What does this statement really mean? I was struck by this one sentence today after church. While waiting for Eric to get out of a children's ministry meeting, I was contemplating on the sermon preached today which was 1 John 4:7-21, which was about loving others as God loves us. I wanted to dive deeper into what it means to really love others, so I began to study 1 Corinthians 13. I don't know if I've ever actually meditated on those words as long as I should, but that's what I did today, and it opened my eyes to new understanding.
1 Corinthians 13:4-7 says:
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.
I want whoever's reading this to really meditate on those words. What do they really mean in the context of our relationships with other people? I know that I've glossed over these words so many times without really thinking about what they mean, but today I took the time to chew on them, and what I found is incredibly deep.
When it says that love bears all things, it means just that. It means that love is there no matter what. No matter what the other person does, if we truly love them, we are not going to just walk away. Now, let me make myself clear: there is a difference between someone whose heart is hardened and will not change, and someone who is sincere in changing and bettering himself yet keeps making the same mistake. With someone whose heart is hardened, we are not obligated to stay with them and "bear all things." But I believe that the ones that we are to bear all things with are the ones who deeply desire to change their behavior and their actions, yet struggle to figure out how. I hope it's somewhat clear what I mean.
Continuing on - When I think about how often I actually "bear all things" for the sake of my brothers and sisters in Christ, I am astonished to realize that I more often give up on people than anything else. I want to believe that they'll change, but because of past painful experiences, the temptation and desire to walk away can be overwhelming at times. However, I would not be loving others if I chose this path. We are called to put others above ourselves. We don't live for ourselves if we are in Christ, and therefore we are commanded to serve our brother and sisters.
I struggle with this - I really do. I want to live for myself and put my needs above others' needs, especially when things get difficult. When things get tough and I feel weak, it becomes SO easy to stop serving others and focus on myself. Even if the person is REALLY struggling, I end up becoming selfish and want them to focus on me for a change instead of continuing to give more of myself. Especially in close relationships however, this is not the way that it should work. Demanding that our needs be taken care of as well just causes more harm to the other person, and doesn't end up helping at all.
I am not saying that we shouldn't have our needs taken care of. But in that moment, whatever friendship or relationship that it is, if one person is struggling, they need to become the primary concern. We, as the strong ones, need to find our comfort, refreshment, and strength somewhere else so that we are able to continue helping them in the way that they need it.
This is what it means to bear all things. We love until we feel like we can't love anymore - and then we love more. We not only "put up with" the poor behavior, the bad attitudes, the brokenness, the sheer humanity, but we gladly help the other person to bear the heavy load that they are carrying, in order to do what we can to help them.
Those outside the Christian faith will know us by our love. What do they see when they look at us? Do they see us serving each other and loving each other with an enduring love that purely seeks for the good of others, or do they see us being selfish and wanting our own needs met above our own brothers and sisters? I am continually challenged by this thought.
I will readily admit to being very bad at loving others, and putting them above myself without expecting something in return. But how did God love us? He sent his very own Son to die for us, knowing full well that we would never be able to repay him for that sacrifice. But yet Christ died anyway, to show that God loves us purely and selflessly.
We are called to sacrifice ourselves for our brothers and sisters in Christ. Love isn't always or maybe even often a "warm and fuzzy" feeling, but it's uncomfortable. It's painful. It's hard. It's exhausting. It's not easy, friends. It is hard to love others, especially if they have hit a weak and painful time in their lives. It is in those moments that we need to show our love for them, and we need to be Christ for them. It is in those moments that we are called to forsake ourselves, and serve them in the best way that we know how. We won't be perfect at it or sometimes even good at it, but we know that God will give us strength to get through those times, as we help others get through their hard times.