1 Corinthians 13:7

Sermon preached on April 17, 2016 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2016. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at http://www.cantonnewlife.org/.

Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.

One of the amazing stories that came out after 9/11 took place in the North Tower (I believe) of the World Trade Center. Josephine, a 60 year old woman was working in the tower when plane hit. She was on the 73
rd floor. She started down the stairs toward safety but the problem was that Josephine was a heavy woman who was out of shape. Eventually she met some 7 firemen. These brave men, already laboring under 110 pounds of equipment on their backs, led Josephine step by step down the staircase. At times, she wanted to give up, but they helped, encouraged, inspired, and assured her she would make it. 'They were like angels to me,' she said, She would stop to catch her breath and they would stop with her. She started to shiver with fear and one gave her his jacket. One floor at a time they got down until, finally, she decided she couldn't go any further. So she sat down on one of the steps of the fourth floor. But the firemen didn't abandon her. They waited with her, coaxing her to keep going because they were almost to the ground floor. But she could not move, and they refused to leave her. Suddenly, they heard and felt the floors beneath them give way under the tremendous weight of the collapsing building, and they were hurtled down with terrific force and enveloped in a suffocating cloud of pitch-black smoke. One of them prayed, 'God, if this is it, please let it be quick.' But as the noise lessened and the smoke began to clear, they found that were still alive. Miraculously, Josephine had refused to go any farther at the one point that remained intact as the building fell. All seven firemen plus Josephine were eventually brought to safety. 'Had we continued descending when we were pleading with her to keep moving,' they said, 'we would have been killed by the crush of the floors above us.' One of them added, 'Josephine was like an angel sent from God to stop us so that we could be safe.' "

One of the amazing things about that story is that they refused to leave her. They were committed to her. They were willing to die with her rather than abandon her.

How far does love go? That's the great question that we need to be clear on. How committed is love to the one who is loved? The answer is contained here in 1 Corinthians 13:7. Paul writes,

"It always protects,
always trusts,
always hopes,
always perseveres."

If you look at the HCSB it has 'all things' instead of 'always'. It says of love,

"It bears all things,
believes all things,
hopes all things,
endures all things."

Both are good translations and doesn't really make much difference which one you pick. If you take it that love always trusts, always hopes the idea is that love never gives up. Love is absolutely committed to the other person. If you understand it as 'all things' it means that you love the other person so much that your love endures and overcomes any difficulties, any obstacles. Both things are true of love and both are closely related.

The first thing we are told about love is that

it endures all things.

There is disagreement about how we should understand this first item in the list. The word has two meanings and both are compatible with the context here. The Greek word sometimes means to bear in silence all difficulties and troubles. It also has the meaning of covering up, so it sometimes refers to covering or concealing the faults of others. It means, (στέγω," BDAG, 942)

"to keep confidential, cover, pass over in silence"

The NIV understands it this way. It's similar to 1 Peter 4:8. Peter wrote,

"Above all,
love each other deeply,
because love covers over
a multitude of sins."

The idea is that you don't want the sins of others to be known. If you love someone you won't gossip or unnecessarily make known their faults. Some people delight in making known the faults of others. Love has nothing to do with that. Some commentators think that here it refers to covering the sins of others partly because the other meaning is so close to the last item—enduring all things and that Paul wouldn't have put two such closely related terms together.

But there are good reasons for taking it in the sense of bearing or enduring the troubles that others cause us. First, Paul uses the word four other times in his New Testament writings and every other time it is used in the sense of bearing or enduring trouble, not covering over sin. The verse in I just quoted from Peter, he actually uses a different Greek word. Roy E. Ciampa and Brian S. Rosner tell us that, (The First Letter to the Corinthians, PNTC; p. 649)

"Paul is the only New Testament author to use this verb, and the three other times he uses it (1 Cor. 9:12; 1 Thess. 3:1, 5) all bear the same meaning, 'to bear up against difficulties' (BDAG)."

Secondly, the structure of the verse indicates that it should be understood as 'bearing, or 'enduring' all things. Roy E. Ciampa and Brian S. Rosner (among others) tell us that our verse has a 'chiastic structure'. They write, (The First Letter to the Corinthians, PNTC; p. 649)

"The four verbs form a chiasmus, the middle two ('believes' and 'hopes') focused on the future in an intense trust and hope that enables endurance and perseverance ('bears' and 'endures') in the present."

They see the first and fourth terms as being related in the structure of the sentence. They see the first one, (p. 648)

"has more of the idea of 'not giving in' while the fourth has the idea of 'not giving up.' "

Before we go further we need to make one qualification.

This doesn't mean that you never try to correct what is wrong with the other person.

You don't necessarily just accept the way they are. A parent who loves his child will also correct him, show him the right way. We also have that duty to one another. Colossians 3:16 tells us to,

"teach and admonish one another…"

We are to love one another and part of what this means is that we will try to help others make greater use of the grace of God, to become more holy. Paul told Timothy as pastor to, (2 Timothy 4:2

"correct, rebuke and encourage—
with great patience
and careful instruction."

John Calvin puts things in perspective. He writes, (Commentaries)

"When he says all things, you must understand him as referring to the things that ought to be endured, and in such a manner as is befitting. For we are not to bear with vices, so as to give our sanction to them by flattery, or, by winking at them, encourage them through our supineness. Farther, this endurance does not exclude corrections and just punishments."

But getting back to our main point. Our text tells us that

love willingly and unceasingly endures all kinds of ill-treatment.

Gordon D. Fee writes, (The First Epistle to the Corinthians, NICNT; p. 709)

"it is the character of love to 'put up with everything,' the sense captured nicely by the NEB: 'there is nothing love cannot face.' So too the final verb, 'love always perseveres.' Love has a tenacity in the present, buoyed by its absolute confidence in the future, that enables one to live in every kind of circumstance and continually to pour oneself out in behalf of others. Paul's own ministry was a perfect example of such love."

But even more than Paul, Jesus is the prime example of this. One of the amazing things about Jesus is how he was absolutely committed to people in spite of their sin against Him.

Think of Jesus' love for the soldiers who crucified Him.

Remember how after He was arrested the soldiers abused Him. They put a crown of thorns on His head. They mocked Him. They put a staff in His right hand and knelt in front of Him mocking Him. They spit on Him. They blindfolded Him and struck Him and asked Him to tell which one had hit Him. They flogged Him, and if consistent with their other behavior, without any mercy, taking delight in his misery. When He was carrying His cross out of the city they wouldn't help Him. Those soldiers were exceedingly cruel to Jesus. Yet when they nailed Him to the cross, what did Jesus pray? He said, (Luke 23:34)

"Father, forgive them,
for they do not know
what they are doing."

We don't know exactly how long Jesus was tortured by the soldiers. It could have gone on for hours. I don't know how long I could maintain love for someone doing that to me. I think a normal person would stop after a minute or two. After a minute or two of such abuse—they would have had enough. Jesus' love endured till the very end.

Think of Jesus' love for the criminal who was crucified with Him.

That criminal had joined in the mockery that others dished out to Jesus. Mark 15:32 tells us this. It says,

"Those crucified with him
also heaped insults on him."

Jesus' love for him endured those insults. Jesus didn't give up on him.

Think of Jesus' love for Peter.

Peter was the one that boasted, (Matthew 26:33)

"Even if all fall away
on account of you,
I never will."

But he denied Jesus three times. It was such a lie. The third time calling down curses on himself. Yet Jesus continued to love him. Jesus was so sensitive to Peter after it all. The angel at the empty tomb mentioned Peter by name, to tell the disciples 'and Peter' that Jesus was going go ahead of them into Galilee and that they would see Him there. (Mark 16:7)

Think of Jesus' love for Thomas.

After being with Jesus such a long time and seeing all the miracles, even seeing the dead being raised, and hearing the wonderful teaching of Jesus—he didn't believe that Jesus had been raised from the dead. He said he wasn't going to believe unless he saw the marks on His hands and put his fingers where the nail marks were and put his hand into his side—he wouldn't believe. How did Jesus react? He appeared to Thomas and told him, (John 20:27)

"Put your finger here;
see my hands.
Reach out your hand
and put it into my side.
Stop doubting and believe."

What incredible love. It was a love that endured everything His sinful disciples threw at Him.

Think of Jesus' love for Saul of Tarsus?

He was filled with such hate toward Jesus, toward Christians. When Stephen was murdered by the Jews, Saul was there, giving approval to his death. His heart was hardened against Jesus. In Acts 9 we read that he was,

"still breathing out murderous threats
against the Lord's disciples…"

He planned to arrest Christians in Damascus. Yet, in spite of all of Saul's opposition to Him, Jesus continued to love him. He saved him.

Think of Jesus on the cross.

Hour after hour He hung there, suffering such agony, enduring such abuse. He loved us so much and His love was so enduring that He loved us to the end, until He had paid for all of our sins. He knew it was the only way for us to be saved.

We are called to have the same kind of love toward others. We are to love like Jesus loved us.

Jesus told us, (John 13:34)

"A new command I give you:
Love one another.
As I have loved you,
so you must love one another.

And we, through God's grace, can show that love.

Remember David and his attitude toward King Saul? Saul was jealous of David. Time after time he tried to murder David. Twice he had thrown a javelin at David, trying to run him through. Yet, through it all, David's love for Saul endured. David's heart- felt tribute to Saul, when he learned of Saul's death—is incredible. Saul was an enemy to David, but David was not Saul's enemy. David loved Saul in spite of all of Saul's abuse. David's love endured.

So I ask you, does your love for others endure 'all things'?

Failure to do this is one of the most harmful things to the church today. How different the church would be if we all put this aspect of love into practice.

Gordon D. Fee writes, (The First Epistle to the Corinthians, NICNT; p. 710)

"It is often pointed out that in this paragraph Paul seems best to capture the life and ministry of Jesus. So much so that one could substitute his name for the noun 'love' and thereby describe love in a more personal way: 'Jesus is kind, is not easily angered, etc.' After doing so, however, one does not want to miss Paul's point, which ultimately is description for the purpose of exhortation. Perhaps that point could best be captured by putting one's own name in place of the noun 'love' (Gordon is patient and kind—really?) and not neglecting thereafter to find a proper place for repentance and forgiveness. Indeed, rereading this section for a final edit came home once more as a bombshell from heaven, regarding the ease with which one falls into unloving behavior."

Unloving. That's what we Christians often are. We see Christians giving up on one another. They will say things like,

"This time you've gone too far. I don't want anything more to do with you. I'll never forgive you. I'm out of here.

We're so like Peter when he asked our Lord how many times he should forgive his brother when he sinned against him. Sometimes we're even worse than Peter. Someone will sin against us once and we're like,

"That's it. I'm done with you.

Even though it was one thing, that one thing that someone did against us was so bad that we feel we have a right to give up on him.

But we don't have that right. If we do that our love is very defective. Love endures all things. R.C.H. Lenski writes,

"The figure has reference to enduring and quietly suffering inflictions. Love never complains that it is made to endure and to suffer too much; its capacity for suffering is very great. Remember all that the Lord's love suffered."

Getting back to our opening illustration. Why were those firefighters with Josephine not killed? It was because they were committed to her to the very end. If they had left her there on the 4th floor—they would have perished. Their love for her saved their lives.

What this means is that you can trust God and have love that is enduring, that never gives up. Your love for hostile, despicable, hurtful, undeserving people is to be enduring. Love them. Bear all things. May God give us the grace to do so.