The true qualities of Love and Loving

I have been dealing with love according to Paul, in 1 Cor 13 and the day before I have presented its three great frontiers or limits: before mysticism, prophecy and the action of giving my life (if all I have but I lack love I do not have !) Within a purely argumentative scheme, it would have been logical for Paul to now turn to the three previous questions, but in a positive way, presenting the conditions and effects of love in the context of mysticism, prophecy and the surrender of life, to apply later his contribution to the ecclesial dispute between supporters of languages ​​and prophecy. But he has not done it, but has come to place himself on another plane, elevating a kind of total song to love and presenting his seven main notes. This way of responding, changing the level, responds (as in Rom 11, 33-36) to the impossibility of remaining on the plane of the previous arguments. Only by climbing out of plane can the previous problems be solved. That is why he exposes, in an emotional way, the seven qualities of love. This is love, this is the center of the Christian life.


More strange is the fact that Paul does not elaborate the positive traits of love from God (as in Rom 11, 33-36), nor from Christ (as on other occasions: Rom 5), but through this praise of general type, which seems detached from the context. Enrichment was a literary genre that moralists used in their discourses on virtues and political propagandists used in their official praises the Roman Empire or the emperors or kings in particular. Well, Paul has used here this literary genre and these terms, which are partly conventional, to sing the praise of something that could not be said otherwise, that is, of agape or love.

For the Greeks and Romans love had other names and traits. It was philia (union between friends), erôs (love of attraction) or adelphotes (brotherhood …). Well, Christians, starting from the experience of Jesus, have highlighted and used a less common word of ancient Greek (agapê), which had been used on some occasions by the Hellenistic translators of the Bible (the LXX). Thus we can say that agape (in Spanish we usually use agape) is a new word, typical of Christian language, which can be used to talk about love to the enemies themselves (special use of the synoptics) and community unity (which is concretized on all in the agape of the shared dinner, Eucharist). Both cases have something in common: the experience of gratuity, the concretion and the sense of strong closeness, as opposed to eros (more sexed) and philia (more of a group).

These are the qualities of love:

1. Love has great courage, love is kind; 

2. He does not envy, he does not boast, he does not get bored, 

3. he does not behave indecorously, he does not seek his own advantage, 

4. he does not get irritated, he does not think of evil; 

5. he does not rejoice in injustice, but rejoices in the truth; 

6. everything covers, everything believes, everything expects, 

7 always remains (13, 4-7).

This is a song to the agapê, to the love that opens to the enemies, being, at the same time, very close, proper of the group of believers. This is love totally free (as shown in the surrender of Jesus), but at the same time, creator of church, being, therefore, able to unify the various members of a group. It is necessary that we keep this in mind to understand what follows. Paul is not speaking here of pure sentimental emotion, nor of a principle of erotic-philosophical unity (as Plato does in his Banquet); nor does it speak of the linking of a group of people who are part of the same people (as the Law of Judaism does). It speaks of love that is close and free, being, at the same time, the principle of the social unity of the church, which is open to all humans. This is, therefore, a ministerial love, being, at the same time, love of freedom, from Jesus. These are its features, which we present following the scheme of the same translation:

1. Love has great courage, love is kind

I wanted to keep the sense more precise in the first word, which is said in Greek makro-thymía, which means thymos or great spirit. According to that, love is courageous, long-suffering. Many translations put patient, in the sense of being able to endure and maintain. Both senses, the most active (courageous, long-winded) and the most receptive (patient), are appropriate and express the endurance capacity and the creative power of love, which are maintained where all other qualities fail or end. In that sense we say that he is kind (khresteuetai), with the nuance of usefulness: that which always serves and always is worth. This is how Paul highlighted the original character of love, reality and value first in the way of life, as God has created it. Neither the mystical experiences, nor the prophecy, nor the martyrdom can be put in the beginning. The point of departure and foundation where the path of men is based is love, which gives meaning and validity to everything.

2. He does not envy, he does not boast, he is not greedy

From the positive notes (it is courageous, kind) we turn to the negative, which will accompany us throughout the entire commendation (Nos. 2, 3, 4), because of love we say better what it is not that it is. It gives the impression that they dominate the negative aspects, so that love consists in overcoming them. The first evil that love must overcome is envy (dsêlos), which consists in confronting others to destroy them (because I feel they prevent me from being myself) or to use them, putting them under my control. In the face of envy is the joyful discovery of the other as distinct, and the joy of being, of living, of triumph. In this sense, love enables us to get out of ourselves, transforming envy ‘mimetic’ (which makes us live at the expense of others, depending on them or fighting against them) in free communion. Therefore, love does not boast or engulf, that is, it does not enclose itself, to impose itself before others, in a gesture of perpetual fear (I have to always raise myself up to feel safe), but rather to enjoy oneself in the others also discover their own value and do not have to fight to get it or impose on others.

3. He does not behave indecorously, he does not seek his own advantage

Behaving indecorously is said in Greek a-skhêmonein, breaking the ‘scheme’ or the appropriate form of existence, in other words, breaking the balance of life, breaking a harmony that allows us to live together. In a positive sense, that means that love links, draws bridges, in a way that offers each one a place in life, a dignified and dignified space, in humanity, different for each one, appropriate for all. In any case, the skhêma (= scheme or decorum) of love, may be different in the different circumstances, so that what at a time or place seems decent (that women go very veiled in the street or do not take jobs public) is unseemly in others. There is, however, a fundamental decorum, which is expressed in the second part of the text: ‘does not seek its own advantage’. This is the firm melody, this is the basis of love: that each one does not seek the good of others, not his own, that he thinks, without ceasing, in what is convenient for the other, not according to my scheme, but according to his. For that it is necessary that love should dialogue, that we should dialogue in equality, listening to one another, in order to know what they ask or want from us. To love is not to seek one’s own reason, but to let the other tell me his, keeping me in his hands.

4. Do not get irritated, do not think evil

In the previous case it was assumed that there is an order or decorum, which is expressed where the profit of others is sought. Now it is assumed that the life of men is threatened by a great irritation, a paroxysm or paroxysm of unleashed violence. The apocalyptists were experts in discovering the channels and meanders of an anger, irritation and rage that seemed to threaten the existence of men over the world. Well, Paul discovers that there is only one remedy against irritation: love that is expressed and maintained in the form of concord, according to the experience of the fruits of the Spirit (love, joy, peace: Gal 5, 22). Only in this context can it be added: he does not think about evil, he does not take into account the evil that is done to him. This formulation leads us to the center of the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus asks us not to respond to evil with evil, but to forgive enemies (Lk 7, 27-36). This is what Paul himself said in Rom 12, 17, when he proclaimed the forgiveness that is born of love and that overcomes violence with inner peace (does not get angry) and that renounces a response of violence. The man who loves somehow recovers the first innocence of paradise: he does not even think of evil, because it is as if he were not; think only of the good and enjoy it, making others enjoy.

5. He does not rejoice in injustice, but rejoices in the truth

In the face of envy, lack of decorum and previous irritation, injustice now rises, as the basic risk of a world threatened by lies and the struggle of all against all. Injustice (a-dikia) is that which goes against the dikaiosyne, both in the broader Greek sense (social order), and in the deeper biblical one, which Paul has highlighted: the free and saving action of God. It is evident that injustice exists and extends, as Rom 1, 18 knows when it speaks of the sin of men who, because of their injustice, have prevented the truth (alêtheia) of God from manifesting itself. Here we have the same words. Rejoicing in injustice means taking on the evil of men and taking advantage of it, for their own benefit. Faced with that joy of evil, which extends and ratifies violence on the world, joy, for the truth, understood as the highest joy of love, rises here in a positive way. The opposite of injustice is not just justice, but the truth or fidelity of God, who expresses himself as divine in love, thus founding the highest joy that consists in living in transparency. We return to the basic theme that Jn 15, 15 had proclaimed in terms of love-philia (friendship): “I do not call you servants, but friends, because I have told you everything that God has given me.” This is the truth, this is the joy of love: clarity, which allows us to communicate with God and among ourselves.

6. Everything covers, everything believes, everything awaits

It has been common to say ‘everything supports’ and the translation is good, but I wanted to maintain the nuance of ‘cover’, linked to the original meaning of the word stegê (cover, roof), from which the verb that is used here (stegei) Just as a roof covers the house and allows its inhabitants to live in the shelter of wind and rain, so love protects and covers lovers forever. Love is that covering of God that keeps our life protected, free from the irritation and the storm of the times, in faith and in hope. That is why it is added that the same love believes everything, everything expects it. Faith and hope are, according to that, expansions of love, because only love is capable of always trusting (of placing oneself in the hands of God, being in the hands of others) and of remaining in expectation, knowing that life is the path of love. God. The text has repeated three times an essential word (panta), which we have translated for everything, but which, in the strict sense, also always means. Thus we could have said that love always covers, always believes, always hopes, linking the most temporal (always) and the most spatial (all) of love interpreted as total reality, but creative and liberating. There is a dictatorial whole, as the Jewish philosophers are emphasizing in a special way: a whole that oppresses and submits equally to all. Here, on the other hand, we have a whole of love that covers and protects, allowing us to live in gratuitousness.

7. Always stay

In this last case, which is the conclusion and culmination of previous development, we must translate the panta (which used to be ‘all’) forever, saying that love always remains, as a first and final reality, that identifies with God and that is expresses in the form of a lasting path, of fullness, for men. By saying that it remains (hypomenei) we are not simply indicating that it endures in a passive way, but that it remains firm, actively, always and in everything (thus giving the double meaning to the word panta). Perhaps we could add that the same love is that creative patience, giving to that word the meaning that has the name of the same root (hypomonê) in the book of the Apocalypse: in the middle of the great struggle of history the patience of God remains and triumphs , which is revealed in the believers, that is, in those who maintain the love of the sacrificed Lamb. All the realities of the world change, they all end and die. Only active patience remains, as the presence and permanence of a love, that covers everything, believes and expects it, overcoming the wear and tear of time and revealing in the midst of this life of trials the face and joy of God.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s