What aspect of agape love do you find the most challenging?
In 1 Corinthians 13, the apostle Paul presents a beautiful, detailed, rigorous list of qualities that reflect the love God shows us and that we, in turn, are to show others. Most of us, when we’re honest, admit that we fall far short in more than one area. I, for one, cringe particularly when asking myself: “Am I always patient? Do I seek my own? Am I easily provoked?” Ouch, ouch, and ouch.
Nestled in the middle of the chapter, however, is a phrase I’ve somehow neglected to contemplate; one that I have, in fact, been skimming over for years.
Love…hopes all things.
I’ve read it, obviously. I know it’s there. It sounds pretty rolling off the tongue: “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” But once upon a time — a short, short time ago — I finally stopped and wondered: “Do I hope all things?”
The answer, of course, is “no.”
One can easily see the merits of being patient, kind, free of jealousy and arrogance, and so forth. Those close to us can easily see (and point out for us!) the characteristics Paul mentions in verses 4-5, and those same people will feel more or less loved according to how well we manifest these more visible aspects of love. Accordingly, we tend to work — with varying consistency — at adopting these virtues.
At some point in our lives, we will all encounter somebody who is difficult to love. Our capacity for patience will be stretched; we may battle jealousy more strenuously than usual; it might require all our willpower to resist keeping a record of wrongs. The circumstances will not involve a one-time event from which we can recover and move on, but instead will be an ongoing situation demanding that we continually take up our cross so as to live in a manner that reflects our Savior.
Through determination…with reliance on the Holy Spirit…by giving ourselves time to recharge emotionally…we may succeed in showing love as well as the situation allows. Inwardly, though, the story may be very different. We may, in fact, have given up.
* * * * * * * * *
It sounds almost frivolous.
Muscle through…put one foot in front of the other…mind over matter. It seems like the only way to survive. Clinging to hope? Sounds like a perfect way to set yourself up for disappointment, and more heartbreak. We are not promised that the circumstances will improve, so — isn’t hope just a pointless indulgence?
I’ve certainly felt it to be so. But…
If Paul told us that love hope all things, there must be a reason. An example. Something more solid than a cheery smile and a “Don’t lose hope, dearie, I’m sure everything’s gonna turn out just great.”
It might not surprise you that, for these things, we need look no farther than Jesus…and His relationship with wonderful, flawed, oh-so-human Peter.
On more than one occasion, Peter messed things up badly. None of his foibles, however, came close to what happened after Jesus was arrested. Three times that night, Peter was given a chance to stand up for his Friend…and three times, he failed. At the time when Jesus was the most alone, when the loyalty of friends would have been most meaningful, Peter let Him down. If Luke 22:61 had reported that, after the third denial, “The Lord turned and looked at Peter, shook His head sorrowfully, and forsook all hope for this wayward disciple,” we could hardly blame Him.
* * * * * * * *
The next time we see Him interact with Peter, Jesus has died, risen again, and appeared to His disciples several times. After breakfasting with the disciples, Jesus asks if Peter loves Him — not once, but three times. He certainly has plenty of evidence to the contrary; plenty of reasons to give Peter the cold shoulder. Instead, He looks at Peter with love…and hope.
Hope that there’s more to Peter than bumbling brashness and latent cowardice.
Hope that, through the power of the Holy Spirit, things can look different for Peter.
Hope that Peter will fulfill the words Jesus spoke to him in Matthew 16:18: “I say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.”
I don’t think it’s wild speculation to imagine that, if Jesus had lost hope for Peter — if He had concluded, after the denials, that this disciple wasn’t worth fighting for — Peter’s ministry would have died before seeing the light of day. Peter would have sensed Jesus’ hopelessness, reflected on the choices that caused it, and concluded that he was, indeed, beyond hope.
Praise the Lord that it didn’t end this way!
If we lose hope for the people we are trying to love, we will quit fighting. Or maybe we’ll keep fighting, but our hearts won’t be in it. And those who have disappointed us…hurt us…failed us…they will realize, sooner or later, that we consider them a burden to be endured rather than a soul worth striving for. And then?
Then, hope truly will be lost.
Love hopes all things.
Jesus showed us the kind of love that pursues; believes; trusts in the redemptive power of a God who can turn darkness to light and give beauty for ashes. He showed us what it means to have hope for somebody who doesn’t deserve it. He showed us that hope just might be the underlying current driving the tenacious love that will enable us to hang on.
This kind of hope isn’t easy; in fact, it might be the hardest part of 1 Corinthians 13. It carries no promises regarding specific situations. And yet, even if our hopeful love never makes a difference in those who have let us down…it will make a difference in us.
If you’re running on empty, perhaps hope is the thing you’ve lost that you didn’t know you needed.