Certainly, “God is love” (1 John 4:8) ranks among the most well-known texts of Scripture in our day. Regrettably, however, too many people know these words without understanding their full import. After all, the response to people who warn about God’s judgment is often that “God is love,” as if love means that the Lord will never condemn anyone. Frequently, all manner of sexual and other sins are justified with the phrase that “love is love.”
Since “God is love,” we may not define love in any manner that we choose. The Creator Himself defines love, for true love reflects His character, which is also holy (Isa. 6:3). Professed love that approves of what the Lord forbids is not love at all. Thus, as Paul tells us in today’s passage, “love does not rejoice at wrongdoing” (1 Cor. 13:6).
We can discern a twofold significance in this statement. First, love does not approve of moral evil, and it does not find joy in inflicting harm on others. As Christians who have sworn allegiance to the Father, we must not allow ourselves to be deceived by those who seek to justify what God condemns by appealing to love. Love may involve feelings of affection, but it is more than that. Love feels affection toward that which is lovely according to God’s law, and it does not act contrary to the Lord’s commandments. Love is directed to the good and it hates evil (Amos 5:15). It seeks not to harm others, defining harm by what Scripture says and not what the world says is harmful where its definition of harm contradicts God’s Word.
Commentators also note that love’s refusal to rejoice in wrongdoing also means not finding happiness in condemning others. We are apt to look for faults and sins in others because we rejoice in being able to issue words of rebuke and judgment. Love does not do that. It does not seek evidence of evil because it is looking for an excuse to condemn others. Love will utter rebukes when necessary, but it will not enjoy doing so. Matthew Henry comments: “Nor will [love] rejoice at the faults and failings of others, and triumph over them, either out of pride or ill-will, because it will set off its own excellences or gratify its spite. The sins of others are rather the grief of a charitable spirit than its sport or delight; they will touch it to the quick, and stir all its compassion, but give it no entertainment.”
Love “rejoices in truth” (1 Cor. 13:6). It celebrates God’s moral law and the full truth of the gospel, being ready to speak against sin but also to show mercy where the Lord shows mercy.