What love has to put up with

“Please. Make it not so.”

I don’t know if people did it in the first century. But if they did, Paul must have spent a lot of his time with the Corinthians smacking his forehead. Really, people? Sigh.

But love, Paul says, “puts up with all things” (1 Cor 13:7, CEB).

That doesn’t mean, of course, that anything goes. It doesn’t mean that people can do whatever they want and those who love them have to look the other way. If that were the case, there would be no reason for Paul to write letters to churches. Indeed, his letters to the Corinthians could be so pointed in their instruction that it made some of them mad.

But let’s face it: those who would love truly have to endure a lot. Just ask parents.

Or maybe pastors, like Paul.

It’s uncertain how Paul’s word should be translated. While the CEB says that love “puts up with all things,” the NRSV and NASB have “bears all things,” and the NIV has “always protects.” The root word suggests a roof or covering, and one translator even suggests that love “doesn’t leak” — i.e., it doesn’t betray confidences.

A loving ability to keep secrets? That would certainly be a good thing.

But Paul has also used the word earlier in the letter. As an apostle, he has rights, including the right to the Corinthians’ financial support. But he refuses to take money from them, probably because of the too close association between money, status, and pride in that environment. Those who supported Paul financially would be tempted to brag about it, to trade on Paul’s social status to increase their own. Thus, Paul says, “we haven’t made use of this right, but we put up with everything so we don’t put any obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ” (1 Cor 9:12).

Rather than risk such a stumbling block, Paul finds other means of support and preaches for free. He does this because he loves them.

Love, therefore, “bears” or “puts up with” a lot. If that’s the right meaning, it parallels what Paul says just a few phrases later: that love “endures all things” (1 Cor 13:7). It’s the last in a staccato series of four phrases, containing only eight words in the Greek: the word meaning “all things,” said four times in rapid succession, each time followed by a different verb. I can imagine Paul preaching the letter as a sermon, pounding the pulpit with each verb: Love all things endures!

It’s a message to people who are tempted to give up on love and give up on each other. As I’ve suggested in earlier posts, Paul isn’t just giving them relationship advice, he’s trying to give them a gospel-centered vision that extends all the way into eternity.

We need faith to see it. We need hope to endure. But when all is said and done, love will outlast both. More on that in the next post.