The eloquent ode to charity contained in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians is typically read at weddings, golden anniversaries, and similar functions. Yet its contextual meaning relates to believers in Corinth learning to love one another and to live with one another. Others have pointed out quite well how every problem in the assembly would have been solved if the principles of chapter 13 had been in operation. The four issues dealt with in verse 7, the “four quarters of love’s compass,” are vital for our preservation, and our reflecting of the character of God as an assembly: “Charity … beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.”
Due to both space and burden, I will limit myself to only one of these four compass points – that love believes all things. This does not suggest a gullibility which refuses to accept evidence to the contrary when a wrong has been perpetrated. It does not extol a naïveté which fails to recognize that each of us still has within us a nature which is capable of evil and wrong. There is no virtue in blindness to evil; in fact, love, by its very nature, must confront evil in the object of its love for that person’s own blessing.
What then is meant by the fact that love “believes all things?” Most scholars and commentators are agreed that the thought involved in the verse is that love always assumes the best motive and intention in another’s action, and not the worst.
It is a wrong concept of spirituality that defines it as the ability to see evil in everyone and to be able to dissect motives and see the inconsistencies, to look at the good that believers do and to smell evil. The gift of “discernment” likely ended in the apostolic period. We are to “judge nothing before the time” (1Cor 4:5). Paul is obviously not making a sweeping statement forbidding judgment, since, in the very next chapter, he urges the assembly to judge the sin in their midst. But 1 Corinthians 4 is about motives; that which we cannot see. It is the tendency to immediately ascribe wrong to someone’s actions and motives (based on our discerning of their “real” intent). It is assuming the worst in what someone says and immediately running with it and ringing alarm bells. Chicken Little learned long ago that the sky was not really falling!
Another might object and say, “But what if there is evil in their motive, if there is something sinister afoot?” Paul told Timothy, in a slightly different context, “Some men’s sins are open beforehand, going before to judgment; and some men they follow after” (1Tim 5:24). Perhaps we have lost more believers and polarized others by our rush to judgment than we have lost by allowing some men’s sins to “follow” after. Blatant evil must be confronted, as all the second epistles in our NT reveal, but are we called to be detectives, trying to uncover evil in every word and action of another believer?
Love sees the best in another, says the best about another, seeks the best for another, and speaks the best to another (1Cor 13:5-7). “Against such there is no law” (Gal 5:23).