No community can long survive dissension and attempts by its members to show themselves superior to others. The first-century Corinthian church found itself plagued by such difficulties, and the only way to survive them and have unity restored was through love. Authentic love, however, is defined by the Lord in His Word, with 1 Corinthians 13 providing one of the clearest expositions of the virtue of love. In today’s passage, Paul explains that “love bears all things, believes all things” (v. 7).
Matthew Henry provides a good explanation of what it means for love to bear all things. He says that love “will pass by and put up with injuries, without indulging anger or cherishing revenge, will be patient upon provocation, and long patient.” In essence, Paul is affirming what Peter says elsewhere about love—namely, that “love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). In other words, love does not bring an end to relationships over minor issues. It is willing to overlook insignificant annoyances and wrongs done instead of making a big deal over every sin committed. Christian love understands that attaining spiritual maturity takes time and that all of us have a long way to go until we are fully conformed to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29). It is willing to put up with grievances in the interest of allowing the sinner to come to a knowledge of how they are not looking out for the good of others. Certainly, that love bears all things does not mean that it puts up with serious sins or grave injustices. As Matthew 18:15–20 and 1 Corinthians 5 tell us, there is a time to confront grievous transgressions. The point is that love is able to tell the difference between serious sins and lesser peccadilloes that can be overlooked without doing harm to either party in a relationship.
The Apostle Paul also tells us that love “believes all things” (1 Cor. 13:7). The sense here seems to be that love is not unduly suspicious of others. It does not question motivations or assume the worst about people unless there is good reason to do so. Note, however, that while Christian love does not assume a malicious intent behind every wrong action, such love is not naive. It does not continue believing the best when there is ample evidence to the contrary, for believers are called to be not only as innocent as doves but also as wise as serpents (Matt. 10:16). Naivete is not a fruit or gift of the Holy Spirit.