Love Never Quits

Title: Love Never Quits

Text: 1 Corinthians 13:7

Time: June 24th, 2007

 

We finally arrive at the end of Paul’s very detailed description of love; the rest of the chapter mostly summarizes what has been said and its importance compared to other things in the Christian life. If you remember, Paul never gives us a simple, one-sentence definition of love, but rather describes what love is and what love isn’t. It’s sort of what you might have to do in trying to define beauty. You might point to a sunrise or a sunset and say, “That’s beauty.” Or you might go to the mountains and use these as a description of beauty. I used to live in the Rocky Mountains in Colorado Springs, Colorado. I can testify that the mountains are beautiful. No matter where you might be in the Colorado Springs you could always look towards the mountains and see their beauty. Or you could go hiking in the mountains and experience the beauty close up. You might point to flowers and say, “That’s beauty.” And so on. That’s the same approach Paul takes in describing love; he points to one thing, then another, and tries to paint a picture of what love is. But that’s not all. He also points at things and uses them as examples of what love isn’t like. And in defining beauty we could do the same thing. We could point to an ugly, old, city building and say, “That’s not what beauty is.” Or we could point to an old junk car with the wheels off and the paint chipping and the windows broken and say, “That’s not beauty.” Paul uses that technique in defining love and its opposite. But now we come to the end of the list of characteristics of love, and it’s as if Paul is impatient to get to the end of the list, it’s as if Paul is getting tired of listing characteristics of love and wants to say after he finishes, “You get the picture?” He lists four last things in rapid succession and includes the word “all” with each point. As the King James Version says in 1 Corinthians 13:7, “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” I’m not going to take each word and spend a whole message on each word as I’ve done before because it seems that Paul wanted to put these four things together for their combined effect and to quickly and generally make this point – love doesn’t quit. Why? Because it’s the big temptation for all of us in life to reach a certain point with people where we simply get tired of loving and quit, just stop loving them any more. It’s human nature to simply get tired of loving someone who takes up a lot of our time, energy and effort. We are tempted to place a limit beyond which we simply can’t or won’t love any more. Sometimes parents know what it’s like to face a child who isn’t acting right, or a teenager whose going through a phase, or even a grown adult child who is hard to love. They are tempted to wipe their hands of them. Sometimes married couples are tempted to give up on love because it’s so hard or it doesn’t seem to make a difference. Love is hard work and sometimes we feel like giving up, quitting, walking away. But Paul reminds us in verse 7 that love doesn’t quit. So today, I’d like to unpack what it means to say love doesn’t quit.

 

First, love bears up under all circumstances. 1 Corinthians 13:7, “Love bears all things.” Love, real love, has the capacity to keep loving no matter what is happening. I keep thinking back to the terrible conditions of the Nazi concentration camps and the life of the Dutch woman Corrie Ten Boom. Maybe you’ve read her book where it describes how she and her family were sent to a concentration camp during World War II. If I recall she alone survived. But in her book she describes how she was put to the test in her ability to love even the German captors. How do you love your enemy as Christ commands us to do? For most of us, that command is something we are not called upon to literally test because we are not usually put in a situation to have to love our mortal enemies on a daily basis. For example, the Arab terrorists who are trying to destroy our country are “out there” somewhere. But how would you like to have to face them every day as they hold you captive in prison? That’s what Corrie Ten Boom had to face every day with the Germans. How do you love someone who is torturing you, who is killing your family and loved ones, who is starving you to death, who is treating you cruelly and inhumanly? How do you love in a situation like that? It’s easy to hate in that situation, but how do you love? Well, the Apostle Paul, who is someone who faced prison and torture and persecution for his Christian faith and who knew something about suffering, says that love doesn’t quit even during hardships and suffering injustice. The word for “bears up” in the original Greek language of the New Testament means “cover,” so it literally means love covers all the bases, or it doesn’t leave out anything from under its covering. As a Christian, Corrie Ten Boom couldn’t say to herself, “This Nazi concentration camp must be an exception to Christ’s command to love because in here the way they are treating us is so bad that surely we are not called to love these German soldiers as we are normal, decent people.” No. Love bears up under all circumstances; it covers all people, places, and things. There are no places where love should not go. Are you tempted sometimes to reach a limit on loving? Do you sometimes put limits to how much you will love in certain circumstances? If you are human you probably do, like all of us. But God is saying through the Apostle Paul that we are to never, ever put any limits on love. We must be willing to love in all circumstances. That doesn’t mean that love will always take the same form in all circumstances. Sometimes we need to exercise so-called “tough love,” for the good of the person we are trying to love. Sometimes we need to take the bottle away from the alcoholic or take the drugs from the addict — that will be different than affirming and encouraging them, but it’s still love. But the point is that love doesn’t give up, it never just up and quits on anyone, it covers the whole ground, even the ground of our enemies or under the worst circumstances.

 

Second, Love keeps the faith no matter what. 1 Corinthians 13:7, “Love believes all things.” There are some Bible translations that make this sound like a command to be naïve and gullible. That’s not what the meaning is, but some translations make it sound like a prescription for gullibility. For example, what do we call people who believe everything anyone tells them? Gullible, naïve, foolish, simple? When the Bible says that love believes all things is it giving us instructions to be naïve? No. There are reports that in New York City the Brooklyn Bridge has been sold a number of times by con men playing on the gullibility of naïve and foolish people. I guess there are always going to be naïve and gullible people who believe everything from everyone, but that isn’t taught in the Bible. God isn’t telling us that in order to love we must believe all things that people tell us. It isn’t telling us that we always have to believe in people all the time. I remember the cartoon Peanuts where Charlie Brown is playing football and Lucy invites him to kick the football and she agrees to hold the football in place on the ground for him. Now you have to know that every time Lucy holds the football for Charlie Brown she always picks it up at the last moment and Charlie Brown goes flying up in the air, falls and lands on his back. She always pulls the football out from under him; she always tricks him. But he always, naively trusts that she won’t; but she always does. Is this verse teaching us to “believe all things” and to always believe in someone who has continually cheated or tricked or lied to us? Is that what love is, naivety? No. The verse is talking about faith, faith in God, faith in the truth, faith in God’s Word, faith in the Christian life, faith in following after what is good, right, and true. It takes a lot of faith to love, period. God calls us to be loving people; He calls us to love no matter what, under all circumstances. Will you do it; do you believe it? Will a loving life be better than a self-centered life? God says it is, the Bible teaches it is, Christianity teaches it, but our very own human sin nature doubts it, questions it, and tempts us against living a life of love. In fact, our society more and more teaches us to be self-centered, not loving with our life. It teaches, “Get all you can out of life before you die, take care of yourself, get all you can whenever you can, don’t care about others, let them care about themselves.” It takes faith to love the way God teaches us to love. But love keeps the faith no matter what. Love finds its source and inspiration from God. The stronger your faith in God the greater your capacity to love. Anything that increases our faith and trust in God will also help us to love better. That’s why we attend church each week, read our Bible every day, pray every day, and try to obey God every day, so that things like love can grow in our lives.

 

Third, Love keeps hoping in all things. 1 Corinthians 13:7, “Love hopes all things.” Again, this is not a naïve, gullible hope. It isn’t a blind optimism or what they call being Pollyannaish or oblivious to all reality. It simply means that love never gives up hope in someone. It’s a mother and father never giving up hope that their teenage son or daughter might still come around to converting to Christ and living for the Lord, even though their son or daughter is presently far from God in sin and unbelief. It’s a husband or wife never giving up hope that their unbelieving spouse will repent and convert to Christ, even though all evidence at the present time points against it ever happening. It’s Christians in the United States praying and continuing to hope and never giving up that our country can turn from its sins and trust in God and experience a revival of true Christianity instead of God’s judgment on our land. Now I have to say that optimism is a typical American characteristic, but unfortunately there is a secular, human optimism that lots of Americans have that basically boils down to faith in themselves. American optimism more and more places faith and hope in our own ingenuity and not in God; it plans but doesn’t pray, it is optimistic about the vast uncharted powers of human potential not in God’s power to bring about His will His way in His time. That kind of secular, human optimism is even dangerous because it gives us a false sense of security and a prideful independence from God. But the hope God wants us to have is based on faith in God and His promises. We keep hope alive for the future because we believe in prayer and we believe in repentance and following God’s will can lead to blessings. We can continue to love and hope for the best in each person no matter how far away from God they are because we believe in God’s ability to change anybody in response to prayer. Again, never giving up hope in someone doesn’t mean always believing and accepting what they say or what they do. Because we love them and don’t give up hope for them we may at times seek to intervene in people’s lives in order to correct them if they are going astray. If we love someone, if we truly have hope for them to turn out the way God intends for them, we may exercise tough love towards them and show them the errors of their ways. If someone is falling away from the faith, if they are wandering into sin, because we love and believe in them and hope for them we should try to turn them back to the Lord, even though doing so may risk alienating ourselves from them, or even appearing unloving. That’s another curious thing about love, sometimes it comes across as unloving, the very opposite. But we must be more concerned about really loving people than coming across or appearing to love. Real love is work; the appearance of love is usually just superficial. God calls us to really love people, not just act as if we do.

 

Fourth, “Love endures all things,” 1 Corinthians 13:7. I like the Phillips translation of this verse, “Love knows no limits to its endurance, no end to its trust, no fading of its hope; it can outlast anything.” True love has the unbelievable capacity to hang on and hang in there. I talked about Corrie Ten Boom before who decided to take the commands of Christ to love seriously even in the Nazi concentration camp. Her book reports the miraculous capacity of God’s love working in her to do it. She did it! She loved the German people, the soldiers, the enemy with the love of God even as they were doing their best to torture and kill her. Isn’t that what Christ shows us on the cross when He prayed to the Father for his enemies, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” He loved to the very end. That’s what Corrie Ten Boom did following her Lord. That’s what this verse is trying to teach us – love to the very end, even if it means death, don’t give up loving no matter what the circumstances of life bring. That’s easier said than done, but we have examples of it in the Christian faith to help us. For example, remember Stephen the first Christian martyr? Acts 7:57-60 describes the end of his life. The Jews stoned him to death for preaching the gospel. Imagine death by stoning. Imagine having a whole crowd of people picking up rocks and bricks and crushing your bones and pounding you into the ground until you are dead. That would be a terrible way to die, an awful ending to a life. But while this tragedy was happening to Stephen he prayed this to God, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” Stephen loved to the very end, even praying like Christ for his enemies. He wasn’t cursing them, but he was praying in love for them. That’s amazing, that’s supernatural, it’s not natural. The verse says that love endures all things. Love doesn’t hit a limit or cross a line where it says, “Ok, that’s it, no more love, I’m done with loving these people, now it’s all hate from this point on.” That’s our own natural, sinful, normal reaction, but God calls us to supernatural love. Corrie Ten Boom loved her enemies supernaturally during and after her prison camp experience. Now the question we all must ask ourselves this morning is do we have that kind of love operating in our own lives? That’s what God calls us to. But how can we do it because it seems too impossible? That’s what faith and prayer is for, to enable us to do what is naturally impossible. Is there anyone today you are having trouble loving? Is there anyone that you need extra special help from God to love today? Look to God for that help, don’t look to yourself. Pray to God for the power to love. Commit every aspect of your life to Christ, clear up all sin with God through confession, and recommit your life to God by faith in Jesus this morning. Then, ask God to help you love in a greater way than you’ve ever done before. Would you do that today?

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