Last week I suggested that genuine change comes when you open your soul and genuinely confess to some real-life, flesh and blood, people who are willing to love, forgive, and hold you accountable. So, this morning, I need to confess something to you.
I love going to home improvement stores and buying stuff because it makes me feel like I’m making progress. There just this sense of euphoria knowing that something is going to get painted, or fixed, and hopefully look better.
But then I get home and I set the stuff down and for some reason, I decide to do something else. I need to own up to this because there are some improvement projects that I promised my wife and myself that I would complete but they are still in the box, in the closet.
And occasionally, I’ll peek in there and I feel a bit guilty about it, but it still doesn’t inspire me to get it done but I tell myself, “Well, at least I’m making progress, right?”
But here’s the problem; a bucket of paint still in the bucket, tucked away in the closet doesn’t make the house look any better. So, my confession is that I try to convince myself and others that I’m making progress when I’m really not.
In the world of church, there is this same dynamic at play. You come to church and you feel inspired by the message and you believe that something real and authentic has happened in your relationship with God and because of this feeling, you believe that you’re making progress.
But what’s true with my home improvement projects is also true in our spiritual development . . . application makes all the difference. Simply believing, or listening, or feeling is false progress. It’s not real. It’s what you do with what you hear that makes all the difference.
When you apply God’s word and it intersects with God’s faithfulness, something happens inside of you and you make progress.
Today, we are wrapping up our summer series “One Another” where we’ve been learning how to live as one another’s for the sake of Jesus.
So, we have not been surprised to find things like; encourage one another, serve one another, forgive one another, teach one another, offer hospitality to one another, and live in harmony with one another.
But the granddaddy of them all is to Love one another. It is the one repeated more than any other; nine times, echoed by three different authors in four different books. It’s where we began our series because it’s the one principle on which all the other “one another” principles depend.
You see, Love is the proof of our faith. It is the evidence of what we believe.
That’s why Paul says, “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels (which is a pretty amazing thing to do), but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.”
In other words, if you don’t apply love . . . you’re not making progress. You can serve one another, offer hospitality to one another, and even teach one another but if you don’t have love . . . you’re like resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. You’re not making progress.
And so today, as we wrap up our sermon series, I want us to take another look at love.
Now most likely, we all agree with the command to love one another in principle. But let’s be honest, sometimes it’s a challenge to love one another in practice because there are certain people that are just difficult to love . . . but why?
Why do we struggle loving some people? Well, I think it has something to do with trust because if you can’t trust someone, it’s very difficult to love them. Trust is the bedrock of relationships.
There are a lot of reasons why we don’t trust people.
- Somebody said they were going to do something and they didn’t do it. They didn’t keep their promise and so, you just can’t trust them.
- You had a bad experience with someone and it caused a lot of pain and hurt, and you just can’t trust them any longer.
- You’ve had some bad life experiences that over time has caused you to just not trust anyone.
But if you can’t trust, or if you don’t know how to trust, or you’re not willing to take some risks when it comes to trust . . . I don’t think you’ll ever really be able to engage relationally. You’ll never be able to truly love.
I think that’s why Paul draws us to this extremely important idea of the value of trust when it comes to how we live together as one another’s for the sake of Jesus.
We are going to look at one of the most famous chapters in the entire bible, 1 Corinthians 13. It’s sometimes referred to as the love chapter. If you’ve ever been to a wedding, there’s a good chance that somebody either read part or all of 1 Corinthians 13.
But Paul isn’t writing these words for a nice young couple on their wedding day. This letter is addressed to a church that is struggling with how to live as one another’s.
In this specific chapter, Paul discusses love. Instead of just giving a sentence like, “Ya’ll just love one another, OK” . . . he gives a detailed description of what love looks like in practice and at the very end, he bumps into this issue of trust.
Let’s listen to the verses leading up to it . . . 1 Corinthians 13:4-5
In other words, love doesn’t keep a filing cabinet where we store away those things people have done to hurt us or let us down in some way. Things that have caused us to be unable to trust. That’s not how love operates.
Instead, love is looking for an opportunity to catch people doing the right thing.
And then he gives four quick phrases that are pointing to the one idea of trust . . . 1 Corinthians 13:7
Always? Isn’t that kind of extreme?
And Paul is going “Yes, if you think it’s extreme than you are beginning to understand what I’m trying to say about love.” Love bends, love leans into, love is always trying to protect the integrity of the relationship, even if you must do all the work.
Here’s another translation of 1 Corinthians 13:7 “it bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
In other words, love gives people the benefit of the doubt. When there is a discrepancy between what’s expected and what actually happens, love looks for the most generous explanation. Love says, “You know what, before I jump to any conclusions, what are some other possibilities?”
Here’s something I know about us . . . in every relationship, there are expectations; at home, at work, at school, on a team, even at church . . . Sometimes those expectations are communicated, sometimes they’re not but there are always expectations when it comes to relationships.
And sometimes there’s a gap between what is expected and what we experience. And when there is a gap, you, and you alone, choose what goes in the gap. Which means that you have far more power in deciding how this relationship plays out than maybe you knew.
And Paul is saying, when there is a gap . . . instead of assuming the worst, love goes out of its way to believe the best. Love does everything it can to protect the integrity of the relationship.
Love believes all things, protects at all cost, endures all things, always trusts . . . because at the end of the day, there’s nothing gained by refusing to trust. There really isn’t and let me explain why.
Suspicion, or lack of trust, is an expression of rejection.
When you feel that someone doesn’t trust you, you experience that as rejection. Do you know what we do when we experience rejection? We shut down.
So consequently, when you choose to assume the worst . . . even if you’ve got a long list of why you should assume the worst, you have taken a step in closing down that relationship.
You are no longer protecting at all cost, enduring at all cost, no longer bending like love bends.
It’s a powerful thing when you look at someone and say, “You know what, despite the gap between us, I am going to assume the best. I am going to trust you.”. That’s way better than saying, “Nope, I’m pulling out the filing cabinet and store it under ‘oops, they did it again’”
No matter how wide the gap is, you choose what you put there every single time. Nobody has ever forced you to assume the worst. Nobody can do that for you.
And your best shot at restoring, and healing, and making a stronger relationship is to always trust, always endure, always believe the best. Because here’s the deal . . . I’ve never heard anyone say, “you know our relationship was so tense, and then they came and told me they don’t trust me and wow, things are so much better now”.
Paul is saying, “Look, I know this extreme. I know this doesn’t even sound practical, but even in the most difficult of relationships bend, bend, bend.” Do everything in your power to communicate, I trust you because that is how love operates.
But what about those times you’ve bent so far that you’re about to break?
Some of us are not going to like what’s about to come out of my mouth but here it goes . . . confront.
But it’s an important step toward protecting the integrity of the relationship. In fact, it’s so important that the only time that I know of that Jesus offer three very specific steps on how to do something, he addressed confrontation because this is a necessary part of healing and for the gap to be closed.
The moment there’s a gap so wide, and you know that you’re going to really struggle with trying to assume the best, have a conversation. Ask for an explanation and assume that there’s a good one.
That’s what confrontation is. You’re communicating that you want this door to stay open and so I’m going to do everything in my power to make that happen because I value this relationship.
I know what most of you are thinking, because I am too . . . I’m not a confronter. I hate conflict.
But we can’t hide behind the fact that we don’t like conflict, because if you let the gap stew and simmer and build, it gets bigger and bigger and finally something is going to break and it’s never pretty.
Here’s some good news . . . sometimes the explanation ends up being so much better than the assumption we made.
So, to sum it up, in every relationship there are expectations and sometimes there’s a gap between what is expected and what actually happens and every time there is a gap, you choose what goes in the gap.
And Paul says, when there is a gap, bend, bend, bend and believe the best. When it’s just too hard and you can’t ben any further, you quickly and directly go to that person and say, “I value this relationship, so we need talk.” But you do so, believing that there’s a good explanation.
That’s what love does; Love believes all things, endures all things, hopes all things. Love bends.
And if there is no love, you are like a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
But where there is love, there is freedom. Freedom to encourage one another, serve one another, forgive one another, teach and admonish one another, offer hospitality to one another, and live in harmony and unity with one another.
Let me finish with the words of Paul at the end of 1 Corinthians 13: “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
Love never fails!