This is the last of a mini-series on church unity, though in truth all the posts on this blog are about maintaining the unity of the Spirit and attaining the unity of the faith (Ephesians 4:3,13).
Today we revisit a text briefly mentioned in a previous post, 1 Corinthians 13:7. Love …believes all things. What does it mean?
Obviously “believes all things” must be limited in some way. Love does not believe untrue things because “love rejoices with the truth” (1 Corinthians 13:6). Nor does love believe everything because “The naive believes everything, but the prudent man considers his steps” (Proverbs 14:15 NASB).
So what does it mean that a person “believes all things” when love is operating in their lives?
This is difficult to pin down precisely, so commentators land in one of two main places. It either means love “never loses faith” (New Living Translation) or that love “believes the best about a person until proven otherwise.” Matthew Henry’s commentary expresses this latter view, saying that it is “to believe well of all, to entertain a good opinion of them when there is no appearance to the contrary; nay, to believe well when there may be some dark appearances, if the evidence of ill be not clear.”
These aren’t mutually exclusive; the latter is an application of the former. In the context of 1 Corinthians 13 there surely is an emphasis on love toward one another in the church and what that looks like. We are to be patient, kind, not easily irritated, not rude, humble, persevering, enduring, etc. This is what each of us should experience from one another. So, in that context, “believes all things” is part of what you experience from a person who “never loses faith” in the God who is all these loving things to us in Christ. It is the open-hearted, forgiving and generous approach to others that chooses “to believe well of all… if the evidence of ill be not clear.”
Let’s apply this attitude to how we view each other across our different responses to the COVID restrictions and the election.
The unloving heart believes things like this:
- Because you won’t wear a mask you don’t care about other people.
- Because you wear a mask you are controlled by fear and capitulate to the rising control of the secular state.
- Because you are voting for a Democrat you don’t care about the slaughter of unborn children.
- Because you are voting for a Republican you are a racist.
Here’s the thing: Any of these beliefs could be accurate. But any of them could also be completely untrue. So, love becomes the referee. And what does love teach us to believe from a spirit of humility, kindness and an unwillingness to become irritated? What does it look like “to believe well of all… if the evidence of ill be not clear”?
The loving heart believes things like this:
- Maybe you don’t wear a mask because it feels like paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons (1 Timothy 4:1) forced onto you by the secular state. Your motivation is to be true to Christ.
- Maybe you wear a mask because someone you love died from COVID and mask-wearing seems like a small price to pay for preventing that outcome for others. Your motivation is to love your neighbor as yourself.
- Maybe you are voting for a Democrat because he/she seems to be doing something about racism and you’ve experienced that in your life. You are motivated to bring about social justice which God cares about.
- Maybe you are voting for a Republican because he/she seems to be doing something about protecting the unborn. You are motivated to protect the innocent from lethal injustice, something God also cares about.
You see, love believes the possibility of a good motive behind an action contrary to your own; it doesn’t assume the worst. It tries to “believe well when there may be some dark appearances”. It does not assume a complete disconnect between genuine faith and a choice you don’t agree with. It starts from a posture of generosity and then seeks understanding, and only afterwards does it revise its good opinion if the “evidence of ill” becomes clear.
Fellow believers, God’s generous posture toward us is what enables this generous posture toward one another. This doesn’t mean we never debate an issue and try to come to agreement on how to live faithfully in light of the whole counsel of God. Love does “rejoice with the truth” after all and doesn’t settle for “let’s just agree to disagree” about everything. But it does mean we don’t start at opposite ends of the ring, ready to come out swinging. Rather, we see each other as fellow workers who gather in love at the meeting table to see how we can best serve our master and Savior, Jesus Christ. Those are the discussions that are fruitful and unifying.