Day 232

Sixteen Characteristics of Love

Wisdom Psalm 100:1-5
New Testament 1 Corinthians 12:27-13:13
Old Testament Song of Songs 5:1-8:14


I tried following the example of a missionary I once heard about who, each day, would read the four verses from today’s New Testament passage, which lists sixteen characteristics of love. For the word ‘love’ she would substitute her own name. When she reached a characteristic that she knew was not true of her, she had to stop. Her aim was, one day, to get through the whole list.

The four verses (1 Corinthians 13:4–7) start with ‘love is patient’. So I substituted my own name and started with ‘Nicky is patient’. I do not think it will come as any surprise to those who know me well that I had to stop there!

The great evangelist D.L. Moody was once staying with friends in England. One evening they asked Henry Drummond to expound on a portion of Scripture. After some urging, Henry drew a small New Testament from his pocket, opened it at 1 Corinthians 13 and began to speak on the subject of love. D.L. Moody wrote in response:

‘It seemed to me that I had never heard anything so beautiful. The one great need in our Christian life is love, more love to God and to each other. Would that we could all move into that love chapter and live there.’

We get an idea of what Drummond must have said that evening in his book, The Greatest Thing in the World. He writes: ‘What is... the supreme good? You have life before you. Once only you can live it. What is the noblest object of desire, the supreme gift to covet?’ In 1 Corinthians 13 ‘Paul takes us to Christianity at its source; and there we see, “The greatest of these is love.”’

God is love. We deceive ourselves if we think we can love God and hate other people (1 John 4:20). Love should be number one on your spiritual priority list. It should be the main thing in your life. It is, in the words of St Paul, ‘the most excellent way’ (1 Corinthians 12:31).


Psalm 100:1-5

Psalm 100

A psalm. For giving grateful praise.

1 Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
2  Worship the Lord with gladness;
   come before him with joyful songs.
3 Know that the Lord is God.
   It is he who made us, and we are his;
   we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving
   and his courts with praise;
   give thanks to him and praise his name.
5 For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
   his faithfulness continues through all generations.


Enjoy God’s love for you

The psalmist exhorts us to ‘Shout for joy to the Lord… Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs’ (vv.1–2). He tells us to ‘enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name’ (v.4); ‘Enter with the password: “Thank you!”’ (v.4, MSG); ‘Be thankful and say so to Him’ (v.4, AMP).

Why? What is the reason for such joy, thanksgiving and praise? The psalmist gives the answer in verse 5: ‘For the Lord is good and his love endures for ever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.’

God is good and he loves you. This pretty much sums up the message of the entire Bible. It is his love that is the source of our love: ‘We love because he first loved us’ (1 John 4:19). Understand, believe and accept that he loves you and enjoy his love.


Lord, I thank and praise you for your amazing love for me. Thank you that your love endures for ever. Help me to enjoy your love today.

New Testament

1 Corinthians 12:27-13:13

27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. 28 And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 31 Now eagerly desire the greater gifts.

Love Is Indispensable

And yet I will show you the most excellent way.

13 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.


Embrace a life of love

Henry Drummond explains that at the beginning of this chapter we have love contrasted; in the heart of it, we have love analysed and towards the end we have love defended as the supreme gift.

1. Love contrasted

The description of love in 1 Corinthians 13 is one of the most beautiful and best-known passages in the entire New Testament. Many non-churchgoers would recognise it as the Bible passage that is often read at weddings. Paul places it in the middle of his teaching about the gifts of the Holy Spirit in the body of Christ.

He lists nine gifts in 1 Corinthians 12:27–30. At the start of chapter 12 he also listed nine gifts. There is an overlap of five. So, thirteen gifts of the Holy Spirit are listed in all. Paul has been describing the importance of these gifts for the body of Christ to function fully.

He is not diminishing the importance of gifts by talking about love. Rather, he is saying, ‘gifts are very important but love is even more important.’ We desperately need the gifts of the Holy Spirit to be properly exercised in the church today. However, as in Paul’s day, love is even more important. It is ‘the most excellent way’ (v.31).

In fact, Paul says if we have all the gifts and give everything we have to the poor and die the death of a martyr but we have not love, we gain nothing (13:1–3). He is not criticising the use of the gifts, such as speaking in tongues and prophecy (vv.1–2), any more than he is criticising philanthropists or martyrs (v.3). He is simply stressing the importance that everything you do should be done in love.

2. Love analysed

Paul then lists sixteen characteristics of love. Every time I read this list I feel deeply challenged. I know how far short of all these characteristics – not just the first one! – I so often fall. I like The Message translation:

‘Love never gives up \[‘Love is patient’, NIV\]
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first”,
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end’ (vv.4–7, MSG).

Take any one of these: for example, ‘Trust God always’. Achieve that and it will be life-changing.

3. Love defended

Love is permanent. Everything else is temporary. All the gifts of the Spirit will one day be unnecessary. Some have argued that what Paul is saying here is that the gifts of the Spirit (such as speaking in tongues) would cease at some point in history. In fact, he is saying the very opposite. He is saying that the gifts of the Spirit will not cease until we see Jesus ‘face to face’ (v.12). As yet, we do not see Jesus ‘face to face’ and therefore the gifts of the Spirit have not yet ceased. We still need them desperately.

But, the greatest thing in the world is love. Faith, hope and love are a great trilogy, but ‘the greatest of these is love’ (v.13).


Lord, we desperately need this kind of love in the church today. Help me grow in love to reflect the way St Paul describes. May I make my love for you, and for others, the highest priority of my life.

Old Testament

Song of Songs 5:1-8:14


5 I have come into my garden, my sister, my bride;
   I have gathered my myrrh with my spice.
I have eaten my honeycomb and my honey;
   I have drunk my wine and my milk.


Eat, friends, and drink;
   drink your fill of love.


2 I slept but my heart was awake.
   Listen! My beloved is knocking:
“Open to me, my sister, my darling,
   my dove, my flawless one.
My head is drenched with dew,
   my hair with the dampness of the night.”
3 I have taken off my robe—
   must I put it on again?
I have washed my feet—
   must I soil them again?
4 My beloved thrust his hand through the latch-opening;
   my heart began to pound for him.
5 I arose to open for my beloved,
   and my hands dripped with myrrh,
my fingers with flowing myrrh,
   on the handles of the bolt.
6 I opened for my beloved,
   but my beloved had left; he was gone.
   My heart sank at his departure.
I looked for him but did not find him.
   I called him but he did not answer.
7 The watchmen found me
   as they made their rounds in the city.
They beat me, they bruised me;
   they took away my cloak,
  those watchmen of the walls!
8 Daughters of Jerusalem, I charge you —
   if you find my beloved,
what will you tell him?
   Tell him I am faint with love.


9 How is your beloved better than others,
   most beautiful of women?
How is your beloved better than others,
   that you so charge us?


10 My beloved is radiant and ruddy,
   outstanding among ten thousand.
11 His head is purest gold;
   his hair is wavy
   and black as a raven.
12 His eyes are like doves
   by the water streams,
washed in milk,
   mounted like jewels.
13 His cheeks are like beds of spice
   yielding perfume.
His lips are like lilies
   dripping with myrrh.
14 His arms are rods of gold
   set with topaz.
His body is like polished ivory
   decorated with lapis lazuli.
15 His legs are pillars of marble
   set on bases of pure gold.
His appearance is like Lebanon,
   choice as its cedars.
16 His mouth is sweetness itself;
   he is altogether lovely.
This is my beloved, this is my friend,
   daughters of Jerusalem.


6 Where has your beloved gone,
   most beautiful of women?
Which way did your beloved turn,
   that we may look for him with you?


2 My beloved has gone down to his garden,
   to the beds of spices,
to browse in the gardens
   and to gather lilies.
3 I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine;
   he browses among the lilies.


4 You are as beautiful as Tirzah, my darling,
   as lovely as Jerusalem,
   as majestic as troops with banners.
5 Turn your eyes from me;
   they overwhelm me.
Your hair is like a flock of goats
   descending from Gilead.
6 Your teeth are like a flock of sheep
   coming up from the washing.
Each has its twin,
   not one of them is missing.
7 Your temples behind your veil
   are like the halves of a pomegranate.
8 Sixty queens there may be,
   and eighty concubines,
   and virgins beyond number;
9 but my dove, my perfect one, is unique,
   the only daughter of her mother,
   the favorite of the one who bore her.
The young women saw her and called her blessed;
   the queens and concubines praised her.


10 Who is this that appears like the dawn,
   fair as the moon, bright as the sun,
   majestic as the stars in procession?


11 I went down to the grove of nut trees
   to look at the new growth in the valley,
to see if the vines had budded
   or the pomegranates were in bloom.
12 Before I realized it,
   my desire set me among the royal chariots of my people.


13 Come back, come back, O Shulammite;
   come back, come back, that we may gaze on you!


Why would you gaze on the Shulammite
   as on the dance of Mahanaim?

7 How beautiful your sandaled feet,
   O prince’s daughter!
Your graceful legs are like jewels,
   the work of an artist’s hands.
2 Your navel is a rounded goblet
   that never lacks blended wine.
Your waist is a mound of wheat
   encircled by lilies.
3 Your breasts are like two fawns,
   like twin fawns of a gazelle.
4 Your neck is like an ivory tower.
Your eyes are the pools of Heshbon
   by the gate of Bath Rabbim.
Your nose is like the tower of Lebanon
   looking toward Damascus.
5 Your head crowns you like Mount Carmel.
   Your hair is like royal tapestry;
   the king is held captive by its tresses.
6 How beautiful you are and how pleasing,
   my love, with your delights!
7 Your stature is like that of the palm,
   and your breasts like clusters of fruit.
8 I said, “I will climb the palm tree;
I will take hold of its fruit.”
May your breasts be like clusters of grapes on the vine,
   the fragrance of your breath like apples,
   9 and your mouth like the best wine.


May the wine go straight to my beloved,
   flowing gently over lips and teeth.
10 I belong to my beloved,
   and his desire is for me.
11 Come, my beloved, let us go to the countryside,
   let us spend the night in the villages.
12 Let us go early to the vineyards
   to see if the vines have budded,
if their blossoms have opened,
   and if the pomegranates are in bloom —
   there I will give you my love.
13 The mandrakes send out their fragrance,
   and at our door is every delicacy,
both new and old,
   that I have stored up for you, my beloved.

8 If only you were to me like a brother,
   who was nursed at my mother’s breasts!
Then, if I found you outside,
   I would kiss you,
and no one would despise me.
2 I would lead you
   and bring you to my mother’s house —
   she who has taught me.
I would give you spiced wine to drink,
   the nectar of my pomegranates.
3 His left arm is under my head
   and his right arm embraces me.
4 Daughters of Jerusalem, I charge you:
   Do not arouse or awaken love
   until it so desires.


5 Who is this coming up from the wilderness
   leaning on her beloved?


Under the apple tree I roused you;
   there your mother conceived you,
   there she who was in labour gave you birth.
6 Place me like a seal over your heart,
   like a seal on your arm;
for love is as strong as death,
   its jealousy unyielding as the grave.
It burns like blazing fire,
   like a mighty flame.
7 Many waters cannot quench love;
   rivers cannot sweep it away.
If one were to give
   all the wealth of one’s house for love,
   it would be utterly scorned.


8 We have a little sister,
   and her breasts are not yet grown.
What shall we do for our sister
   on the day she is spoken for?
9 If she is a wall,
   we will build towers of silver on her.
If she is a door,
   we will enclose her with panels of cedar.


10 I am a wall,
   and my breasts are like towers.
Thus I have become in his eyes
   like one bringing contentment.
11 Solomon had a vineyard in Baal Hamon;
   he let out his vineyard to tenants.
Each was to bring for its fruit
   a thousand shekels of silver.
12 But my own vineyard is mine to give;
   the thousand shekels are for you, Solomon,
   and two hundred are for those who tend its fruit.


13 You who dwell in the gardens
   with friends in attendance,
   let me hear your voice!


14 Come away, my beloved,
   and be like a gazelle
or like a young stag
   on the spice-laden mountains.


Ensure that love is the main thing

The word ‘love’ or ‘lover’ appears over and over again in the Song of Songs. It is all about romantic love between a lover and his beloved. They are overcome by love for one another. The beloved says that she is ‘heartsick with love for him’ (5:8, MSG).

There is a strong element of physical and erotic love. Both describe the physical beauty of their marriage partner (5:10–16; 6:4–9). As one commentator put it, ‘The Song of Songs is a long, lyric poem about erotic love and sexual desire – a poem in which the body is the object of desire and source of delight, and lovers engage in a continual game of seeking and finding… sexual gratification.’

But their love goes way beyond the physical and the erotic. The beloved says, ‘This is my lover, this is my friend’ (5:16c). There is nothing better in marriage than having someone as your partner, your lover and your best friend.

In yesterday’s passage the lover says, ‘You are a garden fountain, a well of flowing water’ (4:15). Each human being has a never-ending flow of beautiful and wonderful resources.

As the Song of Songs draws to an end, there is a beautiful description of the never-ending quality of love: ‘Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm; for love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave’ (8:6). And now, after the resurrection of Jesus, we can say that love is even stronger than death: ‘Love never fails’ (1 Corinthians 13:8).

Again, I like The Message version:

'The fire of love stops at nothing –
  it sweeps everything before it.
Flood waters can't drown love,
  torrents of rain can't put it out.
Love can't be bought, love can't be sold –
  it's not to be found in the marketplace' (8:6c-7, MSG).


Thank you, Lord, that your love for me is like a fire that stops at nothing. May my love for you be the highest priority in my life. Thank you that your love cannot be bought or earned, but only gratefully and humbly received.

Pippa adds

1 Corinthians 13:1-7

I need to keep reading these beautiful and challenging words about love. They are poetic and powerful. They need to be read constantly in homes, schools, in businesses… everywhere. They should be studied, learnt and practised at all times. We can't get enough of them.



Download The Bible with Nicky and Pippa Gumbel app for iOS or Android devices and read along each day.



Subscribe now to receive The Bible with Nicky and Pippa Gumbel in your inbox each morning. You’ll get one email each day.



Start reading today’s devotion right here on The Bible with Nicky and Pippa Gumbel website.

Read now


The Bible with Nicky and Pippa Gumbel Commentary is available as a book.


Henry Drummond, The Greatest Thing in the World (Revell, 2011), pp.10,13

Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.

Scripture quotations marked (AMP) taken from the Amplified® Bible, Copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. (

Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

The Bible with Nicky and Pippa Gumbel


This website stores data such as cookies to enable necessary site functionality and analytics. Find out more