1 Corinthians 13: 7
NIV - love “always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” CEV - love “is always supportive, loyal, hopeful, and trusting.” NLT - “love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.” KJV - love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” No matter which translation you use, the meaning is the same. The word “always” (or the phrase “all things") is repeated 4 separate times so we won’t miss the point. Here are 4 aspects of love, which when taken together, teach us that no matter how desperate our circumstances may be, love never gives up.
1. Love Bears All Things - Godly Silence
Greek word means to cover something. It is related to the word for roof covering that offers protection from the hostile elements. 1 Peter 4: 8 – “love covers a multitude of sins.” That is precisely the meaning here. Love protects other people. It doesn’t broadcast bad news. It goes the second mile to protect another person’s reputation. 2 very relevant applications:
A. Love doesn’t nitpick. It doesn’t point out every flaw of the ones you love. If you took time to point out every mistake your husband or wife made, you wouldn’t have time for anything else. That applies to every human relationship, not just to marriage.
B. Love doesn’t criticise in public. Perhaps Paul’s primary meaning. Love doesn’t do its dirty laundry for all the world to see. I cringe when I hear a husband humiliating his wife in public or a wife making snide remarks about her husband. I think - if they do that in public what do they do in private? “There are many times in my life when I’ve been sorry I opened my mouth. But there has never been a time I’ve been sorry I kept silent.” When it comes to needless criticism of other people, that’s excellent advice.
2. Love Believes All Things - Godly Trust
Means that love believes the best that is possible as long as that can be done. Love gives the benefit of the doubt. It takes people at their highest and best - not at their lowest and worst.
We live in an increasingly cynical age. If a person gives a large sum of money to a worthy charity, there is sure to be someone who mutters under his breath, “What’s the catch? What’s in it for him?” I’m not suggesting that love equals naive gullibility. Love must always be guarded by wisdom on one hand and discernment on the other. True love won’t be taken in again and again by a con artist. At some point love says, “Enough is enough.” But it is also useful to remember that even in court, the accused is always “innocent until proven guilty.” Love says, “I am willing to wait for the evidence to come in before making my decision. I choose to give you the benefit of the doubt as long as there is reason to do so.” Some of us treat our loved ones in the opposite way: “You are guilty until you prove you are innocent.”
People tend to become what we believe them to be. They either live up to or down to your expectations. If you treat a man as trustworthy, he will strive to prove himself worthy of your trust. If you tell a child, “You can hit that ball,” he’ll go to the crease and play like Graeme Smith. That’s what Jesus did. To vacillating Simon, he said, “You are a rock.” To a prostitute, he said, “Your sins are forgiven.” To a woman caught in adultery, he said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.” It is the simple power of believing the best and not the worst about people.
Love believes the best as long as it can be believed. What a difference it makes when we believe in those around us. What a difference it makes when husbands and wives, and parents and children, and teachers and students, and friends and co-workers, and church members truly believe in each other. What a difference it makes in the dark moments of life when you can say to those you love, “I believe in you and no matter what happens, we’re going to make it through this thing together.”
3. Love Hopes All Things - Godly Optimism
This is simply a step beyond believing. The meaning is something like this. There are times in life when you face situations so difficult that faith is not possible. You would gladly give the benefit of the doubt but there is none to give. You search for the silver lining but the angry clouds overhead have no silver lining.
Some of you may be facing a situation like that right now. In your life there is a difficult circumstance for which there are no easy answers. It may be your marriage. It may be one of your children. It may be your family. It may be an illness. It may be impending financial disaster. It may be your job. Whatever it is, only one word applies: IMPOSSIBLE. You have cried and prayed and done everything you know how to do and nothing seems to help.
What does love do in an impossible situation? What do you do when you can’t believe anymore? You hope. That’s a step beyond belief. Belief is finding a tiny grain of evidence to rest on. Hope rests on God alone.
When Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, where was Judas? He was in the room. Did Jesus know what Judas was about to do? Absolutely. He even told him to go out and do it. Did Jesus wash Judas’ feet? Yes. He wasn’t acting. How could he do it? He did it because he loved Judas even though he knew Judas would soon betray him. That’s how love works. No matter how impossible the situation, no matter if it looks like there is no possibility of change, love always hopes. It looks to the future, not to the past.
Let’s apply this principle to our closest relationships. We are often told that we must accept people just the way they are. That is true in one sense and untrue in another sense. Sometimes we are tempted to throw up our hands and say, “This is the way you are and no matter what I do, you are never going to change.” That’s not acceptance. That’s fatalism. It’s only true if there is no God. Biblical acceptance is based on hope in God. It says, “I accept that this is the way you are right now. But I don’t believe you are going to stay this way. I’m not giving up hope.”
When hope is gone, life is gone. To hope is to believe in God in spite of what you see around you. Hope looks to the future! Oscar Wilde: “The difference between a saint and a sinner is that the saint has a past and the sinner has future.” Both ends of that statement seem true to me. The saint has a past - to keep him from getting puffed up with pride, and the sinner has a future - to keep him from giving in to despair. In the gospel every sinner who comes to Christ has a wonderful future-no matter how bad his past has been. This is the source of our hope.
4. Love Endures All Things - Godly Perseverance
“Endures” - military term - means to hold a position at all costs, even unto death. The battle may be lost but the soldier keeps on fighting to the very end. Picture an army surrounded by superior forces, being attacked and overwhelmed on every side. One by one your comrades fall. Through the din of battle comes one final command: “Stand your ground, men. If necessary, die well.” So love holds fast to people it loves. It perseveres. It never gives up on anyone. Love won’t stop loving, even in the face of rejection.
With this, v. 7 comes to a logical climax. 1. Love covers the sins of the one it loves. 2. Love believes the best as long as that is possible. 3. Love hopes when it cannot believe. 4. Love endures when even hope is gone.
Love does not commit suicide. It doesn’t give up and walk away. A woman whose husband left her for another woman. The couple entered marriage counselling, and for a while there seemed to be hope. Then he walked out of counselling and went back to the other woman. The situation dragged on. Divorce proceedings began and continued with much wrangling over child custody.
The woman told an unusual story - “I asked him for my wedding ring.” “Why would you do that?” she was asked. “When he moved out, I gave him my wedding ring as a sign that he had broken his wedding vows. But recently I began to think about what that ring symbolised. I realized that even though he has been unfaithful, we are still married. When I asked for the ring back, he was surprised. He was even more surprised when I put it back on my finger. By wearing the ring, I want to remind him of what he has done. I also want him to remember that he still has a wife.”
Love endures what can’t be endured. Love means wearing the wedding ring as a final reminder of what has been lost. That story reveals a crucial point. Love is not passive in the face of unjust treatment. Love takes action to shake up an intolerable situation.
To love like this doesn’t mean that everything will always work out the way you like. That only happens in Mills and Boon. In real life, love is often crushed, bruised and rejected. Loving others is risky business. What if they abuse the love you freely give? For the Christian, there is only one possible answer: It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. The real losers in life are not those whose love is rejected. They (and they alone) know the deep pain of loving in a fallen world. They understand something of God’s heart because the Father sent his Son to the world knowing that the world would reject him. The real losers are those who refuse to love at all.
C. S. Lewis - The Four Loves – “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket - safe, dark, motionless, airless - it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers of love is Hell.”
Love stands its ground in the face of curses, slander, hatred, ill treatment, and the worst that man can dish out. Corrie Ten Boom - The Hiding Place. When asked how she could endure a Nazi concentration camp without bitterness, she replied, “There is no pit so deep that the love of God is not deeper still.”
That one phrase is the key to this principle. 1 Corinthians 13 is about the love of God, not the love of man. Romans 5: 5 “The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit.” It is the work of the Holy Spirit to pour out God’s love into your heart. When the Holy Spirit has done His work, you are able to pour out the love of God that the Holy Spirit has poured into your heart. What God gives us, we are able to give to others.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon brings us back to the cross of Christ as the source of this kind of love: “Behold the cross! See the patient Sufferer and that ribald multitude: they thrust out the tongue, they sneer, they jest, they blaspheme; and there he hangs, triumphant in his patience, conquering the world, and death and hell by enduring “all things.” Oh that we might copy in some humble measure that perfect pattern which is here set before us. If you would bless your generation, let no unkindness daunt you; let no considerations of your own character, or honour, or peace of mind keep you back, but of you may it be said, even as of your Lord, “He saved others, himself he could not save.”
It is not simply difficult to live this way, it is impossible. But what God demands of us, the Holy Spirit supplies within us. Our deepest needs are not intellectual or emotional; our deepest needs are spiritual. It is an old story, repeated over and over again. Many of us struggle in our circumstances because we are fighting against the Lord and his plan for our lives. The answer is as plain as the nose on your face. Let each of us yield ourselves completely to the Holy Spirit. Let each one of us ask God for the love which only he can supply. And as we face hard times and difficult moments, let us pray daily, “O God, let your will be done even if it means that my will is not done.” As we relinquish the control of our lives to the Lord Jesus Christ, we will find that the Holy Spirit’s power has been released in us and the love of God will become a personal reality that works in us and through us to touch those around us.
I offer you no miracle cure for the problems of life. If it is true that into each life some rain must fall, then some of you are getting a thunderstorm right now. I don’t know when the rain will end. But it doesn’t have to destroy your life. When the love of God is your foundation, the rains can come, the winds can blow, the river can rise, but your house will stand firm because it is built on the rock which cannot be shaken.