Love Never Gives Up
I Corinthians 13:7
December 10, 2000
Listen to this Sermon
The New International Version tells us that love “always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” The Contemporary English Version says that love “is always supportive, loyal, hopeful, and trusting.” The New Living Translation says “love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.” And finally, the King James Version says that love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
No matter which translation you use, the meaning is the same. The word “always” (or the phrase “all things”) is repeated four separate times so we won’t miss the point. Here are four aspects of love, which when taken together, teach us that no matter how desperate our circumstances may be, love never gives up.
I. Bears All Things-Godly Silence
The first phrase says that love “bears all things.” This comes from a Greek word meaning to cover something. It is related to the word for roof-a covering that offers protection from the hostile elements. I Peter 4:8 says that love covers a multitude of sins. That is precisely the meaning here. Love protects other people. It doesn’t broadcast bad news. It goes the second mile to protect another person’s reputation.
There are two very relevant applications: First, love doesn’t nitpick. It doesn’t point out every flaw of the ones you love. Once in a small group, we were discussing this very point and one of the wives present said a very wise thing: “You can’t talk everything out. Some things you just decide not to worry about.” She’s right. If you took time to point out every mistake your husband or wife made, you wouldn’t have time for anything else. That applies to every human relationship, not just to marriage.
Second, love doesn’t criticize in public. This is perhaps Paul’s primary meaning. Love doesn’t do its dirty laundry for all the world to see. That’s why I cringe whenever I hear a husband humiliating his wife in public or a wife making snide remarks about her husband. I always think, if they do that in public, what do they do in private? As a friend of mine once told me, “There are many times in my life when I’ve been sorry I opened my mouth. But there has never been a time I’ve been sorry I kept silent.” When it comes to needless criticism of other people, that’s excellent advice.
II. Believes All Things-Godly Trust
To “believe all things” means that love believes the best that is possible as long as that can be done. Love gives the benefit of the doubt. It takes people at their highest and best-not at their lowest and worst.
As I write these words, the presidential campaign is still not decided. And with each passing day, Americans become a bit more cynical about the whole political process. One day this man has won, the next day the other man has won. How will either man ever gain the trust of the entire nation? How will we “believe all things” when the election itself has been sullied and soiled by so many lawsuits, charges, rumors, accusations, and premature victory celebrations?
We live in an increasingly cynical age. If a person gives a large sum of money to a worthy charity, there is sure to be someone who mutters under his breath, “What’s the catch? What’s in it for him?” I’m not suggesting that love equals naive gullibility. Love must always be guarded by wisdom on one hand and discernment on the other. True love won’t be taken in again and again by a con artist. At some point love says, “Enough is enough.” But it is also useful to remember that even in a court of law, the accused person is always “innocent until proven guilty.” Love says, “I am willing to wait for the evidence to come in before making my decision. I choose to give you the benefit of the doubt as long as there is reason to do so.” Some of us treat our loved ones in nearly the opposite way: “You are guilty until you prove you are innocent.”
I do not tire of repeating that people tend to become what we believe them to be. They either live up to or down to your expectations. If you treat a man as trustworthy, he will strive to prove himself worthy of your trust. If you tell a child, “Take a big swing. You can hit that ball,” he’ll go to the plate and swing like Babe Ruth. If you treat your wife as if she is the most beautiful woman in the world, she will be transformed before your very eyes.
That’s what Jesus did. To vacillating Simon, he said, “You are a rock.” To a prostitute, he said, “Your sins are forgiven.” To a woman caught in adultery, he said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.” It is the simple power of believing the best and not the worst about people.
Love believes the best as long as it can be believed. Many of you will recognize the name of Dr. E.V. Hill, longtime pastor of Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles. He is one of the foremost preachers in America. Many men have heard him speak at Promise Keepers rallies in various cities. When he was a young man, he married Jane Carruthers, a young lady who came from a very aristocratic family. By his own testimony, he says that many eyebrows were raised that such a refined woman would marry a man who grew up in poverty. Shortly after they were married, E. V. convinced his wife that he should buy a gas station. She warned him that he didn’t know anything about running a gas station and they would lose all their money. Time proved the wisdom of her words. Eventually the day came when he told her that he had lost the gas station and all the money they had invested in it. Her response was simple: “I’ve been doing some calculating. If you had been a smoker and a drinker, we would have lost that much money anyway, so I figure it’s six of one and a half-dozen of the other. Let’s just forget about it and move on.” With those words she was saying to her chastened husband, “I still believe in you.”
Not too many weeks later, E. V. Hill came home to discover that his wife had prepared a lovely candlelight dinner. Thinking this would be a romantic evening together, he made some humorous comment and then went to the bathroom to wash his hands. When he flipped on the light switch, nothing happened. Then the truth hit home. When he sat down at the table, he wife started crying and said, “I know you’ve been working hard but we didn’t have any money to pay the electric bill so they turned off the electricity. I thought we’d just have a candlelight dinner tonight.”
Dr. Hill’s wife died a few years ago. At her funeral, Dr. Hill declared that she was the reason he had been so successful. Everything he had accomplished, he owed to his wife who in the darkest days never stopped believing in him. He noted that she could have said, “I’ve never been in this situation before. I was raised in the home of Dr. Carruthers and we never had our lights cut off.” But she didn’t say anything like that. Instead she said, “Somehow or other we will get these lights on. Let’s eat by candlelight.”
What a difference it makes when we believe in those around us. What a difference it makes when husbands and wives, and parents and children, and teachers and students, and friends and co-workers, and church members truly believe in each other. What a difference it makes in the dark moments of life when you can say to those you love, “I believe in you and no matter what happens, we’re going to make it through this thing together.”
III. Hopes All Things-Godly Optimism
The third phrase in verse 7 tells us that love “hopes all things.” This is simply a step beyond believing. The meaning is something like this. There are times in life when you face situations so difficult that faith is not possible. You would gladly give the benefit of the doubt but there is none to give. You search for the silver lining but the angry clouds overhead have no silver lining.
Some of you may be facing a situation like that right now. In your life there is a difficult circumstance for which there are no easy answers. It may be your marriage. It may be one of your children. It may be your family. It may be an illness. It may be impending financial disaster. It may be your job. Whatever it is, only one word applies: IMPOSSIBLE. You have cried and wept and prayed and done everything you know how to do and nothing seems to help.
What does love do in an impossible situation? What do you do when you can’t believe anymore? You hope. That’s a step beyond belief. Belief is finding a tiny grain of evidence to rest on. Hope rests on God alone.
I ran across an amazing fact not long ago. When Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, where was Judas? According to John 13, he was right there in the room. Did Jesus know what Judas was about to do? Absolutely. He even told him to go out and do it. Did Jesus wash Judas’ feet? Yes. And he was not play-acting either. How could he do it? He did it because he loved Judas even though he knew Judas would soon betray him. That’s how love works. No matter how impossible the situation, no matter if it looks like there is no possibility of change, love always hopes. It looks to the future, not to the past.
Let’s apply this principle to our closest relationships. We are often told that we must accept people just the way they are. That is true in one sense and untrue in another sense. Sometimes we are tempted to throw up our hands and say, “This is the way you are and no matter what I do, you are never going to change.” That’s not acceptance. That’s fatalism. It’s only true if there is no God. Biblical acceptance is based on hope in God. It says, “I accept that this is the way you are right now. But I don’t believe you are going to stay this way. I’m not giving up hope.”
When my father was dying, I received a phone call from my mother saying that we should come quickly to the hospital. That meant flying to a distant city to see him one last time. We packed a few things and hopped in the car to go to the airport. It was a Sunday afternoon and the streets were almost deserted. On our way we passed by a billboard sponsored by a brokerage house with a digital sign that recorded the current change in the stock market. Because it was the weekend there was nothing to report. The sign read +0.00. Plus Zero.
A thousand times I would pass that sign by and think nothing of it. But that day the image stuck in my mind. I was on my way to my father’s deathbed to say goodbye. Humanly speaking, there was no hope at all. But to live to is hope, and I prayed that somehow my father might be spared. It was not to be, but out of the sorrow of those days I learned a great lesson. When hope is gone, life is gone. To hope is to believe in God in spite of what you see around you. It is to live in Plus Zero territory. Zero is what life often gives us, the Plus is what we have in God.
Hope looks to the future! A man stopped to watch a Little League baseball game. He asked one of the youngsters what the score was. “We’re losing 18-0,” was the answer. “Well,” said the man. “I must say you don’t look discouraged.” “Discouraged?” the boy said, puzzled. “Why should we be discouraged? We haven’t come to bat yet.”
This week I ran across a quote attributed to British playwright Oscar Wilde: “The difference between a saint and a sinner is that the saint has a past and the sinner has future.” Both ends of that statement seem true to me. The saint has a past-to keep him from getting puffed up with pride, and the sinner has a future-to keep him from giving in to despair. In the gospel every sinner who comes to Christ has a wonderful future-no matter how bad his past has been. This is the source of our hope.
IV. Endures All Things-Godly Perseverance
Love “endures all things.” The word “endures” is a military term that means to hold a position at all costs, even unto death, whatever it takes. The battle may be lost but the soldier keeps on fighting to the very end. The word pictures an army surrounded by superior forces, being attacked and slowly overwhelmed on every side. One by one your comrades fall at your side. Through the din of battle comes one final command: “Stand your ground, men. And if necessary, die well.” So love holds fast to people it loves. It perseveres. It never gives up on anyone. Love won’t stop loving, even in the face of rejection.
With this phrase verse 7 comes to a logical climax. First, love covers the sins of the one it loves. Second, love believes the best as long as that is possible. Third, love hopes when it cannot believe. Fourth, love endures when even hope is gone.
Love does not commit suicide. It doesn’t give up and walk away. Years ago I knew a woman whose husband left her for another woman. At one point the couple entered marriage counseling, and for a brief moment there seemed to be hope. Then he walked out of counseling and went back to the other woman. The situation dragged on for months without resolution. Divorce proceedings began and continued with much wrangling over anything related to child custody.
One day I saw the woman and she told me an unusual story. “I asked him for my wedding ring,” she said. “Why would you do a thing like that?” I wondered. “When he moved out, I gave him my wedding ring as a sign that he had broken his wedding vows. But recently I began to think about what that ring symbolized. I realized that even though he has been unfaithful, we are still married. When I asked for the ring back, he was surprised. He was even more surprised when I put it back on my finger. By wearing the ring, I want to remind him of what he has done. I also want him to remember that he still has a wife.”
Love endures what can’t be endured. Love means wearing the wedding ring as a final reminder of what has been lost. That little story also reveals a crucial point. Love is not passive in the face of unjust treatment. Love takes action to shake up an intolerable situation. Love looks beyond the present to the hope of what might be in the future.
To love like this doesn’t mean that everything will always work out the way you like. That only happens in cheap dime store novels. In real life, love is often crushed, bruised and rejected. Loving others is risky business. What if they abuse the love you freely give? For the Christian, there is only one possible answer: It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. The real losers in life are not those whose love is rejected. They (and they alone) know the deep pain of loving in a fallen world. They understand something of God’s heart because the Father sent his Son to the world knowing that the world would reject him. The real losers are those who refuse to love at all.
In his book The Four Loves, C. S. Lewis spoke to this very point:
To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket-safe, dark, motionless, airless-it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable … The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers … of love is Hell (p. 169).
Love stands its ground in the face of curses, slander, hatred, ill treatment, and the worst that man can dish out. I have never forgotten the words of Corrie Ten Boom in The Hiding Place. When asked how she could endure a Nazi concentration camp without bitterness, she replied, “There is no pit so deep that the love of God is not deeper still.”
That one phrase is the key to this principle. First Corinthians 13 is about the love of God, not the love of man. Romans 5:5 says that the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. It is the work of the Holy Spirit to pour out God’s love into your heart. When the Holy Spirit has done His work, you are able to pour out the love of God that the Holy Spirit has poured into your heart. What God gives us, we are able to give to others.
In his sermon on this text, Charles Haddon Spurgeon closes by bringing his readers back to the cross of Christ as the source of this kind of love:
Behold the cross! See the patient Sufferer and that ribald multitude: they thrust out the tongue, they sneer, they jest, they blaspheme; and there he hangs, triumphant in his patience, conquering the world, and death and hell by enduring “all things.” O love, thou didst never sit on a throne so imperial as the cross, when there, in the person of the Son of God, thou didst all things endure. Oh that we might copy in some humble measure that perfect pattern which is here set before us. If you would bless your generation, let no unkindness daunt you; let no considerations of your own character, or honor, or peace of mind keep you back, but of you may it be said, even as of your Lord, “He saved others, himself he could not save”(from the sermon “Love’s Labors,” September 4, 1881).
As Plain As the Nose on Your Face
It is not simply difficult to live this way, it is impossible. But what God demands of us, the Holy Spirit supplies within us. Our deepest needs are not intellectual or emotional; our deepest needs are spiritual. It is an old story, repeated over and over again. Many of us struggle in our circumstances because we are fighting against the Lord and his plan for our lives. The answer is as plain as the nose on your face. Let each of us yield ourselves completely to the Holy Spirit. Let each one of us ask God for the love which only he can supply. And as we face hard times and difficult moments, let us pray daily, “O God, let your will be done even if it means that my will is not done.” As we relinquish the control of our lives to the Lord Jesus Christ, we will find that the Holy Spirit’s power has been released in us and the love of God will become a personal reality that works in us and through us to touch those around us.
In closing, I offer you no miracle cure for the problems of life. If it is true that into each life some rain must fall, then some of you are getting a thunderstorm right now. I don’t know when the rain will end. But it doesn’t have to destroy your life. When the love of God is your foundation, the rains can come, the winds can blow, the river can rise to the threshold, but your house will stand firm because it is built on the rock which cannot be shaken.