If you look up the word “love” in the dictionary, you’ll find definitions ranging from “A friendly form of address” to “A strong feeling of affection and sexual attraction for someone”—and that’s not including what it means in tennis (ref. Oxford Dictionaries).
Yet love is central to the Christian life, an integral part of the two commandments Christ gave to sum up the Ten Commandments:
28And one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, and perceiving that he had answered them well, asked him, Which is the first commandment of all? 29And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments [is], Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: 30And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this [is] the first commandment. 31And the second [is] like, [namely] this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.Mark 12:28–31, KJV
According to this excerpt from Mark 12, Christians are to do everything out of these two precepts: 1. loving God above everything and 2. loving others in the way that we love ourselves. This is entirely consistent with what Jesus told the rich young ruler in Matthew 19, as well as with the other Scriptural commands about Christian love, such as is found in Leviticus 19:18, John 13:34, Romans 12:10, and James 2:8.
Studies into these verses so often focus on what is meant by “neighbor”—on whom we are to love—rather than what we are to do: love. Love is also the first fruit of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22, suggesting it’s the first one that manifests in a believer, even before the rest of the list.
Linguistically speaking, the order of items on a list can but does not necessarily indicate the order of importance or the order in which a series progresses/develops. Because the fruits of the Spirit are part of a process—the one of the believer becoming increasingly Christlike—I’m inclined to believe the fruits are listed in the order which they manifest in a believer. The fact that love is both the root of the greatest commandment and the first item on the list supports my view but doesn’t definitively prove it. But whether or not the fruits of the Spirit manifest in a particular order is irrelevant in the current discussion; what matters is the clear Biblical statement that love is to be central to the Christian life.
Mark 12 is far from the only reference where Christians are commanded to love others. We are commanded to love each other.
A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.John 13:34, KJV
This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.John 15:12, KJV
But loving others who love us is (or should be) easy. As Christians, we’re outright commanded to even love our enemies!
43Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. 44But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; 45That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. 46For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? 47And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more [than others]? do not even the publicans so? 48Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.Matthew 5:43–48, KJV
But what is this “love” that Christians are to display? What does it look like? What are its features?
To define what the Bible means when it tells we believers to love God and our neighbors (and each other and our enemies), we have to look at what it means “to love” (agapaó) someone. And in order to examine what Scripture means by that, we must examine what’s commonly called “the love chapter” in the Bible: I Corinthians 13.
1Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become [as] sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. 2And though I have [the gift of] prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. 3And though I bestow all my goods to feed [the poor], and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.
4Charity suffereth long, [and] is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,5Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;6Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; 7Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
8Charity never faileth: but whether [there be] prophecies, they shall fail; whether [there be] tongues, they shall cease; whether [there be] knowledge, it shall vanish away. 9For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. 10But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. 11When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. 12For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. 13And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these [is] charity.I Corinthians 13, KJV
The word translated as charity in the King James Version is agapé, which is what we now (centuries after the KJV was originally translated) call “love, goodwill” and is the noun form of agapaó, the verb Jesus uses in Mark 12 that is translated as “love”. The noun agapé and verb agapaó are each used more than 100 times each in Scripture—for how we are to feel towards God and each other, for how God feels towards His children, and for other relationships.
bold added to indicate which word(s) are agapé in the original Greek
Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love [is] the fulfilling of the law.Romans 13:10, KJV
But I know you, that ye have not the love of God in you.John 5:42, KJV
Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.Romans 8:39, KJV
But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died.Romans 14:15, KJV
Now as touching things offered unto idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth.1 Corinthians 8:1, KJV
bold added to indicate which word(s) are agapaó in the original Greek
But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;Matthew 5:44, KJV
Woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye love the uppermost seats in the synagogues, and greetings in the markets.Luke 11:43, KJV
A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.John 13:34, KJV
Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;Ephesians 5:25, KJV
This illustrates that within the King James Version of the Bible, love and charity are essentially synonymous (because the same Greek word, agapé, is translated charity in I Corinthians 13 and love in the other references). It’s also worth noting that the context of Romans 13 is in fact reiterating how the law of God as it pertains to other people is summarized by “Love others”.
However, the word translated as love doesn’t mean quite the same things that we as humans like to say it does. This is at least in part because English conflates a multitude of concepts into the word love.
If we look back at I Corinthians 13 again, specifically verses 4–7, we can determine several things about what precisely is meant by the Scriptural commands to “love” one another.
Biblical love for another person is patient and persevering.
(I Corinthians 13:4: Love “suffereth long”; makrothumeó)
bold added to indicate which word(s) are makrothumeó in the original Greek
The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.Matthew 18:26, KJV
And so, after he [Abraham] had patiently endured, he obtained the promise.Hebrews 6:15, KJV [ref. Hebrews 6:13]
The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.II Peter 3:9, KJV
Therefore any love/goodwill that is impatient (or vanishes when a situation requires patience) is not love, per the Biblical definition.
Biblical love for another person is considerate of the person being loved and is not a burden on them.
(I Corinthians 13:4: Love “is kind”; chrésteuomai, which is the verb form of the adjective chréstos [which may be a form of the verb chraomai])
The verb chrésteuomai does not appear anywhere else in Scripture, but the adjective chréstos does. Examination of that adjective’s use in Scripture provides insight into what is meant by the noun.
bold added to indicate which word(s) are chréstos in the original Greek
For my yoke [is] easy, and my burden is light.Matthew 11:30, KJV
If so be ye have tasted that the Lord [is] gracious.I Peter 2:3, KJV
Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners.I Corinthians 15:33, KJV
And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.Ephesians 4:32, KJV
If you put those concepts together and relate them back to I Corinthians 13:5, any love/goodwill that is inconsiderate or places a burden on the person being loved is not love, per the Biblical definition…and any burdensome not-“love” is also corrupting (unless something’s unusual about the context in I Corinthians 15:33).
Biblical love for another person is not jealous, covetous, or eager to possess that person.
(I Corinthians 13:4: Love “envieth” not; zéloó ou)
Both words appear multiple times in Scripture, with ou being the most frequent by far. However, ou is considered and treated as synonymous with the Greek ouk and ouch. The variants may reflect word forms (cases, moods, etc.) that do not exist in English.
bold added to indicate which word(s) are zéloó in the original Greek
And the patriarchs, moved with envy, sold Joseph into Egypt: but God was with him,Acts 7:9, KJV
But covet earnestly the best gifts [of the Spirit]: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way.I Corinthians 12:31, KJV
Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not.James 4:2, KJV
bold added to indicate which word(s) are ou in the original Greek
And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS.Matthew 1:25, KJV
But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.Matthew 5:37, KJV
Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?Matthew 6:26, KJV
Therefore any love/goodwill that is practiced in order to get something—anything—from the person presumably being loved is not love, per the Biblical definition—and that includes if the “something” being sought is control over the presumably loved person.
Biblical love for another person is not boasting or self-lauding.
(I Corinthians 13:4: Love “vaunteth not itself”; ou perpereuomai)
This word only appears here in Scripture and seems to be derived from the Greek perperos, meaning “a braggart”…which doesn’t appear in Scripture, either.
Nonetheless, the verse is still a clear corollary to the previous two items: any love/goodwill that praises itself or is bragged about (Example: “I love him so much, I even did that!” or “Look at how much I love you!”) is not love, per the Biblical definition.
Biblical love for another person is not proud or self-inflated.
(I Corinthians 13:4: Love is “not puffed up”; ou phusioó)
But “puffed up” is one of those things that everyone will of course deny being, so what exactly does that mean?
To define what it is to be “puffed up”, let’s first reference all other uses of phusioó in Scripture.
bold added to indicate which word(s) are phusioó in the original Greek
6And these things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred to myself and [to] Apollos for your sakes; that ye might learn in us not to think [of men] above that which is written, that no one of you be puffed up for one against another. […] 18Now some are puffed up, as though I would not come to you. 19But I will come to you shortly, if the Lord will, and will know, not the speech of them which are puffed up, but the power.I Corinthians 4:6,18–19, KJV
And ye are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he that hath done this deed [taking his father’s wife] might be taken away from among you.I Corinthians 5:2, KJV [ref. I Corinthians 5:1]
Now as touching things offered unto idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth.I Corinthians 8:1, KJV
Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind,Colossians 2:18, KJV
So altogether, a person that is “puffed up”…
- follows other things above God’s word and lauds the merits of what they follow (I Corinthians 4:6)
- lives as if there’s no higher authority above them (I Corinthians 4:18)
- does not carry the power of God’s word (I Corinthians 4:19)
- takes pride in human actions (I Corinthians 5:2)
- revels in assumptions and knowledge rather than graciousness (I Corinthians 8:1)
- presumes to know things that cannot be known by mortal man (Col. 2:18)
Therefore any love/goodwill that is used to supplant God’s word (“I’m God in this house”) and/or assign value to the “loving” person (“I’m so loving!”) is not love, per the Biblical definition.
This directly applies to some folks’ tendency to redefine “loving” actions as whatever they want to have happen. Biblical love has little to do with what one party or the other wants, focusing more on what is needed—by and for both parties.
Biblical love for another person is not lustful nor improper.
(I Corinthians 13:5: Love does not “behave itself unseemly”; aschémoneó)
Now, remember we are speaking of the love we are to display towards everyone. We are not speaking of the special love that should exist between, for example, husband and wife—that’s another word entirely.
But the love we are to display to everyone regardless of who they are—which includes spouses and others who should also receive other forms of love—is not in itself sexual. We can get this aspect of the definition of Biblical love from the other verse that uses the word and the verse that uses its root, aschémón:
bold added to indicate which word(s) are aschémoneó in the original Greek
But if any man think that he behaveth himself uncomely toward his virgin, if she pass the flower of [her] age, and need so require, let him do what he will, he sinneth not: let them marry.I Corinthians 7:36, KJV
bold added to indicate which word(s) are aschémón in the original Greek
And those [members] of the body, which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour; and our uncomely [parts] have more abundant comelinessI Corinthians 12:23, KJV
Therefore any love/goodwill that either cannot be displayed publicly or has a sexual component + is outside the bounds of marriage is not love, per the Biblical definition, even if the couple is betrothed but not yet wedded.
Biblical love for another person is not self-seeking.
(I Corinthians 13:5: “seeketh not her own”; zéteó ou heautou)
bold added to indicate which word(s) are zéteó in the original Greek
But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.Matthew 6:33, KJV
While he yet talked to the people, behold, [his] mother and his brethren stood without, desiring to speak with him.Matthew 12:46, KJV
How think ye? if a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray?Matthew, 18:12, KJV
bold added to indicate which word(s) are heautou in the original Greek
But Jesus said unto him, Follow me; and let the dead bury their dead.Matthew 8:22, KJV
For she said within herself, If I may but touch his garment, I shall be whole.Matthew 9:21, KJV
And Jesus knew their thoughts, and said unto them, Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand:Matthew 12:25, KJV
Therefore any love/goodwill that’s dependent on being returned by the party presumably being loved is not love, per the Biblical definition.
Biblical love for another person is not sharp or irritable.
(I Corinthians 13:5: Love “is not easily provoked”; ou paroxunó)
Now, it would be easy to presume that this one does not apply to justified anger, but the Greek word appears only one other place in Scripture.
bold added to indicate which word(s) are paroxunó in the original Greek
Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was stirred in him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry.Acts 17:16, KJV
The one and only other instance of that word in Scripture refers specifically to justified, righteous anger—so any love/goodwill that is angry, justified or not, is not love, per the Biblical definition.
Indignation, anger, upset, etc. all focus on what “should” be rather than on than the person presumably being loved. This doesn’t mean a loving person can’t experience anger, indignation, irritation, upset, or temper—it just means those emotions are themselves not a part of love or love itself. The feelings can be felt at the same time, but they are entirely distinct from each other.
Biblical love for another person is not inclined to assume badly or the worst of others.
(I Corinthians 13:5: Love “thinketh no evil”; logizomai [derived from logos] ou kakos)
This one is a bit more complicated to interpret, due to a mix of the English language changing over the centuries and the Greek verb not having a direct English equivalent.
Let’s look at that verb, logizomai, and various contexts where it appears in Scripture.
bold added to indicate which word(s) are logizomai in the original Greek
And the scripture was fulfilled, which saith, And he was numbered with the transgressors.Mark 15:28, KJV
That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these [are] not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed.Romans 9:8, KJV
For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.Romans 4:3, KJV
And thinkest thou this, O man, that judgest them which do such things, and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God?Romans 2:3, KJV
So the “thinketh” in “thinketh no evil” is actually a reference to assigning attributes to others—attributes that the person actually hasn’t displayed. As an example of that in practice, saying black nail polish means a person worships the Devil is a case in point—that claim takes a surface feature unrelated to the fruits of a person’s spirit and saying that the feature means something about a person’s spirit, regardless of the fruits a person displays—just as Christ, in Mark 15:28, was deemed and punished as a sinner due to claims of His behavior rather than due to anything He had actually done.
Note that the Greek for “think” is an entirely different word from the Greek for “judge”, even in Romans 2:3. Modern English can use these types of terms interchangeably, yet they actually are not synonyms. They have variances in meaning, nuances that the other words don’t hold, and there’s no one English term that has the precise nuances of the original Greek. This is evident even from the notable differences in translation, such as in the New International Version.
It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.I Corinthians 13:5, NIV
Some folks apply that bolded part of this verse to say that even remembering another person’s sin against you violates this verse, but that’s not what is said by the vast majority of translations or by the original Greek. The Greek word translated here is kakos, translated “evil” or “wrongs”, and it refers to bad/evil in its broadest sense, not to one person’s transgressions against another.
bold added to indicate which word(s) are kakos in the original Greek
They say unto him, He will miserably destroy those wicked men, and will let out [his] vineyard unto other husbandmen, which shall render him the fruits in their seasons.Matthew 21:41, KJV
And the governor said, Why, what evil hath he done? But they cried out the more, saying, Let him be crucified.Matthew 27:23, KJV
Jesus answered him, If I have spoken evil[ly]*, bear witness of the evil: but if well, why smitest thou me?John 18:23, KJV (*“–ly” added to reflect that the Greek word here is specifically the related adverb kakós, not the general noun)
So when you boil this down, love does not jump to conclusions about others.
Note that this is an entirely distinct item from recognizing conclusions about others, for we believers are explicitly told both to watch the fruits that others display (Matthew 7:16) and to be canny about it (Matthew 10:16). (By definition, to be “canny” is to exercise wisdom and good judgement.)
Because Jesus explicitly did not engage in any “wrongs” or “evil” as described by kakos, that means that offending others is in and of itself not necessarily unloving, because Jesus did offend. He did not, however, do anything sinful, and therefore kakos might be better translated as “wicked”.
Altogether, when you put the actual from-Scripture meaning of the original Greek together, the part of I Corinthians 13:5 translated “thinketh no evil” in the KJV actually means “assume nothing wicked about others”. Therefore any love/goodwill that heeds gossip as if it’s fact or jumps to conclusions about others is not love, per the Biblical definition.
And believing something negative of someone due to what has been personally observed (of the fruits of their spirit) is an entirely distinct matter that is not addressed by this verse. (It is addressed in verse 7, but we’ll get to that.)
Biblical love for another person does not revel in others being hurt or experiencing injustice.
(I Corinthians 13:6: “Rejoiceth not in iniquity”; chairó ou epi adikia)
If you look at the list of various translations of I Corinthians 13:6, you’ll find that the overall thrust of this verse is fairly consistent, but different translations have different nuances, sometimes due to a change in preposition. (Prepositions are the bane of many a language translation.)
Let’s step back and look at some examples of what the Greek words mean, starting with chairó.
bold added to indicate which word(s) are chairó in the original Greek
When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.Matthew 2:10, KJV
And when they heard [it], they were glad, and promised to give him money. And he sought how he might conveniently betray him.Mark 14:11, KJV
And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth.Luke 1:14, KJV
And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully.Luke 19:6, KJV
And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, [thou that art] highly favoured, the Lord [is] with thee: blessed [art] thou among women.Luke 1:28, KJV
The included examples show the breadth of what chairó can mean in Scripture, but it’s most often translated “rejoice”—and it always has to do with gladness, joy, even when used as a salutation (as in the last example reference).
The verb is followed by a negation, so that’s “rejoice not” or “not rejoice”.
Next comes the preposition, epi.
bold added to indicate which word(s) are epi in the original Greek
And Josias begat Jechonias and his brethren, about the time they were carried away to Babylon:Matthew 1:11, KJV
4But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.
5Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple,
6And saith unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in [their] hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone.Matthew 4:4–6, KJV
15And Jesus said unto them, Can the children of the bridechamber mourn, as long as the bridegroom is with them? but the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken from them, and then shall they fast.
16No man putteth a piece of new cloth unto an old garment, for that which is put in to fill it up taketh from the garment, and the rent is made worse. 17Neither do men put new wine into old bottles: else the bottles break, and the wine runneth out, and the bottles perish: but they put new wine into new bottles, and both are preserved. 18While he spake these things unto them, behold, there came a certain ruler, and worshipped him, saying, My daughter is even now dead: but come and lay thy hand upon her, and she shall live.Matthew 9:15–18, KJV
As is obvious from all the various ways that it has been translated, the Greek preposition epi has no direct English equivalent, though it’s usually translated “on” or ”upon”, and Strong’s lists its meanings as “on, to, against, on the basis of, at”—none of which are what appear in the King James of I Corinthains 13:6.
So why does the King James version of I Corinthians 13:6 translate epi as “in”? I don’t know, but judging from both the actual definitions listed in Strong’s and the context of other verses where the preposition appears, “at” is likely a more fitting translation than “in”. That would change the statement to “rejoiceth not at inquity” instead of “rejoiceth not in inquity”.
This brings us to evaluating the meaning of the word used for “iniquity”: adikia.
bold added to indicate which word(s) are adikia in the original Greek
10And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. 11And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: 12That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.II Thessalonians 2:10–12, KJV
24Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able. 25When once the master of the house is risen up, and hath shut to the door, and ye begin to stand without, and to knock at the door, saying, Lord, Lord, open unto us; and he shall answer and say unto you, I know you not whence ye are: 26Then shall ye begin to say, We have eaten and drunk in thy presence, and thou hast taught in our streets. 27But he shall say, I tell you, I know you not whence ye are; depart from me, all [ye] workers of iniquity.Luke 13:22–27, KJV
8And the lord commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely: for the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light. 9And I say unto you, Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations.Luke 16:8–9, KJV
One possible definition of adikia that does not show up in the KJV (but does in some other translations) is “injustice” (see Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance or alternate translations of some pertinent verses).
Nonetheless, one factor made clear by some uses of adikia, such as its context when used in Luke 13:27, is that a person can believe they’re behaving well, that they’re associating with God, and still engage in unrighteousness/iniquity/injustice. Something added by the usage in Luke 16 is that the injustice may not be physical or concrete; the unjust steward essentially stole from his master, in cutting what others owed that master to garner their goodwill before he was fired.
Therefore any love/goodwill that takes joy in ill happenings or that outright relishes when others are harmed in some way (physically, financially, emotionally) is not love, per the Biblical definition.
Biblical love for another person does revel in what is true, genuine, and sincere.
(I Corinthians 13:6: Love “rejoiceth in the truth”; chairó epi alétheia—the noun form of the adjective aléthés)
The Greek words chairó and epi were already covered under the previous point (respectively meaning “rejoice” and “on, to, against, on the basis of, at”), so that leaves alétheia, for us to know on what basis love is to rejoice.
Per Strong’s, alétheia means “truth, but not merely truth as spoken; truth of idea, reality, sincerity, truth in the moral sphere, divine truth revealed to man, straightforwardness”. This focus on that which is genuinely true at the root (rather than only partially true or altogether untrue) is testified to in the further contexts where the word appears in Scripture, as well as by examining the root of alétheia: aléthés.
bold added to indicate which word(s) are alétheia in the original Greek
But the woman fearing and trembling, knowing what was done in her, came and fell down before him, and told him all the truth.Mark 5:33, KJV
23But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. 24God [is] a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship [him] in spirit and in truth.John 4:23–24, KJV
Jesus answered and said unto them, Though I bear record of myself, yet my record is true: for I know whence I came, and whither I go; but ye cannot tell whence I come, and whither I go.John 8:14, KJV
Ye sent unto John, and he bare witness unto the truth.John 5:33, KJV
bold added to indicate which word(s) are aléthés in the original Greek
Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true [adjective], whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.Philippians 4:8, KJV
A minister of the sanctuary, and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man.Hebrews 8:2, KJV
Put that all together, and the word translated “true” is referring to objective truth, to genuine reality. (This has interesting significance for what is meant by Philippians 4:8, but that’s a discussion for another day.)
Therefore any love/goodwill that delights in lies or partial truths or constructed “truths”—or even any love/goodwill that delights in a false representation or presentation of a person—is not love, per the Biblical definition.
Biblical love for another person persists regardless what they do.
(I Corinthians 13:7: Love “Beareth all things”; stegó pas)
The first thing we must evaluate here is if the Greek word pas does, in fact, mean all in the English sense, or if there is some nuance that may potentially be added or lost in the translation.
According to Strong’s, pas means “all, the whole, every kind of”, and other references further solidify that definition as “each and every part of the totality being referred to”. Is this definition consistent with the use of pas in Scripture?
bold added to indicate which word(s) are pas in the original Greek
So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David until the carrying away into Babylon are fourteen generations; and from the carrying away into Babylon unto Christ are fourteen generations.Matthew 1:17, KJV
Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan,Matthew 3:5, KJV
And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.Matthew 3:10, KJV
And the whole multitude sought to touch him: for there went virtue out of him, and healed [them] all.Luke 6:19, KJV
Whosoever cometh to me, and heareth my sayings, and doeth them, I will shew you to whom he is like:Luke 6:47, KJV
There over a thousand more instances of pas in the New Testament, but I believe that is, in fact, consistent to translate pas as “each and every part of the totality being referred to”—so what’s the totality being referred to? The semicolon and verse division in the context are not helpful in determining that, but those items are added by translators, not part of the original Greek.
Logically, the totality being referred to by pas must be whatever totality was most recently referred to in context. That would be alétheia: that which is objectively true. Therefore, the all things in this verse is referring to all things that are objectively true—and it’s worth noting that there is no caveat on the “all things” to limit it to things positive or to limit it to things negative.
The question then becomes: what is meant by “beareth” (stegó)?
bold added to indicate which word(s) are stegó in the original Greek
If others be partakers of [this] power over you, [are] not we rather? Nevertheless we have not used this power; but suffer all things, lest we should hinder the gospel of Christ.I Corinthians 9:12, KJV
Wherefore when we could no longer forbear, we thought it good to be left at Athens alone;I Thessalonians 3:1, KJV
For this cause, when I could no longer forbear, I sent to know your faith, lest by some means the tempter have tempted you, and our labour be in vain.I Thessalonians 3:5, KJV
That demonstrates that the Greek-to-English transition is straightforward, here. Love for others bears all that actually happens or is done and so forth. That coincides with the command to love our enemies.
Therefore any love/goodwill that is dependent or conditional based on the actions of the person presumably being loved is not love, per the Biblical definition.
Biblical love for another person believes reality regardless if that reality is positive or negative.
(I Corinthians 13:7: Love “believeth all things”; pisteuó pas)
We’ve already defined pas, so now we have to look at pisteuó. Strong’s defines this as “to believe, have faith in”—but it’s worth keeping in mind the word pisteuó may be derived from peithó (“to persuade, urge, have confidence”).
bold added to indicate which word(s) are pisteuó in the original Greek
But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.Matthew 18:6, KJV
The baptism of John, whence was it? from heaven, or of men? And they reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven; he will say unto us, Why did ye not then believe him?Matthew 21:25, KJV
23Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things [are] possible to him that believeth. 24And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.Mark 9:23–24, KJV
And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues;Mark 16:17, KJV
According to the above examples and many other references in Scriputure, the Greek word pisteuó is essentially interchangeable with the English “belief”. So the translation “believe all things” does fit with that.
But it’s important to remember that the “all things” (pas) is referring to what’s genuine, true, sincere—so this is where making conclusions based on your personal experiences and observations of others’ actions comes in. (Note that pas is still referring to truths, not to gossip or assumptions. We are not to believe something we don’t know to be true—but Jesus said we would know the truth of others by the fruits they produce [Matthew 7:16, Matthew 7:20]).
Therefore any love/goodwill that refuses to believe what is personally witnessed (of others’ fruits, actions, etc.) is not love, per the Biblical definition…regardless of if that observation is something positive or negative.
Biblical love for another person hopes for their salvation.
(I Corinthians 13:7: Love “hopeth all things”; elpizó pas)
This particular verb gets translated as hope or trust, and it specifically refers to hoping/trusting in someone to provide something. When used without a specific definition setting the context (as happens here), Scripture uses it to refer to hoping/trusting in God for salvation from sin.
bold added to indicate which word(s) are elpizó in the original Greek
And in his name shall the Gentiles trust.Matthew 12:21, KJV
And if ye lend [to them] of whom ye hope to receive, what thank have ye? for sinners also lend to sinners, to receive as much again.Luke 6:34, KJV Romans 8:24–25, KJV
So there are essentially two possible ways to read this particular verse:
- Biblical love trusts in God to fulfill His promises.
- Biblical love hopes for salvation (from sin) for those who are loved.
Since the context of I Corinthians 13 is how we are to view others, the second meaning seems more likely. Therefore any love/goodwill that hopes for damnation for a person is not love, per the Biblical definition.
It is possible that the first meaning is what’s meant to be referred to in this verse, which would make this another example of an aspect of biblical love that has no positive or negative limitation on its meaning. (Since God promises salvation for those who trust in Him and damnation for those who don’t.) But that meaning seems incongruous with the “Rejoiceth not in iniquity” of I Corinthians 13:6.
It’s also worth noting that hoping for salvation is not the same as expecting salvation.
Biblical love for another person accepts that person for whom they are, not for what you want them to be.
(I Corinthians 13:7: Love “endureth all things”; hupomenó pas)
We’ve already seen how pas means “each and every part of the totality being referred to”, without any positive or negative. Some claim that this verse, translated to tell the Christian to “endure” all things, is therefore saying the Christian must “grin and bear it” or “smile and nod” for anything and everything—be it good, bad, helpful, harmful, etc.
Is that true? Let’s examine other instances of hupomenó in Scripture.
bold added to indicate which word(s) are hupomenó in the original Greek
And ye shall be hated of all [men] for my name’s sake: but he that endureth to the end shall be saved.Matthew 10:22, KJV
And when they had fulfilled the days, as they returned, the child Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem; and Joseph and his mother knew not [of it].Luke 2:43, KJV
And then immediately the brethren sent away Paul to go as it were to the sea: but Silas and Timotheus abode there still.Acts 17:14, KJV
Rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer;Romans 12:12, KJV
If we suffer, we shall also reign with [him]: if we deny [him], he also will deny us:II Timothy 2:12, KJV
2Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of [our] faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.Hebrews 12:2–3, KJV
For what glory [is it], if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer [for it], ye take it patiently, this [is] acceptable with God.I Peter 2:20, KJV
Putting that together, this verse does indicate that we are to love others regardless of how they treat us.
Therefore any love/goodwill that is conditional on another person’s actions is not love, per the Biblical definition.
But this is not telling us to stay in any type of situation, positive or negative. It’s just saying that, if you love someone, you will accept their faults, which necessitates accepting them as they are, not as you want them to be.
Some claim that this verse means that, for example, a Christian is required to endure an abusive spouse—even though that outright contradicts other Scriptures. It is not uncommon for toxic persons to call themselves “Christian” and then point to this verse to pressure their victims into accepting their abuse.
Yet nothing in this verse nor its context indicates that acceptance of faults necessarily means staying in proximity to those faults nor doing exactly what the person being loved wants. This verse just means that others’ behavior does not change our responsibility to love them per the definition of love in this chapter—
Which, as has already been demonstrated, does not quite mean what we humans tend to say it does.
(In fact, if you consider other Scriptures, we are actually advised to avoid certain types of people, who tend to want all the forgiveness and none of the responsibility for their own actions—but that’s a topic to examine at another time.)
If we put together the parts of I Corinthians 13, the biblical love we Christians are to display towards everyone is to have the following traits:
- It is patient and persevering, long-suffering.
- It is considerate of the person being loved and is not a burden on them.
- It is not jealous, covetous, or eager to possess a person.
- It is not boasting or self-lauding.
- It is not proud or self-inflated.
- It is not lustful nor improper.
- It is not self-seeking.
- It is not sharp or irritable.
- It is not inclined to assume badly or the worst of others.
- It does not revel in others being hurt or experiencing injustice.
- It does revel in what is true, genuine, and sincere.
- It persists regardless of their actions.
- It believes reality regardless if that reality is positive or negative.
- It hopes for their salvation.
- It accepts the other person as themselves, not for whom you want them to be.
Friends, family, acquaintances, strangers, enemies—we Christians are to treat everyone with proper consideration and respect for their actual words, wishes, and actions, and we are to accept what those things indicate about the person themselves, be that conclusion positive or negative.
Note that any evaluation that heeds or gives weight to gossip is not loving—and that gossip, by definition, refers to someone stating something they did not witness as if it is objective fact. Someone giving witness to their own experiences cannot be gossip—but that’s a topic that deserves an essay of its own.
That “consideration and respect” for a person’s actual words, wishes, and actions does not mean doing anything and everything that other person wants, either. God is to come first in all our lives, as Daniel displayed when he ignored King Darius’s edict that forbade prayer to God for 30 days (ref. Daniel 6). In such a situation, God’s command to “Pray without ceasing” (ref. I Thessalonians 5:17) would trump any acquiescence to a person’s desires for us to not pray, even if the request has a limited time period (as was the case in Daniel 6).
Where the acquiescence and consideration come into play is in matters where Christian liberty is involved, as in the example of the meat sacrificed to idols given in I Corinthians 8. These situations explicitly have no bearing on a person’s salvation (ref. I Corinthians 8:8).
These situations also require us to show others the love (the basic respect) inherent in being considerate of them and not a burden on them, as described in I Corinthians 13:4. I Corinthians 8:7–13 describes such a situation, and there are a few things that should be considered when extrapolating from the entire “meat sacrificed to idols” to how to handle current situations.
- The “weaker brother” described in I Corinthians 8 does not know that the specific action is irrelevant to salvation (ref. I Corinthians 8:7).
- For this context to apply, the item involved must be irrelevant to salvation (ref. I Corinthians 8:8).
- The “weaker brother”, lacking the knowledge that the item is irrelevant, would therefore see the actions of the “stronger brother” as hypocritical (ref. I Corinthians 8:9).
- The “weaker brother”, lacking the knowledge that the item is irrelevant, might feel pressured into following suit without understanding what they are doing, which makes the action a burden on them (ref. I Corinthians 8:10–12).
- Therefore in situations with fellow Christians who you know believe certain irrelevant-to-salvation actions are sinful, it is best to abide by their standards while in their environment, out of consideration (love) for them (ref. I Corinthians 8:13; see the Greek).
Note that this does not apply if the other person enters your space. For example, if someone believes drinking alcohol is sinful, it is their responsibility to avoid events where will be served—but it is others’ responsibility to not bring alcohol to events that have been designed without it, out of consideration for the teetotalers.
It’s a practical example of what is meant by I Corinthians 3:4, for how to respond to fellow believers who don’t believe the same way you do about items that do not pertain to salvation itself. It’s disagreement without disrespect or flaunting of that disagreement.
Does that mean we can’t discuss the situation with our fellow believers, to seek to guide them into understanding that something is not actually sinful in itself? Of course not! But we should also be cautious, because knowledge in and of itself can contribute to pride (ref. I Corinthians 8:2).
A more modern example of “meat sacrificed to idols” would be something like dancing. If you’re in an environment where dancing is perceived as sinful (such as in many fundamentalist Baptist circles), don’t do it. But otherwise, use your discretion to decide if you will or won’t do it, with consideration for those brethren in Christ who perceive dance as sinful.
Notice that Biblical love never involves lying about or ignoring others’ responsibilities to you, nor your responsibilities to others.
Because of that, sometimes the most loving thing you can do is follow the Scriptural instructions to walk away from certain relationships—but again, that’s a topic for another essay.
When you boil it down, biblical love uplifts others. It does not pressure them. It does not burden them. And it does not place requirements or conditions on them.
Biblical love also does not require a person to perform any particular action. It can actually require a person to outright refrain from particular actions—all dependent on the person being loved and on what their words and actions indicate about them as a person.
Only seeing the best in others isn’t love. Only seeing the worst in others isn’t love.
Refusing to make allowances for your own imperfections (or for the imperfections in the person that you claim to love) isn’t love, either.
But caring consideration of others as human beings regardless of what they believe or how they treat you is commanded in Scripture, by Jesus Himself.
We are to love the others in our churches. We are to love believers in other churches.
We are to love our enemies. We are to love those pagans down the street.
That love doesn’t mean we ignore our differences. That love doesn’t mean we disregard our concern for others’ eternal destinations.
But that love does mean that we respect others as people who have a right to their own opinions, however wrong—just as we have a right to our own opinions, and a right to show the light of Christ to the world.
What do you think?
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