Faithlife Sermons

Love never stops supporting, never loses faith

Love is—1 Corinthians 13  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  17:46
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Love always supports, is always loyal. How much do we yearn for that sort of love? The Good News that we share as followers of Christ is that this sort of love is not only given to us, it is given to us to share! Join us to explore what it means to be always supportive and loyal.

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Let’s read our now familiar passage of 1 Corinthians 13 but in an unfamiliar translation. This time, the Contemporary English Version, or CEV. This translation tries to use plain English to make the Bible as understandable as possible, and it just so happens that the verse I want to focus on today is really well translated in the CEV.
Let’s read.

Bible

1 Corinthians 13 CEV
1 What if I could speak all languages of humans and of angels? If I did not love others, I would be nothing more than a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 What if I could prophesy and understand all secrets and all knowledge? And what if I had faith that moved mountains? I would be nothing, unless I loved others. 3 What if I gave away all that I owned and let myself be burned alive? I would gain nothing, unless I loved others. 4 Love is kind and patient, never jealous, boastful, proud, or 5 rude. Love isn’t selfish or quick tempered. It doesn’t keep a record of wrongs that others do. 6 Love rejoices in the truth, but not in evil. 7 Love is always supportive, loyal, hopeful, and trusting. 8 Love never fails! Everyone who prophesies will stop, and unknown languages will no longer be spoken. All that we know will be forgotten. 9 We don’t know everything, and our prophecies are not complete. 10 But what is perfect will someday appear, and what isn’t perfect will then disappear. 11 When we were children, we thought and reasoned as children do. But when we grew up, we quit our childish ways. 12 Now all we can see of God is like a cloudy picture in a mirror. Later we will see him face to face. We don’t know everything, but then we will, just as God completely understands us. 13 For now there are faith, hope, and love. But of these three, the greatest is love.

The sentence

Today we’re focusing on the first two descriptions Paul gives in a list of descriptions that follow the pattern: love always...
1 Corinthians 13:7 CEV
7 Love is always supportive, loyal, hopeful, and trusting.
It might surprise you to see how different the various English translations of these words are. For example, here is the ESV:
1 Corinthians 13:7 ESV
7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
The ESV preserves the simplicity of the Greek, which uses two words for each of these four descriptions, with the first word the same for each description:
The Greek word for always, panta, is very common in the New Testament. It does have quite a broad meaning, like the English word “all,” which it is usually translated into. In this sentence, the four-fold repetition of panta is intended to emphasize the unlimited nature of love—a message that is repeated in the very next verse:
1 Corinthians 13:8 ESV
8 Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.
So, that’s what this sentence in Paul’s description of love is pointing towards, but what are the specific properties of love that Paul is spelling out?

Supportive

The first Greek verb describing what love always does is stego, which is a relatively rare word, only found in the New Testament four times, twice here in the 1 Corinthians, and twice in 1 Thessalonians. As you can see from the three different translations into English in the NIV, this word doesn’t translate easily. The noun form of the word refers to a cover that you place over a jar to protect its contents. From this the verb has developed a range of meanings, all relating to protecting something by separating the inside from the outside in some way. The problem with the simple ESV translation of “bears all things” is that it is both too parallel to the final of the four descriptions, “endures all things,” and that it misleads us into the idea that love will tolerate all sorts of things, even evil. However, we already know that love doesn’t rejoice in wrongdoing, but rather with the truth. And so it is better to understand the Greek word as referring to a sort of protective support. Exactly the sort of love we see parents show for their children all the time.
When we combine this with the next description, it makes even more sense.

Trusting

The next word is a form of the word that the NT Greek uses for “faith.” This can be translated as “believe,” because that’s what faith is, a belief in something or someone, but the ESV’s translation, “believes all things,” makes love sound like a naive fool. That’s unfortunate, because love is nothing like that. Love has faith in its object—a person—because it knows that they are a creature made in God’s image, not because love is a fool. The CEV’s translation, always “loyal” is much better.
Again, this is exactly like a parent’s love for their child. Even when a parent knows how imperfect their child is they will always support them, they’ll always have faith that they can make something of themselves. They don’t give up just because their child gets it wrong. Think of the father of the prodigal son. Think of God and straying Israel. Or think of the many images of this love we find in popular culture.

Story

One of the most beautiful image of this from popular culture is the story of Pinnocchio. Unfortunately, then Disney version waters the story down a bit, but in the original Italian book, and in the Italian film of 2020, you’ll find the story of Pinnocchio painfully poignant. Geppetto, an old, single, childless wood carver, stumbles across a piece of living wood. With great care he carves a puppet out of it, and is astonished to find that the wooden puppet, Pinnocchio, is alive.
Despite Geppetto’s love and generosity to Pinnocchio, the wooden puppet has been naughty since he was released from the wood, and eventually he runs away, following his selfish desires. Geppetto never gives up hope, though, and despite his age pursues Pinnocchio for years. Pinnocchio has various adventures, and even tries to be good on his own, but eventually he is tempted to a place called Toyland, where all the selfish children are magically turned into donkeys to be sold into hard labour. Pinnocchio is sold to a circus, which exploits him until he finally collapses, upon which they sell him to a tanner, who tries to drown him.
Fortunately for Pinnocchio, a school of fish eats his donkey skin, revealing his inner puppet and he escapes, but is soon eaten by a giant fish. To his amazement he is there reunited with Geppetto.
It seems his death as a donkey has transformed Pinnocchio, and he and Geppetto escape the fish and find a place to live together and support one another, despite old temptations. After some time, Pinnocchio is transformed into a real boy by the blue fairy who he has encountered throughout his life, and he and Geppetto live happily ever after.
If you think this story sounds suspiciously Christian, well, it might not surprise you to find that its author studied in seminary when he was young.
The love that Geppetto shows Pinnocchio is the sort of love we’re talking about. It isn’t earned, in fact Pinnocchio seems to do everything he can to reject it. Yet Geppetto doggedly keeps on supporting Pinnocchio, he goes to prison for him, he is shipwrecked for him, he spends months or years in the belly of a fish for him. He always supports Pinnocchio, despite Pinnocchio’s complete lack of appreciation. And when Pinnocchio finally shows up, repentant, Geppetto doesn’t scold him for all the pain he has put him through. Rather, he embraces his long-lost “child.” Despite Pinnocchio’s naughtiness, Geppetto always had faith in him—he trusted that Pinnocchio would eventually wake up and be a real human being, someone who cared for others and not just himself.
That’s love. It’s not naive, it’s not foolish, it’s not indulgent. It is simply always supportive, always loyal, always hopeful and always persevering.
Again, remember, we can’t love this way on our own. Geppetto is not a real person, he’s a symbol for God. But we have the real God in our hearts, not just a symbol, and in the real power of the Holy Spirit, we, too, can always be supportive, always loyal.
Amen.
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