1 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, 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; 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. (1 Corinthians 13:1-7)
I want to begin this morning by reading to you a quote from a booklet called “Christian Love,” published in 1966 by the then pastor of Tenth Street Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. 1966, a time when love was talked about a lot. “Love and peace” was the cry of the young people in that day. Their cry caught the ears of many. But in that day, as in our day, love was often defined in a humanistic way, and even a selfish way. Love was good as long as you love my way. Love was good if you agree with me. Love was nice and peace followed love if you consider my interests first. This pastor in 1966 spoke out in his day, and tried to raise a banner of true love. Here is what he said:
“Considering the crisis of our times, a man of insight cries, ‘love or perish.’ Our affluent society is an afflicted society for lack of love. Just imagine how many marriages would be spared the heartbreak of separation and divorce if there were true love in the hearts of men and women! Think of what comfort and encouragement would brighten the lot of the poor, sick, lonely and sorrowing, if only there were more love in this world. Who can tell what new vitality would stir the church, and draw others into its fellowship, if there were real love among the professed followers of Christ? It is love we need – Christian love.”
Think of it. Think of it in your home. A banner over your home that says, “This is a 1 Corinthians 13 home.” And anyone who would visit would walk away saying, “Yes, I better understand now, having been in your home, what Christian love really is!” Or over our church, “This is a 1 Corinthians 13 church.” Or over your car, or your office, or your cubicle, or over your family, wherever you go, “This is a 1 Corinthians 13 family.” “I am a 1 Corinthians 13 man.” Might that impact others around you for the sake of Christ? Might that open the floodgates of Christian witness, evangelism, discipleship? Might opportunities grow, and your service to Christ, my service to Christ, be multiplied?
We will be known as followers of Christ by our love. The love of Christ in us will be a means of gospel sharing with others. When is the last time someone asked you, “Why are you loving me this way? Why are you sacrificing for me? Why are you caring for my needs? Why would you do this? Why do you keep doing this? Tell me, why are you different, what motivates you?”
The struggle to love biblically is real. Our selfishness runs very deep. Questions haunt us, like, “Who is going to look out for me?” Or, “Won’t I be miserable if I don’t get what I want?” Or, “Who is going to love me?” The answer: “God will.” He will love you, He will watch out for you, and He will use other people in the process. He will be your rock, He will be your provider, He will be the one who never leaves nor forsakes you. You are His child, the child of the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. You are His! Don’t try to do what He desires to do. He will care for you, so you can care for others in His name.
As we continue through these verses, I do want to just point out another obvious observation. And I love this about these verses, and even the Bible as a whole. These verses are written to us as Christians. If you are a Christian, then you can read these verses on love and go away with a clear understanding of how you can live your life in a way that is most pleasing to Him. It’s that simple.
If you had an argument with someone this morning, you don’t have to wait for them to change to get back on track with holy living. If you have been walking with an irritable attitude toward your boss or a co-worker, you don’t have to wait on them to be kind to you. If the whole world has been against you, darts flying your way from others, hurtful words used against you, lies being told, if you feel abandoned by someone you think should love you, if you are being taken advantage of by your neighbor, if your church friends are just not being very friendly, in other words if there is a person in your life or people in your life that you perceive to be sinning against you or just not acting the way you would hope they would act, that cannot stop you from living out this passage. We can unilaterally obey no matter how anyone around us is behaving.
We can live loving lives, no matter how everyone around us is acting. Some of you are thinking, “Well good, because you ought to see what I have to put up with!” Our response to others people’s sin or other people’s ways that we don’t like is to be a response that personifies 1 Corinthians 13. No one is to stand in our way of loving Christ by obedient living.
The more excellent way is to be our way. Our way as representatives of Christ is to be the way of love! And as we are dependent on Christ, we can love others. I think it was Ed Welch who said, “We are called to love people more and need them less.” His point is about giving. Living life, giving to others in love, we are to be givers of love. We may or may not be receivers of love from others, but that is okay, we are to be givers of love. We will get love, we have gotten love, Christ has given His love to us. And so, satisfied with Christ, with Christ’s love for us, we become givers.
We have an interesting verse before us, a few words that can be misunderstood, so hopefully we can see them clearly this morning as God by His Spirit leads us. We are in verse 7.
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Corinthians 13:7)
Last week we looked at the phrase, “Love bears all things,” and we talked about that bearing being like a roof of protection. I wonder in the last week, have we been like a roof of protection in other people’s lives? Have we protected, guarded others from hurt or harm?
Today we see the second phrase – “Love believes all things.” Now with just a quick reading we may say, “Whoa! Love believes all things? Even all that spam email I get? Believes all things on the internet, on the news, even what my lying neighbor tells me? How can it be loving for me to believe all things? Am I supposed to be gullible? That even sounds dangerous, doesn’t it? Am I to tell my children to believe everything they hear?”
What about a person who says, “I love God, I am a Christian, and I love Jesus,” and yet they never read their Bible, never spend time with Him in prayer, don’t hang out with other Christians, live contently in habitual, sinful behavior, mocks truth from the Word. What are we to believe? They said they love God.
Or what about a false teacher who is leading people astray, maybe getting rich off their TV audience, or taking advantage of the weak? Are we to believe him? The obvious answer is no. If someone is preaching against God’s Word, then we must believe the Word. We can’t believe the truths of God’s Word and the falsehood of someone who twists it at the same time. So there must be some important context to what Paul means when he says that love believes all things. And the context is found in the Bible as a whole. The Scriptures do not contradict themselves, right? And so to understand this, I want to spend some time this morning talking about what the Bible says about what we are to believe by looking at how God warns us against being naive and gullible. We are not to be gullible or naive as this is not what Paul is calling us to. So let me give you some reasons why I say this.
And by the way, just so you know where we are going, I am splitting this message up into two messages. We will look at “love believes all things” in two parts. Today we will primarily talk about what it does not mean, and next time, Lord willing, what it does mean. For today, love is not gullible or naive. Listen to this:
The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it. (Proverbs 22:3)
The call here is to prudence, or to being aware of our surroundings, being watchful of the world around us and our circumstances, being awake to other people and acting wisely based on those things. It is “the simple” person who is naive, foolish, or easily deceived. For that one will not recognize danger, and will walk right into it. This could be physical danger, but more so spiritual danger. Like an animal walking into a trap because there is good food inside. Or a fish going after that shiny, sparkling lure, the glittery bait, only to be pulled from the water with a hook in its mouth. The prudent sees danger and acts; the simple are naive and gullible, and suffer for it.
When Paul says that we are to believe all things, he cannot mean that we are to be blindly gullible. Proverbs 14:15 says, “The simple believes everything, but the prudent gives thought to his steps.” A similar proverb comparing the simple or gullible and the wise or prudent. Or how about this one, Proverbs 12:15 – “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.” I love this passage because it gets to the heart of how inept we are to even govern ourselves well! Some may say, we may say, “I’m not gullible, I can see what is going on here, I’m not a fool.” And yet walk into sin, into temptation, because of a dogged desire to just do things my way, without seeking counsel form others.
God does not want us to walk foolishly through life, in a gullible way. So whatever the passage means that love believes all things, it cannot mean walking in a way that lays aside godly or biblical discernment. Right?
Let me go further with this, and again, I am spending time on this because of a tendency to misunderstand these words. In fact, these words have been used as an excuse even to be complacent with people who may need help. “My friend says he’s okay, so believing all things, I’ll just assume he’s okay. He hasn’t been to church in weeks, his wife doesn’t know where he goes every night, he looks awful and unkept and smells like alcohol, but he says he’s okay. I guess he is okay!” He’s probably not okay. We might need to go further to check on our friend.
We are not to walk as fools but we are to walk in wisdom. Proverbs 14:15, “The prudent gives thought to his steps.” This is not a blind walk, this is not a gullible person, this is a person who is thoughtful in the way he goes. Proverbs 14:16, “One who is wise is cautious and turns away from evil.” Being cautious is to examine what is going on, to make judgments, and one who is ready to turn when there is evil near.
To believe everything without discernment can be very harmful and even sinful. We are not called to be fools. We are not to be fools because of the harm it can bring to us, to others, and to the name of our Lord. We are cautioned against foolishness.
We must understand God’s Word, everything in God’s Word within its context. None of the Bible was written independent of the rest of God’s Word. As we read we are to understand it within its context. That simply means that every passage, every word, has a context within which it is to be understood. To understand its meaning we need to know something about what surounds it, verses before and after it. Sometimes we need to understand the book in which it is written, ultimately we need to understand where it is in the Bible as a whole. God’s Word does not contradict itself. So what we have read in Proverbs does not contradict what we read in 1 Corinthians 13:7. We have to take it as a whole, understand it as a whole. We are to be students of the Word of God, learners, laborers in the Word to gain understanding.
So whatever Paul means by “love believes all things,” he does not mean to contradict the wisdom literature of the Proverbs which call us to be discerning, wise, and not foolish and gullible.
Let me give you one more example of one that we should not believe. The adulterous woman that we read about in Proverbs 7. She is one who speaks lies, speaks evil, speaks persuasive words that are meant to cut and to kill, she is evil personified, but her mouth speaks smooth words. Where will we be if we believe what she says?
6 For at the window of my house I have looked out through my lattice, 7 and I have seen among the simple, I have perceived among the youths, a young man lacking sense, 8 passing along the street near her corner, taking the road to her house 9 in the twilight, in the evening, at the time of night and darkness. 10 And behold, the woman meets him, dressed as a prostitute, wily of heart. 11 She is loud and wayward; her feet do not stay at home; 12 now in the street, now in the market, and at every corner she lies in wait. 13 She seizes him and kisses him, and with bold face she says to him, 14 “I had to offer sacrifices, and today I have paid my vows; 15 so now I have come out to meet you, to seek you eagerly, and I have found you. 16 I have spread my couch with coverings, colored linens from Egyptian linen; 17 I have perfumed my bed with myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon. 18 Come, let us take our fill of love till morning; let us delight ourselves with love. 19 For my husband is not at home; he has gone on a long journey; 20 he took a bag of money with him; at full moon he will come home.” 21 With much seductive speech she persuades him; with her smooth talk she compels him. 22 All at once he follows her, as an ox goes to the slaughter, or as a stag is caught fast 23 till an arrow pierces its liver; as a bird rushes into a snare; he does not know that it will cost him his life. (Proverbs 7:6-23)
If there is no context to what Paul says, we would be left with, well, I guess we would have to believe even this seductive, evil woman when she says, “Come with me and life will be good.” God has not called us to be simple fools. That is the way of a simple fool.
Even Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:21, “Test everything; hold fast what is good.” And in 2 Timothy 3:1 Paul wrote, “But understand this, that in the last days there will come time of difficulty.” Hard times were coming and those hard times were coming in the form of men who would hold to a form of godliness but who in reality oppose it. We of all people must be discerning.
If we are going to be true to God’s Word, we must be those who evaluate not only our own lives and personal decisions, but in some measure are willing to do the same with others. Not because we are curious, or we want to control, or we just want to be in other people’s business, but because we want to be faithful friends, careful to admonish and correct and speak truth in their lives. And so to do that we must at times: ask questions, check on others, and love others enough to walk through life with them, even when it may be hard.
Let me sum up this way. Paul says, “Love believes all things.” Believing all things cannot mean that we throw discernment and truth out in our relationships with each other, because the Bible is clear that we are to be discerning and not foolish. When trying to understand the Bible, we must understand it in its context and assume there will be no contradictions in the whole.
To believe all things in the context of Paul’s writing must be loving, since the context is love toward other people. To knowingly believe a lie from another person would not be loving toward them, because we would position ourselves out of a loving role toward them rather than be used by God lovingly for their good. And so with that, hopefully we have some insight into what this verse cannot mean and how it is sometimes misused.
We are left with one very big and obvious question. Now that we know what it does not mean that love believes all things, exactly what does it mean? Lord willing, we will answer that next time.