Society of Fellows
In a book entitled Pickings, Dr. R. G. Lee shares a story of enduring love.
In February 1938, the widow of Gen. Philip H. Sheridan died in Washington. Gen. Sheridan died in 1888. And from then until her own death his widow lived quietly in a house filled with memories and mementos of her famous husband. When it was rumored in 1908 that she might remarry, she declared: "I would rather be the widow of Phil Sheridan than the wife of any living man."
This is the kind of enduring love Christ has for us and wants to place in each of us. Join me as we turn to I Corinthians 13 and consider the theme, "Love Assumes the Best."
Recently I came across an interesting world record. It seems thereís a nineteen-year-old man, and a sixteen-year-old lady in Hanover, West Germany who set a world record for the longest kiss. The couple stayed in a continuous kiss for an hour and 45 minutes and 48 seconds. The kiss ended when one of them started passing out for lack of oxygen.
Today weíre going to think about love. There are many aspects of love Ė we think about kissing and hugging and loving a person. The Bible has some very exciting things to say about love as we relate to God and then as God relates to us. I heard a fable about a man who died and went to heaven. Once he got to heaven, he asked permission to see what was going on in hell. Now folks when you get to heaven you donít go back and look at earth, and you donít go down and look at hell. Otherwise heaven wouldnít be heaven.
The one who was escorting him around said, "Sure you can see hell, but just for a minute." He took the gentleman down and gave him a glimpse of hell. He saw the most wonderful, glorious banquet table you could ever imagine. There was a tablecloth with cloth napkins, candles on the table, and every kind of food that you would love to eat. He looked around the table at all the good things to eat, then he looked at those seated around the table Ė their cheeks were sunken, their eyes were hollow; it looked like they were literally starving to death. The man asked, "Whatís going on here, all this food and these people are starving to death?" Then he noticed each person had a set of chopsticks four feet long. When they managed to pick up the food with the four-foot long chopsticks they could not get it into their mouths.
Immediately he found himself in heaven. He wondered what heaven would be like. What he saw surprised him. He saw the same scene basically; all the same food, tablecloth, candles, four-foot long chopsticks, everything the same except these people were healthy and happy. He looked at his heavenly escort and said, "Whatís the difference?" The escort answered, "In heaven we feed each other."
Thatís what love is all about. Itís about how God can touch you because He loves you. Itís about how God can touch someone else through you. Itís about God feeding someone else through you. I read in The Defender this little quote. I think it really hits the point. It says, "Itís no chore for me to love the people all over the whole world. My only real problem is my neighbor next door." Love is being willing to feed someone else what they really need, and yet canít get, whatever that is.
In I Corinthians 13:6, the word love is introduced. It says, "Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth." We want to focus on verse 7 where Paul points out that love, "always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres."(NIV) In the King James Version, we read "love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things."
One of the greatest truths about love as revealed in Godís Word, is that love never says, "Hey wait a minute, youíve gone too far and I canít love you." Arenít you glad God hasnít looked down at you today and said, "Hey, look what you did. Youíve gone too far, I cannot love you?" Added to this thought are the words, "all things." God sees us as we do "all things." He knows that all things we do arenít pleasing to Him, yet He says, "I love you anyway." He puts us on a course in His love to bring us to the point that "all things" can become pleasing to Him, delightful to Him and bless Him.
Christ-like love is a very special kind of love. Itís a love that leaves no doubt in another personís mind that youíre going to stay steadfast. This is important, and we need to have it in our mind that God is going to stay steadfast, and remember that the people who are most important to us are going to stay steadfast because of His love in them.
Do those people who know you best, your family and your close friends, feel that if they fail you or if they do some foolish thing youíre going to say, "Wait a minute, I canít love you any more?" Are you the kind of person that others are unsure of, do they think that if they hurt you youíll never love them again; or do they know that even when they blow it, you still love them?
I remember standing in the hallway of the house where I grew up. I was in high school and things were just really interesting in my life. God had blessed me. I was a big young man who could run fast, jump high, and had an unusual strength for my age. On this particular day, a young friend of mine was standing in the hallway with me. He did something or said something to me that I did not like and I hit him in the face, bloodying his nose and loosening some teeth. He never said a word to me. He didnít get up and try to fight me because he knew that wouldnít do him any good. As a matter of fact, he loved me. Later I apologized and he said, "Ah, Herb, I knew someday something like that might happen. Jimmy (our best friend who had died about a year before) once told me that every once in a while that side of you comes out." He said, "I knew it would happen but itís okay, I love you." That incident taught me a great lesson about love.
I. Love Bears All Things
My love needs to be patterned after Jesus. Paul reveals the pattern of a Christ-like love. In I Corinthians 13:7, he tells us four things about love. He begins by saying, "If youíre going to love like Christ, you must remember: Love bears all things." That word bear basically means to cover something up. It means to come underneath something, lift it up and support it. It means to put your protection around it, and I think thatís probably the idea used in the New International Version which reads: "Love protects."
We see how God does this in two beautiful illustrations in His Word. In the Old Testament, God set up His House of Worship. In His House of Worship was a Holy Place. Inside the Holy Place was the Ark of the Covenant, and on top of the Ark was a lid, called the Mercy Seat. On the high Day of Atonement, the High Priest would go into the Holy of Holies, and carry blood from an animal to pour onto the Mercy Seat. As the blood flowed across the Mercy Seat and flowed down the Ark, a powerful thing happened. The significance of that moment is that as the Priest entered into the Holy Place, God somehow would lay the sins of Israel on the Mercy Seat of the Ark, and as the priest poured the blood of that animal out upon the Ark, the blood covered the sins of the people.
In the New Testament, God gives us something new. Itís not an Ark; itís a cross. Jesus Christ hung on the cross and died, and as His blood came from His head, His wounds, and His side, it flowed down that cross. It began to coat that cross and sink into the wood forming a pool at the foot of the cross. God was putting a covering over that cross with the blood of His Son. He was also putting a covering over the sin of anybody in the whole world, throughout all the ages, who would trust Him. On the cross God provided a covering for your sins and for mine.
When we allow Godís love to work, the first thing He does is cover us. When weíre willing to let Him cover us in this special way, we are in a position to allow Him to use us as an instrument as He seeks to cover the sins of others; to cover them and not hide them. Iím talking about a spiritual covering. A spiritual covering doesnít say, "You did that, but so what." A spiritual covering says, "You did it, but now Iím going to take care of it." Thereís a world of difference between these two. God is not ignoring your sins. It cost the blood of Jesus for your sins to be forgiven, and He put a covering over them, a covering over you.
What will God do with your sin? He will personally expose your sin to you. He may even send someone to talk with you and say, "Letís get this thing right, and let me be your partner in getting this right." God does this because He loves us, and He wants to protect us. Love comes to this point, whether itís your love, my love or Godís love. His love says, "I donít care what youíre carrying, I donít care what the burden is, Iím willing to take it on myself." Jesus took your burden on Him, and thatís why He can cover your sin.
Oliver Cromwell was once Lord Protector of Great Britain. An interesting story is told regarding a sentence he handed down on a young soldier. The young man was brought before Lord Cromwell to be sentenced. In the process of sentencing, the young manís fiancťe came in to plead with Cromwell for the young manís life. After she was through, Lord Cromwell pronounced the following sentence: "When they ring the bell to strike the mark for curfew, at that moment you die."
Plans were made for the execution. At the appointed time, the person assigned to ring the bell grabbed the large rope and began to pull. The bell moved, but there was no sound, so he pulled again and again, but still no sound. In another area, the executioners were waiting to hear the ringing of the bell so they could carry out the execution. Finally, all attempts to ring the bell ceased. Only then was it discovered that the young manís fiancťe had climbed up inside that bell and wrapped herself around the clapper. With each pull of the rope, she was smashed between the metal side of that bell and the clapper. With every tug, her head, body, and ribs were smashed. When attempts to ring the bell stopped, she came out. She went immediately to the place of the execution.
Lord Cromwell had come to the execution sight wondering what was happening. She told the story of how she climbed up in that belfry and wrapped herself around the clapper on the bell. History tells us that Lord Cromwell looked at her and said something like this, "Take your love, curfew will not be rung tonight."
Do you understand that when we talk about love and love bearing, there can come a point when God looks at you and the cross, and He says, "Because of the cross Iím not going to ring the bell tonight?" Thereís a chance for you, but only through Jesus. Love means youíre willing to bear any insult, injury, and disappointment. Jesusí kind of love bears all things.
Letís tie these two together. When love bears all things, it puts a mantle, or a coating over it. Once that mantle has been put in place, then love bears all things. Once the mantle is in place, then love believes in the best outcome for the one whoís done the wrong. Now hereís whatís interesting, hereís how God works. He covers your sin and after your sin has been covered, He says, "We can do great things together now. Your sin is taken care of and here are the possibilities for you."
If God is willing to see the possibilities in us, then why arenít we more willing to see them in each other? You see, when the mantle has been thrown over any of us, there are great possibilities for each of us. Two basic characteristics are seen here. The first is our reaction to God, and second is our reaction to others. As we think about God and this kind of love, and we think about "believing all things," what is it weíre supposed to believe about God? Number one, weíre to believe that His Word is for us and weíre expected to live by it. Secondly, weíre to believe that He is going to keep every promise He ever made in His Word for each of us individually. He wants us to accept His Word, and He wants us to start reading through His Word saying, "Every promise in here is for me."
II. Love Believes All Things
The second characteristic relates to relationships with your fellow man. It means a love that always takes the opportunity to believe the best of another person. Paul writes to a believing congregation and tells them they are a group of believers who at the first sign of a problem, no matter how small, immediately believes the worst about another person. Instead of saying, "Let me see whatís really going on here," we are quick to believe the wrong thing. In Galatians 6:1, Paul wrote "Brothers, if someone is caught in sin you who are spiritual should restore him gently." Then he gives an admonition to be careful not to be taken into the same thing.
What is Paul saying when he writes, "believe all things?" He is saying we should seek to find the good that can be believed in each person and start there. Thereís probably people sitting in this room that you could look at and say, "I donít like you." Some you donít even know, but you donít like them. You donít like something theyíve done or you donít like what they havenít done and anytime you hear something about them you immediately choose to believe the wrong thing and the worst thing. Arenít you glad that God is not doing that with you? God has asked you not to do it with each other. Heís asked me not to do it with you and you not to do it with me. Love "bears all things" and love "believes all things."
III. Love Hopes All Things
The third point Paul makes is that love "hopes all things." Heís not talking about a hope that says, "Iíd like to have a million dollars, I hope I get it." Biblical hope has its roots in God. It has its roots in something that is of substance. The book of Hebrews tells us that real hope is focused on a reality that is certain, though you havenít been able to see it yet. Thatís what Paul is writing about here. There is an important relationship between hope and love. As long as Godís love and Godís grace are in operation, human failure is never final.
God has a hope for you and an opportunity to work in you and things arenít final. It doesnít matter how much youíve blown it. Until He either comes back or you die youíre still working on love relationships. If you feel like youíre a failure, if you feel like youíre broken, feel like you canít go on, understand this; your failure is not final because of who God is and what He can do in your life. Even when your belief in a loved one gets shattered, or a friend shatters your belief in them, or perhaps a fellow church member shatters it, what does God want? He wants us to feel hope in love for that person. Our belief in Jesus means no man is hopeless. John MacArthur put it this way, "The rope of loveís hope has no end. As long as there is life, love does not lose hope." Praise the Lord! Love does not lose hope.
I heard this story about a dog that was left at one of the larger airports here in the United States, and since this dog was there for about five years, a number of the employees began feeding him. Hereís what they evidently discovered about the dog. The master got on an airplane and flew off, never to come back. The dog followed his master to the airport. He stayed at the airport because that was the last place he saw his master. The dog loved that master so much that it remained where it had last seen its master, possibly thinking,"Iím sure my master will come back so Iím just going to stay here." If an old dog can love his master that much and believe his master is coming back, how much more should we love our master? Knowing that Jesus is coming back should affect our love relationship with everybody we know, especially our fellow believers. Jesus is coming back. Heís King of Kings and Lord of Lords, and He hasnít turned loose of this world. Heís got it in His hand and Heís never going to let go.
IV. Love Endures All Things
Love believes, love hopes, and love also "endures." The word for "endure" in this last phrase is a military term for an army that has moved into a strategic area. They have taken control of a strategic hill by force, and are determined to hold it no matter the cost. Through Godís love for you, He holds you in His hand no matter what the cost. He calls on us to hold each other in our arms no matter what the cost. Every hardship, every suffering, every inconvenience is endured completely. Love holds fast and love endures all things at all cost. Love stands against overwhelming opposition, refuses to stop bearing, and refuses to stop believing. In short, love just refuses to stop loving. Are you that kind of person? Thatís who God is, and the Bible says He lives in you and me. This should be a characteristic of us toward Him, toward our family, toward everyone.
The scripture speaks of "enduring." It is as if our Lord is saying, "Iím going to come down to touch your city. Iím going to cover it up and weíre going to walk through it together to take care of it." The Greek word used here is translated in some translations "bear" and in others "endure." It is not a description of a person who when trouble comes just sits down and says, "Oh me, oh well." It is a description of someone who looks at the situation and says, "This is the way it is," but immediately starts working and says, "Letís take care of this thing. Letís take care of it right now." So we see a progression in these verses.
The Bible tells us love bears and when itís through bearing then love believes, and when love gets through believing, it hopes, and when love is through hoping, it endures. And thatís the end of the verse. You donít go from endurance to anything else. Thatís because endurance is the end, itís the fulfillment, and itís the climax of love. God didnít love you for a moment through the cross and then the first time you failed say, "Thatís enough," and walk away. Thatís how God expects you and me to love Him and to love each other.
In I Corinthians 13, Paul writes, "If I have faith, the kind of faith that I would believe a mountain could be moved: if I could speak in tongues that only angels could understand; why, if I had the ability to understand every prophecy thatís ever been written. If I had all that and I had not love, Iíd be nothing, nothing at all." Paul said, "Look I would be nothing if I did not have Godís love flowing into me, and Iíd be nothing if I did not have Godís love flowing through me." (Paraphrase mine.) Most of us look at that principle, and think, "Thatís all right for Paul, but I canít love people that way."
Does Christ live in your heart? If He does, then you know Christ as your Savior and you are expected to love this way. The only love God has to give is the kind of love weíve been describing. The kind that believes all things, the kind that bears all things, and the kind that endures all things. That is the only kind of love God has to give to you and through you.
I remember sitting in a living room years ago with my friend, Corrie Ten Boom. She had just come back from California and she sat down with me and said, "Herb, I had an experience that I just have to tell you about." She had just finished speaking and had made her way to a room behind the platform to lie down. Some of those working with her brought a man to her. Because of her health, this didnít happen very often so she knew she needed to speak to him. The man stood in front of her and asked, "Corrie, do you remember me?"
During the Second World War, she had been imprisoned at Ravensbruck, a Nazi concentration camp. The only reason she was still alive was that someone accidentally typed in the wrong number, missed one key, and she was free. Everyone else at Ravensbruck died the next week. They were exterminated, and because of her story and her love for Christ, people around the world knew her. She looked at him and said, "Iím sure I should remember you but Iím sorry I donít." Then the man told her his name and when he said his name, she remembered him. Inside Ravensbruck that man had done just about everything imaginable to her, and he had helped to kill her sister. Did she remember him? Oh, yes.
Put yourself in her place. What kinds of emotions would start building up inside you? Every member of your family died in concentration camps, and hereís the man whose face you used to see. Then he said this to her, "Corrie, Iíve become a Christian, I know your Jesus, and Iíve come to ask you to forgive me and love me." She said to me, "Herb, I looked at that man and every evil, vile emotion I could feel toward him began to well up inside me. I hated him. Then I prayed inside my spirit and said, ĎLord I canít love him. I invite you now to love him through me.í I was able to look at him and say, ĎI love you in the Lord.í"
God wants to do a great work in your life, but until youíre ready to let Him love others through you, it is blocked.
Written by: Dr. J. Herbert Hester, Senior Pastor
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. Herb Hester has been pastor of Tullahoma First Baptist Church since 1997. He received his bachelors degree from the University of New Mexico, the master of divinity degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas and the doctor of ministry degree from Luther Rice International Seminary in Jacksonville, Florida. He and his wife Cynthia have two daughters Corrie and Cassie.