It’s been a while since I have been back in 1 Corinthians. We had been working our way slowly through Paul’s letter, and I stopped to preach a short series on the doctrine of Scripture.
Today we will pick up again in 1 Corinthians chapter 13, in perhaps the most famous chapter in scripture. It probably is only rivaled by Psalm 23 in terms of recognizability.
But if you will remember back with me, the context of this passage isn’t some gushy sentimentality about romance and affection. Rather, Paul is writing this passage about love in the context of a congregation that experiencing division. They were fracturing. They were rupturing.
And they were experiencing such divisions because they were not loving one another well. That’s what Paul’s over-arching point is. The Corinthians were boasting about how mature, and how spiritual, and how gifted they were. But it doesn’t matter how gifted you are, if you can’t love one another.
It doesn’t matter how prophetic you are, if you can’t be patient. It doesn’t matter how mature you may seem, if you aren’t meek. It doesn’t matter if you speak in tongues, if you can’t speak in kindness to your brothers and sisters.
But let’s begin by first reading our passage, 1 Corinthians chapter 13, and I’ll be focusing on verse 7:
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned,[a] but have not love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;[b] 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
8 Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
Verse 7 begins what I believe is a good Pauline summary of what he’s been saying thus far in the chapter about love. And he begins that verse with “Love bears all things.” Love bears all things.
The word bear here is similar to the word used at the end of the verse when Paul says that love endures all things. However, endure carries more of the idea of duration, of being long lasting. Love bearing carries more of the emphasis on the manner of enduring, rather than the length of the enduring.
Or to say it another way, I think that Paul is emphasizing in this first statement THE WAY that love choses to bear or endure.
The word Paul uses for bearing is actually a word applied to ship making. They would use tar and pitch inside the boats in order to make a boat water-tight, so that the boat could BEAR or WITHSTAND pressure without leaking.
So Paul applies that word to love, and applying that idea to us, a person full of love can bear all things, he can withstand pressure without springing a leak. He can forebear trials without bursting out. He can keep oneself from giving full vent when under pressure.
Perhaps I can illustrate this principle by describing the opposite, but let me start with a question: What is the opposite of love?
Some of you were tempted to say hate, but I don’t think that is quite right, because God is love, but God is also said in scripture to hate things, like sin and injustice and hypocrisy.
In fact, I think we can say that if God is love, as it says in 1 John 4, then the opposite of love would be not hate, but ungodliness. Ungodliness. And to bring that back to our text, if love bears all things, then we could say that an absence of love or UNGODLINESS bears nothing. It refuses to bear anything.
Ungodliness easily reacts, like a boat that starts leaking at the first sign of pressure. The smallest wave makes the boat spring a leak, and the smallest agitation makes an ungodly, unloving person break out.
He’s easily provoked, to use Paul’s language from verse 5, he’s irritable. Unstable. At the mercy of the waves around him.
Further, if love chooses to bear all things for the good of the beloved, then ungodliness or a lack of love refuses to bear anything for the sake of another. He’s impatient when wronged, quick to demand his rights, quick to demand justice. He doesn’t consider what the impact might be on others around him, nor is he concerned with pursuing the good of anyone else.
Proverbs illustrates this difference quite clearly in chapter 10, verse 12, where we are reminded that Love covers up all offenses, but ungodliness stirs up strife.
Peter says something similar when he writes that love covers a multitude of sins. Ungodliness, we might say, refuses to cover up anyone else’s sin.
Which of those do you see more of in yourself?
Which one bubbles up instinctively, especially when you are wronged?
Do you find yourself readily able to overlook the offenses of others?
Now, to be clear, I’m not talking about abusive situations. I’ve preached on that before. Godly love does not mean that the abused must remain in their terrible situations. I’m talking about the kinds of offenses that we all experience everyday, and specifically how we choose to respond to them.
When I feel as those I have been wronged, I find it quite natural for me to become outraged at even the slightest perceived offense. My knee jerk reaction is to want justice against the offender.
In fact, I find it quite difficult to overlook an offense. Satan does a good job of bringing the episode to my mind, and I’m tempted to rehearse the offense over and over, let it simmer in my mind, fixate on how prideful and wrong they were, or how unkind they were, or how rude they were.
It’s so easy to just turn it over and over in my mind, until I have worked myself up into outrage and bitterness. I may not express it verbally, but I am personally offended that they would do that to ME. How dare they? And I want them to pay.
Now what I’ve really done at that point, is I have murdered them in my heart. I’ve taken it upon myself to judge and sentence them to death, and the only reason I haven’t brought about their actual death is because of the restraining work of God on my life.
It’s such a sharp contrast to what we see in the heart of Jesus Christ, isn’t it? Jesus was not impatient or easily agitated. He didn’t harbor grudges and bitterness, hoping for the offender to be killed. He bore all things instead.
When he went through trial, he didn’t give full vent to his spirit. When he went to the cross, he didn’t erupt in a defense of his rights and demand immediate justice.
Rather, like a lamb before his shearers is silent, so Jesus opened not his mouth, scripture says. He had so much love in his heart that he was willing to endure great personal suffering for the sake of his beloved bride.
No wonder that scripture says it is to a man’s glory to overlook an offense, and there’s no one more glorious than Christ, because he was willing to bear all things for the sake of his people.
But love doesn’t stop there, Paul says next that Love believes all things. Love believes all things.
Paul’s obviously NOT saying that love believes everything in the sense that it should believe error and contradiction, nor is he saying that love is gullible or easily-duped. The balance of this letter makes clear that Paul believes there is a necessary boundary between truth and error.
Further, the rest of scripture makes clear that discernment is a necessary part of wisdom, and that discernment is both something to be pursued and a gift of the holy spirit.
So if Paul isn’t saying that love believes every single thing, then what is he saying? Again it might be helpful to illustrate by picturing the opposite. If love believes all things, then a lack of love, or ungodliness, believes nothing.
Ungodly ones are dis-inclined to believe, or maybe, inclined to disbelieve. They are suspicious. They have a posture of distrust, both toward God and toward others. They tend to be very pessimistic, negative, critical to the point of cynical.
This kind of person refuses to believe what he can’t work out in his mind, or what he can’t see with his own eyes.
Think of the 10 Spies that came back from spying out the promised land in Numbers 13. 10 of them came back and gave a bad report, saying that we can’t go in there because we will lose the battle. They are giants, much bigger than us, there’s no way we can have victory.
They couldn’t see a way of winning, even though God had already promised them success, and so they disbelieved what their eyes were showing them and their minds were telling them.
This kind of spirit is seen in the New Testament too. People like Thomas made connections like this, who said in John 20: “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will NEVER believe.””
They put demands on people, they are inclined toward doubt. And they often assume the worst of everyone around them. Their cynicism blinds them to think that they know what everyone else is thinking, what their motives are, what their intentions are behind every little word and action, and they are tempted assume the worst in all those cases.
This kind of lack of love is absolutely devastating to relationships. In the home, a husband and wife in a loveless marriage can grow to be sinfully cynical very quickly, attributing the worst of motives to their spouse, and perpetually mistrusting each other.
The same is true in the church. Satan works with profound effectiveness to tempt in this way. Sheep in the congregation can be tempted to assume the worst of their leadership, to assign negative motives and impugn character, rather than believing the best, and the result is that they struggle to hear the word of God being delivered to them.
Likewise, pastors can assume the worst of their flock, and be fearful to preach the word of God because they assume the worst of their people. I can’t preach the whole word of God, they might get mad and fire me.
It’s all a lack of love.
So if that’s what ungodliness looks like, what would love look like instead? Love believes all things, it believes the best. It is not suspicious of others, nor does it immediately presume to know the motives of someone else.
Love gives the benefit of the doubt. When somebody acts unkindly, or acts harshly or rude, love doesn’t immediately think that such a person is hateful and un-redeemable. Love strives to believe the best, tries to cover all it can in love. It considers things like,
- maybe they were having a bad day.
- Maybe they misunderstood what was happening
- Maybe there was a miscommunication, it’s certainly possible that I didn’t communicate things clearly
It’s the proud and ungodly soul who takes everything personal and presumes to know exactly what the other person was thinking, what their motives were. We can’t go there, because it is not loving to do so.
This kind of all-believing love produces a harmony in relationships. In the home, love believing the best provides a protective unity that allows husband and wife to flourish. You get a bit of that in Proverbs 31, where it says of the wise woman:
The heart of her husband trusts in her,
Notice that the verse doesn’t say that the wise woman behaves in a trustworthy manner. Rather, it highlights the fruit of her wisdom: her husband trusts in her. She both is guided by wisdom to be trustworthy, and the husband likewise is willing to trust her. Harmony exists, when both are willing to love.
Love is the way that his happens. Love allows us to believe the best of others around us, without growing cynical or suspicious.
You may be saying to yourself, that sounds nice pastor, but how does this happen? I’d like to have that kind of love, but you don’t know my spouse. You don’t know my boss or my children or my parents. If you knew them, then you’d know that I can’t believe the best about them. They’ve failed too many times.
Let’s look at Paul’s next point: Love hopes all things. Love hopes all things.
Hope here is a very familiar word, but the concept is different in the New Testament than how most people use the term today. We say things like, “I hope it doesn’t rain today,” or, “I hope the traffic isn’t too bad.” These kinds of hope are based on nothing more than a desire. A wish, not grounded on anything substantive or objective.
It’s based on external factors outside of our control. Which inevitably leads to our hopes not being met and our being disappointed. That’s the result that ALWAYS will happen when we place our hope on the wrong things, the things that are in front of us, the things that we can see around us. People and things in this fallen world WILL eventually all disappoint us.
That’s why If love hopes all things, then a lack of love never hopes, it despairs. Ungodliness, or a lack of love, brings hopelessness, brings pessimistic despondency.
You see each of us is tempted to place our hope in things that are in front of us. We want to place our hope in our spouse and their growth, their performance. If they love me well, then I must be safe and secure, but if they don’t love me well, then I don’t feel safe and secure.
Or maybe I put my hope in my job. And when work goes well and sales are trending up, I’m happy. But when work goes poorly, I am depressed.
We all can do this; place our hope in something that is in front of us. It can be our ambitions and goals, our children’s behavior, our pastors, anything really. How about this one: how much of your hope is anchored on your favorite politician getting in office? Or maybe this one: how much despair do you experience when your team loses the big game?
Do you see this in your own life? It is worthy of sustained reflection to ask yourself where you are tempted to place your hope other than Christ, because we’re all tempted to do it, and we’re tempted toward that often because it is easier.
Ungodliness, or a lack of love, puts hope in what we see because we don’t have to have faith. We act like Thomas, who demanded to see and feel the wounds of Jesus. He wanted a religion that didn’t require him to exercise faith. He wanted the benefit, without the belief. He wanted the promise, without having to be patient. He wanted heaven, without having to hope.
But that’s how God has always worked with his people. Ever since Genesis 3, when God promised the messiah would come and make everything right, God has always tested his people’s faith by making them hope in what they couldn’t see.
Noah had to hope in the promises of God for decades, building a boat for a flood that had never happened.
Abraham had to place his hope in the promises of God for decades, before finally having a son.
The Hebrews had to hope for hundreds of years that God would save them from slavery, then hope that God would take them all the way home to the promised land.
The Jews had to hope for 70 years that God would hear their cries in exile and save them.
And we too are called to hope in a future, hope in a coming reality, hope in the fulfillment of God’s promises. Hope that the sin and misery that we experience will come to an end. Hope that our bodies will be resurrected with Christ and will no longer wear out and decay. Hope that we will see God face to face, and know him, even as we are known.
This is what love does for us, it allows us to hope. Hope in the promises of God, and hope for the best of those around us.
Ungodliness can’t do this. Ungodliness looks at our circumstances, and acts like the Hebrews in the desert. Moses, we had it better off in Egypt, where we might have been slaves, but at least we had food. Take us back. They gave up hope, almost immediately after coming through the red sea.
We have this same temptation. We look at our circumstances, we look at our relationships, at our marriage, at our children, at our job, at our bodies, and we lose hope.
We lose hope because we wrongly assume several things: we wrongly think that past experiences NECESSARILY dictate the future. Things have always been this way, and so they won’t get better, and we give up hope.
My job has always been a burden, and it will never change. My marriage has always been hard, and that can’t ever improve.
Or we wrongly and unlovingly assume that people can never change. They’ve always behaved this way, and they won’t ever get any better. And so we lose hope and give up.
And if we persist in this hopeless mindset, we can ultimately be tempted to reject the goodness of God. We say things like: I’ve prayed and I’ve prayed for change for so long, and it hasn’t come, so God must not be trustworthy, his promises have failed, and I give up hope.
Have you ever felt that way? Why pray, since he hasn’t answered? Why pray, things aren’t ever going to change?
That’s can be dangerous place to be. Because it brings despair and doubt and misery, and eventually death.
Love, on the other hand, hopes in the promises of God. And we see that no more clearly than in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. Jesus had hope. A resilient hope.
He had no worldly possessions, yet he had hope.
He had no worldly praise or status, yet he had hope.
He was despised and rejected by men, yet he had hope.
He was crowned with thorns and whipped to the bone, yet he had hope.
He was nailed to a cross, yet he had hope.
Scripture says that for the Joy set before him, he willingly endured the cross. What does that mean? It means that even when he was enduring the most agonizing and shameful death possible, he kept before him the hope of a future joy. For the joy set before him.
He knew what awaited him. He knew of the glory, and he hoped in that promise. He knew what blessedness the Father had in store for him, and he hoped in that promise. He endured and had hope.
So, what should we do when we hear the command to hope in God? We remember the one who perfectly hoped in our place. Christ was full of love, he was hopeful, even when all around him seemed hopeless. His friends deserted him and denied him, his people rejected him, yet he didn’t retreat in despair.
He persevered in hope, even though we so often are depressed and despairing. He kept his gaze on the father, even though we so often fall short and place our hope only on what we can see.
He knew what awaited him beyond the grave, and it sustained him to the very end. I hope that encourages you, that he was successful, even though we fail every day. He endured, even though we falter so often.
In fact, hope is connected very clearly to the final part of our verse. Paul closes this summary with love endures all things. Love endures all things.
Love and hope are related. Paul makes an explicit connection in Romans 8 when he says that we await in hope for redemption. He describes our current experience by saying that we:
“groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”
Did you catch that last verse? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
We hope for what we do not see, for the final resurrection and for our glorification in heaven, and that hope allows us to wait with patience, or we might say, that hope allows us to endure.
Love endures, love is durable, because it is able to hope. We can love each other well in this life, in our marriages, in our church, in our families, because we each eagerly await the fulfillment of the promises of God, we hope.
And we don’t hope in God like we hope in the weather or our favorite sports team. We can hope in God with objective assurance: the resurrection. The resurrection of Jesus is the ground of our hope.
Christ has been resurrected, and we can and should have hope of the same. Christ has defeated death and the grave, and we who trust in Him can then be assured of the same fate.
Christ is the promised son of Adam, mentioned in Genesis 3, who would crush the head of the serpent.
Christ is the promised son of Abraham through whom all the world will be blessed,
Christ is the greater Moses who liberates his people out of slavery to sin.
Christ is the greater Joshua who has spied out the promised land beyond the grave and brought back a good report.
Christ is the Son of David who is perfectly a man after God’s own heart.
Christ is the good and faithful servant, the beloved Son of the father, in whom the father is well pleased.
And Christ is the victorious king who has risen from the grave, defeated death, disarmed the serpent, liberated his people from slavery to sin, and has ascended into the heavenly places, seated as king at the right hand of the Father.
We celebrate the resurrection of Christ every Lords day, but it is this Resurrected King that we especially remember during this Easter time of year. This is the season of hope, because of Christ’s resurrection.
And this Christ offers hope to all that are despairing. If you lack in love, if you fail to hope as you should, if you struggle to believe as you ought, if you find it difficult to bear in love as you’re supposed to, then know that Jesus has died for sins such as this. He died for those who lacked in love and died for the ungodly.
You simply have to trust in him, and you can be forgiven of your sin. Your lack of love can be more than redeemed through his sacrifice of love. Your hardness of heart and ungodliness can be more than atoned for through is perfect obedience and godly love.
Don’t wait another day. Trust in this Jesus. Don’t wait until tomorrow. Don’t put your hope in some future time of repentance. Make today the day of your salvation.