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The movie Catch Me If You Can, starring Tom Hanks and Leonardo DiCaprio, tells the story of Frank Abag­nale Jr., who defrauded people and organizations for years. He posed as everything from an airline pilot to an attorney. Abagnale was able to succeed in his deception because he knew how to make people assume that he was what he said he was. He learned some of the phrases. He put on a convincing show.

While we may not be out to defraud people, we all assume things about others and try to present a side of ourselves so that people will assume certain things about us. The gospel has a lot to say about how we interpret others’ actions and motives. In 1 Corinthians 13:7, Paul writes, “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” God’s Word gives an outline in this verse for how to assume the best about others.

Love That Bears and Believes

The longer I walk with Jesus, the more I am thankful for His patience with me. He bears with our sins, failures, complaints, and foolishness. Paul has Jesus in mind as the One who bore the cross on our behalf. It was the Father’s love that gave our Lord the cross to shoulder, and it is Christ’s love by the Spirit that bears with us continually. Therefore, God sustains us not because He is like some frustrated parent, simply putting up with us. No, divine love bears with us because it is bearing us along.

Accordingly, if we are secure in the Savior’s long-suffering love, we will not simply put up with our fellow believers. That’s not what Paul has in mind. Instead, he envisions our making others look good by our love toward them when they are at their worst. The Westminster Larger Catechism, outlining the duties prescribed by the ninth commandment, tells us what this looks like. It is “a charitable esteem of our neighbors” that involves “covering of their infirmities” (WLC 144). Imagine what covering our neighbors’ infirmities would do for our daily lives (see 1 Peter 4:8).

But love not only bears with others; it believes the best about others. With this clause, God’s Word focuses our attention on our attitudes toward others. Because of our sin, we tend to think the best about ourselves and the worst about others. When we do this, we open the door to slander, gossip, and a host of other evils. Our pride rises up in sinful pleasure when we hear about the moral failure of a fellow believer.

As usual, the gospel turns our expectations upside down. It teaches us to assume the worst about ourselves all the time and the best about others all the time. When we do this, something wonderful happens. We begin to celebrate God’s triumphs in others. Instead of rejoicing when they fail, we hurt along with them. We turn from envy to empathy. We choose to see others as God sees them: struggling fellow pilgrims.

The hope of the gospel makes us secure people. Secure people are not threatened by those who disagree with them.
Love That Looks Ahead and Lasts

If we bear with others and believe the best about them, then cynicism will be a stranger to our lives. What is cynicism but the loss of biblical hope? Since love hopes all things, no Christian can ever be a cynic. Our hope in God’s promises, as sure as Jesus’ vacant tomb, makes our lives bright. In turn, we can share hope with those who are hopeless.

If we’re full of hope, what does that look like? It means we show charity to those who disagree with us, especially if they are fellow believers. The hope of the gospel makes us secure people. Secure people are not threatened by those who disagree with them. Frankly, this kind of security makes us much more pleasant to be around. Moreover, it means we give someone’s arguments a charitable interpretation when they challenge us. We make them look the best we can. I have not done this well, personally, and I praise God for His grace when regret overwhelms me. Despite this failure, I am trying to love my neighbor—and God’s truth—better by disagreeing well.

Finally, the Bible tells us in 1 Corinthians 13:7 that love endures all things. It tolerates wrong accusations. It endures insults. It endures, with joy, the scorn of the world. It learns to press on even when it is overcome by its own sense of guilt and shame because it sees beyond the present to the crown Christ holds out. Biblical endurance is therefore a helpless holding on, by faith alone, to the Savior who is holding on to us all the way through.

I read an author once who said something that has stuck with me. He said that when it comes to Christianity, it doesn’t really matter how you start but how you finish. He was echoing Jesus’ words: “The one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matt. 24:13). Endurance through trial is one of the greatest gifts of faith. We only persevere in our faith because Jesus “for the joy that was set before him endured the cross” (Heb. 12:2).

So when we receive criticism, let’s look our critics in the eye and say, “You’ve only scratched the surface!” Let’s look at ourselves and be reminded of the words of one theologian who said, “Cheer up; you’re worse than you think you are!” There is a freedom that emerges from the ashes of self-defense that has been burned to a crisp by the gospel of grace. And only those who are set free from the tyranny of what Martin Luther called “pope self” will find Jesus’ yoke light. When that happens, we realize that He has been shouldering the yoke the whole time. We walk with Him into glory.

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From the August 2019 Issue
Aug 2019 Issue