The last phrase in verse 7 is the text for this message concerning love: “It endureth all things.”
From his vow he will not waver, though it bring him sad reward. To have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part.
We recognize those words. They reflect not only the biblical teaching that marriage is for life, but the commitment that a believer makes before God and to God concerning marriage. These vows imply that love is not only a bond, but also a behavior; that love is not only commitment, but also companionship; that love is not something just to define, but it is something to be determined in.
We come, in this message, to the last of these fifteen characteristics of love. In this verse the four behaviors of love are expressed in the positive: Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things. The “all things” that is attached, we saw, is probably best understood adverbially to mean always, so that love always bears, always believes, always hopes, and now always endures. Love endures all things.
Let us notice the perseverance of love. Notice first, the idea; second, the situations; and then third, the possibility.
Before we get at the meaning of this word “endureth all things,” I want to connect it to what has gone before, because it is the last of four in this verse, and the last of fifteen in this section. In verse 7, there is progress from one to the next, that is, love here rises to the occasion. Love bears all things and then, when things become unbearable, love believes all things. Then, when things become unbelievable, love hopes all things. Then, when all hope seems lost, love endures all things. This one expresses the strength of true love, the kind of love that is lost on the world in which we live where love is about pleasure and feeling and self-satisfaction. This is love that is committed and is stronger than death itself. That is the connection here in verse 7.
But it is also connected to this whole section in which there are fifteen characteristics or attributes of the behavior of love. Notice that all of these are described as verbs, and love is the one that acts. We should love as love does.
What this last one expresses is really the heart or the essence of what love does. This is what love does: love endures. The other fourteen that go before it really tell us how love endures. Love endures all things. That is the real behavior of love, and the others that are before tell us what enduring love looks like. So, enduring love suffers long. Enduring love is kind, it is not envious, it is not proud and does not boast. Enduring love does not act inappropriately. Enduring love is not self-seeking. Enduring love is not quickly angry. Enduring love does not keep a record of wrong. Enduring love does not rejoice in iniquity but rejoices in the truth about others. Enduring love always bears, always believes, and always hopes all things.
Or we could put it this way: If you want a love that lasts a lifetime, this is the way to behave. So this last “love endureth all things” is somewhat of a capstone. Enduring love is not something that you find, but enduring love is something that you do.
So, what does this mean, that love endures all things? We need, in a sense, before we come to the meaning of it, to brace ourselves, because here all our human ideas about love are challenged. Here all our selfishness has to be set aside. Here we are called to love without return and without reward, to, as our Savior did, lay down our lives. The word “endure” here, the verb, means literally to remain under something, that is, to stay where you are, even when the weight of circumstances makes you want to run, to remain under, to stay where you are, even when circumstances are, even screaming at you to flee. Endurance is not acquiescence to a situation, but it is fortitude in a situation. This endurance is not an endurance of a marathon runner who is way back in the pack and is running for consolation just to get across the line. But this endurance is the endurance of a soldier.
The word is taken from the battlefield. That is the idea. It is the endurance of the soldier who, when the battle is the toughest, and when the battle becomes even hotter, launches into the battle with a renewed energy. That is the endurance that is spoken of here. No grim perseverance, but a fortitude, a strength with a vision and an energy. That is love. It stays, it remains, when everyone and everything is shouting at you to leave and to quit.
That is why I began with the wedding vows: For better, for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish till death do us part. The world’s wisdom and counsel concerning marriage usually goes something like this: Find someone who is like you, someone who shares your interests, and someone who will make you happy. There will be differences, and where the differences are, find a middle ground where you can at least share a part of your life or most of your life. If you cannot find a middle ground where there is at least some joy for you, then maybe you are not compatible and, for your own sake, you should move on. That is the wisdom of the world. And that is the message that is shouted at us from the world. It is appealing to the flesh, but it goes against everything that the Bible says about love. Love perseveres, love endures, love never quits, love is victorious.
The word for love here is agape, and we can describe agape love in these four ways: love is a bond that God has established (Col. 3:14). Love is a choice, that is, a determination of the will to remain committed. Love is an activity, it is not just a feeling, but it is a doing. And that is certainly on the foreground here in this middle section in I Corinthians 13. And, fourth, love is sacrificial, that is, it never stops giving. Let me say those four again: Love is a bond; love is a choice; love is an activity; and love is sacrificial.
The word that is used here, the word that I said means to remain under, as you study it in the New Testament, it is very interesting to observe that the most common use of this word in the New Testament refers to enduring under persecution. That is the strength of this endurance.
What is persecution? Persecution, we could say, is the ultimate injustice. When we stand for God, when we stand with Christ, when we stand for the gospel, when we stand for what is right, then we receive hardship for it. So, here we are, standing for what is righteous and true, and persecution is to be harmed innocently for that. This is the way that the New Testament uses this word. In Matthew 10:22 and 24:13, Jesus says: “And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake, but he that endureth to the end shall be saved.” An endurance to the end. In Romans 12:12, the apostle Paul says, “rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation.” That is the word: “enduring in tribulation, continuing instant in prayer.” In II Timothy 2:10 Paul is talking about his bonds and imprisonment and he says, “Therefore I endure all things for the elect’s sake, that they may also obtain salvation.” I endure all things. And Paul is speaking here of his imprisonment. Two verses later he says, “If we suffer with him [and that is the word again: if we endure with him], we shall also reign with him.” In I Peter 2:20 the word is used twice and it is translated “take patiently”: “For what glory is it, if when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently [that is, you endure it], this is acceptable to God.”
So, you get the idea here that you are enduring something when you do well and suffer for it. Hebrews 12:2, 3 speaks of Christ “enduring the cross,” and “enduring the contradiction of sinners,” and then, in verse 7, it says, “we must endure the chastening of the Lord.” So, you get the idea of the strength of this word. Enduring love is like enduring persecution when you are wronged, enduring harm when you are innocent.
Perhaps this raises a question in your mind: How can love be like persecution? The answer is this, that the people whom you are called to love are not always going to be loving to you. They are not always going to treat you fairly. And, just as you are called to endure persecution, in the words of Jesus to love your enemies, so you are to continue in love. As hard as it may get and as persecuted as you may feel, this is what love does, it endures. And it does that because it loves the one who is hurting you. Love endures all things. That is what Jesus means when He says, “Love your enemies, pray for them that despitefully use you, that say all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake.” This is what Paul means when he uses this verb in II Timothy 2:10 and says, “I endure all things for the elect’s sake.” He means that in prison he is persecuted and he endures it for the sake of the elect who are there. Paul keeps on witnessing to them, perseveres in his love, because he knows that his love is a testimony to them. And he rejoices when God uses his persecutions to bring to faith even those (as he says in Philippians 1) in Caesar’s household, his persecutors.
So, as we are called to endure persecution, so also are we called to endure in love. And that is not because love is first about a horizontal relationship—mine to you and yours to me—but it is first about that vertical relationship in which I stand in commitment to God.
The first situation that I want to call attention to is marriage. We have already said a lot about it, but it needs to be repeated because the voices that we hear are telling us to run. And they sound so convincing, so appealing. Satan wants you and me to think this way, that if you are not happy now in your marriage and you could be happy, then run, and do this for yourself. That is what Satan wants to say and wants us to think. Whereas the Scriptures say, “Husbands and wives, this is for better or for worse. Love perseveres period. And love perseveres not like the wornout Marathon runner who is running for consolation, but it perseveres with the renewed commitment of a soldier when the going gets tough in the battlefield.” I am going to love, not based on how I feel or how I am rewarded, but with a holy commitment, fueled by a love that I have for Christ. Is that not what marriages need today? Is this not what your marriage needs? Is this not what your and my spouse needs from you, from me? Love endures.
The second situation, also in the family. And this is more than observation. This is a love of a parent for a child. It is one of the greatest natural examples of this kind of love, which endures all things. The mother has a newborn and, perhaps, besides that newborn, she has a house full of other children and other responsibilities. And she perseveres through sleepless nights. She does not quit. She does not persevere because she loves sleepless nights and piles of laundry and dirty dishes and hours in the kitchen, but because she loves the children that God has given her. She even smiles and she has joy in the moments and from the faces of those children. That is a love that perseveres.
And now you think of the father of the prodigal son who had wasted his father’s love. What did the father do? In his love, he believed, and he hoped, and he endured. So he stood by the road and he watched morning after morning to see his son return. Let us keep that love for our children—not a love that abandons but a love that endures. Is not this the love that our children need?
Now, we can flip that relationship and think of what the Scriptures say to children, to teenagers: “Boys and girls, listen!” Ephesians 6: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor thy father and thy mother, which is the first commandment with promise.” And the Heidelberg Catechism in Lord’s Day 39 tells us that honoring our parents means this, that “we patiently bear with their weaknesses and infirmities, since it pleases God to govern us by their hands.” That is, this is the way that you love them, you endure, you are patient.
A third situation, and that is in the church. Sadly, we live in a day when church membership is declining, when commitment to the church is fading and when many of those who leave the church will say that they are still believers, they are still Christians, and they love God. So you ask them, “Well, why are you leaving the church?” Usually the answer you get is something like this: “I’ve been wronged and I cannot endure it anymore.” This is not to say that people are never mistreated in the church by the leadership or by other members of the body, but this is what charity does: it endureth all things. Those who love Christ will also love His body. That is what Paul is telling the church in Corinth here, torn, divided. He is telling them that love endures. Persevere in your love with one another in the church. Keep on in loving one another in the church. Do not keep a record of wrongs, bear all things, believe all things, hope all things. Ephesians 4 puts it this way, that we should, in the church, “endeavor to keep the unity of the body in the bond of peace.”
Endeavoring has the idea of striving. Love endures. Hebrews 10 puts it this way, that we should “consider one another [that is another way of talking about love—being considerate of one another] to provoke unto love and to good works.” And we do that this way, by “not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as we see the day approaching.” Love endures. Is that not the kind of love that is needed in the church? Is that not the kind of love that others in the church need from you? Love endures all things.
There is a fourth situation, and that is persecution. We have touched on this already. But here is the strength of perseverance under persecution, namely, love. Love for God and love also for those who persecute. Jesus said, “Love your enemies.” Paul said that he endured all things for the elect’s sake. And Paul has shown this same love to the church in Corinth when, in chapter 9:22, he says that he is willing to become all things to all men, if by any means he might save some.
The outstanding example of this in Scripture is the death of the first martyr, Stephen. He lovingly bore the ridicule and rejection of those who threw stones at him to kill him. And those who stood around witnessing his death—he bore their ridicule. I do not think we can even imagine what it is like to die from stones being hurled at us. Yet, with enduring love, Stephen prayed this: “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.” He did that believing and hoping that God would yet work graciously to save, perhaps, even one of them. Who was standing there? A witness, hearing this prayer—this Paul—who writes this: Love endures all things. Paul, who persecuted the church, was loved and prayed for. And God answered that prayer.
Who is it who has wronged you and needs your love and your prayers like this?
I mentioned four situations: marriage, parenting, in the church, and under persecution. You can think of many others, perhaps in the workplace; perhaps in a school situation; perhaps in a relationship with neighbors. Love endures all things.
Now, if we think about that, we think about it in terms of persecution. Loving those who wrong us and hurt us. It is a painful thought. We are tempted to think, well, that is impossible.
So, we need to close this message by thinking about the possibility. We do that by reflecting on everything that is said about the behavior of love in these middle verses, and we do it in a way that we have called attention to several times. That is, that the love that is described here in its perfect manifestation is the love of Jesus Christ for us. So, we could substitute the noun “charity” with the name “Jesus,” because He is the One who has suffered long. He is the One who is kind. He is the One who envies not. He is the One who does not vaunt Himself or puff up Himself or behave Himself unseemly. He is not self-seeking. He is not easily provoked. He thinks no evil. He does not rejoice in iniquity but He rejoices in the truth. He bears all things. He believes all things. He hopes all things. And He, in His love for us, endures all things. That is the good news of the gospel, is it not? John 13:1 puts it this way: “Having loved his own that were in the world, he loved them to the end.” The end? Yes, the end of His life. He loved them, laying down His life for them. So, Hebrews 12 uses this verb: “He endured the cross, despising the shame.”
And that is a reflection or an expression of God’s own love for us. Romans 8: “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all.” That is eternal love. We will come to that in our next message: “Charity never faileth.” That eternal love is God’s eternal love in which He loved His own in eternity in Jesus Christ and chose them. Having loved His own, He sent His Son into the world to die on the cross to pay the price for their sins. Having loved them, He raised His Son and He brought Him to glory. And the Son sends forth the Holy Spirit, and the life and the love of the Son is shed abroad in our hearts. This is the power by which the elect, redeemed, believing child of God is equipped to love. Do you see the depth and the scope and the magnitude and the endurance and the perseverance of love in God’s love for us, in the Savior’s love when He was reviled and He reviled not again? He is the One who prayed from the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
That is the possibility for us. You have been loved like this. You have experienced this love. And by the power of this grace in you, you are also able so to love. Not only able, but you have the will to do it, you want to do it. That is the power of God’s love worked in you. It endures all things. It perseveres. It stays, when every voice is telling you to quit. That is because it loves the one who is hurting me.
Our sin put the Savior on the cross. We hurt Him. If Christ has so loved us, let us also love one another. Amen.