Grace Extending



To begin, let me clarify: I'm only 45 years old, so I'm not the “dinosaur” mentioned in the title. I will tell you more about that dinosaur a few paragraphs from now. 

Before we go to the Jurassic period, let me take you back to the Roman period, specifically to I Corinthians 13. My focus in this post is on verse 7, but let's look at verses 1-7, just so we can pull in more of the context of what Paul is communicating to these followers of Jesus two thousand years ago. He writes... 

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. [2] And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. [3] If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. [4] Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant [5] or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; [6] it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. [7] Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 

Now, clearly love is the main focus in this chapter. But verses 4-7 are not necessarily a definition of love. Rather, they are a description of love. So this description challenges anyone who simply says “I'm loving,” or “I love you”. It tests the talk in light of the walk. This is what love looks like. Love is kind of like sportsmanship. You may not have a great one-sentence definition of it, but you know the look of or lack of sportsmanship when at a football or basketball game, right? 

And the context here is all about the church community, about a Christian's faith family! Chapter 13 is sandwiched between two chapters about how the church can and should function together, in unity. Sadly this church in Corinth was struggling, big time, in this area. Paul is bringing them back to real, genuine love as the missing ingredient in their life together. 

So in talking to them about what real love looks like, Paul says, right there at the beginning of verse 7, “Love bears all things”. Now, recently, when asked to teach on this phrase, the schedule I was sent said, “Love protects” next to my assigned date. And that struck me because I had never heard that word “protects” in connection with I Corinthians 13. “Protects”? Turns out it's from the NIV Bible (New International Version). But when I looked at almost every other English translation, the verse said “Love bears all things”. Hmm. Why the difference? 

I knew I had to go back and look at the actual word Paul used when he wrote this letter, a word from the Greek language. And guess what that word was? It was the word stego. Now what do you think of when you hear the word stego? Well, maybe like me you thought of a dinosaur, one called a stegosaurus. One of the best known and easily recognizable dinosaurs! It had a double row of 17-22 kite-shaped plates running along its spine. That's why it was called a stegosaurus. You see, stego literally means “to cover over”, like a roof covers a house. In fact, it comes from the Greek word for “roof”. And what is the purpose of a roof? It protects us from the elements. The stegosaurus was covered over with these plates, that early on, scientists believed protected it in some way. 

But when Paul uses this word (in this and three other passages), he seems to be saying something else. When he uses stego, he doesn't identify with someone being protected by a roof. No, he identifies with the roof itself! Yep, that is what Paul is saying here: like the roof over our heads, real love helps us to bear up under the rain of rejection, the wind of whiny attitudes, the hail of harsh words, the lightning of lying tongues, and the thunder of thoughtless actions.

You see, real loves help us to bear up instead of bearing down on the other person. So yes, love protects; but it first protects the other person from my heart, from a heart that wants to strike back out of pain and anger (i.e. a heart that is getting defensive). Therefore, this word is connected to words like “resentful” in verse 5, and even “endures” at the end of this verse (i.e. verse 7). 

Think about it: when rejection, whiny attitudes, harsh words, lying tongues, and thoughtless actions are coming down on you from someone else, will real love, God's love enable you to bear up under, to bear with those things? Or will you lash out with your own stormy, sinful attitude? 

Anyone reading this feel like that's easy to do, that is, to bear with hurtful attitudes, actions, and words? We know it isn't. So where does that kind of bearing with, bearing up under love come from? From God. Does God demonstrate that same love? Yes! How? By bearing with our sin, not unleashing his full justice on sinners today, and even sending Jesus, whose love bore up under our betrayal, scorn, abuse, and even death. 

To give this kind of bearing with, bearing up under love, you must first receive this kind of love. As someone once stressed to me, to be a Christian is not simply to believe the gospel is true. It's to believe it is true for you. The Good News about Jesus, his cross and resurrection, grace toward rebels like us should humble us, and give us new eyes to see others as fellow rebels who also need grace. 

And when that happens, God's love to us can become God's love through us, even when the rain falls, the wind blows, the hail hails, the lightning strikes, and the thunder booms; even when others sin against us. 

So thank you, stegosaurus. But even more, thank you, O God, for the love, the real love, you direct to us, that then becomes the love you direct through us.






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