bomb leaves behind! Except for rare occasions of righteous anger, anger and love are opposites.

8. Selfless love does not take into account a wrong suffered.

This is an accounting word, used of numerical calculation. It is used of God not imputing our guilt to us, but instead imputing the righteousness of Christ to our account (Rom. 4:6-8). Love doesn’t keep a tally of wrongs and bear a grudge until every wrong is paid for. It doesn’t try to gain the upper hand by reminding the other person of past wrongs. In other words, love forgives.

I once tried to counsel a woman who had marriage problems. The first thing she did was hand me an eight-page detailed record of the wrongs that her husband had committed against her. I told her that if she wanted healing in her marriage, she needed to burn those eight pages. She didn’t like my counsel because she wanted to make her husband pay. She was keeping score! But that’s not love!

9. Selfless love does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth.

These qualities are the flip side of one another. Moffatt puts it, “Love is never glad when others go wrong.” To rejoice in the truth means to be glad about behavior or attitudes that line up with the truth of God’s Word. If your wife sins against you, you don’t gloat because now she owes you one. You grieve, because God is grieved over sin. If she repents and asks forgiveness, you rejoice.

There is a fine balance to love. A loving husband is kind and overlooks many of his wife’s faults, but he doesn’t compromise the truth or take a soft view of sin. To allow your wife to go on in disobedience to God’s Word is not to seek her highest good; it is not love. A loving husband sensitively confronts and corrects because he cares deeply and he knows that sin destroys. And, a loving husband rejoices with the truth. He gets excited when it hears of spiritual victories. He encourages by expressing joy over little evidences of growth. John, the apostle of love, wrote (3 John 4), “I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth.”

10. Selfless love bears all things.

The four repetitions of “all things” (v. 7) are hyperbole or exaggerations to make a point (John MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary, 1 Corinthians [Moody Press], p. 352). There are many sins, such as jealousy, arrogance, rudeness, selfishness, anger, and bitterness that love does not bear, believe, hope, or endure, because those sins destroy relationships. Love gently confronts sin and seeks to restore the sinner to the Lord (Gal. 6:1).

“Bear” can mean either to bear up under or to protect by covering. Many commentators prefer the first meaning, but then it would mean the same as “endures all things” (end of v. 7). I prefer the second meaning, to protect by covering. A loving husband doesn’t broadcast his wife’s faults. He doesn’t put her down with jokes or sarcasm. He defends her character as much as possible within the limits of truth. He won’t lie about her weaknesses, but neither will he deliberately expose them. Love protects.

11. Selfless love believes all things.

The NIV translates, “Love always trusts.” This does not imply gullibility. Rather, a loving husband is not suspicious of his wife’s character or motives without good reason. A good relationship must be built on mutual trust. If trust has been broken, then it needs to be earned again, step by step. But love assumes the other person is innocent until proven guilty, not vice versa. If there is a problem, a loving husband doesn’t immediately accuse or blame his wife. He doesn’t grill her about every detail of her story, like an attorney cross-examining a defendant. He believes the best about her. He trusts her.

12. Selfless love hopes all things.

A loving husband is not pessimistic. He does not expect his wife to fail, but to succeed. If she does fail, he doesn’t take her failure as final. He exudes a godly optimism that says, “I know you can do it, because God in you is able!” This doesn’t mean ignoring reality or closing your eyes to problems. But a loving husband rests on God’s promise to work all things together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. To hope all things for your wife assumes that you pray for her growth in godliness. Since God “is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think” (Eph. 3:20), love hopes all things.

13. Selfless love endures all things.

“Endures” is a military word meaning to sustain the assault of an enemy. It has the idea of holding up under trial, of persevering in spite of difficulties. It implies that there will be difficult problems in a Christian marriage, but a loving husband hangs in there. He doesn’t give up or tell his wife, “I’ve had it with you! I’m done!” Trusting in God, he remains committed to his wife’s highest good.

There is an epidemic among Christians of bailing out of tough situations. People don’t like something that happens in a church, so they go find another church more to their liking. They run into problems or disagreements in their marriage, grow tired of the situation, and bail out.

“But,” you say, “isn’t adultery a legitimate grounds for divorce?” Technically, yes. But all too often one partner uses it as an escape hatch to bail out of a marriage where both partners have wronged each other in many ways for years. I’m not minimizing the seriousness of adultery. It destroys trust and creates all sorts of problems in a marriage. I’m not suggesting that it’s easy to work through. It takes a lot of time and hard work to rebuild a broken relationship. But God’s best is to forgive and renew the marriage, not to bail out. Love endures all things.

That’s what a loving husband in action looks like. He is selfless, wholly directed to build up his wife. Of course nobody can love like that. Only God is love (1 John 4:7). Put “Christ” in verses 4-7 instead of “love” and you have a description of Him. Jesus is patient, kind, not jealous; does not brag, is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; does not seek His own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; He always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. If we want to love one another, we must focus on His love for us and walk in His Spirit who produces His fruit of love in us (Gal. 5:22).


Humorist Sam Levenson says, “Love at first sight is easy to understand. It’s when two people have been looking at each other for years that it becomes a miracle” (Reader’s Digest [3/83]). But it’s not really a miracle; it’s the result of walking with God, repeatedly confronting your selfishness and daily practicing biblical love toward your wife.

How does a husband grow in love? First, spend time alone with God in His Word and prayer each day. Allow His Word to confront your own selfishness and sin. Then, make love your deliberate aim. As Paul goes on to say (1 Cor. 14:1), “Pursue love.” Also, extend to your wife the same grace that God has extended to you in Christ. He is (Exod. 34:6) “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth.” A godly husband should reflect those qualities to his wife.

An old legend says that in his old age the apostle John was so weak that he had to be carried into the church meetings. At the end of the meeting he would be helped to his feet to give a word of exhortation. He would invariably repeat, “Little children, love one another.”

The disciples grew weary of the same words every time. Finally they asked him why he said the same thing over and over. He replied, “Because it is the commandment of the Lord, and the observation of it alone is sufficient.” Practicing selfless love is the priority for every Christian husband.

Application Questions

  1. How does patience in love fit in with not tolerating sin? Does patience (even God’s patience) have a limit?
  2. Love does not get provoked and yet God gets angry at our sin. How do you reconcile this? Is it wrong to be angry about someone’s sin?
  3. Love always trusts. But is it loving to trust a person who has repeatedly violated our trust? Where do you draw the line?
  4. Some say, “Love is more important than doctrinal purity.” Why is this a false dichotomy? Can we love apart from truth?

Copyright 2017, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

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