TEXT : 1 Corinthians 13:4-7
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.” 
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 !”
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.”
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 :
- Love is a command - an imperative – not an optional extra – Romans 13:8
- If you are a Christian, this love is in you. It is the Spirit’s work in you - Rom 5:5 ; Gal 5:22
- 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 .