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In 1 Corinthians Paul says

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

This has long puzzled me from a couple of angles.

First, is this instructive, or descriptive? What I mean is, is Paul saying that to be loving, this is how we must behave? Or is he saying, someone who loves just naturally displays these characteristics?

Second, if this is instructive, what does it mean that love believes all things? Hopes, and bears/endures, I get, but believes? Let me use a personal example: an adulterous spouse. I love her and she claims with great energy that it will never happen again. I believe her, but it does. And she claims again that it will stop. I believe her?? Every time? For how long?

If it is descriptive, then believes makes sense, because as the cliche says, "Love is blind" so of course love believes all things.

Any insights into this?

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7 Answers 7

1 Corinthians 13 is one of those chapters that tends to be read at weddings and get taken out of context. Because of its association with weddings, many associate it with romantic love, and David Stratton is right to say clearly that this is not what Paul was thinking about.

If you look at chapter 12, you'll see that Paul was addressing the issue of the members of the Corinthian church only valuing particular gifts. Chapter 13 is there to indicate that love is beyond these gifts, and love is the 'more excellent way' (1 Cor 12: 32). And if you flip over to Chapter 14, Paul starts with 'Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy' (verse 1).

I see Paul's focus as mainly instructional, as this is made explicit in 1 Cor 14:1, as indicated above.

My reading of 'believes all things' is seen in this light. It means that you have an attitude of trust, and that you should give people the benefit of the doubt. It is the opposite of someone with a cynical attitude towards people and life in general. I don't think it means believing in someone in the face of clear evidence against what a person says.

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Yes, the context of 12-14 is clearly focused on gifting. I'd always thought of it as Love being the "regulator" of the gifts, but your idea that love is "beyond" the gifts is worthy of contemplation. Thank you for the feedback. –  DJGray Jul 24 '14 at 18:39

Since Paul didn't expand on this, the best we can do is to review what noted theologians have said about this. To get some good answers, you really need to look no further than Bible commentaries.

Bear in mind that the type of love here is agape love, which is also translated as charity, or selfless love. It's not speaking of romantic love as on "love is blind", it's speaking of the selfless love that puts others first.

The general consensus is that it means that if you are truly charitable, you will have the type of love trusts by default. That you're not cynical by nature.

To back this up:

From the Pulpit Commentary

Believeth all things. Takes the best and kindest views of all men and all circumstances, as long as it is possible to do so. It is the opposite to the common spirit, which drags everything in deteriorem partem, paints it in the darkest colours, and makes the worst of it. Love is entirely alien from the spirit of the cynic, the pessimist, the ecclesiastical rival, the anonymous slanderer, the secret detractor.

From Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible

believeth all things; that are to be believed, all that God says in his word, all his truths, and all his promises; and even sometimes in hope against hope, as Abraham did, relying upon the power, faithfulness, and other perfections of God; though such a man will not believe every spirit, every preacher and teacher, nor any but such as agree with the Scriptures of truth, the standard of faith and practice; nor will he believe every word of man, which is the character of a weak and foolish man; indeed, a man of charity or love is willing to believe all the good things reported of men; he is very credulous of such things, and is unwilling to believe ill reports of persons, or any ill of men; unless it is open and glaring, and is well supported, and there is full evidence of it; he is very incredulous in this respect:

Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary

believeth all things—unsuspiciously believes all that is not palpably false, all that it can with a good conscience believe to the credit of another. Compare Jas 3:17, "easy to be entreated"; Greek, "easily persuaded."

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That's an interesting take on it, David. It seems to be more of a "meta view" rather than a one to one relationship in many cases, but then the Gill perspective we get the one-to-one with Abraham and God. Maybe this could be looked at as "Believes the best" sort of the way a prison chaplain sees the good in the inmates and believes in their potential. –  DJGray Jul 24 '14 at 18:36

By studying Christ's teachings on love, we can get a better understanding of the belief of love.

He gives us an idea of how strong his love us for us in John 15, as well as guidance on how to love one another. He loves us as the Father loves him. If we obey, we remain in his love. He states we're his friends and that everything he's learned from his Father he's shared with us. (John 15:9-15 NIV)

If we look back a few chapters with that in mind, we can get an idea of how loving as the example that Christ gave would lend to belief. In chapter 10 the Jews challenged him to quit keeping them in suspense. "If you are the Christ, tell us plainly."

His answer is to say that he has told them, but they don't believe. They didn't believe because they weren't his. "My sheep listen to my voice. I know them, and they follow me." He gives us life eternal and he won't let anyone take us from him. (John 10:24-30 NIV)

If we love Christ as he loves us, we're going to have solid belief in all he tells us through his word. And if we love one another as Christ loves us, we'll have no reason to doubt one another.

God warns us to not believe everything. 2 Timothy 3:12-14 talks about those who are evil and will go on deceiving. But that we could continue on with what we believe because we know who we learned it from.

You ask if you should keep believing someone that lies to you repeatedly? Like the passage above, you know who you're hearing it from. Do you continue on believing it? That would be showing a lack of discernment. But if the love of God is between the two of you, then there will be no deception and you can believe all things in that perfect love.

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The 2 Timothy angle is interesting. Clearly we are to love all (love your enemies, do good to them that persecute you, etc.), and yet we are not to be taken in by deception. So there is a way of loving that refuses to be deceived, yet love "believes all things." So, perhaps combining your response with those above, we get a clearer picture of one who believes the best of others in general, but is discerning enough to not be taken in by deception. –  DJGray Jul 24 '14 at 18:44

From the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

Catechism of the Catholic Church 1825
Christ died out of love for us, while we were still "enemies." [Rom 5:10]. The Lord asks us to love as he does, even our enemies, to make ourselves the neighbor of those farthest away, and to love children and the poor as Christ himself. [cf. Mt 5:44; Lk 10:27-37; Mk 9:37; Mt 25:40, 45].

The Apostle Paul has given an incomparable depiction of charity: "charity is patient and kind, charity is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Charity does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Charity bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things." [1 Cor 13:4-7].

Catechism of the Catholic Church 1826
"If I . . . have not charity," says the Apostle, "I am nothing." Whatever my privilege, service, or even virtue, "if I . . . have not charity, I gain nothing." [1 Cor 13:1-4]. Charity is superior to all the virtues. It is the first of the theological virtues: "So faith, hope, charity abide, these three. But the greatest of these is charity." [1 Cor 13:13]. (My view is first means greatest/superior, the crowning. The beginning and grounding is faith, the root and trunk, hope the branches, and charity the fruit.)

Perhaps this What does Paul mean by “Love believes all things?” is an answer to Charity believes all things

My thinking is it believes all things that God has revealed, because it is God who has revealed them; he can neither deceive nor be deceived. This is the theological virtue of Faith. For example the believing [f]or thou wilt not abandon my soul to Hades, nor let thy Holy One see corruption [cf. Ac 2:27 (RSVCE)] or in hope believing against hope trusting in God's promises and that he will see them through [cf. Rm 4:18 (RSVCE)].

When a spouse commits adultery:

Separation with Bond Remaining, Code of Canon Law Can. 1152 §1.
Although it is earnestly recommended that a spouse, moved by Christian charity and concerned for the good of the family, not refuse forgiveness to an adulterous partner and not disrupt conjugal life, nevertheless, if the spouse did not condone the fault of the other expressly or tacitly, the spouse has the right to sever conjugal living unless the spouse consented to the adultery, gave cause for it, or also committed adultery.

Code of Canon Law Can. 1155
The innocent spouse laudably can readmit the other spouse to conjugal life; in this case the innocent spouse renounces the right to separate.

Spouse continues to commit adultery after the innocent other has laudably readmitted them to conjugal life.

While praying for God's mercy and forgiveness for them, knowing that should they persist in their folly, they will not escape the Day of the LORD. Either way, believing and knowing that the LORD will hear one's cries and will save them from all their troubles [cf. Ps 34:6 (RSVCE)].

The man will be seized when he least expects it [cf. Si 23:21 (RSVCE)] and to the woman who shares your bed do not open your mouth [cf. Universal injustice Mi 7:1-7].

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FMShyanguya, Thank you for enthusiastically jumping into this thread. I have lived the scenario above. Initially, I reasoned within myself, "If God can look at me and forgive my deep sin, I can forgive this(my wife's adultery), and I can never, every hold it over her head or use it as a weapon against her. But when it was made clear that it would continue to happen, I couldn't make that deal. Still, I am very challenged by Hosea's model. God continues to love us and shower us with his grace and mercy, will we repeatedly prostitute ourselves to the world. –  DJGray Jul 29 '14 at 15:29
@DJGray You are most welcome. Great questions bring out the best. I have augmented the answer. You make very good comments. What we suffer from others will never compare with what we have caused God himself to suffer for us. Let's pray for each other and please offer up some of your pain and suffering for us. Please keep up the good fight. Remember also that it is worse to commit an injustice than to suffer it ... –  FMS Jul 29 '14 at 19:34

1 Corinthians chapter 13 is called the Hymn of Love. Perhaps the most beautiful English rendition of the song is the the King James Bible, but unfortunately it translates ἀγάπην as 'charity', rather that 'love'. The Hymn of Love, from the KJV, amended to speak of 'love':

1 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not love, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.

2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not love, I am nothing.

3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not love, it profiteth me nothing.

4 Love suffereth long, and is kind; love envieth not; love vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,

5 Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;

6 Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;

7 Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.

8 Love never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.

9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.

10 But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.

11 When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.

12 For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

13 And now abideth faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

Tibor Horvath says (Thinking about Faith: Speculative Theology, page 23) the Christological hymns that Paul inherited from pre-Pauline Christian communities are the hymns of his love, yet they are the hymns of the pre-Pauline Christian communities as well. Verse 7 can be regarded as a celebration of love, as one would write in a song or hymn. No doubt "love believes all things" is like saying "love is blind."

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What does Paul mean by “Love believes all things?”

Paul inserts this definition of love in his discourse on spiritual gifts. In this larger context he is talking about how their use of spiritual gifts is essentially selfish and produces chaos.

To look specifically at the word for "believe" we see the Greek word pisteuō which is the word for trust and faith.

What is being said is that the selflessness of love trusts and risks being proven wrong. It could be said to give "the benefit of the doubt", but in stronger terms.

What Paul lists is not a step by step procedure that results in love, but rather he paints a picture describing how selfless love actually looks. Trusting in (believing) what someone says is taking a risk. It is a risk that can only be taken when the consequence for being wrong is not considered.

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I see this as God's love not ours if you notice that what he is doing is describing what God's love is. The mistake I think that people make is trying to love like this by there own understanding. For us to manifest this kind of love we must be born of God because this love only comes from God. This love comes out of the nature of God, and for us to do it we must have the nature of God born into us when that happens you will love like this. So for your first question I do not beleve Paul is asking us do this in the old nature, but for us to ask God for the Nature of Himself that produces this love . When you receive this nature which is a actual thing that happens, and you will know when it happens, you will be able to love like this. With out God's nature in you it is impossible to do. When you receive the nature of God your love for your spouse will change and what use to bother you won't. Don't let the devil convenience you that you must stay for this love not true. She has broken the vow not you,so do not let guilt hold you in bondage.

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