Many people in our day have a shallow and superficial view of love that says it is a mere feeling that is outside of our control and can come and go as it pleases. If nothing else, 1 Corinthians 13 disabuses us of that notion. Indeed, we have seen that a true understanding of love as God has revealed this virtue realizes that love is a high calling, a demanding effort that must be put forward even when we do not feel like it. Love is no mere sentimental emotion. It actively works not to boast or show envy. Real love is selfless, and it refuses to rejoice in evil, choosing instead to seek out and proclaim the truth in all circumstances. This kind of love also has a sure hope for the future, believing the truth of the Lord’s Word and taking what others say at face value until they prove themselves untrustworthy (vv. 1–7). True love, then, is a supernatural gift, because apart from our union with Christ, such love is impossible.
In today’s passage, we find the supernatural characteristics of Christian love reinforced when Paul explains that love will bear and endure all things (1 Cor. 13:7; see Gal. 6:2). Love perseveres in even the worst of circumstances, fulfilling the call of Peter and others to endure suffering of all kinds (1 Peter 2:20–21). But given the pain that this kind of suffering brings, such endurance is impossible without God pouring love for Him — and thus for others — into our hearts through the Holy Spirit (Rom. 5:5).
Everyone who has ever suffered in a significant way from sickness or persecution understands that it is easy to let pain diminish our love for God. Tragedies can tempt us to doubt the Father’s great love for us, but we should recall that the same Lord who poured love into our hearts also promises us a sure hope. His great love for us will be manifested in a new way at the return of Christ as He brings a new heaven and earth in which suffering will be nonexistent (Rev. 21:1–4). Reminding ourselves of this evidence of His love enables us to overcome any doubts about God’s care as we suffer.
Furthermore, our suffering proves God’s love for us and gives us opportunities to share this love with others. Our suffering as Christians demonstrates His discipline for the sake of our sanctification, which is proof of God’s love for His children (Heb. 12:7–11). Our pain also helps us relate better to other suffering people and minister in the name of Christ, thereby showing forth His love for them.
Coram DeoLiving before the face of God
To speak of suffering as a loving expression of God’s discipline is not to say that there is always a one-to-one correlation between a specific sin we have committed and our trial. Such a correlation may be true in some instances, but God’s discipline is broader than just correcting us for specific sins. He is also teaching us to rely only on Him — to love Him absolutely even when everything may be falling apart around us.