Our first thought is to connect this with marital relationships; as we do with so much of 1 Corinthians 13. After all, 1 Corinthians 13 is all about "love" and what better place to show love than in a marriage!
However, 1 Corinthians 13 isn’t written to a couple that has fallen in love… it is written to a church that has fallen out of love.
Paul is writing to a church that has been bogged down in gossip, slander, sexual immorality, drunkenness; and so much more; to a church that has was not reflecting the holiness of God; and what he is essentially saying in chapter 13 is “hey church, this is what you are supposed to look like." And there in verse 7; Paul describes some key characteristics of the church; which truthfully does apply in all our relationships: “Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”
Therefore, in the context of the church, what does it mean to “protect” one another?
For starters, we can protect a reputation. It happens far too often: someone comes to you with a juicy tidbit of information. It often begins with the words, “Did you know…” or “Have you heard..." Or maybe “don't tell anyone I told you this but..." Almost inevitably, whatever it is that is being said; it is harmful to the person being spoken about. Love does not allow harm to someone’s reputation to go unchecked like a roaring fire. James 3:6 reminds us “The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one's life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.” Love does not spread the fire…. even if it's true.
A good example of a love that protects is the love that Joseph had towards Mary. You remember the story. Joseph didn’t understand Mary’s sudden pregnancy. How could he? He was prepared to divorce Mary “quietly” in order to save her from disgrace (as much as possible). That's what love does. That's what it means to protect. Love wants to see as little harm done to someone else as possible. That is certainly one way in which love protects.
Another way that love can protect is when someone is about to harm themselves; spiritually or otherwise. This is a little more difficult because everyone has the right to make his or her own decisions. And yet, when you love someone you will do what you reasonably can in order to prevent them from harming themselves. It’s called looking out for one another. Galatians 6:1, “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted." Love does not sweep sin under the rug pretending it’s not there. Love seeks to restore someone gently.
What Paul seems to be telling the church is that “love" will cause us to look out for someone else’s welfare; even at the cost of our own. That, after all, is the example that Jesus gave us.
Out in the world, the attitude of many is “I'm going to look out for myself". “Mind your own business.” However in the church, there is definitely a place for us to do as Philippians 2:4 says; “do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” (NASB). It seems to me that this is definitely one very important expression of love. Love always protects.
When someone does something wrong; we have two options. We can either broadcast it, to the detriment of the person and to our own testimony… or we can seek the welfare of that person and at the same time promote the gospel of Christ… not by hiding the wrongs... but by dealing with things in an appropriate and godly manner.
That’s what love will do. And one of the reasons why love will do this is because love sees what God can be doing in a person down the road.
Rather than jump and shout and claim my rights… rather than telling everyone how much someone has hurt me or wronged me… what Paul is saying is that love holds off on that sort of reaction.
Peter had the same idea in mind when he wrote in 1 Peter 4:8, "Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.”
It’s not that sin is swept under the rug – not at all. It’s that love does not allow sin to have the final word in a relationship. Love sees that there is more; that there is potential; and so it doesn’t do anything to hinder the continued work of God in that person’s life.
As God's people, we are called to love one another in this manner. Likewise, if relationships in the home are going to work the way God intended them to work, we are going to have to love one another in this manner – a love that bears all things and a love that endures all things – a love that hopes. A love that will not give up.
So today, Valentine’s Day, besides focusing on romantic love; perhaps there is someone in your life that needs the kind of love that Paul wrote to the Corinthians about. Someone who needs you to stand up for them; someone who needs to know they are not beyond hope; someone who knows you can trust them; someone who will realize that you will not give up on them. And who knows… that someone might very well be your spouse.
Let us truly love one another as Christ loved us.