Our next phrase, translated as “love always protects,” is one of the more interesting renderings in the passage on love in 1 Corinthians 13. The same word, stego, is used 3 other times in the New Testament. In every other case it is translated as some form of “stand,” as in “when we could stand it no longer” (twice), and in another case “to put up with.” Its usual meaning falls in line with bearing with one another. However, I am here assuming that the translators had some solid reasons (not mere adherence to traditional translations) for their choice in this matter, and am going with the word “stand,” which seems to cover both meanings. To stand in love is to afford protection to the beloved. Standing in love also implies bearing with the faults and shortcomings of the one who is loved.
When I love someone, I stand my ground in their defense. Certainly this is the way Christ has loved me. He taught his disciples about such love, saying that no greater love exists than to lay down your life for your friends. His anger in the temple and with the religious establishment was not only because of the distortion of the truth of his Father’s message, but also because of the impossible burden the religious authorities had placed upon the people, without lifting a finger to help them. He stepped between the woman caught in adultery and those who condemned her in the most beloved of stories, bringing into sharpest focus the principles of grace (neither do I condemn you) and truth (go and sin no more). Ultimately he stepped between the righteous wrath of God the Father and all who receive him as Lord and Savior. His love protects us from the consequences of our own sins if we accept his atoning sacrifice on our behalf.
His love also “stands” us. That is to say, he bears with us. I think there is good reason that the intimate and unflattering little exchanges between Jesus and his disciples are included in the gospels. Many times he turns to them in exasperation and says something like, “How long have you been listening to me? When will you finally get it?” These conversations are there not so that we can feel superior to his followers. They are there so that we can relate to them. He could say the same to each of us. He bears with us. His love allows him to stand us.
Agape, then, empowers us to stand one another in a way that conditional love cannot. All other kinds of love are based on some kind of a performance standard or exchange for services. Worldly love needs to see that it is getting something in return in order to keep investing itself. It keeps asking, “What’s in this for me?” As we have seen in earlier posts on agape, this kind of love is different. It asks, “What’s in this for the other(s)?” This attitude makes it possible for us to hang in there, when worldly love gives up and gives in. When we are not holding out for the self-centered return on our investment, we have all the patience in the world (and beyond).
Occasionally, I get a glimpse of how God’s love stands with me. Unwavering, it protects me from all accusations (even my own), and empowers me to stand myself. Let it empower us to protect and bear with one another in the same way.
“Love always protects (stands).” 1 Corinthians 13:7 (parenthesis mine)
"We love because he loved us first.” 1 John 4:19