Love Is Kind

χρηστεύεται ἡ ἀγάπη (I Corinthians 13:4)

“Love is kind.” (I Corinthians 13:4)

ἀγάπη is translated as “love.”

χρηστεύεται is translated as “kind.”

χρηστεύεται is an interesting word. In the Bible, its translation as “kind” is based on context. The word means “useful,” or “useable.” And, to be more specific, this isn’t “useful” in the sense of, “He’s useful – he can be manipulated.” It’s the word “useful” in the sense of “beneficial.” When you’re making a pot of soup, a spoon to stir it with would be useful and beneficial. So, Paul describes love as useful and beneficial. You may wonder, “How did the English translators get “love is kind” out of the word for “useful?”

Highlighted excerpt of I Corinthians 13:4

This is where we must consider context. Context can completely change meaning. For example, if a woman is running at ten miles per hour, we say, “She is running fast.” On the other hand, if a man is driving a car at ten miles per hour, we say, “He is driving slow.” Before we can say whether ten miles per hour is fast or slow, we must be clear about the context.

When Paul says that love is χρηστεύεται, “kind,” we must understand useful and beneficial in the context of love.

Paul is telling us that love isn’t some intangible concept, like “hot” or “cold.”

It isn’t just some philosophical concept, like “virtue” or “honesty.”

Love actually has an effect – it changes things. Love is useful; it’s beneficial.

Paul is explaining that, if you love your neighbor, you don’t just feel some warm, fuzzy emotion toward him or her. Love causes you to do things for that person (or group of people) that are genuinely useful in the beneficial sense.

The Apostle James, speaking about faith, explained the idea this way:  “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”

James’ example of faith in action is Paul’s definition of love being kind.

Your faith in God, and your love for the people God created, are closely tied together.

–Bob Young

Books by Bob Young