“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8) Writing about love and joy at a time when tens of thousands of people have died from Covid-19 is a challenge. We grieve with the sick, families of victims, and future victims of this silent killer. We worry that we’ll be next, or falsely think that we won’t, we can’t—but we could catch it. We’re encouraged by the clinical trial taking place in Seattle, WA, through the kindness and love of selfless individuals who have volunteered to find a vaccination. (1) But we wonder, what happens if I get sick? Christians should have a different answer to this question than non-Christians, since we have an eternal home of glory awaiting us, in the new heavens and new earth, untainted with sin, disease, pain, and suffering of any kind. And even before that, we have a perfect stop-over place in heaven where our spirits will rest with the Lord. Last Sunday, Pastor Taha preached to us from Luke 17 about the cleansing of the ten lepers. (2) He reminded us of God’s grace to his people and their appropriate response to him in a situation that was dire. For many people, either personal or global healing from the virus will mean returning to “normal life” (whatever that is) like the nine lepers who went off to the temple to give thanks to the priest. But for believers in Jesus Christ, we will hopefully return to Christ, our heavenly High Priest, to give thanks and worship him as the Samaritan did in Luke 17:15-18. God’s grace should change us even during these strange times.
In the history of Christ’s church, there have been great times of opposition and persecution. This is not one of them. There have been oppressive events when thousands of believers died at the stake, but this is not then. All people on earth are affected by the disease, and our faith will not save us from it; only God will decide that we are among the survivors or leave this world. Our prayers are essential, but they will not save us. Only Christ saves. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) Knowing that our God has a good plan for us, even when we are physically, emotionally, and mentally weak, we have cause to celebrate his love. When we would otherwise be consumed with fear, we rejoice in his truths. See in Scripture how Joseph, David, Job, Paul, and most notably, our Lord Jesus Christ viewed crises of great magnitude. The Holy Spirit gives me the ability to be content, hopeful, loving, and even joyful. We have been studying the Fruit of the Spirit, starting with love; now, we will begin to consider how God’s love leads to joy in the Spirit. Godly love is patient, kind, humble, gentle, content, peaceful, selfless, hopeful, enduring, joyful, and eternal. We are called to celebrate and demonstrate God’s love from joyful hearts, even in this challenging season.
One of the great blessings of Christianity is the desire to serve Christ in all circumstances. Rather than be content to shelter and be safe, we want to be useful to God. This is God’s love working in us, not something to boast about as if the desire originates with us. So we admire and pray for medical staff in hospitals first responders, assisted living staff, and even grocery employees, who are serving at the risk of their own and their family’s health, rather than envy them their devotion or boast about our own safety at home. And the people I have encountered during this time have demonstrated the characteristics of love in 1 Cor. 13:4: “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude.” I should not boast that I am well and protected from Covid-19 but be kind, patient, and polite about my lost package of toilet tissue or one-week wait time for a curbside pickup of my groceries. I will not be envious of people who seem to know how to conduct zoom meetings so effortlessly and professionally. This godly love also “…does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.” (v. 5-6) Yesterday I posted something with an incorrect link and was so grateful when someone else deleted it. I can see now why John Gill reminds us that the wrongdoing that we should be primarily concerned about is our own. Confession and repentance is needed now more than ever, as we spend more time alone, with family, children, those with special needs, or roommates. And, I am now convinced that the pressure to conform is somehow stronger than ever, perhaps because we’re spending so much time on social media. Whose post is better, which article is the best, who has found the most appropriate Scripture? Christians don’t live for the approval of others. This love “…seeketh not his own things: even those which are “lawful”, as the Arabic version renders it; but seeks the things of God, and what will make most for his honour and glory; and the things of Christ, and what relate to the spread of his Gospel, and the enlargement of his kingdom; and also the things of other men, the temporal and spiritual welfare of the saints…” (3) Might I suggest more quiet times of prayer over and above looking for the best post on social media?
Our relationship with God drives our relationships with others. “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (V. 7) “The terms believes and hopes are sandwiched between bears and endures and, like them, probably refer to relationships between people rather than to faith and hope in God. Love believes the best of others and hopes the best for them.” (4) “[Love] hopes the best of all men, of all professors of religion, even of wicked men, that they may be better and brought to repentance, and of fallen professors, who declare their repentance, and make their acknowledgments; he hopes well of them, that they are sincere, and all is right and will appear so: endures all things; that are disagreeable to the flesh; all afflictions, tribulations, temptations, persecutions, and death itself, for the elect’s sake, for the sake of the Gospel, and especially for the sake of Christ Jesus.” (5) We celebrate God’s sustaining love, especially in times of great distress.
Godly love is also enduring and eternal. “Love never ends.” (v. 8a) “It is a grace, lasting as eternity. The present state is a state of childhood, the future that of manhood. Such is the difference between earth and heaven. What narrow views, what confused notions of things, have children when compared with grown men!” (6) Do you view your ability to love now as that of a child, dependent upon your elders? Are we ready to follow their model and learn how to grow in grace? Will we use this precious, singular time in history to love others relationally the way God loves us or withdraw in safety as if we are not already secure and protected? Have we retreated into social media instead of having meaningful, one-to-one conversations with those who are either living alone, serving as caregivers full time, sick, or afraid? “Love never ends.” “The head of a child may have thoughts and plans of growth, but they will all be in vain unless the members all do their part in securing that growth. Christ Jesus has committed to His church the growth and increase of His body. As He is the Head and lives for the growth and welfare of the body, Christ asks and expects every member of His body, even the weakest, to do the same – to build up the body in love.” (7) “And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.” (1 Thessalonians 5:14)
(1) NIH News Release: “A Phase 1 clinical trial evaluating an investigational vaccine designed to protect against coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has begun at Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute (KPWHRI) in Seattle…The open-label trial will enroll 45 healthy adult volunteers ages 18 to 55 years over approximately 6 weeks. The first participant received the investigational vaccine [on March 16, 2020]…” https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/nih-clinical-trial-investigational-vaccine-covid-19-begins
(2) Taha, Allen, Trinity Presbyterian Church, Boerne, Texas, https://vimeo.com/399253308
(3) Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” 1 Corinthians 13:5, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/1corinthians-13.html
(4) English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, 1 Corinthians 13:7, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.
(5) Gill, Ibid (1 Corinthians 13:7)
(6) Henry, Matthew “Matthew Henry’s Complete Commentary on the Bible,” 1 Corinthians 13:8,https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mhm/1corinthians-13.html
(7) Murray, Andrew, “Working for God,” pp. 72-73, Aneko Press, Kindle Edition.