Let’s open the Word of God to chapter 13 of 1 Corinthians. We’re talking about the perfections of love - the perfections of love. This particular chapter is about how Christians love each other. It’s not so much about loving God, it’s not so much about husbands loving your wives or wives loving your husbands, although all these characteristics of love apply to every single relationship.
This is more about loving in the church, loving in the life of the church. The whole 1 Corinthian letter is about conduct in the church, about how you act in the church, about how you conduct your behavior among fellow believers. This chapter is notable, concise, profound, rich, complete, and very familiar to us. But I want to read it again because I always want you to know this chapter and have it accessible in your memory.
“If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and know all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.
“Love is patient, love is kind, and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own; is not provoked; does not take into account a wrong suffered; does not rejoice in unrighteousness but rejoices with the truth - bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. But if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues,” - or languages - “they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away.
“For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child. When I became a man, I did away with childish thing. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, just as I also have been fully known. But now faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”
Love is the greatest reality, then, in the life of the church. It is (and should be) the dominating attitude in the church’s life. That’s why chapter 14, verse 1, begins - really perhaps should be the last word of chapter 13 - “Pursue love.” Pursue love, go after love with all your powers, all your faculties. This is absolutely essential. If you are a believer, you have been given from God this capacity. First Thessalonians 4:9, “Now, as to the love of the brethren, you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another.
“For indeed you do practice it toward all the brethren who are in all Macedonia. But we urge you, brethren, to excel still more.” You’ve been taught to love, you do practice it, do more of it. That’s my message to you. The love of Christ has been shred abroad in your hearts, you do love because you’ve been equipped by the Spirit of God to love. You are practicing that love; excel even more.
Paul lifts up the beauty and the necessity of love in this chapter. He talks about the prominence of love, which we looked at in verses 1 through 3, and then the perfections of love, and then the permanence of love, and finally a word about the preeminence of love in verse 13. Now, we’re looking at verses 4 to 7, the perfections of love. And while all the “is” verbs here might lend you to think that patient, kind, not jealous, et cetera, are nouns, they are in fact verbs because love is always expressed in action.
So you have basically fifteen characteristics of love in action. You can’t define love statically; you can only define it by what it does. The Bible never defines love as a feeling, it is an action that obviously reveals an underlying feeling. Love is absolutely necessary. Here its beauty and its excellence is unfolded. We saw its necessity in the opening three verses, now we see its character, its attributes.
Now remember, these attributes of love are painted against the backdrop of a very unloving congregation, the Corinthian church. There were all kinds of, I guess you could say, spiritual character deformities. They were born into the kingdom of God. They were born as the children of God, but they had some genetic defects that remained. They had some birth defects, you might say, carried over from their former life. And if anything marked this church, it was strife and chaos and conflict and harming one another.
And the apostle Paul says it’s time to replace all that with love, and so he begins to define for them how love behaves. And this is what we’ve already looked at. Love is patient, verse 4. Patient with people is the Greek verb, emphasizing the fact that we’re talking here about relationships in the church. To say that you’re patient means that you’re slow to become angry, you’re slow to become frustrated when dealing with troublesome people, difficult people. You are long-tempered would be another old word or old phrase to describe this. Patient with people, which embraces forgiveness, tolerance, understanding.
Secondly, love is kind to people. And the word actually means, as we pointed out last time, useful. You find ways to be useful. Kindness is not something superficial; kindness is finding ways to render useful service to someone else. Maybe it’s comfort. Maybe it’s encouragement. Maybe it’s knowledge. Maybe it’s wisdom. Maybe it’s companionship. Even with those who have wronged you or those who are distant from you or critical of you, love is useful - it finds ways to minister to people, no matter who they are, even if they tax one’s patience.
Thirdly, love does not envy. It is not jealous of other people. This is the first of eight negatives. It doesn’t compete. It doesn’t resent. It doesn’t become bitter. It doesn’t hate other people, their success, their place in life, their looks, their possessions, their position. It rejoices in everything that others have, even if the one loving has very little. It is not jealous because if you love someone, you don’t wish that you had what they have and they didn’t have it.
You don’t have those kind of thoughts toward people you love. People you love, you wish they had everything, every possible good thing, blessed thing. And the more they have, the happier you are because that’s how love behaves.
Number four. Love does not brag. And the word here is the word for a windbag. It’s not a blowhard. Outward bragging is designed to make others feel inferior. The reason you parade your accomplishments, your achievements, tell the stories that you tell so very often when you brag is because you want other people to feel inferior to you. You seek public accolades. You want to be the one who is one step above others. Jealousy wants what others have. Arrogant boasting and bragging is calculated to cause others to want what you have. Say that again. Jealousy wants what others have; bragging wants to make others want what you have - neither of those is an attitude of love.
And then number five. We talked about love is not arrogant. Arrogant is the driving motivation behind the bragging. It’s a high opinion of oneself, conceit, and this is so foundational that I will put it in a positive sentence. Only humble people love. Only humble people love - arrogant people do not love, they are not interested in other people’s issues, they are not interested in other people’s lives. They do not desire to be patient with them. They don’t care about being useful to them. They’re more than happy to brag endlessly in front of them because they are consumed with themselves. Only humble people love.
Now, that brings us to number six. Love does not act unbecomingly, verse 5, does not act unbecomingly. That’s a - old word. This is a verb, aschēmoneō, and it means to behave dishonorably. Love does not behave dishonorably, inappropriately, ill-mannered. This is a big word, broad word, ill-mannered, rude. Rude. But more than that, the same word is used in Romans chapter 1 and verse 27 to speak of something beyond rude. It is, in that verse, speaking of homosexuality, men with men committing indecent acts, receiving the due penalty of their error. This is rudeness gone to its ultimate limit.
Rudeness is disdain for someone else. Being ill-mannered is disdain for someone else. And sexual sin and sexually perverted sin is the ultimate disdain for the person that you use for that gratification. Love doesn’t do that. It doesn’t do that. The actual root of the verb means to be shapeless or have no form. It is a kind of outrageous behavior, out-of-line behavior, out-of-order behavior, and it was going on in the Corinthian church. The women were out of order, as chapter 11 points out. The congregation was out of order at the Lord’s Table and at the love feast, acting selfishly and even engaging in drunkenness.
Others in the congregation were out of order morally. There was a story given in chapter 5 that is one of the ugliest accounts in the life of the church, where someone has his father’s wife. That’s involved in a sexual relationship with a mother or a stepmother. It goes on in chapter 5 to talk about that and into chapter 6 to talk about it and into chapter 7 to talk about immoral behavior. And some of them were joining themselves to harlots and prostitutes.
There was also unbecoming behavior even in the worship services. In verse 23 of chapter 14, if the whole church assembles together and all speak in languages and ungifted men or unbelievers enter, they’re going to say you’re crazy, you’re mad. When they came together in the church, it was one up. Everybody was rudely trying to top the other person with his ecstatic gift. This carried on in that chapter into verse 26, when you assemble, everybody has a psalm, everybody has a teaching, everybody has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.
Stop the madness. Everybody was trying to outdo everybody else. It was a cacophony of ridiculous behavior, and he brings it into order. If you’re going to speak in a language, only two, at the most three, each in turn, one must interpret. If there’s no interpreter, then stay silent. Only two or three prophets. The others can pass judgment on that. Why? Verse 33, God is not the author of what? Confusion. He is the author of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.
Women, keep silent in the churches. They’re not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, as the law also says. If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home, for it’s improper for a woman to speak in church.
Verse 37, “If anyone thinks he’s a prophet or spiritual, let him recognize the things that I write to you are the Lord’s commands. And if anyone doesn’t recognize this, he’s not recognized. Therefore, my brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy. Do not forbid to speak in languages, but all things must be done” - what? - “properly, decently, and in an orderly manner.”
This is the opposite of love. Everybody vying for the prominence. Goes back to 12 where, you know, there were - in the body metaphor, there were people who were saying, “If I’m not the nose and the eyes and the face, I’m not going to function.” That was the attitude, metaphorically speaking. Lovelessness is disdainful of others. It is contemptuous of others. It is rude to others. It is ill-mannered to others. It speaks diffidently or unkindly to others.
It goes beyond that. It is more than rude, it will use others for its own gratification, even to the perverted level of sexual sin, such as we saw in Romans, and it will go into a worship service and turn that worship service into a circus of chaos and confusion as dominating egos collide with one another, everybody pushing themselves into the central place. It is the opposite of what is orderly, what is well-mannered, what is tender.
They needed behavior that was euschēmon, that’s the opposite verb, the contrasting verb, and that verb means well-formed. And that is the one used in verse 40, decently and in order, well-formed - the opposite verb. Love behaves graciously, not gracelessly. It treats all with a redeeming deference. There’s no thought of self but only of others. And the only thought is what is fitting, what is suitable, what is honorable, what is elevating; never demands satisfaction for self, is never rude or corrupt at the expense of others.
You could sum it up by saying, “Love yields all personal rights,” and I’m back to what I said before: only humble people love. So what do we know from this point? Love can save us from the bitter sneer of envy, on the one hand, and the ridiculous swagger of arrogance on the other. It can also save us from the inner tendency to be inflated with our own importance, leading to rudeness and even corruption. It can save us from the tendency to behave without grace and be contemptuous of the feelings and the place of others. Love is patient and kind and not jealous and not bragging and not arrogant and never rude.
Number seven. Love - back to verse 5 again - love does not seek its own. It is not self-seeking, okay? True love is always unselfish. That’s essential what it is, what love is. Selfishness lies at the root of lovelessness. One commentator said, “Cure selfishness and you plant a garden of Eden.” This is love. Love is utter selflessness. That’s such a beautiful, beautiful virtue, to be completely indifferent to yourself.
Over in chapter 14 and verse 12, there’s some instruction that it’s okay to be zealous of spiritual things or spiritual gifts, but seek to abound for the edification of the church. Love, even when it acts, acts on behalf of others. It is edifying. The word means to build up others. Love doesn’t seek to build up itself - that’s not love. Self-elevation is the opposite of love. Love is unselfish, never demands precedence, never demands recognition, never demands applause, doesn’t demand consideration, doesn’t care whether it’s honored, whether it’s elevated.
Love is deep, never dwells on what life owes it. It is selfless. This is such a beautiful thing. And as I said, only humble people love, so this is at the heart of it. Galatians 6:2 says, “Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.” What’s the law of Christ? The law of love. How do you love? By bearing others’ burdens. Jesus, all the way from Bethlehem to Calvary, by the way, never insisted on His own way, never insisted on His own rights. He lost Himself in the lives of others, as we read this morning in Mark 10:45, “The Son of man has come to seek and to save that which was lost, but He’s come not to be served, but to serve.”
And He will serve all the way to death. All the way through His life, He said, “I do what the Father tells me to do. I don’t do my own will, I do what the Father wills for me to do.” And there in the garden He says, “Not my will, but thine be done.” Love always and only thinks of others. It is consumed with others and utterly indifferent to its own self.
Number eight. Love is not provoked. Love is not provoked. This comes from a Greek word from which we get our English word “paroxysm.” Have you heard the word “paroxysm”? If I gave you an opportunity to take a quiz and write it down, you might struggle a little bit. It really means a sudden outburst - a sudden outburst, an explosion. It is used a few times in the New Testament, and the places where it’s used and the way it is used give us insight into its meaning.
Let me see if I can find one of those. In the seventeenth chapter of the book of Acts, the apostle Paul arrives at Athens, and he intended to rest there from the difficulties of his prior meetings. But in verse 16 of Acts 17, while he was waiting for his friends, Silas and Timothy, to join him, his spirit was being provoked within him as he was observing the city full of idols - exact same word. Paroxysm comes from a sudden outburst, it means to be upset, it means to be irritated.
Now, in that case in Acts 17, it was a good paroxysm, it was a good kind of upset, it was a good kind of irritation because he was irritated about the idols. He was agitated about the condition of the city and the false religion. And here, it is a righteous kind of provocation, the kind of provocation that caused Jesus to make a whip and clean the temple twice, at the beginning and end of His ministry. So there are times and places for paroxysms of righteous indignation. We all understand that. We all know that. There is a time for holy anger, for righteous wrath. That is true of even God.
But apart from that, apart from having your soul stirred by ungodliness and what brings shame upon the name of Christ and what attempts to diminish the glory of God and undermine the truth of Scripture, those things that produce righteous anger, love is not made so angry over personal offenses. Paul never retaliated to all the injuries that came to him. He was angry over what was being done religiously against God. He was angry over the blaspheming of God. But you will never find a parallel where he’s angry over the way he was treated.
He shows some anger toward the high priest - doesn’t he? - at the end of the book of Acts. The one who has usurped the place of authority that doesn’t belong to him. There is a place for, I guess you could call it, righteous exasperation - and if I may be honest with you, I live with a measure of it all the time - all the time. There are things going on in the world that vex my righteous passions.
I understand Henry Martyn going to India and attending one of the occasions of worship in a Hindu temple and running out of the place, this great missionary, and being so distraught that he wrote in his journal, “I cannot endure existence if Jesus is always to be so dishonored.” I understand that. I understand the horror of false prophets misrepresenting the name of Christ - and they’re everywhere, all over the place. I understand that. And I always want to be zealous for the name of God.
But when it comes to personal things, love bears all injuries suffered at the hands of others without exasperation and without irritation. Be angry over the mistreatment of the glorious name of Christ. Be angry over those who misrepresent Him. Be angry over those who espouse lies in the name of Scripture. Specious, deadly, damning heresies, be angry over those things. Maintain your righteous indignation. Be angry over the influence those people have on poor, benighted, blinded souls.
But when somebody in the church offends you or when your spouse offends you in some way, don’t be angry. Don’t be provoked. Don’t burst out in a paroxysm, an outburst against another person, no matter what they’ve done. To be sensitive to the offenses against God is a spiritual virtue. To be hyper-sensitive to the offenses that other people bring to bear on your life is an expression of sinfulness. And if it leads to some kind of uncontrollable conduct where you lose your temper, where you get bitter and angry or where you burst out, you should see it for what it is - sin.
You say, “Well, wait a minute. They did it - they did something to me that was wrong.” That’s exactly the point. What they do to Christ will cause righteous indignation. What they do to you will only cause unrighteous indignation if you do not love the person and overpower the wrong. That’s why the Bible says, “Be angry and sin not.” There’s a kind of anger that isn’t sinning and it’s the kind of anger that we’ve described as righteous indignation.
There are some Christians who are just - they’re just easily angered, irritated, exasperated, sometimes defiant. I think righteous anger - we wouldn’t be where we are without it. What would Martin Luther have been without righteous anger? Or any other Reformer? Or any other great leader when they had to stand before tribunals for their faith in Jesus Christ and they had to bring down the whole ungodly, blasphemous system, crashing, and they wouldn’t budge. It was out of a holy anger that they did that.
But to be provoked and to be irritated and angered by little things that people do kills love and poisons life. And love is the only cure for irritability. Irritability is simply a manifestation of self-centeredness. There is a tradition that Jonathan Edwards, the famous Jonathan Edwards who became the third president of Princeton at the end of his life, one of history’s greatest preachers, as we all know. He had a daughter with an uncontrollable temper. A young man fell in love with her and came to Jonathan Edwards and said, “I want to marry your daughter.”
“Can’t have her,” he said and it was an abrupt answer. “You cannot have her.” “But I love her,” the young man pleaded. “You still can’t have her,” Edwards repeated. “But she loves me,” replied the young man. And again Edwards rejected his request. And the young man said, “Why?” And Edwards said, “Because she’s not worthy of you.” “But,” he said, “she’s a Christian, isn’t she?” To which Edwards replied, “Yes, she is a Christian, but the grace of God can live with some people with whom no one else should ever live.” Jonathan Edwards had a lot of integrity and produced one old maid.
Number nine - number nine. We have been looking at these, and they’re so basic and so straightforward. This one is very important. Does not take into account a wrong suffered - does not take into account a wrong suffered. And we’re in the same zone here, aren’t we? These are overlapping realities. This is the concept. The first concept we just talked about was not blowing up. And this follows up not holding a long-term grudge. This is so very important. This is the attitude of not holding a wrongdoer permanently accountable for some injury done.
In fact, some of the more freewheeling translations would say love doesn’t keep records of wrongs done. Love doesn’t maintain an accounting of every time it is wrong. Chrysostom, John Chrysostom said, “As a spark falls into the sea and doesn’t harm the sea, so harm may be done to a loving soul and is soon quenched without ever disturbing that soul.” This is pardon rather than holding a grudge. You don’t blow up when you’re injured. Love doesn’t do that. Love forgives. And you don’t hold a long-term grudge. This is a word that has to do with accounting. It’s an accountant’s word.
Love doesn’t keep records. Oh my, lots of people do, becomes what the writer of Hebrews calls a root of bitterness. And by the way, this word here, this accounting word here is the very verb used to describe the pardoning work of God. He does not impute our sins to us. What happens when you’re saved is indicated in Psalm 32:2 and repeated in Romans 4:8 and 2 Corinthians 5:19, “Blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute” - what? - “iniquity.” It’s the same word used in the New Testament, doesn’t keep a record of your sin.
He’s a pardoning God, and that’s why it tells us in the Old Testament, “Who is a pardoning God like you?” Who is a pardoning God like you - Micah 7 - who doesn’t hold onto the record? What do we learn about when you come to salvation? Your sins are removed as far as the east is from the west, right? Buried in the depths of the sea and remembered no more. This is the model of love, this is love. It doesn’t hold others accountable for evil. It doesn’t impute their sin to them and thus, it doesn’t produce long-term resentment. It’s actually the word for recording an item in a ledger so it will always be in the record.
Love doesn’t keep books. It doesn’t keep records. It doesn’t recite all the wrongs done. It doesn’t keep a mental record of all the offenses until the proverbial molehill becomes a mountain. And that molehill of resentment becomes a mountain of hostility. I was reading some years ago about a tribe of people living in the South Pacific who made a virtue out of resentment, and it was customary for every man to keep reminders of hateful deeds done against him. Articles were suspended from the roofs of their huts to keep alive the memory of those who had wronged them.
Love never does that. Never makes memories out of wrong. It never rehearses and rehearses and rehearses and rehearses until they’re so embedded that you can’t live your life freely. Love is unable to do this.
Then Paul gives us the last of the eight negative aspects. There’s a few of them here to make up the eight. Let’s consider number ten in the list of fifteen. This is so basic. We’re now into verse 6. Love does not rejoice in unrighteousness or in iniquity. It’s really all too characteristic of human nature - can you believe this? - to take pleasure in other people’s sins. Wow. You know, we live in a culture that is fed with salacious material about other people’s wretchedness, isn’t it? And in a bizarre kind of way, we like that stuff because it makes us feel good about ourselves because we’re not extreme perverts and mass murderers.
And it even gets closer to home. We love to gossip about other people who, in our minds, are worse than we are. And so we find some kind of bizarre satisfaction in the iniquities of other people because it makes us feel better about ourselves. We can always find people whose sins are different than ours. That’s part of being human and it comes into the life of the church. And how sad it is. What’s behind gossip? We ought to hate gossip.
I’ve been asked through the years if speaking in tongues was a big issue to me. Well, it is an issue in the Bible, and we don’t do that here, and we don’t feel that it’s for today. But it’s a small issue, it’s a minor issue compared to gossip. If you have your choice, speak in tongues all you want day and night because nobody is going to know what in the world you’re doing. But as soon as you make sense with the words, then we all get it. Much worse.
And the salacious sin in gossip is self-promotion by relishing the falling of others, the iniquity of others. That’s not loving. Nothing loving about it. Love doesn’t do that. And controlling the tongue in that way is what is in James’ mind when he writes, “We all stumble in many ways.” James 3:2. “If anyone doesn’t stumble in what he says, he’s a perfect man and able to bridle the whole body as well.” Everybody’s going to stumble with the tongue. But if we put the bits into the horses’ mouths so that they will obey us, we direct their entire body as well.
Look at the ships also. They’re so great and driven by strong winds and they’re still directed by a very small rudder wherever the inclination of the pilot desires, so also the tongue is a small part of the body and yet it boasts of great things. See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire? And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity. The tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body. It sets on fire the course of our life and is set on fire by hell.
For every species of bird and beast and reptile and creatures of the sea is tamed and has been tamed by the human race, but no one can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. With it, we bless our Lord and Father, and with it, we curse men who have been made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way. Does a fountain send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter water? And a fig tree, my brethren, produce olives or a vine produce figs? Nor can saltwater produce fresh. Get control of your tongue.
How do you do that? Love does that - love does that. Love controls your tongue. Love prevents you from, in a salacious way, gloating over the iniquities of other people because you don’t like them anyway, because they did something to you, or because it makes you feel more virtuous because you have sins that fit into a different category altogether. Love doesn’t do that - never rejoices in iniquity.
Certainly it couldn’t, and here’s why: How could any Christian ever rejoice in any case over something that offends God? Get a perspective. Love finds no satisfaction in passing on somebody else’s iniquities, rehearsing somebody else’s iniquities, parading somebody else’s iniquities to further offend God.
Number eleven. Love rejoices with the truth. How important is this? The Old Testament says God hates a liar, right? God hates a liar. Love tells the truth and it rejoices to tell the truth. Another way to see this - and there are lots of ways to see it, it’s a very broad statement - love is honest. Love is honest. It doesn’t lie to flatter. It doesn’t lie to falsely protect. It loves truth, it rejoices in truth. It will always speak the truth. It will celebrate the truthfulness, the honesty, the integrity of others. Does this refer to doctrinal truth? Sure. Biblical truth? Of course. Knowing it, living it, loving it.
But it’s more than that. We’re talking about behavior here, we’re not talking about theology. You can’t inject that in the middle of all of this. What this is telling us is loving people tell the truth because telling the truth builds strong relationships; telling lies destroys relationships. It cares for the truth. It loves the truth. It upholds the truth. It speaks the truth.
Sometimes the truth is painful, but we speak the truth in love, right? Ephesians 4. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the truth, but it’s always best to tell the truth. Sometimes the truth is encouraging and comforting and winsome and brings a benediction. Sometimes the truth is convicting and painful and brings a condemnation. But loving people always speak the truth.
Back to the old story, if the house is on fire and the children are sitting in the house and don’t know the house is burning, the most loving thing you can do is break down the front door and scream “Fire!” and create panic and get them out of there. Maybe it’s an offensive message, but it just happens to deliver reality. And that’s what love does, it is always truthful because when you tell the truth, you have genuine relationships.
When you lie either, flattering people to achieve an artificial relationship or confronting people over sinful issues in a judgmental, harsh, brutal kind of self-serving way, you destroy relationships. But when you speak the truth with love and when you’re known as a truthful person, you will also be known as a loving person.
Well, we then come to the last four, and like a consummating, ascending summary of the attitudes of everything we’ve seen, this beautiful verse 7. “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” Almost musical, isn’t it? Lyrical. This is the first of glorious positives. Love bears all things means to cover with silence - to cover with silence. Love suppresses. It doesn’t mean that love puts up with anything, we’ve already said that. It doesn’t mean that love won’t confront, love is truthful.
But what it does mean is that out of genuine, passionate, honest, legitimate concern for the value of another person, for the real worth of that other person, love will do everything it can to cover the weakness, cover the failing, to cover the sin. Love is reluctant to drag a person into scandal in front of everybody else. It bears all things, not in the sense of putting up with everything, but in the sense of being disposed to cover the ugliness rather than make sure everybody knows about it. How hard we work to teach our children not to tattle, to expose every evil, that are done by siblings.
We teach them to love because it’s a hard thing to teach because it’s not natural. It’s natural to make yourself feel better about yourself by exposing all that’s bad about the people around you. When a spouse can do nothing but broadcast the faults of his or her partner, that’s not love. Because love covers. In fact, 1 Peter 4:8, “Love covers a multitude of sins.” Great verse, isn’t it? Love covers a multitude of sins. Love throws a kindly mantle over the faults, a kindly covering over the weaknesses and failures.
The Corinthians, they were just waiting to expose somebody. Love dismisses the sins of those in view of its affections, doesn’t pounce on them, doesn’t proclaim them. Love warns, yes; it exhorts, yes; it rebukes, yes; and it covers. Beautiful characteristic, and it should be part of all of our lives, to live that way.
Well, number thirteen. Love believes all things - love believes all things. What are we saying here? Love is not suspicious; it just believes the best. It is not suspicious. It is not always eager to pounce and denounce some offender, always suspicious, always assuming the worst. It doesn’t go through life with cynical suspicion, it goes through life believing the best because love seeks the best so strongly.
You can tell whether somebody loves you. This is one of the ways. If, in spite of your failures, they believe what you say. Because they love you, they want so much to believe you. Literally, you will find that what you believe about a person eventually will shape that person, either into a positive, affirming, honest person or a defensive, dishonest person. Nothing is more loveless than suspicion, the eagerness to believe what is bad. Assuming things to be true that aren’t true, being judgmental, unloving. That’s arrogance.
Love is eager to believe the best. Poor old Job, huh? His friends all believed the worst, and he had a hard time convincing them they were all wrong. So love covers the worst and believes the best.
Number 14. Love hopes all things. As long as the grace of God is operative in the person, you never give up. You like that? Never give up. Love is fully optimistic, it just keeps on hoping, keeps on hoping. And what is that hope in? Not in the person but in the Lord. As long as the grace of God is operative, human failure is never final.
Look, I’ve lived my life long enough to have to put this into practice with people very close to me. And I will promise you that I’m very optimistic. And the failures may be great, but they’re never final, and the Holy Spirit is always in the process of sanctifying someone. That’s why Jesus told Peter to forgive seventy times seven, because we’re all in process. Love is fully optimistic, it keeps loving because it keeps hoping, even when trust is stunned.
No, I promise you, you batter trust to a pulp, and hope will fade to a small glimmer. I’ve talked to wives who want to hope because they love a man who has literally taken the flame of trust down to a tiny flicker. They don’t know if they can, and it’s a long way to restore that trust. But there seems to be (where Christ is involved) always a flicker of hope. Doesn’t mean you run back into the relationship until the trust has been rebuilt, but love hopes.
I confess, I’m somewhat hopelessly optimistic, always wanting to believe the best, no matter how bad things appear. When clouds of doubt and despair settle over our lives, and we think it’s as bad as it can be, for those we love, they will be the objects of our hope. And sometimes hope is the only thing that can rescue a person from a long series of sinful behaviors.
And finally, love endures all things. Love endures all things. That’s final. What does that mean? Can’t kill it, you cannot kill it. Endures all things, that’s comprehensive. Endures is a military term, its roots are in the military. It sustains - the idea is, endures means to sustain. It’s a quality that sustains a soldier in the face of violent battle. This is not minor annoyance here, that’s not the word. This is a word for life and death, horrible opposition, violence, persecution, suffering. Love survives all that. It just doesn’t die. It never really gives up. It endures through everything.
This is the crescendo of love. Love bears all hurts and wounds and disappointments, believing the best about others in spite of the wounds, gently throwing a mantle over their faults. And when the believing is betrayed, love still hopes because God is still God. And when hope seems lost, love still endures with triumphant confidence that the God who is still God is still sovereign and still able. Love just holds on. Love is never totally overwhelmed - never. No matter how many disappointments.
George Matheson loved a girl, deeply loved a girl, and he started to go blind. And she told him she could never be married to a blind man. And so he penned his feelings, his broken-hearted feelings. He wrote in his prayers these words, “Not with dumb resignation but with holy joy; not only with the absence of murmur but with a song of praise.” He praised God because even she couldn’t kill his love. And then he wrote this familiar hymn. “O love that will not let me go, I rest my weary soul on thee. I give thee back the life I owe, that in thine ocean depths, its flow may richer, fuller be.” He’d known a human love that let him go, but he would rest in the love of God, which would never release its grip.
We who have the love of God shed abroad in our hearts have that kind of love. It endures, it survives, it is unconquerable. It can be wounded to the bone, but it will endure. This is how we should be known. This is how we should live. How can I apply it in my life? Acknowledge it as a command. Agree that you have the capacity from God to love this way. Understand that it’s not the unusual kind of Christian living but the norm. Realize that it is the Spirit’s work, and go do it.
Father, it’s so refreshing to drag our weak and sinful hearts through these truths and be reminded again of how it is that we are to live and love. I thank you for the love that we know here in our church. Thank you for the love that is shed abroad in our hearts and shed abroad from person to person in the life of the church. Thank you for its durability, its undying properties, its largess, its greatness. Thank you for its depth.
And we understand it to be supernatural. It’s a gift from you. It’s not human. Help us to live in love. We love, we’ve been taught by you to love. We practice that love. As the Thessalonians said, “Help us to excel still more.” Starting in our own homes, in our own closest family relationships, and spreading from there.
Fill this church with love. May it be known for that. And may you be honored thereby. We pray in Christ’s name. Amen.
This article is also available and sold as a booklet.