Question: "What does it mean that love always protects (1 Corinthians 13:7)?"
Answer: The “love chapter,” 1 Corinthians 13, mentions four specific attributes of love that are “always” put into action. The first of these is that love “always protects” (NIV) or “love bears all things” (ESV and NKJV).
The Greek word for “protects” is stegei, which literally means “to cover” and includes the idea of protecting and preserving. “Protects” shares something with the other three actions of love in verse 7 (trusts, hopes, and perseveres): in the original language, all four words end with the same sound, creating a poetic rhythm and a pleasing phonetic iteration.
Also of note, the four “always” statements in verse 7 use the Greek word panta, which corresponds to another four uses of the same word (translated “all”) in verses 2-3. First, Paul mentions four spiritual gifts used to their utmost:
If I can solve all mysteries . . .
If I have all knowledge . . .
If I have all faith . . .
If I give away all I possess . . .
. . . but, he says, if I employ these gifts without love, “I am nothing” (verse 2) and no one benefits.
Then, Paul provides the missing ingredient, love. Verse 7 is the counterpoint to verses 2-3, connected by the repetition of panta. Love . . .
. . . always protects
. . . always trusts
. . . always hopes
. . . always perseveres
God’s type of love protects. That is, it watches out for others. It withstands difficulty. And, if there is a shortcoming or fault in the loved one, love has the ability to cover it (see Proverbs 10:12). Love is not based on selfish desire or even mutual benefit; rather, it seeks the benefit of the other person. Love aims to give rather than receive.
In the Old Testament, God’s protection of Israel was a sign of His love. “Though we are slaves, our God has not deserted us in our bondage. . . . He has granted us new life to rebuild the house of our God and repair its ruins, and he has given us a wall of protection” (Ezra 9:9).
The Psalms also highlight the connection between God’s love and His protection. Psalm 68:5 declares God to be a “father to the fatherless, a defender of widows.” Psalm 91:14 also promises God’s protection of those who love and trust Him.
We find a wonderful example of love’s protective nature in the story of Christ’s birth. When Joseph learned of Mary’s pregnancy, he was faced with a choice: “expose her to public disgrace” or “divorce her quietly” (Matthew 1:19). Joseph, being a righteous man, was planning to keep the matter quiet. In other words, he was covering over what he saw as a fault in Mary, and he protected her from public shame. This is love.
One of the marks of love is that it always seeks to protect the loved one. This doesn’t mean that we excuse wrongdoing or seek to evade the natural consequences of sin; it means that we strengthen what is weak, shield what is vulnerable, and forgive what is provoking.