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God’s Word for You

1 Corinthians 13:7-8a Love always…

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Wednesday, May 31, 2023

7 It always endures, always believes, always hopes, always perseveres. 8 Love never ends.

Love, Paul goes on to say, is “always” doing certain crucial things. Using the Greek term panta (πάντα) “always” four times in a row and then concluding with the opposite “never,” Paul echoes the prophetic style of Amos, who uses the repetitive staircase pattern “for three sins of this country… and even for four” eight times in the first two chapters of his book.  Amos’ lists of the sins of Israel’s enemies and of Israel herself were not complete or exhaustive, and Paul’s positive list of the qualities of love is not complete or exhaustive either. When we are conscious of sin, Scripture teaches us to dig deeply and then more deeply to see the seriousness of our sin. And in the same way, when faith and love lead us to worship God and to thank him with our lives, Scripture teaches us to strive to climb and then climb even higher in our sanctified living (1 Timothy 4:10; 2 Corinthians 11:23). The Holy Spirit is teaching us: Love can do these things, but love can do even more. Don’t stop striving. Don’t stop climbing. Don’t stop loving.

Love always endures (πάντα στέγει). The Greek word stego means to cover, or to endure something. Some translations focus on the covering aspect with “protect,” others the broader, enduring aspect. The idea is partly that love will keep a secret: “Do not consult with a fool, for he will not be able to keep a secret.” The depths of our sins show us how far we truly are from this kind of love. For example, those who break the Fourth Commandment by being ashamed of their parents on account of their poverty, or old-country accents, or other faults. Or those who break the Eighth by gossiping or backbiting, or “by not taking a backbiter to task.” Love that endures and bears with everything is a love that excuses minor faults, but Paul is probably focusing more on love putting up with abuse for the sake of the gospel—not domestic abuse, which is a terrible violation of the First, Fifth and Sixth Commandments combined, and often others as well.

Love always believes (πάντα πιστεύει). This is not a description of a naïve person who is gullible enough to believe just about anything, but rather a person of strong faith whose belief is not shaken by adversity. The Christian with love and true faith clings to Christ with unreserved love, believing everything Jesus Christ has said, has done, and has promised. This is the love that says, “If my Lord has said it, I believe it. Nothing is impossible that Jesus has promised.” Love is also always ready to believe the best about people, to “put the best construction on everything” and to “take everything in the kindest possible way.” This to interpret charitably all that my neighbor says and does (Small Catechism).

Love always hopes (πάντα ἐλπίζει). Love is not pessimistic. A neighbor, a family member, a co-worker, or a friend who is hard to get along with may simply not realize it. A loving word of correction in a private moment, a loving attitude that encourages better behavior, and a loving, living, prayerful hope for change is not out of place or a waste of time. “Paul,” Professor Toppe reminds us, “hoped even in the case of the unbelieving Jews who hardened their hearts against the gospel” (People’s Bible, 1 Corinthians p. 124; see Romans 11:14).

Love always perseveres (πάντα ὑπομένει). What is the difference between “always endures” and “always perseveres”? The Greek words have a similar meaning. Either one would work in James’ sentence: “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial” (James 1:12). One suggestion is that “always endures” is general, and “perseveres” is more specific, as when Paul says “watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them” (1 Timothy 4:16). But Paul does not give a specific example. Another model for translating here is that “love is patient no matter what happens.” This follows the line of thought in Lamentations 3:26, “It is good to wait patiently for the salvation of the Lord.” The word “persevere” in Greek carries the idea of holding up “under” something difficult or weighty. Love finds strength in Christ’s love, and can bear up. “If an enemy were insulting me, I could bear it” (Psalm 55:12). Love does not lose heart, but perseveres under difficulties, dangers, disgrace, and even suffering for the one who is loved. When the one we persevere for is Christ, he knows what we are going through. “God knows the secrets of the heart” (Psalm 44:21), and “he reveals deep things and hidden things, and he knows what is in the dark” (Daniel 2:22).

Love never ends (οὐδέποτε πίπτει). Solomon says: “Many waters cannot quench love, rivers cannot wash it away” (Song of Solomon 8:7). Human love, subject to the sinful human heart, can of course fail or come to an end. But God’s love? “Has his unfailing love vanished forever? Has his promise failed for all time? Has God forgotten to be merciful? Has he in anger withheld his compassion?” (Psalm 77:8-9). No, not at all! “His love never fails” (Lamentations 3:22).

When we enter into Paradise, there will at last be a time (eternity) when our love will never end. But here in this lifetime, we are frail and we fail. “Love never falls,” Chrysostom says (using his translation of the verse), “but sometimes we fall away from it.”

When we use this passage as a wedding text, we must be careful what we say about love in this sense. The marriage vow is not a vow about a noun, that is, love as a thing, a feeling, an emotion, a motive, or such. The vow we take in a wedding is to love, which is a verb and not a noun. We vow to show love, to act in a loving way. “We love,” John says, “because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). This is true of all of the genuine love that Christians have and show. And John goes on to say: “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, [or his wife!] he is a liar” (1 John 4:20).

The forgiven sinner turns to God in faith and thankfulness and says, “I love the Lord, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy” (Psalm 116:1). God has given you your soul. He has given you your body. He has given you all the powers of body and soul (“my mind and all my abilities,” First Article). Therefore whatever you can do, whatever you accomplish, is indebted to him to return thanks to him for everything (Romans 11:35-36).  How can we thank God enough? This is the question love asks.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith
About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.

 

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