By Daniel Bobinski
Note: In March of 2020 I decided to use this space to focus on God’s greatest command. If you’re connecting with this series for the first time and would like to read the earlier columns on this topic, I encourage you to visit Christian Living’s website to read the whole series. Go to https://www.christianlivingmag.com/columns/
We still have a few words to go, but we are entering the final stretch of our study on how the Apostle Paul defines agape (ah-GAH-pay), the word Jesus used when he told us to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, and mind, and to love our neighbors as ourselves.
Interestingly, the last verse of Paul’s description (verse 7) of love is rather poetic, and it also highlights the Apostle’s unique writing style.
Before we get into “love always protects / bears,” you might be interested to know that in the original Greek, all four descriptors used in 1 Corinthians 13:7 rhyme. In Koine Greek they are stegō, pisteuō, elpizō, and hypomenō.
Additionally, we see the word for “always” is used four times in verse 7, and curiously, Paul uses the same word in the second and third verses, and again he uses it four times. However, in those verses, the word is translated “all.”
- If I can solve all mysteries…
- If I have all knowledge…
- If I have all faith…
- If I give away all I possess…
I point these things out only to illustrate Paul’s unique writing style. He starts with seven abilities, stating that if we can do all of them but don’t have love, we are nothing. Then, after he begins describing what love is, he shifts to what love is not. Following that, he returns to what love is, and he concludes by giving us four universal and rhyming statements about what love is, saying that love always does them.
Again, there’s nothing magical here, but as I said, I find Paul’s writing style rather poetic.
Contents of Verse 7
Let’s look at 1 Corinthians 13:7 in several translations. First, note that the NASB, KJV, ESV, and RSV all translate the verse exactly the same way:
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
The New International Version shakes it up a bit:
It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
For our study this time, we’ll look at the first word stegō, which tells us that love always protects, or bears. Interestingly, the word is used only four times in the New Testament. It appears in two letters, both of which are written by Paul.
The word means “to roof over,” or figuratively, to cover with silence, or endure patiently. Interestingly, it can have both a relational and a situational application.
In terms of relationships, the word can mean to hide or excuse errors and faults of others. In practical terms, this is seen when we choose to love our spouse or our children in spite of their faults. God certainly does this for us. We are sinful creatures who do sinful things, but God loves us in ways we cannot even imagine. He is, after all, the perfect example of love. It is His very nature.
We can also see stegō play out in the love Joseph had for Mary. Before the two were married, the angel Gabriel told Mary that she was pregnant with Jesus, even though she had never been with a man. When Joseph learned of her pregnancy, he chose not to humiliate her publicly, but rather divorce her quietly. His intention was to “cover with silence” what he perceived to be a wrong.
In terms of situations, the word can mean “to bear up against, hold out against, and to endure, bear, or forbear.” In colloquial terms, one could say it means “to put up with.”
This meaning plays out when we see the word translated in the other places Paul uses it.
Translations for stegō appear in bold:
- 1 Corinthians 9:12 – If others have this right of support from you, shouldn’t we have it all the more? But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ.
- 1 Thessalonians 3:1 – So when we could stand it no longer, we thought it best to be left by ourselves in Athens.
- 1 Thessalonians 3:5 – For this reason, when I could stand it no longer, I sent to find out about your faith. I was afraid that in some way the tempter had tempted you and that our labors might have been in vain.
In the English translations, we see the words perseveres and bears, and I hope you can see how both of those words can be used in the practical living of love. We can persevere in our love for people despite their quirks. That’s not just a sometimes thing – it’s an always thing.
We can also bear the discomfort of difficult situations as we seek after what the Lord would have us do. Again, it’s not a sometimes thing, it’s an always thing.
The world is not a perfect place, and humans are not a perfect race. But the Lord God is here among us, working in us and through us to do His good, pleasing, and perfect will. He is love. It is His very nature, and He lives inside those of us who have been born again. Because of that, His Holy Spirit lives within us and can manifest agape love through us – if we will let Him.
Our job is to let Him.
Daniel Bobinski, M.Ed. is an award-winning and best-selling author and a popular speaker at conferences and retreats. Reach him at [email protected] or (208) 375-7606.