What does it mean that love bears all things and endures all things?
What is the difference between “bears” and “endures,” and what does “all things” mean?
What does this all mean for you?
Let’s begin by looking at the text.
Here is what 1 Corinthians 13:7 says in English and in Greek:
bears all things panta stegei
believes all things panta pisteuei
hopes all things panta elpizei
endures all things panta hupomenei
Like a staccato drumbeat, Paul emphasizes these four positive qualities of agapē-love.
You will notice that I indented the second and third qualities, which are #13 and #14 of the 16 qualities of love. As noted by various scholars (e.g., Gordon Fee, 339f.), these four qualities most likely
“form a chiasm [a concentric or ring structure], the first and fourth dealing with present circumstances, the second and third looking to the future.”
For this reason, this article will examine qualities #12 and #15:
love “bears all things … endures all things.”
We will deal with the other two qualities in the next post.
One other thing to note is the recurring use of panta, which is rendered as “all, every, all things, always” depending on your English translation.
The clear implication of “all things” or “always” means “all.” It does not allow us to reduce these qualities to “most of the time,” “almost always,” or “provided you meet my standards.” As we will see, this is an intentional activity of love that requires the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. More on this in a later post.
Let’s look more closely at what it means to “bear all things.”
The word translated as “bears” is stegei. What does the steg* word group mean?
It is more than coincidence that the Greek word for “roof” is stegē (Matthew 8:8, Mark 2:4; Luke 7:6). A helpful illustration is the first occurrence of this word in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament from as early as 300 B.C. (Genesis 8:13):
“Noah then removed the covering (or roof—stegē) from the ark and saw that the surface of the ground was dry.”
In that case, the covering or roof of the ark kept the water out. During the flood the covering “bears” the deluge of water thereby protecting the occupants. The verb or action word, steg*, also appears in 1 Corinthians 9:12; 13:7; 1 Thessalonians 3:1, 5, where it is usually translated “endure” or “bear.”
Commentators debate whether this “roof” protects the person loving or the person being loved.
Critics of Christianity such as Nietzsche, Marx, and Freud interpret “bear all things” as an uncomplaining acceptance by the Christian of any kind of abuse—a “doormat” Christianity if you will. Not so!
Applying the analogy of Noah’s ark, it is more likely that the person being loved is “under the roof or covering,” protected from harm, criticism, and other destructive words and behavior. On this understanding, agapē-love is the courageous and selfless activity of covering or protecting another person from insult, oppression, and harm.
An example of what it means to “bear all things” is the action of Corrie ten Boom who put herself in danger to protect those being pursued and persecuted by the Nazi regime. It could be a bullied child on a school ground, a marginalized person being overwhelmed by circumstances, institutions, or any number of other situations.
Perhaps steg* is more than these explanations. One writer (Adolf von Harnack) states that “love throws a cloak of silence over what is displeasing in another person.”
After analyzing the word steg* and its possible meanings in this text (13:7), G. H. Whitaker, concludes that:
“It is quite possible that stegei is comprehensive, telling us that in all three ways, in cherishing all that concerns its objects, in keeping their secrets, and in holding in all words that would do hurt, love is sure never to ‘spring a leak.’”
Now, let’s consider the other word that carries the general meaning of patience.
Some might think that “bears all things” and “endures all things” mean the same. Perhaps that is the case in English, but not in Greek. Two different Greek words with distinct meanings are being translated.
Most translations render this phrase as love “endures all things.” The NIV reads, “always perseveres” (13:7). The Greek word is hupomenei.
The Greek word group, hupomen*, has the general meaning of bearing up under something, hence “endures.” It is also used for waiting, thus “to stay in place beyond an expected point of time” (BDAG). Thiselton (1,060) adds that
“hupomenei refers to an endurance of setbacks and rebuffs which never gives up on people, whatever they do.”
How can we better understand the difference between these two Greek words: stegei and hupomenei?
Drawing on the analogy of steg* as a roof or protective covering for the object of one’s love, hupomen* could be pictured as the structure that holds up the roof and endures under the load. It is the quality of love that does not give up and walk away.
For better or worse, an example that comes to mind for this quality is a mother who does not give up on her drug-addicted child.
So, as metaphors, we can picture stegei as a roof or covering, and hupomenei as the structure that holds up that roof or covering—they are different but work together. (See the accompanying picture.)
In earlier posts, we identified three different words among these qualities of love that could be rendered as “love is patient.” Is Paul saying the same thing three times, or is he drawing our attention to three distinct qualities of love?
The first characteristic we dealt with is “love is patient” (13:4) from makrothum* which conveyed the sense of
“Love restrains and withholds expressions of passion, such as anger, to give the other person space.”
After reading this post, we are now able to summarize and compare these three different patience-like qualities of love.
Makrothum* (13:4) is refraining from a passionate reaction such as anger, no matter how deserved. This active restraint gives the other person space to “come around,” or repent. The opposite is a quick response of wrath.
Steg* (13:7a) borrows the idea of a roof, portraying love as actively covering or protecting the other person, whether from the actions of others or that person's own sinful behavior. The opposite might be walking away saying, “that’s your problem, not mine!”
Hupomen* (13:7d) is the activity of love enduring, persevering. Perhaps another way of putting it is that love is long-suffering or suffering long under difficulties caused by the other person. The opposite would be losing heart, giving up—dusting off your hands as you walk away, saying, “Enough is enough!”
I hope that an understanding of these different perspectives enriches and enlivens our understanding of these characteristics of love with practical results.
What are your insights into these two characteristics? You can contact me at [email protected].
In the next post, we will tackle two more qualities:
love “believes all thing, hopes all things.”
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