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Love Believes All Things

July 20, 2009
S. Michael Craven
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Last week I wrote of marriage and its potential to convey an essential distinction in the way we in the church can practically demonstrate the witness-bearing love for one another of which Jesus speaks. The issue of marriage within the church must be taken seriously if we want to be faithful to the gospel mission.

I hope my article served to stimulate some to action, to raise questions within your respective churches—such as, “What are we doing to promote and preserve marriages in our church?” and “Have we become indifferent to divorce?” or “Do we really understand marriage from a biblical perspective?” I hope some pastors were challenged to consider teaching on the subject beyond the popular topical level and instead address the sin and selfishness that leads to divorce. I hope others have grasped that teaching the saints about marriage serves the Great Commission by making disciples.

I now want to take up Paul’s charge that “love believes all things.” Once again, Paul is speaking about our relationships within the body of Christ. Paul is not calling for a foolish gullibility. However, being guarded against the possibility of being taken advantage of is not correct either. If love believes all things and love is our motivation, then suspicion has no place. If one has a need and we are able to meet that need, we do so without any expectation (see Matthew 5:41). You may be taken advantage of; you may suffer a loss. You may even look foolish to the world for doing so. So what? We serve one another without qualification in obedience to Christ.  

Furthermore, this passage means that we begin from a position in which we think the best of each other, rather than assuming the worst or judging another’s unspoken thoughts and motivations. I can think of no other attribute more lacking in the church today than this.

I have received many e-mails over the years from people who want me to “take on” this Christian leader or another whom they are convinced is “destroying the faith.” Often these positions against one another are political issues common to the culture wars more so than doctrinal issues. For example, such-and-such doesn’t share our emphasis (i.e., conservative) on same-sex marriage, politics, or the culture in general, so some feel justified to publicly attack because they have elevated these political positions to essentials of the Christian faith. Recent reactions to Rick Warren are an excellent example of this.

I myself have received personal attacks, such as one recently from a woman who charged me with “leading millions astray” because, according to her, I was “emphasizing relationships and community over being obedient to the Scriptures.”

I think I am actually “emphasizing relationships and community in obedience to the Scriptures,” but nonetheless, her correspondence was anything but an attempt to believe the best about me. She wrote, “You have forgotten what the Scriptures say and you have replaced it with this unbiblical mumbo jumbo … You have strayed from the path and you are dragging many people with you … you should be ashamed of yourself …. You and people like you are the single biggest reason we are ‘losing the culture war!’” Those are pretty strong words from one who claims to be my sister in Christ.

Does this mean you can’t disagree with me or any other Christian for that matter? Certainly not! Anyone who is mildly familiar with church history would see that orthodox Christians have, throughout the centuries, held differing views on a multitude of important political and theological issues. It was at the height of such controversy that the Puritan writer Richard Baxter (1615–91) issued his famous appeal: “In necessary things, unity; in doubtful things, liberty; in all things, charity.” Baxter was appealing to the principles laid out in 1 Corinthians 13.

I am called to teach and preach and the Lord in his providence has afforded me the privilege to do so, but I do not think for a moment that I speak “in the name of the Lord.” I can be wrong in my efforts to process and understand the mysteries of God, and so can we all. You can hold a different opinion about this or that theological matter and we can both remain Christian. The church is filled with various and opposing interpretations of biblical doctrine that remain well within the pale of orthodoxy! Christians can clearly be wrong about some things and still be Christian. Recall Apollos who, “being fervent in the spirit,” required Priscilla and Aquila to explain “the way of God more accurately” (Acts 18:26). This would be expected among people who are saved by grace and not by knowledge, wouldn’t it?

How many times have you heard the phrase “doctrine divides?” In response, I would say it isn’t doctrine that divides us but rather epistemology. In other words, it’s what we think we know with certainty that divides us. Such certitude is presumptuous and arrogant, the height of hubris when measured against the humility of Paul, who in the same chapter on love conceded the presence of mystery when he wrote, “Now I know in part” (1 Corinthians 13:12). If the apostle Paul did not know the truth completely, then neither do you or I. The consequence of this fact should be a more humble epistemology that is more inclined to listen, to process and ponder, rather than critique and attack.

If one brother disagrees with another he can express that disagreement in a way that preserves the love and unity that Christ speaks of. Thankfully, I hear from some of these as well, such as a pastor who recently sought clarification and better understanding (very graciously) of my thesis before drawing his conclusions. As one who challenges the church to think and question our most common assumptions in the light of Scripture, I am always deeply grateful for such brothers and sisters. They express a rare spiritual maturity and openness. The pastor and I corresponded, dialogued, and he was satisfied that his initial perception was not entirely accurate. You see, this brother began by thinking the best of me, as 1 Corinthians 13 commands, rather than the worst. We were able to dialogue, exchange ideas, and expand each other’s perspective—and not only was unity preserved but a relationship formed.

How often do we find ourselves being critical of others, judging others in order to feel better about ourselves? Jesus addressed this very issue in the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (see Luke 18:9–14). The question we must ask ourselves is this: Am I like the Pharisee who elevates himself above other believers, thinking “I’m the true Christian” ready to condemn those with whom I disagree? Or do I see myself as the tax collector, an undeserving sinner who humbly pleads for God’s mercy? The former is self-righteous, contentious, and divisive, displeasing to God; while the latter is “justified,” a man who is humble, judging only himself.

If we spent more time judging ourselves, critiquing our own faith, knowing the truth of our own condition, we would inevitably be a people who could not help but believe the best of one another. 

© 2009 by S. Michael Craven

 

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Responses
Response from : David VanderMeulen  

July 20, 2009 9:01 AM
 

Great thoughts on Christian unity held together in and by love. God is indeed moving by His Spirit to develop in us a practical demonstration of Christ's love, and that by this "they" will know we are His disciples. The message of Barnum's "Never Silent", and others like it, as it gets disseminated to the Body should put our traditional musings and bickerings over less major points in perspective!


 
Response from : Susan  

July 20, 2009 12:58 PM
 

In regards to the following statement:I now want to take up Paul’s charge that “love believes all things.” Once again, Paul is speaking about our relationships within the body of Christ. Paul is not calling for a foolish gullibility. However, being guarded against the possibility of being taken advantage of is not correct either. If love believes all things and love is our motivation, then suspicion has no place. If one has a need and we are able to meet that need, we do so without any expectation (see Matthew 5:41). You may be taken advantage of; you may suffer a loss. You may even look foolish to the world for doing so. So what? We serve one another without qualification in obedience to Christ.
I would like to ask something it has always bother me and that I beleive is contrary to scripture, it is the concept of "boundaries" I see no biblical base for it, in light of 1 Cor 13. Am I wrong? Please help to clarify.


 
Response from : Greg  

July 21, 2009 8:22 PM
 

Thank you, Michael, for this excellent article. It deserves the widest circulation. Who knows how many are turned away from a closer examination of our faith by the way we Christians routinely savage, not only our opponents, but one another? I praise God for the wisdom, love, and toughness he has put in you! (One HAS to be tough to contend for love among church people these days.) Keep at it, brother! And thanks again!


 
Response from : Anne  

July 21, 2009 8:28 PM
 

Michael,
I agree with you about thinking the best. I go further and believe you should make sure your understanding is correction, as well as try to discern intent. Many times when someone does or says something, there are unintended results. I also believe you should give the person the benefit of the doubt until you know differently. And I believe you should examine yourself to determine of the thing you see in others.
However, I also believe there comes a time when someone is shown to be unrepentent and untrustworthy. You may forgive, but that does not mean you can or should trust the person. I'm thinking of a person who repeatedly apologized but didn't truly repent.


 
Response from : Stephen  

July 21, 2009 9:13 PM
 

1 Corinthians 5 - discusses expelling the wicked man from the church and how to judge your brothers in the church. This scripture is fairly complete?


 
Response from : Susan Craddock  

July 22, 2009 4:08 PM
 

I am new to your ministry, but I agree that scripture should be compared with scripture before labeling anyone a heretic at worst or divisive at best when trying to stand for uncompromised truth. Misunderstandings that aren't led by the Spirit are often results of the unwarranted fears of believers who have differing cultural experiences which naturally inform their faith perspectives. I think we all need to listen more, speak less and get angry less (especially to our critics).


 
Response from : Alexander Coleman  

July 30, 2009 7:51 AM
 

This is a beautiful and generous piece. As I read the comments below so many GOOD Christian articles, I'm struck by how often Christians are filled with anger toward other Christians. What a sad testimony to our love for Christ and each other! Thank you for a good dose of love in this piece.


 
Response from : Diana J. Colding  

August 1, 2009 2:52 PM
 

I don't have alot to say except that your article was very accurate and uplifting and informative and brings home again the truth that "GOD comes to Unify but the devil comes to divide and separate"! Thank you for your article.


 
Response from : Reginald Marshburn Sr  

August 1, 2009 8:21 PM
 

Thank you for this enlightening commentary. I too prefer to first think about the "love chapter" (1 Cor. 13)in dealing with many issues at my church. I have found, also, that some leaders would rather think about the bad that could happen, first, and defend it by stating that they are using wisdom. More often, I tend to draw on the wisdom I have and pick another battle, when I see that I would only create division by pursuing my point.


 
Response from : Mike McManus  

August 9, 2009 5:25 PM
 

Michael,

Although Jesus prayed that his followers would be one as he and the Father are one, America has the most splintered Christian churches in the world. They seem utterly unable to do anything signifcant together.

However, we at Marriage Savers have found that pastors are so concerned about marriage that they will cooperate in taking steps together to strengthen marriages in their churches and communities. But the step must be taken collectively. You seem to think that they can act individually to strengthen marriage. Perhaps, but few do.

If every pastor in town is requiring 4-6 months of marriage preparation, they are willing to do it, but if they do so alone, they will lose lots of couples to other churches. We have persuaded more than 10,000 pastors and priests to sign 227 Community Marriage Policies, which have brought divorce rates down for hundreds of cities and counties, reduced cohabitation and increased marriage rates. I know you are aware of our work, but I do not recall your ever writing about it.

If this is of interest, give me a call at 301 469-5870.

Blessings,
Mike McManus

http://Marriagesavers.org

 
Response from : Victor  

May 17, 2011 8:19 AM
 

I stumbled upon this blog; you seem like a breath of fresh air. I deeply enjoyed your blog: http://www.crosswalk.com/blogs/michael-craven/love-believes-all-things-11606242.html

Are you anti-Catholic?

-Vic


 

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