Loving the Sinner According to I Corinthians 13
What is love, really? How many people throughout history have tried to define it? Christians are commanded to show it. Some have died for it. God painted a beautiful picture of it in his Scriptures.
In light of everything that’s happened in the past week, I thought it might be fitting to revisit one of my favorite passages, I Corinthians 13:4-8, the clearest definition of love to be found, and consider it in terms of how it relates to sinners.
Love suffers long. What does that mean as far as loving the sinner in today’s society? It means that Christian people must be patient with those who have been long estranged from Biblical truth and take our time to help them find their way back to God. Why is it that we’re in such a hurry for their immediate change and acceptance of what is difficult for many to swallow? It takes a great deal of courage to swallow our pride and say, I am a sinner–courage that isn’t built in a single Aha! moment from someone reading a single passage of scripture. If Satan has been working on their hearts for years–and he has–then we can’t expect to transform them in a short time.
Love suffers long, and is kind. I tell my children on a regular basis that there’s never an excuse to not be kind. No matter how much your opinion differs from someone else’s, and even if you’re right, you must always, always, treat people with kindness and respect. The Bible does not give us an out for this, but rather tells us to love our enemies (Matt. 5:44).
Love does not envy. Sometimes I think we Christians like to pretend that we aren’t envious of the world, but when we search our hearts, we find the truth. I’ve seldom found instances when my envy has not turned into resentment. It’s hard to not be jealous that our friends, who aren’t giving a significant portion of their income to the church, are able to buy things that we can’t afford. If we aren’t careful, that jealousy can turn into, “they don’t deserve…” And suddenly we find ourselves refusing to share our faith.
Love does not parade itself. Every time we type up a post and hit send, we have to be careful that we aren’t self-righteously boasting, like the Pharisee of Luke 18:11. We may not directly say the words, “I thank you that I am not like others are…,” but when we run down others in the name of Christ, we might as well. As much as we preach to hate the sin and love the sinner, we must practice this with our attitudes.
Love is not puffed up. Arrogance, in my humble opinion, has kept more people out of the church than sin. James 4:1 asks where the quarrels among Christians originate, and answers that it’s the passions, or desires for pleasure that war within us. One of those passions, I’m convinced, is the indignance in being right. Why else would James stress that the cure for this is humilty? Verse 6–God gives grace to the humble. Verse 7–Submit to God. Verse 10–Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord. And following that? Do not judge a brother.
Now, you might be thinking that all of those verses relate to church members, not those outside the body, and you’d be right. But let me toss this thought back at you–Romans 3:23–all have sinned! So yes, even those of us in the church are sinners, saved by God’s grace. How can we avoid arrogance with those sinners not in the body if we can’t keep it out of our membership?
Love does not behave rudely. As in love does not get so miffed at a differing opinion that I huff and puff and stomp off in the other direction. Love does not refuse to speak to someone, or invite them to something, because they disagree. Love does not gossip about people who refuse to hear what I’ve tried to teach them about the Bible.
Love does not seek its own. How many times do we get caught up in trying to change someone’s mind about the Bible to the point that it stops being about Christ and starts being about winning the argument? We have to remember our purpose and keep ourselves out of it. Winning souls to Christ is not a matter of conquest. It can’t be.
Love is not provoked. Tough, but I think when we master the one about not being arrogant and indignant, it goes a long way toward this one. This means that no matter what someone says back to us when we share our faith, we return sober words rather than angry ones. Remember who is behind the sin, and if you want to be angry at someone, be angry at Satan. And by the way, where does that anger come from? Resist the devil! (James 4:7).
Love thinks no evil. I struggle with this one most, I think, because it’s hard sometimes for me to trust. I’ve learned, however, that very few people in life have sinister motives. They might lash out in hurt, anger, or fear, or have some other reactionary response, but most of the time, it’s not a personal attack when someone disagrees with Bible teaching. We have to stop seeing sinners who need salvation as our mortal enemies.
Love does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in truth. Not rejoicing in sin, well, that’s kind of obvious, right? But the second part of that–rejoices in truth–we have to make sure that all of our discussions with sinners are filled with facts coming from the source. Facts, not opinions. And the only way to do that is to make sure we’re staying up on those facts ourselves. We need to read our Bibles, be in church, and participate in the service. Listen to the services instead of playing on our smartphones. Maybe even take some notes. Embrace the truth, commit the truth to memory, and then, it will be much easier to share the truth.
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. To me, this is a summary of everything mentoned above. Bear one another’s burdens, right? Remember that the world is full of sin-sick people, who often struggle to stand on their own. They battle financial and emotional difficulties. They struggle to define their sexual and personal identities. They turn to all sorts of addicitons. And we have the tools to give them hope. How can we win people to Christ who are so far off? By showing them that they do not have to walk through the abyss on their own. Christianity is a religion of servitude. Do unto others, be benevolent, give to the poor. And to be perfectly honest, some of us are dropping the ball in this regard.
Finally, Love never fails. Notice that this phrase comes at the end of all the others. I think this is significant, because it’s necessary to get all the other things right first before we can develop that love that never fails. If we are patient, bearing burdens, not puffed up–all those things–then slowly, on God’s time, some of the toughest sinners can be won over to God.
Maybe it’s time to change our approach and stop thinking we can toss scriptures at people and expect them to catch the full understanding.