Love "beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things." (1 Cor. 13:7)
Paul speaks here of the comprehensiveness of love, which he personifies as looking at life in its total perspective. That is the meaning of the adjective panta, "all," which occurs in connection with each verb. Actually, the word "things" does not appear in the Greek, but is understood. Love "beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things." This translation of the verse is based on the traditional assumption that the word panta,"all," is an adjective used as a noun, but there is also good authority for taking it as an adverb, in which case it would refer to the manner in which love bears, believes, hopes, and endures, rather than to what it bears, hopes, and so on.
Taking the traditional meaning first, that panta means "all things," we understand first of all that love looks upon and evaluates life as a whole. It has the ability to collect the various parts of the puzzle and fit them together. It does not separate the days into rainy ones and sunny ones, or life's experiences into pains and joys. It sees them all as part of the whole.
Yet love also sees and evaluates the individual facets of life. The adjective-noun panta can also refer to the individual components within the whole. Look at experiences in relation to God's whole plan and then examine them for their individual value.
"Beareth, believeth, hopeth, endureth"—Paul groups four positive characteristics of love here in verse 7. It will be helpful to examine these verbs individually in the Greek text. The first, stegei, translated "beareth," may be understood in two senses: "to bear or support," and "to cover over or provide a roof." The context here would give more weight to the second meaning. Even in Modern Greek, the noun stegee means "a roof" and the verb stegazoo "to provide a roof." Love puts up a shelter to shield or cover others.
Shelter for Every Situation
If the word panta, "all," is taken adverbially, meaning "wholly, in all points," it conveys the manner in which this divine love manifests itself through the individual. A Christian's love provides a shelter for every situation in which it find others. Its shelter is comprehensive, not selective. It completely protects others. Is that the quality of your love? Is your roof big enough to take in all kinds of sinners, with the full hope of their redemption?
There is no reason to believe that the word "all" refers only to the faults of others. It may be taken to include their virtues also. It is often harder for love to give shelter within itself to the successes and goodness of others than to their faults. To bear all things refers not merely to the patience of love but to its magnanimity, its readiness to believe that others are as good as or superior to one's self. Love knows how to praise others for their good qualities. Love builds a house with a roof over it large enough to take in the whole stature of our fellow men.
A father who attended church with his little boy found fault with everything in the service. As he walked home, he criticized the minister, the sermon, the choir, and everything in general. The boy, who had noticed what his father put in the offering plate, said, "Well, Dad, what can you expect for a dime?" Sometimes we build very low roofed dwellings indeed, because we lack sufficient charity to make room for the virtues we might discover in the lives of others.
Building, Not Destroying
Love is not irrationally fearful that others will be puffed up by its recognition of their goodness. Love does not flatter but does shelter the good qualities of others in order to protect them. Love's primary work is to build up and to tear down. Love maintains a wrecking crew only that it may get the necessary preliminaries out of the way so that the building crew can go to work. It tears down only for the purpose of leveling the ground in order that it may build. Love does what Christ did: He recognized life for what it is that He might redemptively lift it by transforming it.
Paul is not suggesting here that love is to give shelter to the wrong-doer and make excuses for him. That is not love's task. He wants to show us that love is not afraid to consider life frankly—"all things," both its good and bad aspects. It does not hesitate to stoop under the whole weight of life, all pity and wrong, all folly and pain. These are inevitable in any life. Love cannot be crushed beneath the burden. It has vast powers of self-recovery, boundless spiritual elasticity. In the words of Solomon, which many believe to refer to married love, "Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it" (Song of Sol. 8:7). If the love in marriage is this strong, how much stronger is God's love.
The word stegei, "beareth or covereth," has both a quiescent and a more aggressive meaning. Love is capable of wonderful patient submission. In this sense, "beareth" would mean putting up with annoyances and burdens in silence. Its acceptance of life is quiet and all-encompassing. No matter how great the burden of responsibility or of difficulty, God's love in us (agapee) accepts it without protest. It faces the slights and misunderstandings, the resentments and malevolent oppositions, without comment. It is strong in its silences. Love allows nothing external to have power over it.
Love even puts a cover over its temper, for it has a righteous one, you know. That is part and parcel of its human side, as well as its original divine aspect. Have you never heard that the best way to put out a fire is to cover it? The Chinese tell a story based on three or four thousand years of civilization. Two coolies were arguing heatedly in a crowd. A stranger expressed surprise that they did not come to blows. His Chinese friend explained, "The man who strikes first admits that his ideas have given out."
Love Is Not Silent
But love is not merely passive, as clay in the hands of a potter. Its recognition of the evils of life does not mean that it always acquiesces in them. As long as there is an unlovely matter in life, in particular in the moral realm, there will be a protest in the heart of love. It makes no difference whether this exists in our own life or in the life of another.
Love is produced by the Holy Spirit's brooding over all the potentiality of good in life that is now without form and void in outward appearance. By faith, God's love, which works through us, produces the grace and peace that go beyond the ill manners and ungoverned passions and unrestrained wrongs of the present world, and will finally in God's plan produce a completed world that is definitely yet to be in the future, namely the new heavens and the new earth.
The Master Builder's Work
Agostino d' Antonio, a sculptor of Florence, wrought diligently but unsuccessfully on a large piece of marble. "I can do nothing with it," he finally said. Other sculptors tried their hand at it, but they, too, gave up the task. The stone lay on a rubbish heap for forty years. Out strolling one day, Michelangelo saw the stone and its latent possibilities and ordered it brought to his studio. He began to work upon it, and ultimately his vision and work were crowned with success. From that seemingly worthless stone he carved one of the world's masterpieces of sculpture—David!
The secret lay in Michelangelo, not in the stone. Look at life—your own with all its disappointments, and the lives of others with all that God has accomplished in them or all that He is able to accomplish—and expect Him to produce a masterpiece. Love settles for nothing less than God's best from the worst, because it knows the quality of the work of the Master Builder, Christ. His roof is the best. In Christian love, build over others that roof that you would like Him to maintain over you.
some of the practical ways in which we can shelter others under our love? First
we shelter them with our prayers, bearing them up before God, asking Him to
correct whatever is not in accord with His will and to strengthen whatever is
good in them. Then we seek to encourage them to be the best that God intended
for them—not giving up on them in disgust or rooting them out from our hearts
when they disappoint us, but patiently holding on to God for their deliverance
and ultimate perfecting. And when they grow strong in the faith and no longer
need us, or when they outdistance us in spiritual and temporal achievements,
our love will still shelter them as a protective shield against any evil that
might befall them. This is what God intends His love to do through His children
in all their human relationships.
Spiros Zodhiates (1922-2009) served as president of AMG International, Inc. for over 40 years, was the founding editor of Pulpit Helps Magazine (DISCIPLE’s predecessor), and authored dozens of exegetical books.