I do not usually read the King James Version of the Bible. For my personal daily reading, I prefer the Holman Christian Standard Bible. Recently, a close friend of mine, who prefers the “KJV” for his daily reading time, had shared with me and some other brothers in Christ its rendering of 1 Corinthians 13:13. For whatever reason, this verse just jumped out at him, which is why he shared it. He, just as we (Christians) all at times are abruptly awed by verses that we encounter, was suddenly struck by this particular verse.
1 Corinthians 13:13 (KJV)
“And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.”
I was (without warning) pleasantly moved myself, to appreciate the translation choice that the KJV uses for the Greek word “agape” (which is shown in the above picture). In other words, I’m not used to seeing the word “charity” where the word “love” usually appears in the Bible version that I regularly read.
In the Holman, it renders it like this…
1 Corinthians 13:13 (HCSB)
“Now these three remain:
faith, hope, and love.
But the greatest of these is love.”
My first thought in seeing how the KJV translates this verse, was…
“Hmmm… It’s interesting that the KJV uses “charity” for “love” (agape) in this verse, because Biblical love is a doing love, and “charity” points to doing.”
It’s actually very helpful that the KJV uses the word “charity” here, because the word “love” (at least in English), does not quite capture what is described in the original Greek. There are basically four different words for love in the Greek. Click here to see examples. Because there are four different ways of describing love in the Greek language, just settling every time for the word “love” in English (as many modern translations do), does not always bring out the true meaning of what was originally intended in the Bible. The KJV deserves to be commended here.
The Greek word found in this verse (agape), describes the highest form of love… a doing love. Unfortunately, the world usually does not have a doing love in mind when it expresses “love.” A worldly love focuses on feelings, rather than action. Due to the world’s twisting of love and its constant influence on our thinking, we (Christians) can, at times, lack agape. It’s why “charity” is such a great choice of word by the KJV for the translation of “agape.” It’s a great reminder of what we are called to do. My point is, warm and fuzzy feelings do not point to patience and kindness, etc., where an agape (charity) type of love does…
1 Corinthians 13:4-8a (KJV)
“Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Charity never faileth…”
Recently, another brother in the Lord had used the phrase “sloppy agape” in a conversation that we were having. He used it to describe that worldly type of love, which we (Christians) are sometimes guilty of expressing in lieu of a Biblical, agape love. I had never heard the phrase before. It’s very clever and it makes the point well. Dictionaryofchristianese.com describes “sloppy agape” as follows…
“Lavish but merely verbal or superficial affirmations of love and care for someone that are not backed up by concrete action or long-term support.”
I bolded both care and action in the above quote because, together, they illuminate two very important components of love. When either of these components are taken away… love then no longer remains. Take away the caring, love then becomes procedural legalism. Take away the doing, love then transforms into lust-like self-gratification. In other words, when love (agape) is absent from the grounding of our motivations, only godlessness remains.
Here’s an example…
The church in Ephesus was sternly warned by Jesus Christ Himself that an absence of love negates all of the good that they do. In other words, the noble efforts that they had put forth had been disqualified, because they had lost the very thing which had originally qualified them…
Revelation 2:2-5 (HCSB)
“I know your works, your labor, and your endurance, and that you cannot tolerate evil. You have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and you have found them to be liars. You also possess endurance and have tolerated many things because of My name and have not grown weary. But I have this against you: You have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember then how far you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. Otherwise, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place — unless you repent.”
There was, though, a positive result of their effort: the works, labor, endurance, intolerance of evil, the testing of fake apostles who had turned out to be liars… all of these (which were done for Christ’s name sake mind you) demonstrated that the Ephesians had not grown weary. Great! This recognition that they had received is a wonderful compliment, which any Christian would want to hear from their Lord. Yet, because love was abandoned by them, Jesus still had something against them.
Jesus Himself basically warns…
Take away love, then all of these noble things become irrelevant and neutered.
It’s something we (Christians) need to always keep in mind.
Paul also mentioned how the lack of agape love (charity) ruins a good effort…
1 Corinthians 13:1-3 (KJV)
“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.”
May we always seek to impart charity (a caring action/doing love), as to avoid a “sloppy agape.”
Godspeed, to the brethren!