This is our fourth Sunday looking at the words of 1 Corinthians 13. I appreciate the people who have said, “I enjoyed this passage a lot more before I knew what it was really saying.” Someone has suggested that the best way to evaluate your own walk in love is to substitute the word “I” for every time the word “love” or “it” (referring to love) is used. In other words,
I am patient, I am kind, I do not envy, do not boast, and am not proud. I am not self-seeking, I am not easily angered, I keep no record of wrongs. I do not delight in evil but rejoice with the truth. I always protect, always trust, always hope and always persevere (in my relationships with others).
If you can say that honestly, you are doing well in the area of love. If you choke on some of these words (as most of us do) or if others start laughing when you say them out loud . . . you have a pretty good idea of where you need work. This morning we are going to look at a series of descriptions of love that you find in verses 6 and 7: “Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” They all point to Love’s focus.
Love Hates Evil and Rejoices in Truth
Paul says the person who loves is one who hates evil. We are to hate evil in every form. Practically this means,
- We don’t take pleasure in conversations that are negative or hurtful.
- We turn away from those things which present evil as good
- We turn away from those things that purport to be of God but are not
- We hate situations where people are victimized
- We hate anything that causes suffering
- We hate injustice toward any person or group of people
- We hate when the value and dignity of life is diminished
- We don’t participate in those things which diminish the message of the gospel
We don’t hate these things because we are “narrow-minded and judgmental” (which is often the accusation). We hate these things because they offend or diminish God’s honor and glory and because such evil is destructive in the lives of those who are touched by it.
We live in a world that glorifies evil. Immorality is paraded as the way to fulfillment. The disposal of life in the womb and in the Nursing home is presented as a reasonable option. Honesty and character give way to the idea that you do whatever you need to do to get to where you want to be (utilitarianism). In other words, lying, cheating, abusive behaviors, selfishness, greed, and more are not only tolerated but promoted!
I don’t believe it is an accident that mass shootings are on the rise. I don’t think it is coincidence that suicide rates are increasing. Consumer debt is out of control. People have more things but have less happiness. Why? It’s because they have come to love evil and hate the good. They search for God but cannot find Him. Evil destroys and disorients people. Consequently, we should hate it.
If we really hate what is evil we will work hard to root out all remnants of evil from our own lives. John MacArthur states it plainly,
you must carefully evaluate what you read, view, and listen to. Does it denigrate God and exalt violence, crime, immorality, slander, and the like? If so, and you find that book or article entertaining, you are rejoicing in sin.
The other half of this is that we not only hate sin (that would make us just cranky and negative) we also love the truth. A person who truly loves rejoices in the truth of God. They understand that God’s design is the best design for life. They pursue God’s values and obey God’s commands because they are convinced that truth is found in the Lord and in the Word of God and that truth alone can set us free from our bondage to sin and destruction. The person who understands true love rejoices when the gospel is proclaimed. They celebrate when people come to a point of faith. They rejoice when God is honored (even if it is through another church).
Love rejoices in the truth when we see it evidenced in the lives of others. The loving person spotlights good things and rejoices over those things when they see them demonstrated. They cheer others on, celebrate their victories, and rejoice with those who rejoice.
This of course is just the opposite of what often happens: too often we sit around and rehearse the negatives of the people in our lives. We take perverse pleasure in the heartache and devastation going on with others. We want the “juicy details” because somehow it makes us feel better about our own lives (do you see the self-centeredness of this?) Sadly even as believers we often find it easier to weep with those who weep rather than to rejoice with those who rejoice.
A Scottish minister was known for his love and encouragement of the people of his church and village. When he died someone commented, “There is no one left to appreciate the triumphs of ordinary folks.” That’s what love does. It appreciates and celebrates the daily triumphs of ordinary folks. Love cheers others on.
How are you doing in this area of your “love life”?
- When you first meet someone do you notice their flaws or their strengths?
- Do you regularly confess your own sin before God or do you feel self-righteous in light of the sins of others?
- When someone does something do you spotlight what they did well or do you criticize what you believe they should do better?
- Do you give courage (en-courage) to other or do you siphon courage (dis-courage) from them?
Love Bears All Things
Love does what is necessary to help a person. True love is eager to protect a person from harm, ridicule, and embarrassment. Love guards a person’s reputation. True love refuses to engage in gossip and even when you know the gossip is true, love tries to help the person who has fallen with the least possible hurt and harm.
He who covers over an offense promotes love, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends. (Proverbs 17:9)
There is the great story about the days of England’s Oliver Cromwell. A soldier had been convicted of a serious crime and was sentenced to die. The man’s fiancé came and pled for the life of the one she loved. Cromwell declined her appeal and said the man would be executed when the curfew bell sounded. That night when it came time to ring the bell, it made no sound. The sexton pulled on the rope again and again but nothing happened. The fiance had climbed up into the belfry and wrapped herself around the clapper so it would not sound. Her body was smashed, bloodied, and bruised but she didn’t let go until the clapper stopped swinging. Cromwell was so impressed by her love that her fiancé was released from prison.
That’s the picture of love that Paul wants us to have. He wants us to love each other enough that we will stand with each other and stand up for each other in every circumstance. Christians should be the ones who are at the forefront of works of justice. We should be leading the charge against hunger and other ravages in our society.
So here are some questions,
1. When you hear gossip about another do you rise to their defense (even if it is only to say, “we don’t know the whole story”) or do you lean in closer to get more of the dirty details?
2. When someone has a great need or a great fall, do you abandon ship or do you “get on board” to ride out the storm with the person?
3. Are you willing to protect others or only yourself?
The person who loves is the one who can be counted on to come to the aid of others. I love the story of the school children who all shaved their heads so that their classmate who was going through chemotherapy would not feel like they were a spectacle. That’s what love does.
Believes and Hopes All Things
Paul told us that love believes and hopes all things. This doesn’t mean that we are gullible. It doesn’t mean that we “stand for nothing and fall for everything,” it means true Love refuses to lose hope and won’t give up on people.
The story of the Prodigal son is well known. One of two sons wanted his inheritance before dad died. Dad reluctantly gave him the inheritance and the boy left home and squandered everything in loose and reckless living. Eventually, the boy ended up virtually homeless and was forced to eat the food of pigs. Finally, broken and humiliated the boy decided to go home, humble himself and ask his dad if he could work as a hired hand. Here’s what the text says,
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. [Luke 15:20]
How did the father see his son while he was a long way off? I think it was because dad, believing his son would return, was always looking out the window. Can you imagine what it was like for that young man to see his father running out to him with open arms of love rather than the clenched fists of anger? That kind of love changes a person. That is the kind of love God has for us. That’s the kind of love he wants us to have for each other.
John Ortberg writes,
Hope is the fuel that the human heart runs on. A car crash or a diving accident can paralyze a body, but the death of hope paralyzes the spirit.
Hope is what prompts a young man and woman to stand before a preacher and promise “I do” even though they have no guarantees.
Hope is what fuels the same couple, many years later, after broken promises and broken hearts, to give their promise another try.
Hope is why human beings keep bringing children into a fallen world.
Hope is why there are hospitals and universities
Hope is why there are therapists and consultants and why the Cubs keep going to spring training.
No composer would agonize over a score without the hope that some glimmer of beauty will emerge from the struggle.
No parents would agonize over a child without the hope that the child might live a better, nobler, happier life than they did.
When he was an old man, the master painter Henri Matisse was crippled by arthritis. Wrapping his fingers around a brush was painful; painting was agony. Someone asked him why he kept painting. He answered, “The pain goes away; the beauty endures.”
Hope sees the beauty in another person. It sees treasure in those the world has discarded. It is like those who buy an ugly piece of furniture at a yard sale because they see that with a little love and elbow grease that there is a beautiful piece of furniture beneath all those layers of finish and paint. This kind of love sees what others overlook.
Love Hangs in There
It is easy to despair in life and feel like it is better to give up and go the way of the world. We feel
- The more money we make the more expenses there seem to be
- The more tests the Doctor orders the more problems he discovers
- The harder we work, the more work that seems to need to be done
- The more we give to others, the more they seem to expect
The story is told about a New York policeman who came upon a young man standing on a bridge over the Hudson River. “What are you doing up there?” inquired the policeman. “I’m going to jump and end my life, it is so pointless and miserable.” The policeman talked the young man into rethinking his position. “Let’s take twenty minutes,” said the policeman. “You take ten to explain why you think life is so empty, and I’ll take ten to give you reason for hope.” And so they talked for twenty minutes – and then both of them jumped off the bridge!
That’s a worldly perspective. Love however sees beyond the despair. It has confidence in God. It knows that God can do exceeding abundantly beyond all we can ask or imagine.” This kind of love will not give up on people. It refuses to get discouraged. It is willing to pay whatever price is necessary.
Perhaps you have seen this kind of love. I have seen it on occasion. It is seen in
- The couple who remains committed even when all their friends tell them to “hang it up”
- The cancer patient who continues to give to their family and look for ways to serve God even though they are physically wiped out.
- The parent who continues to reach out to their child even though they don’t agree with the direction their child is heading.
- The student who continues to cheer on their teammates even though they are treated poorly in return.
- It is seen in the person who continues to work hard even though others take advantage of him.
These people keep loving, they keep praying, they keep believing that love can win out in the end. When this kind of enduring love gets through to another person, it is a wonderful thing.
Are you near a point of despair in your life? Is there some problem that seems overwhelming or some situation or person that makes you want to give up? May I remind you of some key truths?
1. God is bigger than any crisis . . . His strength is sufficient for your need
2. God can transform any heart
3. God can use any circumstance for His glory
4. And even though you may be ready to give up, God will never give up on you. He will continue to pursue you, to love you, and see past where you are to where He can take you.
If you take this same passage and replace the word “love” with “God” and you will see the wonderful nature of God’s love for you described.
God is patient, God is kind, God does not envy, does not boast, and is not proud. God is not self-seeking, God is not easily angered, God keeps no record of our wrongs. God does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. God always protects, always trusts, always hopes and always perseveres.
The kind of love that God calls us to is a supernatural love. It is a love that He desires to place in our hearts. It is the kind of love that He models for us.
Do you know this love? It’s possible that you came into this place today thinking that you had little hope of connecting with the God of the universe. You are very well aware of your failures and scars. Even if others think your life is great, you know the truth. Your hidden struggles (or not so hidden struggles) cause you to think that there is not much to salvage from your life.
God loves you. You may feel that everyone else has given up. Maybe they have. God has not. His arms are open. He has been eagerly waiting for you to turn to Him. And when you do, He will welcome you. The past will be set aside and celebration and new life will begin. So, stop hiding. Stop replaying the mistakes of the past . . . and head toward home. The Father is waiting for you. Christ has paid the debt of your past. New life awaits you. Turn to Him and experience what true love is really all about. In true faith say, “Yes, I believe your promise. I will put my trust not in my own work but in the work of Christ my Savior. Make me new.”
Many of us can testify to the transforming nature of God’s love. We know what it is like to get a new beginning (sometimes several new beginnings). What Paul wants us to understand is that God wants to fill us with his love until it overflows from our lives into the lives of those around us. When that happens, it has the power to change the world one life at a time.