Five ways love does act

In last week’s blog we looked at Paul’s hymn to love in 1 Corinthians 13 where Paul went into a good deal of detail to describe the nature of agape love. He was, of course, writing about how relationships should be in the church. However, as we noted last week, there is no reason why we cannot apply his insights to marriage.  But whereas last week we look at eight ways love does not act, this week we shall look at five ways love does act.

Firstly, love “rejoices in the truth” (13.6 NRSV & NIV; similarly RNJB). It “delights in the truth” (REB). We might say, love is ‘not a soft touch’ yielding easily to pressure and compromise. Where necessary, love is prepared to confront the other, but when it does so, it always speaks the truth in love. Thistleton has a slightly different take: “Paul urges that love seeks not the self-promotion and power interests of spin and rhetorical colouring, but ‘celebrates’ disinterested ‘truth.” [1]

Secondly, love “bears all things” (13.7 NRSV; ESV). The underlying Greek verb (stego) is capable of being translated in two very different ways. It can mean that love “never gives up” (GNB), for “it puts up with anything” (RNJB) and so “there is nothing which love cannot face” (REB). There are times when a husband or a wife may be tempted to give up on their partner, and sometimes understandably so. But true love keeps loving, however undeserving the object of our love might be. This, of course, was supremely true of Jesus – though his disciples abandoned him and even betrayed him, Jesus’ love for them never faltered. But there is another possible translation: for one of the common meanings of the Greek verb is ‘to keep confidential, cover, pass over in silence’. Hence the translation we find in the NIV: “Love always protects”. When things have gone wrong, true love does not ‘spill the beans’; it does not expose the wrong. It patiently “bears all things” hoping the day will come when things will come right.

Thirdly, love “believes all things” (13.7 NRSV & ESV; similarly RNJB). What does this mean? At first sight this could seem to encourage gullibility. Indeed, Thistleton criticised those who “transpose the robust ‘never loses faith’ of agape love into the credulous blindness of romantic or erotic love”. [2] We have to be discerning. On the other hand, true love is never cynical. As Gordon Fee wrote: “Paul does not mean that love always believes the best about everything and everyone, but that love never ceases to have faith; it never loses hope”. [3] Hence the GNB translates “its faith never fails”; or in the words of the NIV, love “always trusts”. However much the life of our loved one may be in a mess, we never give up trusting that God will sort out the mess.

Fourthly, “Love hopes all things” (13.7 NRSV; ESV; similarly RNJB). To quote Gordon Fee, again, “Love hopes to the end that God will show mercy in that person’s life”. [4] Where there is love, there no case is ever hopeless – even where there has been repeated personal abuse. Love never gives up on another. “Its hope… never fails” (NIV).

Finally, love “endures all things” (13.7 NRSV; RSV; similarly RNJB) in the sense that ”love always perseveres” (NIV) for its “patience never fails” (GNB).”There is nothing which love cannot face” (REB). True love keeps loving, for “love never ends” (13.8 NRSV: similarly REB). “Love is eternal” (GNB). [5]

[1] Thistleton, 1 Corinthians: A Shorter Exegetical and Pastoral Commentary 228.

[2] Thistleton, 1 Corinthians: A Shorter Exegetical and Pastoral Commentary 225.

[3] Gordon Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1987) 640. However, in his 2nd edition (2014) 709 he expressed himself a little differently: “Paul does not mean that love always believes the best about everything and everyone, but that love never ceases to trust God and thus leaves justice in God’s hands; it is in this sense that it never loses hope – that God’s justice in the context of God’s goodness will yet prevail where there is human fallenness, even grotesque fallenness.”

[4] Gordon Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (2nd edition) 709.

[5] Strictly speaking the phrase “love never ends” belongs to the next section in which Paul develops his theme of the permanence of love. However, I think that the phrase also fittingly concludes the section on the character of love.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *