Today we wrap up 1 Corithians 13:7. If you have read the whole thing: congratulations and thank you! Only one more post in this series after today!
If you build it, they will complain
It has been interesting to watch the reactions to Star Wars: The Last Jedi. The opinions span the entire spectrum from “it makes the originals seem lame” to “it was horrid trash that insults fans”. In this it is not unlike any other thing that gets introduced in our world, but what entertains me are the justifications used in its assassinations or exhaltations. Specifically the arguments over whether it was a good thing or a bad thing to so markedly cut ties to “the before time”, to the established franchise. Why do I find it fascinating? Because it speaks to our memorial-building.
See, no one is actually arguing this movie: they are arguing whether or not the original was an untouchable masterpiece; they are arguing religious doctrine. They don’t realize that is their argument, but it is. John Lydgate was wrong whe he said “you can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.” Lydgate was a monk and a poet in the late 14th century, and as a poet he should have been intimately familiar with his error. Had he lived today he would certainly know it. His error? You can’t actually please all of the people. Ever. What pleases me may offend you. What makes you laugh might disgust me. And that’s only the two of us! Spread that across just the 300 million people in these United States and you’ve got a recipe for displeasure!
It’s so derivative
I say they are arguing doctrine because the arguments read very much like critiques of Martin Luther or John Calvin; the Scripture itself is never debated, only the derivative expository work. They’ll call down the source material only insomuch as its pure form can be shown to strengthen or weaken a point, but the sanctity of the source is unquestioned. Every father who was ever crestfallen at his daughter’s rejection of the greatness of Star Wars understands intimately the pain of memorial-building: it is reliant on timing; that monument can only be constructed under a certain set of conditions, and if you miss them the memorialized mean nothing to you. If the woman had broken the jar of perfume over Jesus’ head right before Joseph and Mary found Him as a child in the temple we would likely not know anything about her. It was the act on the eve of His crucifixion that marks it.
There is no such thing as an objective memorial, because no memorial says the same thing to all people, which is why we spent most of 2017 tearing down reminders that we had a Civil War not so long ago: what some found sobering others found hurtful, what some saw as the light of hope others saw as the shadow of hate. It’s also why despite our best efforts we can never make grandma’s biscuits quite the same. Do you see? This is everything with us. Our need to set up a statuary to what we Love extends to every part of our lives. But why?
To answer that we go to 1 Corinthians. I noted a few posts ago that verse 7 is poetic. What I didn’t mention is that it also builds: it is a procedural list, and true to the Kingdom it’s directly opposite of what you’d expect it to be.
Love endureth all things
The verse begins with panta stegei, panta pisteuoi, and panta elpizei; Love always protects, always faiths, always hopes. These equate to the images of a roof protecting against the outside world, a lawyer convincing a judge or jury, and the excitment of a kid Christmas morning just before he tears open his first present. Though these may not seem like procedural concepts, consider it deeper.
We cannot be convinced of something unless we believe that the person doing the convincing has our best interest at heart; we cannot trust until we can feel safe. So the first step is to feel guarded, protected. Before you can become excited about something you must first be convinced it is not just possible, but going to happen. First you feel safe, then you can be persuaded, then you can anticipate, and then… What? What’s next? Possession?
The last quality of verse 7 is that Love πάντα ὑπομένει, panta hypomenei. The word hypomenei is a compound of ύπό, hypo, and μένω, meno. You know hypo-, from words like hypochondriac, hypocrite, hypoallergenic, or hypoglycemia, though you may not know exactly what it means. It means “below, beneath, or under”, but as a stature, not a physical location. So hypoallergenic means “minimally allergenic” and hypocrite means “minor judge or actor” (that one takes longer to really explain etymology on). The idea is this prefix denotes the thing to follow isn’t full-force, that only the core concept carries over.
The word meno, not to be confused with the English prefix meno- which means “monthly”, is one of a dozen words the Greeks had for waiting. This one, meno, was used by both Homer, where it refers to maintaining a battle stance in Iliad, and a few hundred years later by Plato, where it refers to maintaining an opinion in Protagoras. It is commonly translated “abide”, but it has heavy notes of expectation: you are awaiting battle in the former and an argument in the latter. This is the word Jesus used in John 6:56 when He says of communion that it allows us to dwell in Him and in Luke 10:7 when He tells the departing apostles that they should abide with one family rather than bouncing house to house. The real meaning is that you are in a place, but you expect something to challenge you soon, and you intend to stay fixed.
So then hypomenei means “to minorly expect challenge”? What does that even mean? And why does the Bible say “endures”? The key lies in the rest of 1 Corinthians 13:7. This is tricky language so stick with me. If protection is the roof, the helmet, that guards you from the world then faith is the wall, the shield as Paul says in Ephesians, that protects you from attackers — a thing you are convinced of gives you great resolve against being challenged. Hope, then, is the living light, the weapon that is fostered by the security of faith and protection. But a house needs a floor, and a soldier needs a footing, a thing that grounds and affixes it in the world. That floor is hypomenei. See, in Matthew 24:13 Christ tells us if we hypomenei to the end we shall be saved. He is saying that if we bind our feet to solid ground and use our armor to hold our position we will prevail. Endurance is so passive; it’s just you gritting your teeth as something is inflicted on you for some time. But hypomenei is about a different thing.
The word hypomenei means “to hold to your position” and that is what active hope does: it holds you in your faith with the protection of your spirit to allow you to dominate your part of this world. Not in a vicious way, but in a territorial way. Another way to say it: faith, hope, and protection allow you to plant a flag declaring the Kingdom of God, and Love allows you to hold that flag through anything. So let’s do it.
God endures through every circumstance
Oh, yeah, He does. He is the same God, with the same Love for us, the same patience for us, the same helpfulness for us yesterday, today, and forever. God guards our hearts and minds and is convinced we are worth fighting for, He hopes for our success, and He always stands fast through every battle. He is our strong tower, our refuge, our champion. He never sleeps, He never grows weary, and in every moment He stands guard over us. With every beat of our hearts He screams a lion’s roar against any that would dare threaten the glimmer of joy, light, and life in our eyes.
In Isaiah 41:13 Our Father Himself speaks directly to this when He says “For I the LORD thy God will hold thy right hand saying unto thee, fear not; I will help thee”! 1 Corinthians 13:7 is describing a house, but when you put it in God’s terms that house becomes an indomitable fortress, a pure and triumphant light on earth that shines to every little hut we make when we put ourselves in that verse and strengthens them, and us. What could we fear? What possible harm could affect us in the face of the crushing tidal wave that is His passion for us?
Brothers and sisters, verse 7 tells you how to build a house Kingdom-style: from the roof down, with all the anointing of Heaven bolstering you. We get confused and we start backwards: we hold our position, attacking hope and faith, and rejecting protection. We memorialize everything in order to provide very fast judgement; it allows us to reduce our brains to difference engines: these rolls suck compared to Grannie’s, or that movie was terrible compared to its progenitor, or that story reboot is awesome compared to the original. Nothing is objective, so we are tossed by the whims of time and culture to these waves of aggression and darkness or serenity and light.
Verse 7 is telling us to stop the madness. Keep the resolve of the known truth of the gospel. Stand firm on the principles of Love. Whatever you’re going through, whatever shadow you caught sight of and are fixated on, whatever you think you did… God is there supporting you and the host of Heaven is cheering you on. Always. Πάντα στέγει, πάντα πιστεύει, πάντα ἐλπίζει, πάντα ὑπομένει. Always protects, always faiths, always hopes, always stands firm. If you don’t say “hallelujah” at that, I’ve just failed in my communication…