I Corinthians 13:6 is the text for this message: Charity “rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth.” To understand the meaning of this text, it is important for us to leave it right here in its context. Let me explain what I mean by that. The phrase at the end of the verse, “rejoiceth in the truth,” is a phrase that we are tempted to lift out of the context here and make a sermon that emphasizes the importance of doctrine and that, if we love God, we will rejoice in and we will find our joy in doctrine and truth because love delights in truth. And that would be a very good and important sermon. But if you are going to preach a sermon on that, I believe there are other passages that are more suitable. Let me give you one example, John 8:31, 32: “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” That is a very important verse that emphasizes the importance of truth and doctrine.
But that is not what the apostle is talking about here when he says, “rejoices not in iniquity but rejoices in the truth.” It is in the background, and we will get to that when we get to the third point of this message and talk about the reasons, but the context here is the problem at Corinth, the problem with internal division in the church and jealousy between the different members in the church. The apostle is correcting that here in this chapter by giving instruction on how love behaves in relationships, how we are to behave toward one another as believers. That is the context. So, when he talks in this verse about iniquity and truth, he is talking about iniquity in our relationships with each other and truth as regards one another. That is the context. I think the most parallel idea in all of Scripture to what the apostle is talking about here in this verse is expressed in the ninth commandment: “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor,” that is, you love your neighbor by treating him honestly and fairly. You love his reputation and so you promote his good name as much as you can. And you do that by not rejoicing in his failings (his iniquity), but rejoicing instead in those things that are true concerning him.
So, where love finds its joy. Negatively first, then second, positively, and then third, the reasons.
Negatively, love rejoices not in iniquity. You see in the English translation that the word “rejoice” appears twice: rejoices not in iniquity but rejoices in the truth. In the Greek, there is a nuance of meaning because the same word is not repeated in the Greek. There are two different words here. The first word is just “rejoice,” just the idea of having joy inside of you—delight, glee, something pleases me. This joy rises from within. That is the idea. It is a joy that is directed by myself. It is a kind of selfish thing—what is it that is pleasing to me. That is the first word here: “rejoices not in iniquity.”
The other word really has the idea of rejoicing with something, or alongside of something—a shared joy, a joy that is directed by something greater than my own selfish desires and nature. Rejoices in the truth. There is a mutual joy, a following others in the way of joy.
Those are the two words here for joy. What the text is saying is this, that love does not have an inner glee or delight in iniquity. The word “iniquity” is simply the word “unrighteousness.” It refers to that which is not right in the eyes of God, that which is displeasing to God. It is a general word for sin. The text is saying this, that without love, that is, by nature, we have a sinful inclination to delight in sin. We rejoice in sin. Sin is something that thrills us, that gives us glee. There is something inside of us that finds pleasure in sin.
But where the love of Christ is, that is all changed because love rejoices not in iniquity. Love does not tolerate sin. Love is not accepting of sin, but it is discerning. True godly love says that there is such a thing as sin. True godly love identifies sin. And true love does not rejoice in sin, does not approve of sin. Love rejoices not in iniquity, does not find delight and glee in sin.
Understand that this is talking especially about the iniquity of others. It is talking about relationships. When we love someone, we do not rejoice in iniquity with them or in their iniquity. There are two ways that we can do that. One is to rejoice in sin itself, to take pleasure in sin when we see it in others and to join them in that sin, to enjoy sin with others. In Micah 2:1 you have someone delighting in sin. They devise sin on their beds, says Micah. That is, they lie on their beds and they think about sin, they think about what they are going to do. They are taking pleasure in iniquity. James 1:14, 15 talks about the development of that. “Lust,” it says, “when it is conceived brings forth sin.” So lust is this sinful delight, and this sinful delight births the activity of sin. It brings it forth. And then Proverbs 1 talks about mutual enjoyment of sin and gives a warning against that. Proverbs 1:10-12, “My son, if sinners entice thee, consent thou not. If they say, Come with us, let us lay wait for blood, let us lurk privately for the innocent without cause: Let us swallow them up alive as the grave and whole as those that go down into the pit.” There you get the idea of some people who have this delight in tormenting others. And they are saying, Come and do that with us, just without cause, let’s go and do this.” And there is a delight that is taken together in the shared pleasure of sin itself. Love “rejoices not in iniquity.”
Now, when we think about this aspect of our nature in which we delight in sin itself, it really shows how perverse, how depraved we are. Psalm 19: “Who can understand his own errors, his own sinful faults?” You see, the truth is that we do not necessarily sin to get something. Sometimes we sin just for the sake of sin, just because we delight in sin itself. Augustine, in his famous book The Confessions, tells the story of when he was a teenager and he and his friends stole some pears. He did not even like pears and he never ate those pears. But he and his friends just wanted to get away with a crime of stealing pears and finding pleasure in the crime, in the sin. There is a certain euphoria that sin brings to us. Does that not show us our depraved nature? We take pleasure in sin itself. Love “rejoices not in iniquity.”
In contrast, love is discerning. What love does is identify sin. Love hates sin. There is in love an anger against sin that wells up, a jealousy for God and for His honor and for His name, and a love for the sinner that does not want to see him continuing in such a destructive way. Psalm 119:53: “Horror hath taken hold of me because of the wicked that forsake thy law.” And then, verse 136: “Rivers of water run down mine eyes, because they keep not thy law.” You think of the holy anger of Jesus against sin. You think of what He did when the Jews were in the temple defiling the holy things of God. Jesus’ burning love for God showed itself in a horror against sin. That is expressed first in one’s own life, that you do not love or delight in iniquity.
There is, however, another way to rejoice in the sins of others or in the iniquity of others. It is to rejoice when they fall into sin. And this, especially, shows the perversity of our human nature. Think of what happens when you are arguing or when you are in an ongoing dispute with someone, or even when you are in something as trivial as competitive sports—basketball, soccer, volleyball—or just watching it. You have your team, and an opponent stumbles, he is hurt. Or there is some moral lapse in the life of another. What does that do? It produces a kind of superior complex, a moral superiority in us and we well up in pride and we say, See, I told you that this would happen, I saw that coming. Think of politics, or think of some public figure falling into some shameful misconduct and sin. Then we tend to just well up in pride. So the Scriptures warn us (Prov. 24:17, 18), “Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth, and let not thine heart be glad when he stumbleth: lest the Lord see it, and it displease him, and he turn away his wrath from him,” and He turn it on you—that is the idea. We need to be careful how we act and talk even when our worst enemies and the ungodly have their failures.
One of the main ways that we rejoice in the iniquity of others is by gossip, is it not? We find this little morsel of information and we spread it. What is that? It is a perverse delight and satisfaction in the sin of others. Then we try to put this cover over it, that we are concerned for them.
This happens in the church, does it not? That is one of the great warnings in the Bible against gossip among believers. How does love behave instead? Instead of rejoicing in iniquity, you go right to the brother who has sinned (Matt. 18). Or you forget it. Where there is love, there is no gossip in the church, but instead, sin is confronted, it is dealt with, it is disciplined, and smaller offenses are just forgiven. And there is a patience because love does not delight in the iniquity of others. “Rejoices not in iniquity.”
We talked about glee—inner joy—what pleases. It is a selfish satisfaction from sin. Do you have a selfish satisfaction and delight in sin, perhaps sin itself, or a delight in someone else’s sin? Now you have some more ammunition, as we saw in our last message, keeping a record of evil? Love “rejoices not in iniquity.”
In contrast, in the text, love rejoices in the truth. Truth here, as we already indicated, has to do especially with what is true about your neighbor. It is, of course, broader, because God is a God of truth. And as we delight in the God of truth, and as we delight in the truth of God, we will love one another. And we will love one another with a fairness and an honesty. The word truth, in the Bible, has three main uses. There is, first, truth revealed, that is, God’s Word, which is called in Colossians 1 and II Timothy 2, the Word of truth. And, certainly, those who love will delight in the truth and rejoice in the Scriptures. That is their chief delight. Here in the Scriptures, the God of truth is revealed. And if we love God, we will love His Word.
A second use of the word truth, a very important one, is that it is a name that is given to the Savior: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6). So, we will love the Savior. We will rejoice in the truth, and that is the way of loving our Savior and of loving Christ, rejoicing in Christ and the gospel.
But, then, a third way that truth is used in the Scriptures is its reference to that which is honest and accurate. So, in John 16:7, Jesus says, “I tell you the truth.” Or, in Ephesians 4:25: “Put away lying and speak the truth in love.” That has to do with your relationships with one another. Speak the truth about one another. In this third sense, it refers simply to being honest, being fair, not being deceptive, not exaggerating things, not telling half stories—all the things that the ninth commandment is about: “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.”
That is what the text has in mind when it says “rejoices in the truth.” Love does not delight in the evil of the brother but, instead, rejoices in what is true, deals honestly with others, does not misrepresent them, is not suspicious of them. If love does not rejoice in iniquity, then it does not dwell on the negative that has to do with others, that would ruin the reputation of others. It does not look for that, but it rejoices in the truth. Love looks for those things that are praiseworthy, those things that are positive, and it rejoices in those things. I remind you of the second use of the word rejoice here. It is not an inner glee, but it is rejoicing with others. That is the idea. So, we take a text like Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things,” and that is the filter through which we look at the brother or we look at the sister in the church. Love rejoices in the truth.
This applies in our relationships, does it not? If you are married, you can always find fault with your spouse and run them down and criticize them. There are plenty of things to point out because we are all sinners living with sinners. But, what about praising your wife for her virtues? What about thanking your husband for his work? Are there not true things that are praiseworthy and that are worthy of joy? Love “rejoices in the truth.”
Or, think about that with the raising of our children. We can always be critical. But are there not achievements, is there not spiritual growth that is worthy of praise and encouragement? Love does not rejoice in and does not focus on and does not find all its satisfaction in the iniquity of others, but rejoices in the truth.
Why? Why does love rejoice in truth and not in iniquity? That has first to do with the character of God and that God is a God of truth and, as the God of truth (Deut. 32:4), He is Himself without iniquity. He is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity. And the God of truth has made Himself known in the word of truth and is the Savior who is Truth. If God is such a God of truth and purity, then, as His people, certainly we should be as well. God is a God of truth. God is a God who deals fairly and justly and honestly. And our love for Him means that we want to see truth and to seek truth and to understand what is true as God sees it and as God understands it.
In the second place, the reason that love rejoices in truth and not in iniquity has to do with the nature of love itself. Love seeketh not her own. Now, think of all delight in evil. Is that not the most selfish expression? If you delight in sin for the pleasure that sin brings to you, that is selfishness. Or if you delight in and rejoice in another’s failures, that is selfishness again. The nature of love is that it is not selfish. It seeks not its own. So, delighting in sin is selfish.
Third. The reason that love rejoices not in iniquity but rejoices in the truth is the truth of the gospel itself. There is nothing so compelling as the gospel itself to make us love one another and to make us love the Savior.
I want to finish by just looking at Luke 7:36-50. There is a contrast here between Simon the Pharisee and this woman. Simon the Pharisee had invited Jesus to his home, and then this woman, who was a notorious sinner, came to Jesus, and we read in verse 38, she “stood at his feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with ointment.” So you have this contrast—these two people. How does Simon react to it? He rejoices in iniquity in this, that he identifies her as a sinner, and that is what he wants the focus to be. And he says, “How could Jesus let this woman touch Him?” There is no love there for her. Jesus responds with a question, which is also a parable. Two debtors—one owed 500 pence, the other 50 pence. When neither could pay, he frankly forgave them both. And Jesus asks Simon, “Which one will love him most—the own who owed him 50 or the one forgiven 500?” The answer is: the one forgiven 500. Then Jesus says, “That’s right. Now, Simon, you really don’t understand the gospel, you don’t really understand what you have been forgiven. You don’t know who I am. When I came into your house, you didn’t give me something with which to wash my feet, you didn’t give me a kiss of greeting. But this woman, she,” He says, “hasn’t ceased to wash my feet with her tears and wipe them with her hair and kiss me.” And He says this: “Wherefore I say unto thee, her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much.” There is the proof. She knows she has been forgiven much, therefore she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little. I say, there is nothing so compelling than the truth of the gospel, the truth that we have been forgiven much. Simon rejoiced in perceived iniquity in her because he did not know the gospel. But she loved and was forgiven. Love rejoices not in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth. Amen.
Father, we thank Thee for this word. It is convicting and compelling. And we pray, Lord, that we may be those who, with the perspective of love, may rejoice and find our joy in what is true and praiseworthy and not focus as one who hates, on that which is iniquitous and in selfishness brings delight to us. We pray this, for Jesus’ sake, Amen.