The Duration of Love
Series: Love Is
Love feels great, but how do you know when it’s genuine? Paul has given us many marks of true love in this passage, but this week we come to one many of us recognize: We know love is real when it actually lasts, especially through difficulty.
Loving the Way Jesus Loves, Phil Ryken
We’re continuing our series this morning in 1 Corinthians 13 about love, and one of the hard things about love is knowing when it’s authentic. It’s something rappers talk about frequently: The first verse of Jay-Z’s “Can I get a…”, Diddy’s “I need a girl,” Kendrick’s “Loyalty.” They’re all seeing there’s a kind of fake love, and the difference between it and authentic love, is authentic love sticks around when things get hard. And according to 1 Corinthians 13, they’re on to something. We’re focusing on verse 7 today, which ends with these words: Love endures all things. True love endures forever. And the statements that precede it explain how love endures all things: it bears all things, believes all things, and hopes all things.
Love bears all things
The best clue as to what bearing all things means here comes from earlier in 1 Corinthians where the same word appears in chapter 9, verse 12. There Paul says, “we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ.” The word translated “endure” there is actually the word translated “bear” here; I know, confusing. The point, however, is that Paul is willing to go through anything in the cause of Christ. He will take whatever pains come rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ. In the context of his original statement, he’s talking about receiving payment: Paul knew if he took money from the Corinthians, it would cause many to say he was only in it for the money. So, he was willing to bear the burden of living on less money than he could have had, in order that his taking of money would not be an obstacle to people believing the gospel and being saved. What he’s saying here in chapter 13, then, is that such an action on his part is not exceptional. He’s not a super Christian; he’s just a Christian, and what Christians do, what love does, is love bears all things, or in other words, love is willing to undergo any suffering or pain that come with love. The idea here is not that we go looking for suffering. The idea is we go looking to love, and when suffering comes into our path, we don’t then give up love. We bear the suffering, and go on loving.
And love often does require suffering. Love means that another is dear to you: First God, then people, and sometimes their interests will conflict with your private interests. In Paul’s example, the eternal interest of the Corinthians conflicted with his private interests: He knew he couldn’t make more money and still be of service to them in the ministry of the gospel, so he had a choice: Bear the loss of money, or put an obstacle in the way of the Corinthians believing the gospel. Love chooses in such cases to lose the money. To love the poor also means those of us with more money have to bear the loss of some of it, living with an awareness that we could have an easier, more comfortable life, if we just kept all of it. Love often means we have to bear the loss of our time: Time we could have spent furthering our career or indulging our hobbies is time we will sometimes have to forfeit in order to show hospitality to another, call someone who may be lonely or going through a hard time, or pray for others.
One of the best ways to do that is to schedule love into your life: Commit to serving in the church and community, commit to spending time with a fellow church member or neighbor, commit to a Citygroup, and so forth, and yet even there, sometimes love means bearing incursions on your schedule when unexpected and more urgent opportunities for love arise. It means bearing inefficiency and the loss of productivity. It means bearing fear and discomfort when you’re loving people different from you or people who seem like they may have a lot of needs. But perhaps the hardest thing to bear in the path of love is when that love is not reciprocated. For fear of this, we often do not initiate with others at all. Instead, we respond to those who already seem to love us, and if nobody does, we assume it’s because everyone around us is unloving. Or perhaps we do initiate, but then at the first sign the other person isn’t loving us in return, we give up.
Do you see why in order for love to endure all things, love must bear all things? Anytime you first meet someone and there is a “spark”, love comes naturally, whether in romance, friendship, or even with a church and with God Himself. But then it doesn’t take long, maybe a few months, to realize that to keep loving this person or these people is going to mean bearing some things, and there’s the test: Do you actually love them, are they dear to you, or do you love the feeling you got from being loved by them, and once that feeling l0ses its luster, the love you felt is gone? That’s not real love. Maybe someone sold you a false bill of goods when they invited you to follow Christ: Follow Jesus and you’ll have a new sense of purpose in life, a new identity, a new security, the husband and Father you’ve always wanted. That’s all true by the way, gloriously true, and it only comes to those who are willing to bear all things. There is no promise of a crown without the promise of a cross. There is no call to believe without a call to repent. It was Jesus who said, “any of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33). He told a parable about those who receive the word with joy, like a plant springing quickly up, but when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, they fall away. Why? They never actually loved Christ. They loved themselves, and when they had a choice between their own comforts and Christ, they chose their comforts. Love, on the other hand, bears all things. If it does not, it cannot endure. Sounds hard, right? That’s why it’s only possible if love also believes all things.
Love believes all things
When you hear “believes all things”, don’t hear, “love believes whatever it hears.” The Bible is no fan of gullibility. There’s true doctrine and false doctrine, true spirituality and false superstition, true godliness and false moralism, and so on. What Paul is saying here is love believes all that God says. Love is gullible with respect to God. Love says to God, “You say it, I believe it.” It takes Him at His Word. As one of our songs here says, “Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus, just to take Him at His Word, just to rest upon His promise, just to know, thus saith the Lord.” It doesn’t mean we never ask questions about what God has said. Sometimes we may not be clear on what He means, so we have to probe deeper to find out. Or we may be clear on what He means, but we don’t understand how it can be so, or how that can be good. Those are all good questions, but love will not suspend belief in what God says on perfect understanding or getting all of its questions answered. Love says, “God says it, I believe it…now let me ask this…” The order is well put by the African church father Augustine and after him the medieval pastor Anselm: credo ut intelligam, “I believe in order to understand,” not “I wait until I understand everything, and then I believe.”
So we could say love is not rationalistic; it’s not beholden to what we can understand, but it is rational: It does have specific content it believes. 1 John 5:1 says, “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him.” So one of the evidences that one has truly been born again is that they believe specific content, in this case, that “Jesus is the Christ.” That’s a doctrinal statement, laid down for us in Scripture, and true love believes such a statement because God said it. Love is not merely a positive sentiment toward the idea of God and people; it results in affirming the truth of what God says. This makes sense, right? If we love someone, we tend to believe them, though perhaps for other humans we reserve the possibility that they may be uninformed, or even lying. In God’s case however, if we truly love Him, we love Him as God, the one who knows all things, and the one who cannot lie. What good reason could we ever possibly have not to believe something He has said?
And in order to endure in love, in order to bear all things, you have to believe all that God says. Like you can initiate with someone when it’s fun, but when they’re not reciprocating, when it no longer feels good, you’re going to have to believe there’s a real God who loves you, so you don’t need others to love you, who sees your love and will reward you in heaven when no one else will. You can do religious things even when they help you feel better, but when the world starts calling you a hateful bigot, you’re going to have to believe there’s a real God who says blessed are you when others revile you and utter all kinds of evil against you on account of the word. You’re going to have to believe there’s a real Jesus who is better than the sins our world is calling good. When love requires you to do something scary, you’re going to have to believe there is a real God who reigns over whatever you are afraid of, so that nothing will happen to you apart from Him. You are going to have to believe that even if your fears are realized, He will work your suffering for good, and it will not even compare with the glories of a real heaven. You’re going to have to believe He actually loves you, and nothing, not even your worst fears, can separate you from His love.
I think of how so many of you, during this pandemic, have been out packing meals and delivering boxes of food to our food insecure neighbors, even though of course you would be safer at home. I also think of Citygroup leaders, who are willing to start a group when they don’t know if anyone will come, who have jumped on Zoom week after week to lead discussions of God’s Word, to pray with others, and to encourage others, not knowing how many other faces they’ll see on the screen, or whether those faces will talk back to them tonight. I think of those of you over the years who have loved your fellow members enough to have hard conversations with them when it seems like they are wandering. I think of how many of you have been faithful to check in and pray for those who are going through difficulty, even though it would make your life easier to ignore the pain of others. Why do you do these things? In many ways, I think it’s because you actually believe this stuff: There is a real God, He matters, He loves me, and nothing can separate me from His love. Let’s keep believing that stuff, and do so more and more. Love cannot endure on love alone. It needs the fuel of faith, faith in what God says. Study it deeply, know it deeply, and believe it all. Specifically, however, love hopes all things.
Love hopes all things
Hope is kind of a subset of belief. Love believes all God says, but if love is to endure, it has to especially believe what God says about the future. The future is what hope is oriented toward. I hinted at it a bit ago, but hope has to do specifically with things God says like this, in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians: “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthains 4:17-18). Hope looks to the things that are unseen, the unseen future, and says, “That’s real. Even though I’m suffering now, a day is coming when I will not be, and all these sufferings will have given birth to a glory that far outweighs them. So I’m going to keep going.” God has promised specific things will happen in the future: He will gather a people for His name called the church from all the peoples of the earth, He will unify His people, He will purify His people, all things will work together for the good of His people, He will execute a perfect and equitable justice according to a perfectly righteous standard, He will make a new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells, He will wipe away every tear for our eyes, He will destroy death forever, and most of all, He will be with us forever, and there will be fullness of joy in His presence, pleasures at His right hand forevermore. Loves believes all those things, and whatever else I forgot, and therefore love hopes all things.
And because love believes what God will do in the future, love also has hope for what God can do in the present. Because I know that God will save His people from all the peoples of the earth, I can have hope that God can save my neighbor. So I can keep loving my neighbor. Because I know that God will purify His church, I can have hope that God can purify my church, that it can be better than what it is now, and therefore I can keep loving it before it gets better. Because I know that God will execute perfect justice, I know that He can bring justice in our world, and therefore I can keep working for it out of love for Him and my neighbor. Unless you have a real substantial reason to believe things can get better, and in fact, a real substantial reason to believe that in the end, they will get better, you cannot endure. But if you actually bear all things, if you actually believe all things, if you actually hope all things, what could stop you from enduring all things? What could possibly cause you to give up? You’re bearing whatever love costs, you’re believing all God says, and you have a real, substantial hope beyond wishful thinking that things will get better. That’s a love that will endure.
In fact, it’s a love that did endure. For God, there was a cost to enduring in love for us. Before God made us, He loved us. But He did so knowing that He would have to bear His love not being reciprocated. The first humans He made refused to love Him, and so has every one of their children. In refusing to love Him, we have violated His law, and are therefore deserving of judgment according to His justice. The only way for Him to endure in love for us, then, was to also take upon Himself the burden of satisfying His justice. That would mean the lawmaker would have to come and live under the law. That would mean He’d have to be made like us in every way, except sin, bearing all of the weaknesses and sufferings common to humanity under sin. That would mean He’d have to bear even our sins, and bear the judgment of God for them in our place. And listen to what He did:
“Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned, everyone, to his own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:4-6). “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree…” (1 Peter 2:24). That’s a love that bears all things, because He believed all things: Jesus believed there was a real God, that His glory mattered, and that there was hope for Him and for us on the other side of the grave.
And His hope was not put to shame, for God did raise Him from the dead, and now whoever believes in Him receives forgiveness of their sins and a hope that will not let them down. So believe in Him and set all your hopes for the future on Him. He promises that whoever comes to Him, He will never cast out, but will raise them up on the last day. He has loved us with an everlasting love, and He loves us still, bearing our sins against Him still. On the days we do not love Him, His love still bears all things, and His love will endure all things. Bear all things for Him, believe all that He says, set all your hopes on Him, and through Him, you too will endure…and you will not be disappointed.