So far, in I Corinthians 13, we’ve taken a look at what love is, what love is not, what loves does and doesn’t do, and this morning, we’re going to close out the characteristics of love by looking at what love always does.
I want to share with you a love story that will probably be more meaningful to those of you who are older. In 1947, Kim Grove was born in New Zealand. When she was 26 years old, she met her future husband, Roberto Casali at a ski club. While they were dating, she sent him a postcard and, on that card, she doodled a little caricature of herself.
Over time, Kim doodled caricatures of herself and Roberto on little cards that she left in various places for him to find (such as under his pillow, in his jacket pocket, in his car’s glove compartment, in a drawer).
Later, when she was working at a printing company, Kim stapled together some of her illustrations into little booklets, entitled them “Love is When” and then sold them from her desk for $1 each. Those little booklets became so popular that, in 1970, the Los Angeles Times paid her to create some little cartoons that some of you may recognize. It was simply called “Love Is…”
It was a big success and, before long, it was syndicated in newspapers and magazines in over 50 countries. And I can remember reading those cartoons when I was dating Sueanne, and, in fact, I may have sent her a few in the mail.
I did a little research to see what those cartoons tell us that love always does and found these: “Love is always kissing each other goodnight”, “Love is always looking on the bright side of life”, and “Love is always looking beautiful in his eyes”. And as good a job as Kim Casali may have done in capturing what love is, it doesn’t begin to compare with what the apostle Paul said about love.
In I Corinthians 13:7 in the NIV, Paul said that love “always protects, always trusts, always hopes, [and] always perseveres.” Let’s take a look at each of these.
1. Love Always Protects
Most other translations say that “love bears all things”, which seems to convey the idea that “love puts up with a lot”. Which is true. And the Greek word that’s used here can mean that, but it can also mean something else. It can mean “to protect”.
This word is related to the Greek word for “roof.” A roof provides a protective covering from the elements, and we protect those whom we love. A good shepherd protects his sheep. Elders protect the church. A husband protects his wife. Parents protect their children. And so, I think the NIV has it right when it says that love “always protects”.
I heard about someone who went to the Smithsonian Institute to view the Declaration of Independence. They noticed that almost everyone, as they were leaving, said something to the guard who stood nearby. And so, they asked him, “What question do you hear the most?”
And, without hesitation, the guard said, “Everyone wants to know how the Declaration of Independence is protected.” And then he went on to explain how each night it was mechanically transported into a huge vault sunk deep beneath the ground of the museum.
Jacques Cousteau was right when he said, “People protect what they love.” We all want to make sure that the things we love are safe and sound. That’s why we lock our cars. We put security systems in our homes. We put our valuables in a safety deposit box. We all want to make sure that the things we love are safe. Which, I think, is what Paul meant when he said that, “Love always protects.”
We sometimes hear people talk about the importance of creating “a safe space”. And what we mean by that is that it can be very difficult for us to open up to people and be vulnerable. Because we’re afraid of how people might react. We’re afraid they might put us down, or make fun of us, embarrass us, or share our secrets with other people.
But that’s not what love does. Love protects others. I think one of the best examples of this in scripture is Joseph, Jesus’s earthly father. When Joseph learned about Mary’s pregnancy, he had a choice to make. He could either “expose her to public disgrace” or he could “divorce her quietly” (Matthew 1:19). Joseph’s plan was to keep things quiet. In other words, he wanted to protect Mary from public humiliation. That’s what love does.
Love creates a “safe space” where people can freely express themselves because they know that love isn’t going to break their confidence, or respond with sarcasm or put-downs. Love won’t try to humiliate them. Love protects the people we love.
Psalm 68:5 tells us that God is a “father of the fatherless and protector of widows.” In other words, God protects those who are vulnerable, those whom others have mistreated or ignored.
And if there’s any place that ought to be a safe place, it’s the church. We are called by God to be a safe place for those who are vulnerable… a place where abuse can be safely disclosed; a place where struggles with addiction can be shared; a place where people can come together and share their life story, without fear of judgment or ridicule.
But we all know that the church has often failed to live up to our responsibility to be a safe place for all people. Stories of abuse by ministers and other church leaders are a great shame, and make it more difficult for all of us to be seen as loving and trustworthy. And even if churches are free from actual abuse, they may still not be seen as places where people feel safe to come “just as they are.”
For non-churchgoing people, they often assume that churches are all about evaluating and judging people for their sins and shortcomings. When it comes to the preaching and teaching of the church, they often expect to be scolded with a “fire and brimstone” sermon about how terrible they are. And so, not surprisingly, people don’t seem all that eager to go to church.
But this ought to be a place where you can feel free to share your struggles and find a group of people who will lovingly help you find a better life. But this will only be seen as a safe place if we understand that love always protects people. That doesn’t mean that we excuse wrongdoing or that we try to evade the consequences of sin, but it does mean that we help strengthen those who are weak, and we shield and stand up for those who are vulnerable and mistreated.
Love always protects people.
2. Love Always Trusts
Most translations say here that love “believes all things” which makes it sounds like love is gullible, that love will believe just about anything that anybody says. But that’s not the idea at all. So, I think, once again, the NIV does a better job when it says that love “always trusts”.
Another way to put it is that love always believes the best about other people. Instead of being suspicious and eager to find fault, love believes the best. If there is some doubt about a person’s guilt or their motivation for doing something, love will always choose the most favorable possibility.
And this is such an important part of love because each and every one of us is constantly making assumptions about other people. And the truth is, we don’t have much choice. Because I can see what you’re doing. But what I can’t know, unless I ask you, is why you did it.
Maybe, before worship service began, you walked right past me without saying hello. You totally ignored me. I don’t know why, so I start making assumptions. And there’s something about human nature that makes us want to assume the worst.
Maybe you did it because you’re mad at me. Maybe you did it because you’re a snob and you think you’re better than I am. But there could be a lot of reasons. You could just have a lot on your mind. You could have gotten some bad news and your mind was elsewhere. There are a lot of different possibilities.
But here’s the thing. What you assume is going to depend very much on how you feel about that person. If this is your best friend, then you’re probably going to assume there must be a good explanation. But, if this someone you don’t like, you’re probably going to assume the worst. In fact, you may get highly offended. As difficult as it may be, love doesn’t jump to conclusions. Love always believes the best, it always gives someone the benefit of the doubt.
Job’s friends are a good example of how love doesn’t act. In fact, I’m not sure why they’re even referred to as his friends. Job was suffering terribly. And all they had ever heard before and taught before was that if you suffered, it was because of your sins. Even Job didn’t understand why he was suffering, but he knew it wasn’t because he had done anything wrong because he was a good upright man. And he tried to tell that to his friends, but they didn’t believe him. They were ready to believe the very worst about Job, thoroughly convinced that his problems could only have been caused by his sins.
In fact, in Job 22, Eliphaz starts listing all the sins that he thought Job was guilty of — stealing, taking advantage of people, not providing for the needy. He said to Job, “Is not your wickedness great, and your iniquity without end?” (Job 22:5). It’s evident that those men didn’t love Job because they were quick to believe the worst. But love always trusts. Love always believes the best about others
Barnabas is probably the Bible character who best exemplifies this characteristic of love. When Saul of Tarsus was converted to Christianity, nobody trusted him. They thought he was infiltrating their ranks. Everyone except Barnabas. Barnabas took a chance on Saul and trusted him. “And when Saul had come to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, and did not believe that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles.” (Acts 9:26-27).
It means so much to have someone who has faith in us, someone who believes the best about us. You husbands and wives know the power of a spouse like that. There have been times that the only thing that kept me going was the knowledge that Sueanne has faith in me. She believes in me and I need that.
As members of the body of Christ, we need to have that kind of relationship with one another. It’s so easy for us to believe the worst about others, to jump to conclusions about what they did or why they did it, but love will always believe the best. Love always trusts.
3. Love Always Hopes
To put it another way, love is optimistic, not pessimistic. It doesn’t expect that the person we love is going to fail, but to succeed. And even if there is failure, love refuses to take that failure as the final word.
This is so important because there are times that those you love will make mistakes. Despite the fact that you love them and believe the best and encourage them, there will be times that they will stumble and fall. In fact, they may commit a terrible sin; they may decide to turn their back and walk away from Christ and his church altogether.
But love always hopes. No matter how far into sin someone has gone, love still has hope that they will repent and be restored to a right relationship with God. When Israel failed in the Old Testament, God didn’t give up on them because he loved them. He refused to take their failures as final. When Peter sinned numerous times and especially when he denied Jesus three times, Jesus didn’t give up on him. When the Corinthians had failed as a congregation in so many ways, Paul refused to give up on them.
There are so many Christians who live in hope — the parents of a backsliding child, the spouse of an unbelieving marriage partner, a congregation that has disciplined members who don’t repent. And when that happens, we show our love by living in hope that the child, the spouse, or the erring brother or sister will be restored and saved. Love refuses to take failure as final. As long as there is life, love doesn’t lose hope.
It’s also hope that allows you to see a person’s full potential. When you look through the Bible, you see some amazing transformations — for example, Saul the persecutor of Christians turned apostle. We recognize that through the power of the gospel, God is also able to change the lives of people around us. It is love that allows us to see that potential. We need to focus on what others have the ability to become — what we hope they will become.
It’s not always easy to think that way. But Jesus had that same kind of hopeful love that showed itself whenever he talked with adulterers and tax collectors and prostitutes. It was this kind of hopeful love he showed toward his twelve apostles. He met the blundering Simon and renamed him Peter, “the rock”. He had hope for this young man.
But a person who has no hope for others will find it impossible to show love. He’ll focus on a person’s failures and mistakes. He’ll find it difficult to look past any ways that he has been personally offended.
But the person who has a love that always hopes is able to look beyond the way things are and think about how things can be. It sees the potential in people.
Adam Clark wrote a commentary over 200 years ago that is still read today. Yet, as a young boy, Adam Clark was a very slow learner. His teacher once introduced Adam to a distinguished visiting teacher as “Adam Clark, the stupidest boy in our school.” The visitor called Adam aside and, with great kindness, said to him, “Never mind what they say; you may be a great scholar someday. Just keep on working hard and don’t be discouraged.”
It’s easy to see the difference between those two people. The teacher had no hope, the visitor was full of hope. The teacher expressed a lack of love, and the visitor showed his love. We all need people that will show that kind of hope in our lives. And as Christians who love one another, we need to have that kind of hope in others. Love always hopes.
4. Love Always Perseveres
Many of the other translations say that love “always endures”. The Greek word here is a military word that meant to sustain the assault of an enemy. It has the idea of persevering in spite of difficulties. Love hangs in there when things get tough. Solomon wrote that “Many waters cannot quench love, nor can the floods drown it.” (Song of Solomon 8:7).
You’ll all heard of “fair-weather” friends. When the going gets tough, they head the other direction. But agape love will always be there. This is probably best illustrated by the wedding vows. When you get married, you promise to be faithful and committed to one another, “for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health.” You’re saying to that bride or groom, “No matter what happens, I will always be there for you.”
But our society has such a false idea of love. People see love as a pie-in-the-sky, bells-in-the-head, butterflies-in-the-stomach phenomenon; an “I-feel-the-earth-move-under-my-feet” sort of feeling. Love is wonderful. Love is not having any problems or conflicts to work out.
But it doesn’t take people long to figure out that this view of love is not at all realistic. Love is a wonderful thing, but there are times that love is not a beautiful, emotional experience; it’s a struggle. Love isn’t something that comes easily and naturally. Sometimes it’s hard work.
Humorist Sam Levenson once said, “Love at first sight is easy to understand. It’s when two people have been looking at each other for years that it becomes a miracle” (Reader’s Digest [3/83]). But it’s not really a miracle; it’s simply the result of allowing God to work through us, to help us to get rid of our selfishness and practice true godly love in our homes.
There are times when loving others involves difficulties and hardships and heartaches. Sometimes the person you’re trying to love doesn’t act in a very lovable manner. Sometimes that person is downright hateful towards you. Sometimes you feel like it’s not worth all the effort and the pain.
But it is this characteristic of “perseverance” or “endurance” that allows love to continue on even when it’s not easy. As I said, this Greek term was a military term that had to do with being positioned in the middle of a violent battle. The idea here is not that love can handle the little, minor annoyances. True love can handle every hardship and every suffering we face while we’re trying to love, because love always perseveres.
Perseverance isn’t easy, and it’s not easy because it’s so opposed to our natural instincts. When things get hard, we have two immediate impulses. The first is to give up; we simply want to quit. The second is to lash out at whoever or whatever it is that is making life difficult for us. But love always perseveres.
It is perseverance that keeps us from quitting on the one we love or lashing out at the one we love. It takes perseverance to keep a marriage together. Those of us who are married know (even though we may not admit out loud) that there are times when you feel anything but a warm feeling toward that person you love. But the love that keeps a marriage together and growing is a love that can endure and persevere those difficult times.
I think of Jesus and the tremendous pressure he suffered. He knew that he was going to be arrested, betrayed by a close friend and forsaken by all the rest. He knew about the coming pain of the beatings and the thorns and the nails. He knew about the mockery and the insults and the loneliness of the cross. But in John 13, we read, “Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come that he should depart to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” (John 13:1). Love always perseveres, and Jesus had a love that wouldn’t give up.
And, as Christians, we all face something similar. Because the people around us, and even the Christians around us will not always treat us kindly. There will always be rough moments in all of our relationships. And when that happens, we can quit, we can lash out, or we can decide to love others no matter what. A godly love will not stop loving, because love always perseveres.
Love bears what is otherwise unbearable; it believes what is otherwise unbelievable; it hopes in what is otherwise hopeless; and it endures when anything less than love would give up.
As we come to a close, we’ve spent a lot of time over the past weeks talking about love and the characteristics of love. Some might even say that we’ve spent too much time on it. But I make no apologies.
There’s an old legend about the apostle John that says that, in his old age, John was so weak that he had to be carried to church. And, at the end of every worship service, the apostle was invited to say a few words. He is reported to have said the exact same words every single time — “Little children, love one another.”
After this went on for quite a while, everyone got a bit tired of hearing the same words every single time. And so, finally someone asked him why he said the same thing over and over. His reply was this: “Because it is the Lord’s command, and if this only is done, it is enough.” We have no way of verifying that story, but it certainly sounds like something John would have said because his gospel and his letters are filled with exhortations to love.
For example, as we saw a few weeks ago, Jesus told his disciples, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love one for another.” (John 13:34-35).
Love is the mark that we are truly disciples of Jesus. I understand that it is sometimes difficult to love one another. We don’t always agree with each another, or share the same values and priorities. Many of us have been hurt, or abandoned, or abused by people we trusted and loved. Often, the people closest to us are the ones who have hurt us the most. And our natural reaction is to want to lash out and treat other people the same way they’ve treated us. But as followers of Jesus, we’re commanded to love one another even as Jesus has loved us.
For the past several weeks, I’ve asked you to keep two separate lists and to put each of the characteristics of love in one of these two lists – those qualities that you feel you’re fairly strong at, and those that you feel are your weak areas. If you haven’t done that as we go, that’s OK, but I would ask you to take few moments this week in your quiet time to make those two lists.
And after you do that, I’d like for you to circle the three areas on your strengths list where you feel you are the strongest. And then circle the three areas on your weaknesses list where you feel you need the most growth.
And once you’ve done that, give praise to God for those areas he has helped you to be strong, and ask then God to help you with your weaknesses. The qualities Paul that has described here are really just manifestations of the fruit of the Spirit in your life. And the only way to become a more loving person is to yield yourself to God and his Spirit, asking him to change you.
Someone has suggested taking your own name and plugging it into verses 4-7 wherever you see the word love to see how you measure up. “Alan is patient and kind, Alan does not envy or boast….” If you’re like me, you won’t get very far before you get discouraged and say, “Yeah, right! If only that were me!”
Perhaps a better suggestion is to take Jesus’ name and plug it in wherever you see the word love. “Jesus is patient and kind. Jesus does not envy or boast, he is not proud. Jesus is not rude or self-seeking, he is not easily angered, he keeps no record of wrongs. Jesus does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. He always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”
Jesus is the only person who truly fulfills this beautiful picture of love. He’s the ultimate example of love that breaks love down into its different parts so that we can see it more clearly. And so, rather than get discouraged over your own shortcomings, focus on Jesus, who is the perfect example of love. And let God do his work in your life, transforming you day by day into the likeness of Christ by the power of his Spirit. That, my brothers and sisters, is the secret to growing in love.