Today, which has bled into tomorrow because I’ve been sick and fuzzy-headed, we start into 1 Corinthians 13:7!
Fire it up!
One of the most beautiful aspects of humanity is our willingness to come together, to establish commonality. The unfortunate side of this is that sometimes it leads to group think and confusion, which Babel teaches is a purposeful move of God, but the really cool part is that the purpose of that confusion is to allow questions, which we can then answer to the edification of our whole body. This, at its core, is why language appeals to me and why so much of this blog is dedicated to exploring words: these words that have such power over us aren’t always what we think.
Nothing I say is new; there aren’t new words that blow up the old words, but there is always revelation to be had — new views, new understanding — if the Spirit is invited to speak. With that, the study of 1 Corinthians 13:7 will be word-heavy because to really understand the verse you have to really get the finesse of the language used. I’ve had a lot of time for my Father to teach me about this verse; it hangs on the wall in my kitchen and I pass it a dozen times a day. I don’t always make mental note of it, but He has taught me depths here. Let’s jump in…
Love never gives up
Verse 7 is really quite poetic in the Greek; it is a quartet of qualities in rapid-fire. The first is πάντα στέγει, panta stegei, in Greek and לבס כלמדם, kulmedem savel, in Aramaic and it’s one we fundamentally misunderstand. The King James renders it “beareth all things”, the Aramaic reads “bears everything” and the NLT translates it “never gives up”. The ideas are all valid, but they lack punch in my opinion. See, the last quality of verse 7 is “endureth all things” in King James, and we think of “bear” and “endure” as fairly synonymous terms. But that would be repetitive, and Paul rarely used more words than he needed to.
The word panta in most study Bibles is broken down to πάς, pas, which does mean “any and every single thing”, but that’s not the word he used. The word panta stands on its own as an independant word, and that word is “always”. Now we can say that’s pretty close, but the meanings are oceans apart. Panta means in every moment you are doing this thing where pas means you’re doing it to every single thing. Do you catch that? The word pas suggests that there are times when you are not acting. That’s wrong; what Paul is saying here is that in every moment — constantly — Love is stegei. As it relates to God and to Love we are talking about permanent, constant behavior. So what is stegei?
God never gives up
The verb stegei is rooted in the word τέγος, tegos, which means “thatch”. From that we get the noun στέγη, stege, which literally means “roof”. Stegei, then, is what a roof does. “Bears” seems wrong; the house bears the roof, the roof doesn’t bear the house. I guess the roof bears the elements, but what would you answer if I asked you “what does a roof do?” Wouldn’t your answer be something like “it protects me from the rain and the cold”? I think a better word is “protects” or “guards”. Now isn’t that a different interpretation? “Love always protects”? And that’s what the Aramaic word means: “to shield” or “to take responsibility for”.
This makes it very easy to see how it’s true of God. His Love falls on the just and the unjust; He cares for us and for the flowers and the waters and the trees and the little baby birds. He is protector of His creation, and He takes that job quite seriously. He patiently defends us from each other and from ourselves. He guards our hearts from evil and death; He helps us in our time of need. He is our rock, our shield, our shelter, our strong tower. Hallelujah!!
Worth the price of admission
I could preach God’s protection, but what of ours? What does it mean for Love to “always protect”? The context is of what Love does for those it is in relationship with, and we are called to relationship with our neighbor — our fellow man. It means we are to protect others from pain and evil; that we should engage with people and try to serve them, to show them that Love lives and fights for them. It is the primary commission of the gospel: to bring the Kingdom of Heaven alive in this world. I am your defender and you are mine, and together in the presence of God nothing can ever knock us down, nothing can ever overtake us.
I pray as we move through our day that we seek chances to protect the hearts of others and ourselves; to guard them from whatever they are going through. That is what our Father does, and we could do a lot worse than to emulate Him!