The Attributes of Love
About the Guest
What are the defining marks of love? Wheaton College President Phil Ryken, author of "Loving the Way Jesus Loves," teaches on the 1 Corinthians 13 passage, "Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things."
Philip Graham RykenPhilip Graham Ryken (DPhil, University of Oxford) is the eighth president of Wheaton College. He preached at Philadelphia’s Tenth Presbyterian Church from 1995 until his appointment at Wheaton in 2010. Ryken has published more than 50 books, including When Trouble Comes and expository commentaries on Exodus, Ecclesiastes, and Jeremiah. He serves as a board member for the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities, the Lausanne Movement, and the National Association of Evangelicals...more
What are the defining marks of love?
The Attributes of Love
Bob: First Corinthians 13, verse 7—the verse that says that “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things”—is that a verse that applies when a husband and a wife have experienced infidelity in a marriage relationship? Here’s Wheaton College President, Dr. Philip Ryken.
Phil: A man in that situation, who really wants to honor God and continue in that marriage relationship, will not expect that trust will be rebuilt immediately because that’s going to take a long time to rebuild that. It’s not going to be the wife’s weakness or unwillingness to trust—it’s going to be the damage that sin does—and how trust can be restored—but that takes time to restore.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, August 14th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. We’ll look today at what love ought to look like when relationships get sideways. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. You know, I think there are some people who are a little concerned about love being too soft. Do you know what I mean? I think there are folks who are afraid—
Dennis: I’ve had that thought.
Bob: —that if you are loving, you are a push-over—
Bob: —you’re just a wimp.
Dennis: Well, there is a segment in Christianity that misunderstands what it means for God to be love. They think that somebody, who is loving, just puts up with everything.
Bob: Yes. I remember—and I’ve read through this before—you read through First Corinthians 13, which is this great passage where Paul gives attributes of love. He is talking about agape love. It’s really a full definition of it. At the end of that, he talks about love “bearing all things, believing all things, hoping all things, and enduring all things.” And you think: “Really?! You’re supposed to believe all things, supposed to endure all things?”
Dennis: Kind of sounds like that love has no boundaries.
Bob: Like you roll over and pretend, in the face of evil.
Dennis: Well, let’s ask the guy who didn’t write the book—not First Corinthians 13—by the way—
Bob: That’s right. [Laughter]
Dennis: —but Dr. Phil Ryken, who joins us again on FamilyLife Today. Phil, welcome back.
Phil: You know—I appreciate you guys. It’s good to talk to you about these important, biblical principles of love.
Dennis: It is. Phil has written a book called Loving the Way Jesus Loves. What about it, Phil? Does love have boundaries?
Phil: Yes, it definitely does. True love, actually, insists on boundaries, in certain kinds of circumstances. This is one of the reasons why we need to study the Bible carefully because you could take just a part of a verse like that—take it out of its context—maybe, not understand, even, the true terms behind the verse—and not think about it in connection with other important, biblical teaching. You could run away with it in all kinds of directions.
So, I mean let’s just take “Love bears all things” because that’s the first part of that series in First Corinthians 13. The vocabulary word there has to do with supporting—lifting up. It’s sort of this kind of bearing of a burden—that that’s really—I mean—that is the kind of language or vocabulary that is used there. Here’s how one scholar describes the term: “Love is able to bear all burdens, all deprivations, all troubles, all hardships, all toils occasioned by others.”
Bob: It’s really an endurance word.
Phil: It’s an endurance word for sure. It doesn’t mean, “You know, I should put up with things that are ungodly,” or that, “I shouldn’t act, on behalf of justice, if somebody is mistreating somebody else.” I mean, I think there is a place for turning the other cheek—Jesus talks about that. There may be certain things that we are called to endure. It doesn’t mean that a woman, who is in an abusive relationship with her husband, should just stay there and take certain kinds of beatings—because there are other biblical principles that apply here about the preservation of life and about, actually, what’s in the best interest of your husband, which is not to allow him to continue to treat you in an ungodly way. So, we have to understand the bigger context here; but it is saying, here, that love has an amazing capacity for enduring and for continuing to love.
So, just to continue with the example I just gave. If, for reasons of safety, you need to be separate from somebody, who is dangerous to you, you need to do that—but that doesn’t mean that that’s the point at which God now calls you not to love that person anymore because—it just changes what love looks like, in that relationship, and, “What is the wise way to love, at that point, in a relationship?” But you still continue to love. That’s the point that Paul is after, here, in First Corinthians 13.
Bob: So, bearing all things—with an abusive husband or with a child who is starting to use drugs—bearing all things in that situation means loving that husband—that child—not allowing the behavior to continue, but not hardening your heart toward that person in the midst of that kind of abuse.
Phil: Yes, that’s a great way of saying it. Let’s talk about this child, now, that is maybe, going in a wrong direction in life. “Love bears all things” does not mean love allows all things. There may be circumstances, where for the interests and health of the family, a child—particularly of a certain age—should no longer live in that family household. There are circumstances like that for reasons of safety—even, for just what’s safe for the child himself or herself.
But the responsibility—to continue to love, to reach out to that child, and have those open arms—that’s what continues. That’s the principle, here, in First Corinthians 13—that love does not give up on somebody but continues to love. What that love looks like—it’s going to depend a lot on the circumstances.
Dennis: I like the description, and I can’t say that I’ve ever thought of it before. The idea of a load-bearing—it’s like the pillars that hold up a bridge. It’s a load-bearing architectural design to keep that bridge in place. Bob, you added, “…to make sure your heart doesn’t become hardened…”—but you keep on going across that bridge to love that other person—and invite them out of their sin—invite them out of the abuse, or, perhaps, drug abuse, or behavior that’s harmful to them. I like that picture. And that is, to me, what a Christian family ought to be. We shouldn’t have hardened hearts toward another person.
Phil: When we talk about loving the way that Jesus loves—you used a nice phrase there, Dennis. I probably should have used it in the book. It’s a load-bearing love. I think we can take it to the deepest possible level when we remember all of the biblical vocabulary about Jesus bearing us and bearing our sins: “Surely, He has born our griefs and carried our sorrows”—that’s a load-bearing love. “He bore the sin of many,”—the Scripture says. “He, Himself, bore our sins in His body on the tree.” It’s a similar kind of language here. It’s talking about Jesus doing the heavy lifting of our salvation. You are absolutely right—we are, now, called to that kind of load-bearing love in our family relationships and everywhere else in life.
Dennis: You know, as you were talking, too, Phil, I couldn’t help but think: “In a normal marriage,”—you’ve been married 25 years. Barbara and I have been married 40. Bob’s coming up on 35—“there is a load-bearing because two sinful, selfish, broken human beings disappoint each other—miss each other, don’t meet one another’s expectations. There is and are emotional flinches that we go through, day-in and day-out, that I think what the Scripture is calling us to do is to bear—bear those emotional disappointments and not lash out and—back to Bob’s illustration—not become hardened toward our spouse just because they don’t do everything the way we’d like them to do it, or to meet all of our needs, or all of our expectations.”
Phil: I had a great conversation with a communication class at Wheaton College, just last week. The professor invited me to come in. They’ve been talking about communication in relationships. They were up to the topic of forgiveness and reconciliation. They are really spending the semester on communication in difficult, conflictual situations—that’s what the class is on. It’s part of our Communications Department.
One of the students asked me—I had spoken, from the Scriptures, about forgiveness and reconciliation and given them some principles. They were really saying: “There are things that you have in your relationship”—maybe, with the people you live with, in a roommate situation—and we could apply it, of course, to family life—“and are we obligated to sort of bring up every issue we have with a person? I mean, does speaking the truth in love really demand that kind of transparency?”
I said: “Before you get to that point, you need to ask this question, in your conversation with the Lord: ‘Is this an issue?’”—probably, not a sin issue. A lot of the little issues in life aren’t sin issues. Some of them just are kind of the way people do things. The way people do things may not be sinful, in and of itself; but it may be irritating to us: “Is this something that God can give me the grace to overlook and live with, and just have a generous disposition to the other person, acknowledging that maybe it’s a little hard for me to deal with—but God can give me grace for it—and I don’t need to go have a conversation with you about it?”
I think there needs to be a lot of things like that in marriage—you know, those little things that, maybe, early on, you were hoping to kind of fix in the other person—but maybe, a better approach, for a lot of those things, is to go to the Lord in prayer and ask for His help in bearing with them—exactly what we’re talking about.
Bob: Well, and Proverbs says, “It is a man’s glory to overlook an offense.” There are going to be a lot of offenses—
Bob: There are more offenses that my wife has overlooked in me than that she has confronted in me over a lifetime of marriage; and that’s more often the case.
Phil: And here’s another great verse, along similar lines: “Love covers a multitude of sins.”
Bob: That’s right.
Phil: At a certain point in our family life, my sister put that up on our refrigerator. [Laughter] She probably had an agenda behind it. I don’t know exactly what the agenda was, but it stayed there for a pretty long time. I thought it was just a great perspective on family life, day-in and day-out: “Love covers a multitude of sins.” It’s love that does that.
Dennis: Well, no one wants to sit underneath a microscope—
Dennis: —and have another person just magnifying their faults, their weaknesses, how they’ve failed. I think, early in our marriage, I was way too quick to point out faults and point out how Barbara was late, again. I’m just kind of watching, now, in our 40th year of marriage—it’s kind of like: “So, you walk in late. Okay. Choke down your pride and do your best to love your wife and, maybe, help her be on time next time; but just keep on loving and bearing—again, bearing the other person’s weaknesses.”
Bob: Let me ask you about the next phrase, “Love believes all things,” because this just sounds like Pollyanna to me. It sounds like a naivety. What do you do if you’ve got a wife, who you suspect hasn’t been telling you the truth—and maybe, hasn’t in the past and you’ve got evidence—or a child, who you think is lying to you? Do you just believe all things?
Phil: Yes. So, what is the Bible saying here; and what isn’t it saying?
Phil: I mean, you could very quickly—and obviously, reach the conclusion it doesn’t mean—believe anything whatsoever. I mean, obviously, God is not calling us to believe things that are false about Jesus or to believe things that are ungodly. So, I mean, that’s, obviously, the case; but then, you still have the question, “Okay, what, actually, does it mean?”
There are actually a couple possibilities here. You could translate it, “Love believes all things.” Then, it would be along the lines of really believing the best about somebody—not sort of being cynical and suspicious but giving somebody the benefit of the doubt. It would kind of be along those lines. But I think it’s, actually, better to take it—not so much “all things” but “always”. So, it’s not like you believe in some principle, or proposition, or truth. It’s, actually, “In all kinds of circumstances, you’re holding onto this loving disposition.” I think that’s a better translation. It’s not so much about the object of your love—it’s about the perseverance of faith, in the life of the lover.
And with everything in this passage—everything in First Corinthians 13, which is what the book is really centered around—I think it’s very helpful to look at the person and work of Jesus Christ as the perfect illustration as filling out this portrait of love that we have in First Corinthians 13. I think we have an amazing example of this in the life of Jesus—that’s love believing always.
Bob: So, if I’m applying this, then, as a dad, who has a teenager—who, I’m wondering if this teenager is telling me the truth; and the teenager hasn’t always told me the truth. I know that; and now, he’s saying one thing, and I’m wondering if I can believe this—I think what I hear you saying is: “Nothing wrong with having healthy suspicion, investigating, digging in—but I need to keep believing—in what God can do, might do, will do in the life of that child—what God’s ultimate purpose is being accomplished in all of this are. I need to stay faithful, to God, in the midst of hard circumstances.”
Dennis: I think there’s a passage in Jude; isn’t there? —that talks about contending for the faith?
Dennis: That’s the picture that I think is being illustrated here.
Phil: Yes. You know, I think that—Bob, that’s a great description of what’s going on here: “Where am I putting this faith and trust?” It’s not in a failed, fallen, flawed human being because there are a lot of times we can’t believe other people. You talked about a kind of healthy suspicion, and looking a person, in the eye, and saying, “You know, I really don’t think you’re telling me the truth here.” But even in that moment, there’s a sense of love and trust in what God is going to do, in a redemptive way, in this relationship.
Bob: I have a friend of mine—who, her husband has just confessed to her a long pattern of infidelity. She is, now, wondering—not only about that—what’s going on in that relationship—but she’s starting to wonder if there’s some financial stuff that’s been hidden away, as well. She’s wondering about other patterns that she’s seen that she’s—she’s not becoming convinced of these things, but she’s wondering if he’s been hiding other stuff. It’s not inappropriate for her to wonder those things—
Phil: Not at all.
Bob: —and to investigate. She’s not violating First Corinthians 13 by being skeptical.
Phil: No. I totally agree with that. In fact, you know, deception tends not to be limited to one area of life. So, I think—just knowing what we know about human nature—that would be important. I think what can happen, in a situation like that—particularly, under shepherding care in the life of a local church—ideally, that husband, then, opens his life up in a transparent way so that other people can verify what the financial circumstances are or whatever. Assuming that he is somebody—I mean—we don’t need to go into the details of the situation—but a man in that situation, who really wants to honor God and continue in that marriage relationship, will not expect that trust will be rebuilt immediately because that’s going to take a long time to rebuild that. It’s not going to be the wife’s weakness or unwillingness to trust—it’s going to be the damage that sin does—and how trust can be restored—but that takes time to restore.
Dennis: Okay, we’re talking about how love believes all things. Is this next one in the passage, “Love hopes all things”—is that similar to love believing all things? Is it continuing the life of faith in God—expecting Him, hopeful that He is going to do something?
Phil: Yes. It’s God-centered. I think that’s a little more obvious for us to see because we don’t really talk about putting our hopes in people. When we talk about hope, we’re talking about what we trust to God, and about His promises, and what we believe to be true about the future because of what God has promised to us. It’s a God-centered hope.
Similarly, hope believes in all circumstances. Even in the most remote and difficult times of hardship, we continue to have hope in what God will do—even, if in the outward circumstances, we don’t see it.
Dennis: And this last phrase, “Love endures all things,” is that back to bearing all things? Is it similar?
Phil: Yes, it’s similar. There is a kind of reinforcement in—I think there is a value in looking at each one of these terms and kind of studying that—but there is also a value in seeing, “What’s the thrust of this thing, as a whole?”
The endurance of love really points us to the eternality of love. I mean, there are other things—even things like faith and hope—that eventually, in one sense, disappear because we’re not just trusting God for it—we see the reality of it—but love is forever. And that’s one of the—I think, you know, when we talk about God is love and how closely identified with the character of God love is—that’s just a reminder that this is something that’s forever.
Bob: I don’t want to be guilty of adding to the Scriptures; but it seems to me, that if I could just remember the little preposition, “in”—that love bears in all things, believes in the midst of all things, hopes in the middle of all things, and endures in the midst of all things—maybe, I’ve got the essence of what’s being said here.
Phil: Yes, that’s a good way of thinking about the passage—or just saying, “…bears always, believes always, hopes always, and endures always.” That sense of ongoing—that would be another way of getting, I think, to a similar place in thinking about, “Okay, what does this mean; and what doesn’t it mean?”
Dennis: And think about what other kind of love could truly fulfill the marriage covenant. It’s going to take this kind of love to make that work. It’s why so many relationships today are failing—they’re not based upon the love of Christ. They’re based on a human approach to love.
Bob: Well, and I’m just wondering: “You’ve already confessed, to us, that you write books, based on where you need to grow and do better. So”—
Dennis: I want to look up the list of the other books he’s written—
Bob: See where—
Dennis: —to find out where he’s been growing.
Phil: So, it’s assorted. Yes. It’s assorted. You know, actually, somebody recently asked me if I planned to write a book on parenting. I actually laughed out loud because there are so many struggles you go through in the life of parenting; but now, as I think about it, “Yes, maybe, I will because that’s another area where I’m working on—so, why not?”
Bob: Are you a more loving person after having written this book?
Phil: You know, I’ve done a lot of soul-searching, actually, on that question. I’m also—so, this book is Loving the Way Jesus Loves. This year, in Chapel, at Wheaton College, I’ve been taking a slightly different aspect of love. I’ve been challenging us with the question, “How can we love Jesus more?” This book is focused more on the love of Jesus that comes to us and how we live that out in our horizontal relationships. But here is another area I wanted to grow—which is loving Jesus more.
We come to the end of the year—I mean, we’ve been working on it. We’ve been talking about it. I’ve been studying and praying about it. I don’t know! I don’t know. But that’s the direction I want to go in my life is—loving Jesus more, loving other people.
I’m more encouraged when I look back—5, 10, 15, 20 years—“Am I a more loving person than I was as a college student?” Absolutely; without doubt, I can say that before God. I absolutely think that’s the case. “Am I more loving person, now, than when I was first married?” Yes. “Am I more loving, now, than when I began the process of parenting?” Yes, I think so.
So, I think, sometimes, we look back. We can be at least a little encouraged in what the Holy Spirit is doing; but I also say this: “That if we ask ourselves that question, ‘Am I a more loving person?’ and we’re not sure or maybe the answer is, ‘No,’ part of the longing that ought to produce in us is a longing for that time when we are finally, and totally, and perfectly delivered from sin. It will not happen in this life, but it is promised to us in the life to come.” Even our sense of weariness, with the areas where we fail in the Christian life—there is a silver lining in that cloud, which is the hopeful expectation of our own perfect sanctification in the life to come.
Bob: “He who began a good work in you”—
Bob: —“will be faithful to complete it.”
Phil: “…will be faithful….”
Dennis: Yes. And when the perfect comes, all the imperfect will be done away with.
Dennis: I’m looking forward to seeing Him—
Phil: Come on—bring it—face-to-face.
Dennis: Phil— thanks for being on the broadcast. You just need to be glad that we’re running out of time because I was thinking about calling Lisa on her cell phone and asking her the question that Bob had for you there [Laughter]: “Is Phil a greater lover because he wrote this book?”
Phil: I’m speechless. I don’t know—but I’ll tell you this. I’ll tell you this. She’ll tell it like it is. I know that for sure.
Dennis: Well, we’ll have you back again sometime, and we’ll make that call.
Phil: Yes. I love this conversation, and God bless you in your Kingdom work.
Dennis: And appreciate you, as well.
Bob: Hope our listeners will get a copy of your book. It’s called Loving the Way Jesus Loves. We’ve got copies in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. Go, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com for more information on how you can order Loving the Way Jesus Loves. Again, the website: FamilyLifeToday.com; or call, toll-free, 1-800-FL-TODAY, 1-800-358-6329. That’s 1-800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY”.
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Now, tomorrow, we’re going to talk about what we can do, as moms and dads, to begin having a conversation with our children about the birds and the bees at an early age. Mary Flo Ridley is going to join us. She’s got some thoughts for us, and I hope you can join us back for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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