Monday, October 17, 2011

Love believes, hopes , endures all things

TEXT : 1 Corinthians 13:4-7   
TITLE:  The Properties of Love  #7 :  Love  believes, hopes , endures  all things   
Date : 16  /10 /2011

Today I want to  deal  with  the last three  of the 15 verbs   which the apostle  Paul  uses , either  by way of a positive or a negative illustration to help us understand  what  biblical love is like  . 
I would also take some time, in conclusion,  to exhort you to pay  careful  attention to this subject . We have taken our time to meditate on  the properties of biblical love  , because  this is what lies at the heart of our Christian being . Whatever we cannot fail  to  be, is this  !  

Dr Francis  Schaeffer   who has greatly  influenced my own thinking in many matters  in the ‘1990’s    by  his writings  , writes on this  subject of Christian love  in a  book   entitled  “The Great Evangelical Disaster “ . In it is a chapter   entitled “ The Mark of the Christian” . I quote from it  : “ The church  is to be  a loving church in a dying culture. How, then , is  the dying culture going to consider us? Jesus says : ‘By this shall all men know that your are my disciples if you love one another .’ In the midst of the world , in the midst  of our present dying culture , Jesus is giving a right to the world. Upon His authority he gives the world the right to judge whether you and I  are born again Christians on the basis of our observable  love towards  all Christians.” [1]
Those  words have been with me  for many years now and  they have challenged me ever since I have read them.  

The other  truth  I want to reinforce once again,  as we  close  this study  on these  15 verbs is this  :
 Being must always  come before “ doing” .  Who we are must  precede  what we do.   Our “loving being  must govern   and must lead  us  to our “ loving  doing “ .  We cannot invert  this  truth . If we  place  doing before  being”,  we become mere philanthropists or activists. Paul warns us about this   in  13:1-3   .
Beware then  that you do your good works  from a heart of love for God !  Do not allow  a guilty social  conscience , stirred up   by a social gospel  preacher    make you think that this is  an acceptable   sacrifice  or service to God . Nothing substitutes obedience  to God . To love God is to obey God .  Learn to work from the platform of  true worship. Take your heart to God  before  you get  sucked into endless activism . Mary was a wiser woman  than Martha  in this regard  (Lk 10:42)  .
Do not  allow  a wrong theological or philosophical  way of thinking    induce you  to think that heaven is gained by being more busy  with things . Unfortunately that is our human default position .  Learn to  do your work from the platform of worship ! You will  ultimately do more  that is significant in God’s  eyes  .
The motive  for Christian  love  must begin with the implanted love of  God  in your heart through the agency of the Holy Spirit  ( Rom 5:5) , and it must be cultivated  in our hearts . It is He that will  implant the  discipline of biblical love in your heart , and it is He that will help  you do , what you may  find humanly impossible to do  - like  forgiving your enemy .   An English poet, Alexander Pope (1688-1744)recognizes this  when he writes :  to err is human ; to forgive,  divine !”[2]  

And now , with these things in mind, we will  continue,   once more, to   give consideration to the  last few aspects  of  love  . Four times  Paul says,     Love bears , believes , hopes , endures …. all things   !”     

(i)                 Love bears  or covers all things  ( dealt with last week)
(ii)               Love  believes all things (NIV "trusts" ; Gr -pisteuō)
(iii)             Love hopes all things (Gr. elpizō)
(iv)              Love endures all things (NIV “always perseveres”  Gr.hupomoneō)

We have to understand that this is not an unconditional , naïve , uncritical endorsement  of everything that people do or say  .   Verse 6  has already helped  us  to understand  this !

1.  Love believes all things :  The root meaning of this word ( pisteuō )  is,   "to be persuaded of", and hence “ to place confidence in ; to trust; to   believe “ .  Charles Hodge says  that  love is not suspicious, but readily  credits what people may say in their  own defence…” . “Love always gives the benefit of the  doubt  ( Leon Morris)  .
Now , this  aspect of love  doesn't imply that we must blindly and naively swallow all that is  presented to us at face value .  The Puritan writer  Matthew Henry says it well : "Indeed Love does by no means  destroy prudence (caution/discretion). Wisdom may dwell with love, and  love may be cautious."
The Scripture certainly does not  require us to believe everything uncritically  .  In fact there are numerous times when  Jesus  or the apostles warn us  not to believe everything !
(i)                 (Matthew 24:23-26 ESV) Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand. So, if they say to you, ‘Look, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it.
(ii)               (1 John 4:1 ESV) : Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.

It is clear from these two texts that we are exhorted to  manifest discernment with respect to the possibility of false  teachers and false teaching . So we have to be careful about that !
What does Paul then    mean here,   Love believes all things “ ? 
Remember the context  ?  This is written to a Christian church  - a church where   man centredness  ( and self centredness  which is only another expression of man centredness)  was  busy destroying the life of Christ in the body . Paul had to  redeem this situation and help them to see  how they needed to  respond in a godly , loving way to one another . In this context of the church  , the members  needed  to  stop being skeptical and distrusting  at everything that they were saying to one another  - for the sake of love !
This principle needs to find practical application in our  own lives . I   have observed it frequently that our first   tendency  is to "think evil" of people before we "think good"   of them.   How often have we not been ashamed  when our evil thoughts  about others have been proven wrong  ! Biblical love  believes the best about others . That is  where we need to start . If  you are having difficulty  with this , and constantly find yourself being cynical in terms of judging other people’s motives , than pay now that God would forgive you and help you  to have a clean heart on this matter .
Jesus , although He knew that the rich young man in  Mark 10:17ff came to Him with a  wrong motive,  loved Him (10:21) and told him the truth  about himself  in such a way that  he went away  with the ability  to be more  honest and truthful about himself- even though it hurt right now !  Love always leaves people in a better shape than it finds them , even if it means that  we are going to have to dismantle some  false   theology  or thinking  about God and ourselves in this process!   The loving Divine Surgeon  often cuts in order to heal .  [ A similar pattern of thought may be followed with  Peter & John and the beggar at the temple gate called ‘ Beautiful’  -Acts  3:1-10 ] .  

2. Love hopes all things  : In the same manner  Christian love  hopes the best  with regard to  our Christian brothers and sisters . This is not an unreasoning optimism,   of course .   Christian  hope is not grounded in uncertainty,  but in Him who holds the future and  the destiny of people  in His omnipotent hand . He has given as  wonderful  promises in which we may  find  a rich resource for hope .  As a Pastor  I am in situations where  Christian  and non Christian people are terribly unsettled  by an event  which induces  a feeling of hopelessness  in them.   Many times in the ICU when life hangs on a thread  , I  have to remind  them that it is  right to  trust God by having hope in the recovery of their loved one . As long as  there is life there is hope ( see David and his  deathly ill son in  2 Samuel 12:16,17) .
Sometimes , the desired things we pray for  in the church,   or the changes we hope for in  our church  and  those who we pray for  in terms of their conversion don’t materialize in the short term   . But  hope has got a long rope !  With God all things are possible – and while there is life there is hope . It is a characteristic of  a loving Christian that they are possessed  of a hope that is steadfast and sure .

3. Love  endures all things  :   (NIV “always perseveres”  Gr.hupomoneō) . The Greek word used here   is a military term and it  means to sustain  the assault of an enemy .  Love is tough ! Love is standing  in the midst of  a battle of hard wills and unbending egos , and  still maintains  its loving disposition .  That is the love of God  that has been poured into our hearts .
This hope  and  endurance is characterized in George Müller of Bristol . One day  he  began praying for five of his friends. After many months, one of them came to the Lord. Ten years later, two others were converted. It took 25 years before the fourth man was saved. Mueller persevered in prayer until his death for the fifth friend, and throughout those 52 years he never gave up hoping that he would accept Christ! His faith was rewarded, for soon after Mueller’s funeral the last one was saved.”

 Conclusion :

In verse 7  we are then  reminded  that biblical   love bears    patiently with the  hurts which we may receive from others . It  does nt needlessly expose the  sins of others . It      covers  them . That is what Jesus has done for us  .  Such love  goes on believing the best about people.  It refuses to be cynical  . Even when   love  is betrayed, then love turns to hope  because God is still God and He  may still overrule in the sin of others .  Biblical  Love is never overwhelmed by hopelessness – because at the end there is not death or fate – there is God ! And even when hope  becomes dim and  hope seems lost, love endures. It endures the deep hurt that seems so final with a triumphant confidence that the God , who gives His children peace is still on the throne.
Tragically,  in the Corinthian church this love  had been almost extinguished  , but thankfully  through  repentance with God’s help and God’s Word  ,  such  love may be rekindled .  
The life of the church  depends on this .

Three reminders in closing :
  1. Love  is a command  - an imperative – not an optional extra – Romans 13:8
  2. If you are a Christian,  this love is in you.  It is the Spirit’s work  in you  - Rom 5:5 ; Gal 5:22
  3.  Practise  this  love . Gifts must be stirred up ( 2 Tim 1:6) ; Christ  learned obedience .  Seek to  see  all these  fifteen characteristics in action in your life , and pray that this will be the norm  in our church . The world will look at us and they will know that God truly is in our midst .

And now  let me exhort you one more time in closing ….
Remember that God  truly  saves sinners in the fullest sense of that word!  Salvation  makes  a massive difference  in your life.  Under the  Word of God  you will  be  transformed  ,  particularly in this matter of biblical love .
Pastor Al Martin in a great essay on “The practical implications of Calvinism  makes this  profound statement  in connection with this fact  : “Now whenever we are confronted with great doctrinal statements in Holy Scripture, God does not leave us merely with the statement of doctrine. The end of God’s truth set before the minds of God’s people is that, understanding it, they might know its effect in their own personal experience . The end for which God gave his truth was not so much the instruction of our minds as  for the transformation of our lives. But a person cannot come directly to the life and experience, he must come mediately through the mind. And so God’s truth is addressed to the understanding and the Spirit of God operates in the understanding as the Spirit of wisdom and knowledge. He does not illuminate the mind simply that the file drawers of the mental study may be crammed full of information. The end for which God instructs the mind is that he might transform the life.”

I trust that this  detailed meditation over 7 weeks   has helped you to gain perspective  on this most  important  Christian grace  , and remember   that all   the teaching  from the Word of God  in these  previous weeks  fails, if we do not take cognizance of the fact, that it must   be turned into action .  I plead with you  by the mercy of God not to let these  words  from sacred Scripture  fall on deaf ears , but to  let God’s Word walk out of our lives !
Pray constantly that this attitude which was also in Christ , might be yours and mine  . We might yet see a  modern miracle  emerging here in our midst , as the love of Christ  triumphs over  this present darkness  that has taken  the hearts of so many people in our city and country captive .

[1] Francis Schaeffer : The Great Evangelical Disaster , p 161
[2] Alexander Pope (1688-1744)   English poet : from  the poem  “ An Essay on Criticism”  first published in 1709

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