Love seems like such a simple concept. Doesn’t it? Yet, the love from God continues to amaze me. I am constantly learning about the nature of this love and I believe it is all of our duty to continually grow in the knowledge of it. It is so different than the love we learn from our culture, and that is why the concept is so surprising. When you say the word “love”, you conjure up this idea we grew up being exposed to. Yet when God says “love” He means something entirely different and He expects us to grasp it because He tells us to do this to others. Love to God is always selfless and unconditional. Easy to say. Hard to truly grasp.
When we talk about love in the Bible, where do we usually end up? Yep. 1 Corinthians 13. This study is based on just one verse of that chapter… but it sure packs a punch. I will venture to say, most Christians don’t get it at all. If they do, they sure have a funny way of showing it. Verse 7:
[Love] Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
Now I think where a lot of commentators, theologians, and even translators get tripped up is around the term “all things”. Yes, that phrase is supposed to be there. It is essential to the understanding of the verse. This little phrase is the Greek word pas, which means each, every, any, all, the whole, everyone, all things… everything. So we cannot remove this without drastically altering the concept. So what does it mean? It was staggering to me to realize it and shameful to me because I have lacked these things for so many years as a Christian.
1) Beareth all things – Like so many of us I used to read this from a selfish perspective. I read, “no matter how bad things get for me, love will see me through it”. And although this can be a true statement, I do not think it is entirely what Paul intended. The context here (given the verses leading up to this one) is about how we should act if we have love. We should bear all things with love. This includes and perhaps is intended towards the burdens of others. Paul also told the Galatians in chapter 6 verses 1-2:
Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.
This verse is the perfect companion to the study of bearing all things. Have you ever been overtaken in a fault? Overtaken? Oh yes, may God have mercy on me. That sin that just consumes you. The one you have fought and fought and prayed and prayed about. It is in our nature to point and talk about those we see overtaken in a sin. We shake our heads and often condemn them for not being “more faithful”. What we should be doing is bearing all things with them! Look at the intensity of that first verse… “lest thou also be tempted”. He wants you so ingrained in their issue that you have to be careful not to get tangled up yourself. This is devotion. This is love… the fulfilling of the law.
2) Believeth all things – This one really trips people up. The first thing you think is I can’t believe things like false doctrines. Because of this a lot of commentators suppose it means “believe all good things” or “believe all things from God”. But this is not what the verse says. Remember the definition of pas. Again, this statement is about loving others. It is about believing in people. We have to be told this because most of us are skeptical of other people, especially people with bad histories or reputations. Love trusts them, even when they betray us. It’s amazing to watch us Christians at work concerning skepticism. You can reach out to help someone or invite a “sinner” into your home and all of the sudden Christian friends start calling. “Be careful” they say. “Don’t trust them.” “Don’t leave money around.” “Don’t leave them at your home alone.” Maybe the one thing that desperate person needs is for someone to trust them. For once. Let’s say a bum comes into your church and says he needs money for food or gas. Many churches even have “policies” concerning this where they will not give money but will escort the bum to the grocery store or gas station. Sure this is still helpful, but it also sends a message. “We don’t trust you!” And we wonder why we never see that person again. We are so scared of being taken advantage of or being betrayed, we fail to love. Because love believes.
3) Hopeth all things – This goes hand in hand with the previous thought. The reason your love believes all things is because you have hope in them as well. You see the bum not as a bum, but as a living soul made in the image of God. You know there is potential for greatness in everyone… even a bum. Read James chapter 2 from start to finish a few times with focus on that first verse. God can work these miracles if we will just give Him the chance.
4) Endureth all things – Why? Because people will betray you. It will happen. If you are bearing others burdens, trusting them unconditionally, and putting your hope in them you will get burned. Enduring means not minding it so much. You hope for the best and prepare for the worse. Then when the betrayal happens, you are saddened but not maddened (uh… angered). If you can dish it out, love can take it.
Just think if I gave 10 dollars to 100 bums on the street, then I’m out 1000 dollars. They might all end up spending that money on booze. But let’s say just one is intrigued by my love and trust and is converted upon learning the reason why I helped. Is one soul worth my 1000 dollar investment? Even if it was one out of 1000, I would have spent 10000 over time, and it would still be worth every cent. This is the nature of God’s love. A love we neglect far too often.
Think about how Jesus handled people. He did exactly what we just talked about. He bore people’s burdens. He trusted the untrustworthy, even while the religious people and his own disciples wondered why he was bothering with such low-lifes like prostitutes and publicans (tax-collectors). He placed hope in people like Matthew and Zacchaeus who were both publicans. A Jew collecting taxes for the Roman Empire was considered an enemy of God and His people, but Jesus saw more in them. He also endured any affliction, denial, or betrayal He encountered. At one point He healed 10 lepers, but only one returned to glorify God. Was Jesus not perceptive enough to know the other 9 would flake out? Of course He was, but He still put His hope in them and endured it when they failed.
It’s high time we started being like Christ since we bear His name. Start bearing some burdens, start trusting people, and start placing hope in people even if we have to endure failure. Sure we can talk about love, so maybe it’s time we stop saying we love others and start doing something.
But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.
– 1 John 3:17-18