Love and Discernment

People too often turn biblical statements into cliches in order to wield them to their own advantage when convenient. One I’ve been noticing a lot recently, drawn from 1 Corinthians 13:7, is “love believes all things.” Because the biblical words have been turned into a free-floating cliche, some people seem comfortable using them in whatever way suits their purposes.

For instance, we are told to accept a person’s unverifiable and/or unverified claim because “love believes all things.” Or, someone who has severely broken the trust in a relationship uses “love believes all things” to guilt other people into accepting his word without question or doubt. Practically, those two approaches treat the biblical words “love believes all things” as if they mean “love suspends all judgment” or “love is gullible.” Is that really what Paul was saying to the Corinthians and us? Highly unlikely.

I say that because those two uses of “love believes all things” actually contradict other clear biblical teachings regarding both wisdom and love. In Proverbs, we find these words, “The simple believes everything, but the prudent gives thought to his steps” (14:15). Only simpletons accept everything without evaluation. Biblical love does not contradict biblical wisdom. It is not naive.

Think, too, about how Paul prayed for the love of the believers at Philippi, “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God” (1:9-11). Clearly, there is no conflict between love and discernment. In fact, the proper exercise of one (love) demands the other (discernment). If love seeks the good of others, we have to know and understand what that good is.

So what does Paul mean by “love believes all things?” I’ll let Gordon Fee answer that: “Paul does not mean that love always believes the best about everything and everyone, but that love never ceases to have faith; it never loses hope” (“First Corinthians,” NICNT, p. 640). The NLT, while a little paraphrastic, captures the idea well, “Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.” The key here is that instead of translating it as “all things,” the Greek word Paul uses would be better translated as “always” since it is being used adverbially (i.e., always believes vs. believes all things).

Biblical love does not require us to accept accusations without verification. Neither does biblical love mandate that we keep extending trust to someone who has flagrantly violated it. To the contrary, God’s Word stands solidly against gullibility and in favor of discernment. Don’t let someone falsely guilt you into bad judgment by using biblical words like a cliche!

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