Love, or charity, “believeth all things.” That does not mean that love accepts for truth every last thing or believes absolutely everything. That is folly, not love. Some things are contrary to fact. Some things just are not true, they are false. So you read in Proverbs 14:15: “The simple [or the naïve] believeth every word: but the prudent man looketh well to his going.” That is, the wise man is discerning. So when the text says that charity believeth all things, it does not mean that it believes every last thing. Then you see the advantage of understanding those words “all things” as adverbial. Always—charity always believes, always hopes, always endures.
But now, as we take it the way it is written in the King James, “beareth all things, believeth all things,” and we think of the strength of love, we see that what it means is this, that especially in the communion of the saints and in our relationships, our interpersonal course relationships, we believe. The word “believe” has the idea of trusting. There is a mutual trust between believers—where we love one another, we trust one another. That is the idea.
Love believes all things, love takes others at their word. We are not suspicious and critical and judgmental of them but we assign the best motives to what they do or say. If they are kind or helpful we believe that that is from a genuine desire in their heart to love us, that they are not just trying to butter us up or put themselves forward and doing this for some selfish motive. Instead of judging motives, we believe all things. And even if they do something wrong or if we hear a rumor or story from another that puts them in a bad light, we are reluctant to believe it but will try to find an explanation that puts them in a positive light because love believes all things.
Maybe a couple of simple examples will help us to understand this. If some are late for church or if they miss church or they are not at Bible study, we do not immediately jump to a conclusion that will judge their spirituality. There can be a hundred reasons that have nothing to do with sin that someone might not be there. There may be car troubles or sick children or work-related absences. Then, in love, when we come to them, we come to them gently and we give them the benefit of the doubt. Love believeth all things.
Or, you think of the responsibility of parents towards children with regards to love. You have clear and reasonable expectations for your children. A clear expectation is, perhaps, this, that your child has to clean her room, put things away, and make his bed. Ordinarily the child lives up to those expectations. He knows those expectations. Then you find one day, that the child did not do what he should have done. A love that believes all things does not fly off the handle but, you think, I wonder what is going on? And you patiently inquire into the situation because love does not judge motives but believes all things.
That does not mean that love is blind, and that love is blind particularly to sin or to faults, but, as verse 6 puts it: It rejoices not in iniquity but rejoices in the truth. It focuses not on the weaknesses and the failures of others but on the strengths and the virtues. As one commentator put it: We gaze on strength and glance on flaws. That is a love that believes all things. But too often for us it is the other way around. We gaze on flaws and weaknesses and we barely glance or notice strengths and virtues. And then we assign motives and sin to people that is wholly unfair. That is not loving.
You can think of examples of that from Scripture. I want to reference a couple of them. The first one is in the book of Job. You remember what happened to Job in the first couple of chapters. He lost all that he had, his children all died, he became ill, and he sat in dust and ashes. He had friends who heard about it. They came, not to recognize Job’s sorrow and suffering, not to sit and to comfort him, but they came and made an effort in all their speech to incriminate Job. You read this in Job 22:5-10. Eliphaz, the main spokesman of the friends of Job, says this: “Is not thy wickedness great? and thine iniquities infinite? For thou hast taken a pledge from thy brother for nought, and stripped the naked of their clothing. Thou hast not given water to the weary to drink, and thou hast withholden bread from the hungry. But as for the mighty man, he had the earth; and the honourable man dwelt in it. Thou hast sent widows away empty, and the arms of the fatherless have been broken. Therefore snares are round about thee, and sudden fear troubleth thee.” What a friend! Who needs enemies when you have a friend like that? “Job, I know why you are going through this trouble and affliction in your life. It is because you have not cared for the poor and you have not fed the widow.” All of that was false. What do we see here? They did not love Job; they hated him.
Or, you think of the Pharisees. They had a hypercritical and judgmental approach, so that Jesus says of them that they strained at a gnat and swallowed a camel (Matt. 23:24), that is, in their self-righteousness they saw all the tiny little flaws and blemishes in others and they looked down their self-righteous noses at those things, while in their own lives, in their own conduct, everything was permissible. They dealt with just the external requirements of the law, they saw themselves as righteous, and they were able to pin blame and sin on others. And Jesus takes that and applies it to His own disciples. He tells them over and over again to beware because that same Phariseeistic attitude is in the sinful heart of every one of us. So in Matthew 7, He says to His disciples: “Judge not that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or, how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam from thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.”
You see what Jesus is doing. He is taking the practice of the Pharisees and the self-righteous doctrine of the Pharisees and He is applying it to us. He is saying, Don’t be hypocritical. If you deal with others that way, you can expect others to deal with you that way. With what judgment you mete, it shall be meted to you again. So He says later in the same chapter in the golden rule (v. 12): “Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.” Love believeth all things. It is not hasty in judgment or censorious or critical.
Is this how you live with your fellow believers in the church, or are you quick to judge, quick to put down, quick to believe the worst, quick to find fault, quick to be critical, or, in the words of Philippians 2, do you esteem others better than yourself? Love believeth all things.
That is the meaning of the text as it deals with interpersonal relationships, and certainly that is the context here, is it not? It is talking about our relationships with one another.
But the word “believeth” should make us think beyond just believing in people, because people cannot always be believed, people cannot always be trusted. Love always believes. When we think about that, we realize that faith has to do with God and our relationship with God. So the one who loves always believes.
I want you to follow closely what I am saying here because you see here how our love for God is related to our love for the neighbor. And our believing and our faith in God helps us to love our neighbor, even makes it possible for us to love the unlovely, those who would hurt us or harm us, to love our enemies, to love the ungodly. You see here how strong love is, that it never gives up, because it believes, always believes—believes particularly in the sovereignty of God in His grace and in His providence.
What do you believe about God in regard to your salvation and the grace of God towards you? The true child of God believes that his salvation is all of grace. He says, “Only by the grace of God I am what I am.” He confesses what Paul has addressed and said earlier to the Corinthians that you do not make yourself to differ. There is nothing that you have that you have not first received. And salvation is freely and entirely of grace. You do not deserve it. Before the grace of God came to you, you walked in darkness. If it were not for the grace of God, you would not know and you would not believe and you would not understand the gospel. You would not know God. When you look out at the world of sin, though you hate it, you humbly confess for yourself: “But for the grace of God, there go I,” and you realize that you are capable, in your flesh dwells the desire and the capability, to go after every sort of sin. There is an appeal.
Now, if that is what you believe concerning the grace of God and the sovereignty of God’s grace towards you, then do you not also believe that God could work that way in the life of any sinner? If you love someone and you believe in the power of sovereign grace, then you do not give up on them. You recognize that what God has done for you, He could do for them. And you realize that God could use you as a means in the life of that other person. There is an evangelistic kind of love here. Love believes in the power of God’s grace.
Then love also believes in the sovereignty of God in providence. You believe this, that God has sovereignly brought every situation of your life into your life—every one, everything that anyone does or says, God has brought into your life. And, if you believe that, and you love, then you receive things from the hand of God, not just from the hand of others. This is the remarkable example of Joseph and his treatment of and his forgiveness of his brothers. How could he do that? Why did he not, as they feared after their father died, why did he not get back at them? Well, it is because he believed, even when he was wronged, he believed. He did not stop believing. Because of that, rather than just reacting to people, he responded in faith to God, that God was sovereign in His providence.
That is why Jesus says we can even love our enemies and that we should pray for those who despitefully use us and say all manner of evil against us falsely, for His sake. We pray for them. And we pray even for their repentance and their salvation as they hurt us. You see how strong love is? There is a power, in a love that believes, to forgive and to love the neighbor for God’s sake. Love always believes. Love never loses trust in who God is, and what God can do by the power of His grace, and the providence of God that has brought whatever it is that comes to us in life. So you see here that there is a dimension of our love that arises from our faith in God.
We want to make some applications that are relatable. The first is a kind of general application. The first principle here is that trust is essential for any relationship, that you cannot have a relationship without trust. There are two aspects, two main applications to that. The first is this, that in our relationships, and for our relationships to be strong, we have to be trustworthy, that is, we have to be honest with others. Think of the closest relationship, marriage, what the Bible calls a one-flesh union. Men, in your marriages, your wife has the right to know where you are, she has the right to see what you are seeing on the Internet. Women, your husband has the right to know how you are using money, what you are spending it on. There needs to be trust. The strongest relationships are built on trust. So we should want openness and honesty so that there can be trust. If we are hiding things, we can expect there to be suspicion. And that erodes a relationship.
Then, on the flip side, if we love others, we will not be overly suspicious or critical or judgmental of them. We ought to trust one another in love. Again, in marriage it is not wrong for a husband or a wife to be completely accountable and open to each other, or for your children to be accountable to you, but this is something we must do honestly and openly. You do not spy on one another. That is not love. Jesus says that if you have a problem, you go to your brother (Matt. 18). That is love—not spying, but open communication so that others know. Anything else is unloving and controlling and erodes relationships. The best relationships are built upon trust. And we cannot have love without trust. So, it is a general application,and certainly it is broader than just marriage and the family, is it not? To trust one another, we have to be honest with one another.
But then there is a secondary application that has to do with life in the church. What does that trust look like in the church? It is certainly important in some of the ways that I have pointed out already, that we not judge one another or take a position of moral superiority over others and be critical of them, that we take others at their word, that we receive one another as genuine in the church. Every Sunday we confess that we believe in the communion of the saints. That is not first our communion with each other but it is the communion of believers with Christ, and that means that we approach one another, seeing one another in Jesus Christ. We love one another from that perspective. So it is important.
That is also very important with regard to the government of the church in the oversight of the members of the church. The officebearers of the church must, first of all, respect one another and receive each other in the Lord, but then they must, in their view of the congregation, receive the members as genuine members of Christ. That is true and important even when a member falls into sin. You do not suddenly dismiss one as unbelieving and unregenerate, but think, here is a sheep that wandered and that needs love. The unity and the peace of the church is destroyed by suspicion. This kind of love is essential for our living with each other in the church.
Then there is a third area of application, this one with regard to unbelievers who are, or perhaps were, a part of our life. The love that believes all things never gives up until their dying day on the possibility of their salvation. That is not because you believe in them but because you believe in God, in God who is sovereign and who in His providence puts such people in your pathway, and in God who is pleased, perhaps, to use your witness and your love for their salvation. So, you pray for them. We believe in predestination, and in the end that is our confidence. When a loved one walks in unbelief, we rest in God. But we do not know what God may be pleased to do in the heart of one while he is still living. There is a situation that, as a pastor, you become very familiar with, and that is, when believing parents have wayward children—children who wander far from the church and far from the truth of the parents who love them. Though the relationship is different and strained, they will pray for them, believing that God is able to do much more than we could ask or even think. So the apostle Paul says that his heart’s desire and prayer to God is that his brethren according to the flesh, might be saved. So it does not have to be just a parent/child relationship. Maybe as a child you are praying for your parents. Maybe you are praying for your siblings. Maybe you are praying for your neighbors or someone you work with, and you do that believing what God is able to do in His grace. That does not mean that He always will, but He can.
I want to conclude this message with some inspiring examples of just this.
The first is an example from church history. It is the great example of Monica, the mother of Augustine. She was a believer and she was fervent in prayer for her son. The story goes this way, that Augustine, when he became a young man, went off to school. As he went and was away from his mother’s care, he also lived a very loose life. Impressed with his own intellectual abilities and rhetorical gifts, he became proud, and he fell not only into the philosophical error of Manicheism, which was twisted and permissive, but he also fell into immorality and he lived with a woman and even had a child with her. From North Africa, Augustine moved to Italy—first to Rome and then to Milan. His mother, Monica, who was aware of all these things in his life, including the immorality, prayed daily for him, rebuking him when she had opportunity, not allowing him and his live-in woman to come into her home. But she prayed for him. And she followed him even to Milan so that there she could speak to him and pray with him and he could know of that love that she had for him.
In Milan there was a great preacher named Ambrose. And Augustine, who wanted to develop his rhetorical skills, went to hear Ambrose preach—not because he was interested in the content of what Ambrose would preach but he wanted to learn something about the art of rhetoric. As he sat and heard Ambrose speak, it was not the power of Ambrose’s rhetoric that got a hold of Augustine, but it was the power of the gospel that Ambrose preached. Augustine went and took up the Scriptures, and he read in Romans 13 of renouncing the deeds of the flesh. He repented and put away his sin. He forsook his life-style and his philosophy. And Augustine tells us that it was his mother’s prayers that pursued him and that he could not escape and that were answered. Who is it that is lost, but is pursued by your prayers?
Love believes all things.
The second example is the example in Scripture of a father of a prodigal son in Luke 15. We know that the father here represents the way that God receives the repentant sinner. But there is in this father also an example for parents with wayward children. What was the father doing all the while that his son was wandering and lost? He saw his son coming afar off, that is, he was standing by the road waiting for his son to come back because love believes all things. What a joy when he returned. A celebration. Read about it in Luke 15. Not a suspicion, but a genuine reception because love believes all things.
And the point is, if this is the way God has loved us, so we ought to love others.
One final example. The tenderness of Jesus Christ in dealing with His disciple Peter. Peter was a hard, difficult person to love. Like Jacob, what made Peter so difficult to love was his pride that so often stood in his own strength, so much so that when Christ said to His disciples, “You are all going to be offended because of Me tonight and be scattered like sheep,” Peter said, “Though all men forsake Thee, I will never forsake Thee.” And Jesus says to Peter, “Peter, tonight, before the sun comes up tomorrow, before dawn breaks, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny Me three times. Peter, Satan wants you, he wants to sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith fail not.”
When all you see is a life in the grip of Satan, do not stop praying. Love believes all things. Amen.