Since January, our community worship gatherings have focused on the famous definition of ‘Love’ offered by Paul in his letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor 13:4-8). Over the weeks, various members of the community have offered their thoughts and experiences opening us up to more fully understand and enter into this profound reality of love. We are learning that…
1 Cor. 13:4-8 from the Message
Love never gives up. 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. Love never dies…
In this post, we’re going to look at the final phrases in this passage, which in the NRSV (vs 7) reads: [Love] bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Because various english translations use different words to communicate, (such as, is it “bears all things” or “always protects”?) it’s helpful to break down the language a bit and make sure we’re on track with a reasonable definition of the words as they were written. The Greek Transliteration reads, “Panta Stego, panta pisteuo, panta elpizo, panta hupomeno”
Bears – Stego – to protect, cover, endure, bear
All Things – panta – all, any, every, the whole: — all manner of things, always, everyone, every way…
Believes all things – What does it mean to believe? Can you believe all things?
Pisteuo v. . to believe, put one’s faith in, trust, with an implication that actions based on that trust may follow. The Greek word-group which includes faith, believe and trust, comes from the idea of conduct that honored an agreement or bond.
Like in marriage, I have faith in my wife. I believe that she is thoughtful, caring, supportive, and devoted in our life together. I can act out of that faith, I can trust, or I can act out of a belief that she’s only looking out for herself, that I’m on my own, and have to look out for my own self, take responsibility for everything, satisfy my own needs. It’s when I lose faith in her that I become the least faithful to her. My own stated belief is betrayed by my actions. And when I act out of faith in her, I am more faithful to her and inspire her own faithfulness.
Faith is not static it’s not something we simply have or attain. In this way, one cannot ‘be’ a believer, because to believe is not about intellectually assenting to an idea about God or Jesus, it is about living consistently and faithfully in a way that honors all things. In a given moment we are either faithful to all manner of people, things and relationship, or we are not. We either believe all things, or we believe some small thing that releases us from our responsibility to honor all the other things.
Hopes all things – (elpizoœ), expect, hope
In secular Gk. elpis does not correspond with our word hope, since it is a general word for the anticipation of future events of all kinds, of good (hope) or evil (fear). In the new testament the words never indicate a vague or a fearful anticipation, but always the expectation of something good.
Hopefully defining these phrases helps a bit and stirs up your thinking. Here’s where my mind went…
Sometimes I wonder if we’re asking too much of the text to pick apart every word like this. But then, maybe not, ‘cause, sometimes the paragraphs just flow and the thought develops over time, but then there are moments where as a writer you just agonize over every word. Have you ever tried to write a really meaningful card to someone, a poem, or song lyrics, and the idea is sort of there, but you pause, and consider this word or that, you turn it around and finally come up with something? I have a real sense that this is one of those moments for Paul. He’s been cruising through this letter, gradually confronting the division of the Corinthian community, drawing their attention to the ways in which they are all part of one body with unique and important strengths that function to bless one another. And he gets to these climactic and defining lines that elevate our sense of the beauty, strength, and grace of love. And each word matters. It is poetic, it is grand and sort of idyllic, but it is also true. This is a love that is going somewhere, a love that as it picks up steam is constantly inviting more and more participation, until it is in and through and over everything…
We are called into a love that is patient and kind, a love that is humble, that sees others. A love that is slow to anger, generous, able to give itself and others the blessing of new beginnings. We are invited into a love that has integrity across time and space, that works for everyone and everything, everywhere; a love that celebrates and delights in all that is just and good and true.
And this love, will prevail. It will never end because it can bear all things. If you try to choke it out, or bottle it up, it will bust out the seams and get all over everything again. If you try to kill it, if you try to bury it in the ground, it will just rise up again with a more grounded, humble strength knowing that even the darkest and most troubling realities of life can be transformed into sources of vitality and life.
And this love is full of faith and trust and hope. It believes and anticipates that this life and vitality is going to spring up, despite everything that in the present moment says otherwise. The Jesus story is saying something about the nature of the world that is hard to believe…
The gospel announcement proclaims to the powers of the world that divisions and manipulation, violence, killing, stratifying, devaluing, hoarding, raping and pillaging will come to an end. They will cease, but love will not. They will be judged, destroyed, and abolished, but faith, hope, and love will remain.
What are you bearing right now? Are others bearing it with you? Do you have hope that something beautiful, good and true can spring up from this experience? What are you hoping for? What would resolution look like? Is that resolution good for everyone, all things? Faith lives in the tension between bearing and experiencing the resolution of what we hope for?
May we, in the strength and grace of God, live in a way that honors all things, all relationships, all people, and all of the resources given to us on this good earth.