The Confused Context of Love
The Beatles sing, “All you need is love,” but never define or explain it. In the song Trampled Under Foot, Led Zepplin, “Can’t stop talkin about love.” Themes related to love fill nearly every genre of music and movies—even the epic Lord of the Rings films include a romantic sub-plot. The world usually focuses on romantic love and the accompanying emotional responses of butterflies in the stomach and a quickening pulse. Through common usage, unbelievers have highjacked the word “love” and use it to refer to the act of sexual intimacy. Furthermore, the world defines love as toleration. In the name of love, people demand the toleration any view or behavior. To disagree would be, “unloving” (and no Christians want that label).
The world’s frequent references to love have introduced confusion into the church. Some Christians excuse, accept, and justify unrighteousness under the banner of love. Premarital sex, homosexuality, and divorce all find quarter in some churches. Some employ a twisted understanding of love to deny essential Christian doctrine. In his book Love Wins, Rob Bell infamously denies the biblical teachings about the reality of hell.
Over the years I’ve tried to convince many Christians about the value of church discipline. The primary argument I’ve faced has been, “That’s not loving.” Thus, in the name of love, some Christians will not obey Jesus’s commands in Matthew 18:15–20. Something is wrong with the way some Christians understand and live out love.
Christian Corrections about Love
Most people know that love holds a place of central importance in the Christian faith. Jesus teaches that all the Law and Prophets depend on the commands relating to loving God and your neighbor (Matt 22:37–40). Paul argues that love is greater than faith and hope (1 Cor 13:13). While we know love holds an essential place in the Christian faith, some do not understand how it functions in the church. 1 Corinthians 13:6 provides a timely corrective for these problems.
In 1 Corinthians 13:4–8, Paul uses fifteen verbs to describe how love behaves in the church. These verses define love in terms of how it behaves—its actions. This passage falls between chapters 12 and 14 which rebuke and correct the misuse of spiritual gifts. Paul’s emphasis on love serves as a foil to the Corinthian division over the gifts. We should strive to live out the excellent way of love when addressing division and disagreements in the church.
In 1 Corinthians 13:6 Paul writes, “it [love] does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.”
First, this defines what love does not rejoice in—unrighteousness (adikia). Therefore, love does not celebrate or find joy in sinful behavior. The Scripture defines what constitutes unrighteous behavior. Therefore, if God calls it sin, don’t rejoice in it.
Second, this defines what love does rejoice with—the truth. In John 17:17, Jesus defines God’s Word as “truth.” Throughout his letters, Paul refers to the gospel as “truth” (Eph 1:13; Col 1:5). In dealing with the wavering and divided Corinthians, Paul defends his ministry by asserting, “For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth” (2 Cor 13:8). John says, “For I rejoiced greatly when the brothers came and testified to your truth, as indeed you are walking in the truth. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth” (3 John 3–4). Keeping and living out of God’s truth must be part of a definition of biblical love. In 2 John 6 the Apostle writes, “And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, so that you should walk in it.”
Three Practical Applications
1. Define Love using 1 Corinthians 13:6
The Scripture leaves no room for Christians to celebrate or rejoice in unrighteousness in the name of love. Any joy in what God clearly defines as sin is not love. 1 Corinthians 13:6 proves that rejoicing in unrighteousness is treasonous to Christian love.
2. Display Love as Defined in 1 Corinthians 13:6
Christians should not apologize from the truth of God’s Word; we should joyfully proclaim it. We should speak the truth in love (Eph 4:15). We should not recoil from doctrinal teaching but should rejoice in it. We must not celebrate when people deny, despoil, or suppress the truth by unrighteousness (Rom 1:18).
3. Deploy 1 Corinthians 13:6 in Discipleship
Misunderstandings of love are deeply imbedded into our culture. In the church we need to incorporate a biblical understanding of love into our discipleship strategy. Since love occupies such a prominent place in the Christian faith—we must help God’s people to rightly understand and live it out. When people contend love demands acceptance of any belief or behavior, we should counter with 1 Corinthians 13:6. Jesus perfectly demonstrates love, yet he did not rejoice in the false religion of the Pharisees (Matt 23). Jesus loved the rich young man—this did not prevent the Lord from exposing his misunderstandings and errant beliefs (Mark 10:21).
Many Christians have absorbed false notions about love from American culture. From the Beatles to Rob Bell to Bible Bookstores, confusion abounds regarding the definition and practice of love. Sin corrupts and distorts God’s good creation. Ungodly people pervert the grace of God into sensuality (Jude 4). Respond with the truth of love found in 1 Corinthians 13:6.