Does 1 Corinthians 13 Require us to “Think the Best”?

The following comment was made recently and I wanted to share it with you, along with my own thoughts on the issue. This is a very important question and I thank our reader for sharing it. Are we required to always “think the best” of whatever people do or say? After all, doesn’t Paul say in 1 Cor 13 that we are to “believe all things.”  

Here is the comment:

I remember watching one of the prominent Reformed teachers give a teaching series on the fruit of the Spirit, and he was promoting this exact same line of thought (that is, that we should assume the best of everyone), and he even acknowledged the difficulty of maintaining both this idea along with his beliefs about our fallen nature, but never provided resolution to the problem. He was teaching from 1 Corinthians 13 and went the route of “love believes all things” (or I think in some translations it is “love thinks no evil”), and the answer was essentially “we must always give the benefit of the doubt because God says so.” I suspect this is where a lot of this notion comes from, is (in part, but not exclusively) from a faulty understanding of the meaning/application of this passage that divorces it from the rest of Scripture (especially the book of Proverbs!). What would a more biblical way of understanding of that statement in 1 Corinthians 13 be? In particular, how do we reconcile the warnings of Proverbs and the epistles about bad people with 1 Corinthians 13?

Thinking this through, I shared these thoughts:

Well first of all teaching like that guy did certainly leaves the door wide open for the wicked to get away with most anything. We have to believe them you know – we have to assume their “repentance” is real, blah, blah, blah. But as you mentioned, the Bible is filled with texts that teach us NOT to believe everything people say. The fundamental reason we don’t believe them is because God doesn’t! God does not “think the best.” He does not “believe all things” in that sense. Jesus (John 8) told the Pharisees they were liars just like their father the devil. And John tells us (1 John 4) to test the spirits because many false prophets have gone out. So it is absolutely impossible that Paul means there in 1 Cor 13 that we are to always “think the best” and believe whatever people say.

So what does Paul mean?

1 Corinthians 13:7 ESV  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

The issue here comes down to the definition of “all things.” The context (vss 1-6) show us what is meant. Paul means (read vss 1-6 again) that ALL THINGS we do – particularly all the things we do in Christ’s name – must be energized and driven by LOVE. If that is not the case, if our motive is anything else, then we are clanging symbols, I am nothing, a noisy obnoxious grating in God’s hearing and sight. We bear, we carry, share the load out of LOVE for the Lord and for others. Our faith, driven by love for Christ, believes all things He says. Our love impels us to confidently hope in all the promises Christ has made. And we endure all things for Christ, even if our body be burned as a result, because we LOVE Him. Without that motivation of love for Christ and others (first and second greatest commandments) everything we offer Him is NOTHING. That is why on that Day when He comes to judge all men, he will say to those on His left (who boast about all they have done in His name) to depart from Him, He never knew them.

Do you see how a superficial rendering of this passage such as that prominent preacher gave, absolutely guts the greatness of this scripture?

You must be born again. 

 

6 thoughts on “Does 1 Corinthians 13 Require us to “Think the Best”?

  1. wingingit

    This scripture is the back bone of a lot of “women’s teaching”.

    The ministries in churches that supposedly equip women for “their calling” which actually means, to be neglected servants, doormats, and to be sweet, no matter what kind of abuse you endure.

    I remember a well known author, whose books I closely followed in my many attempts to get holy and good enough to stop my ex’s abusive behavior.
    This author went so far as to use the “love bears all things” part of this verse to say things like:

    If he hits you or hurts you, never moan a sound, never complain or return with anger – and the love you show in the face of his anger will win him to Christ.

    Or this gem…

    If your husband becomes angry that you get pregnant, you must be willing to do whatever he says, even abortion, but pray that God will change his mind…”love believes all things” and your peace and trust in God will win your lost husband to the Lord.

    GAG!!

    My children and I were unable to look at this verse without feeling panic until we did a full study of Corinthians 13 start to finish and realized how out of context that verse has been used.

    We must know the difference between verses speaking to true born again Christians and those that are speaking about the lost.

    The heart change towards sin and loving Christ makes all the difference in application of scripture.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Noka

    Absolutely love this! Both this post and the one about “ The Trap of Assuming Everyone is ‘Good’ “ were spot on! Thank you for doing this blog for us. You always end up speaking to something I’m struggling.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Wade

    I shared your thoughts to our daughter who has been free from her abuser now for 4 years…it has been a long and difficult process for her and her children. Her response to your thoughts regarding 1 Cor 13, “I used to recite that passage to myself over and over and write it down in my journals during the hard times.” She was trying so hard to be a “good wife” meanwhile the evil man she was married to took advantage of her kindness. Also, the Christian counselor would encourage her to forgive and forget because they saw him “repent with tears” once. “He is a repentant man.” Meanwhile he continued the abuse behind closed doors and began to create a narrative that the victim was un repentant, un forgiving, vengeful…a narrative that has turned her entire church against her including the leadership. Again, pastor Crippen thank you for your blogs.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. It’s the way they are

    This passage kept me in a horrific and violently abusive marriage, among other types of his tactics for self-righteous control. Yes, the abuser, the church, Christian counselors, family, etc. have all either direct quoted it or implied it was me who was wrong for the abuser / their choices. And it was me who had to make it all “right”.

    This tactic is as old as time and as clearly evil as their abuse. It is certainly not about love, even if you are.

    Trust the Lord’s love – and don’t look back.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Sara

    My abusive husband told me a version of this one: always attribute the best of motives to people. I do think there is some merit to “thinking the best of people.” It has been especially helpful for me in being understanding with people I encounter but don’t know, for example a rude waiter. It is much better for me to assume he’s having a bad day and offer grace than to respond in kind and be angry that my steak arrived rare instead of well-done (which I actually did before I learned to apply it well).

    Thankfully, I never interpreted this in a “let them get away with sin.” That’s horrible and not acceptable. But I do think there is an appropriate place for this thinking and I’m glad you explained it. So often what’s missing is contest and clarity, and you brought both to this passage Pastor Crippen. Thank you.

    Like

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