The 1 Corinthians "Love Verse"
The 1 Corinthians Love Verse
I Corinthians 13:4-8
"4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8 Love never fails..." (commentary below)
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This is the so-called 1 Corinthians "Love Verse", a scripture passage with both immense popularity and even greater importance. It sums up everything most important in life and spirituality. It tells us how we must be toward our fellow human, and at the same time reveals God’s nature towards every person, because “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them” (1 John 4:16). As the verses before this passage reveal, it does not matter in the least what we do in life, or what “spiritual gifts” we might possess, if we do not have love. Without love, everything we do will amount to utter meaninglessness. Therefore, it is necessary that we understand, to the best of our abilities, what is meant by “love”. To that end, I will analyze certain parts of this passage, focusing particularly on key words as they were in the original Greek.
1 Corinthians 13:4-8: The Verses in Greek
Love, In Every Sense of the Word
The word translated “love” is “ἀγάπη” (agape), which in the New Testament documents seems to refer to a particularly powerful love which leads to actions and sacrifice on the behalf of others. I have, sadly, heard certain Christians try to relegate the meaning of this word to having an “action only” sort of connotation, removing feelings from it entirely. I’ve heard this done in an attempt to explain how we can possibly love our enemies, as the New Testament enjoins us to. This is a terrible mistake. The word “agape” comes from a verb (agapao) which, when directed towards humans, absolutely carries a sense of strong emotion and affection. It can even be translated as “to caress”. When we are told to love our enemies, it does not mean that we are to do good to them out of a mere sense of moral obligation. Indeed, we are to love them in every deep sense of that word, heart, mind, and soul. If one (such as myself) feels unable to perform such a feat, the only suggestion I may offer is that one seek God, who is the source of such love.
“Patient”, in verse four, is a translation of “μακροθυμεῖ” (Macrothumei), which is the third-person active form of a verb. I point this out, not just to flaunt my knowledge of Greek--although Love “vaunteth not itself”, I, unfortunately, have been known to vaunt--but for a reason: this entire passage, in the Greek, refers to what Love does, rather than what it is. It is impossible to describe what God (Love) is, as God is infinite and our words are finite. In fact, it is impossible to describe what anyone “is”, as any person’s subjective experience is essentially infinite as well, and is not the mere confluence of a finite set of external variables which we can identify and label. It is, however, possible to say what God (Love) does. God, like anyone else, is best known and understood by what He does. So the passage says “love patients (verb)”, which is nonsense in English, but makes beautiful sense in Greek.
Further examined, “patient” (Macrothumei”) can be broken down as follows: “Macro-” (“long”) + “thumos” (“heart/soul”). So literally, it means “to long-heart (verb)”. The Greek “thumos” can refer to the soul or spirit in the sense of one’s very life/essence. To take away “thumos” then, can mean to take away life. “Thumos” also refers to the “heart”, as both the seat of the emotions and of the will. Finally, “thumos” can mean the mind, as the seat of cognition (thoughts). So when we get to the root of “being patient”, we see that it involves a commitment of all one’s life/essence, emotions, will, and thoughts. This is the kind of gut-wrenching, life-giving “patience” that God does to all people, and that we must, therefore, show one another. Love, it would seem, does nothing half-heartedly.
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Love is Kind
We continue to "love is kind". This is a translation of the Greek “χρηστεύεται” (chresteuetai), another active verb. It comes from the adjective “chrestos”, which in turn comes from another verb, “chrao”. “Chrao” means “to furnish/provide what is needful”. What a beautiful description of what God does for us, and expects us to do for each other. The adjective “chrestos” means “serviceable” or “useful”. When applied to people, it also means any or all of the following: good, honest, trustworthy, and kind.
I hope that by now it is apparent that, by looking deeper into the origins of words in this scripture, we may uncover a vast new world of meaning which was completely hidden before. So that, for example, “being kind” is shown to entail much more than kindness alone. It does mean to be kind, in our usual sense of the word, yes. But more than that, it involves providing people with what they need, being honest and dependable, being “useful/serviceable” to society, and being a good person in general. And so we should also be beginning to see why the 1 Corinthians "Love Verse" really does contain all the most important teachings of religion, as it tells us all the most important things for living a good life.
Envy and Pride
Envy and pride/boasting are two sides of the same coin. Both spring from a self-centered desire to somehow be better than other people. Envy is self-centeredness manifested in areas where we perceive ourselves to be lacking relative to other people. Pride is self-centeredness manifested in areas where we perceive others to be lacking relative to us. Love makes no such considerations, for it is complete in itself, and thus does not need to feel superior to anyone in order to feel whole.
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rejoices with the truth (verse 6). For me, “truth” may be the only concept that
even approaches “love” in its beauty and grandeur. In Greek, the word is
even more beautiful: ἀληθεία (aletheia, pronounced “ah-leh-THAY-ah”).
It is built from the noun “lethos”, which means “a forgetting”, and the
prefix “a-”, which denotes a lack or absence (so it essentially converts
whatever it precedes into its opposite). Thus, in one sense, “truth”
means “that which is not forgotten”. To exhume yet a deeper meaning, we
may consider that “lethos” comes from the verb “lanthano”, which means
“to go unnoticed or unseen”. Thus, since the prefix “a-” would reverse
this concept, truth would be seen to mean something which is noticed.
Truth, as it stands alone, is something obvious. It can not go unnoticed. It will never remain forgotten. It may be covered or warped in various ways, but in the end, truth is reality itself. As such, it is all there really is. Error and deception have no substance of their own. They are phantoms, mere parasites which feed on the truth. Truth is the One Reality, and so it will be the only thing that is remembered eventually. Whatever is untrue will one day be forgotten.
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Love Never Fails
is Love, and Love never fails. Because God is love, He loves every
creature with the same violent, never-ending love, whether they love Him
or hate Him in return. It is an active love, by which God, with the
full force of all His will, thoughts, emotions, and very life-force,
seeks to provide every being with what it needs. And because love will
not fail, God/Love will eventually succeed in providing every single
individual creature, human or not, with everything they need. It is
worth repeating: Love will utterly succeed at its singular desire, which
is to fulfill every single living being in every possible way. It is a
fact as grand, beautiful, and inevitable as Truth itself.
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