“The Disposition of Love”
I Corinthians 13:7
March 16, 2003
Love of Another Kind – I Corinthians 13
At the start of World War II, the Russians developed what might be fairly called the most useless weapon of all time, perhaps the most embarrassing strategic failure of modern weaponry. Attempting to employ Pavlovian logic, they developed the “dog bomb”. Briefly stated, the idea was to train dogs to associate food with the underside of German tanks. Then, once that connection was made, bombs would be strapped to the dogs’ backs, and, so the idea went, as the German Panzer tanks would advance, the dogs, looking for food, would run under the tanks, and…well, you get the picture. This strategy was employed on the first day of the Russian involvement in the war. It was ended before Day Two, when it was quickly discovered, to the dismay of the Russians, that the dogs made the connection with the tanks, all right; the Russian tanks! The plan was quickly scrapped after an entire Soviet division was forced into hasty retreat by a group of bomb-laden canines!
This rivals the experience of some members of the British Army who, during the firemen’s strike of 1978, were called into action to assume the duties of the firemen. One day, during a lull in firefighting, these brave men were called into duty by an elderly lady in South London to attempt the noble cause of rescuing her cat. Risking life and limb, the deed was accomplished. Before they could leave, the lady invited the men in for tea and a time of respite. Finally, after rescuing the cat and enjoying the dear lady’s fine hospitality, they bid the dear lady a fond farewell, waving hearty goodbyes and exchanging well-wishes, and as they backed the fire truck out of the drive…they ran over the cat and killed it.
Today I want to talk about failure, the failure that is certainly not foreign to any of us. We have all failed; we fail God, we fail others, we fail ourselves. Becoming a Christian is no guarantee against failure. Need I belabor that point? The question is, when people fail, what is our attitude toward them? When they fail continually, when they blow it spectacularly, when they make the same mistakes over and over again, how does love respond? And the answer, in a word, is “hope”.
Failure is endemic to mankind; we all are experts at it. Thomas Edison once tried to console the inventor, after a series of experiments had failed to achieve the results for which Edison was looking. “It’s too bad”, said the friend, “to do all of that work without results.” To which Edison replied, “oh, we have lots of results. We know 700 things that won’t work!”
We all fail in many ways, the Bible says; none of us is ever a complete success; we never reach perfection this side of Heaven. No one is an irredeemable failure either; there are no lost causes in God’s economy. We have plenty of examples of failure; we also have plenty of examples that are cause for hope, examples of the change that God brings in the lives of individuals. Why is it we are tempted to focus on the failures and pessimistically assume that nothing can change? And, for our purposes today, does love act that way? Stand with me as we read our text together today!
This characteristic of love is closely linked to the last one. For love to believe all things, it must have hope! John MacArthur said, “When (love) runs out of faith, it holds onto hope”. If you’re making notes this morning, let’s look first at
I. The Necessity of Hope
When trust has been shattered despite best efforts, I will still hope. “Where there’s life, there’s hope” is the old saying, usually applied to people suffering physically. It is true spiritually; there are no hopeless causes. There are no lost causes. I think we can turn that phrase around the opposite direction and get meaning as well: “where there’s hope, there’s life!” Victor Frankl, in his book Man’s Search for Meaning, writes from experience of the power of hope. Frankl spent time in a Nazi concentration camp, and contended in his book that when a man no longer possesses hope or a motive for living, he curls up in the corner and dies. “Any attempt to restore a man’s inner strength in camp had first to succeed in showing him some future goal.”
Some time ago, a hydroelectric dam was slated to be built across a valley in New England. The people in a small town in the valley were to be relocated because the resulting reservoir would flood the town. During the time between the decision to build the dam and its eventual completion, the town fell into severe disrepair. What had once been a beautiful little town ended its days as an eyesore. Explaining this, one town resident said, “Where there is no faith in the future, there is no work in the present.”
Hope is an ingredient essential to living, to well-being, to God-pleasing!
II. The Opposite of Hope
Pessimism is antithetical to Christian faith. When he says, “love hopes all things”, Paul doesn’t call us to a cockeyed optimism, necessarily, but to a realism that is buoyed by hope and that counteracts our natural tendency to be pessimistic.
When Robert Fulton invented the steamboat, there were plenty of naysayers who insisted that it couldn’t be done. As Fulton went to begin his demonstration, one such man stood in the crowd and kept repeating, out loud, “he can’t start it!” Unswayed by the man’s pessimism, Fulton started the steamboat with a belch of steam, and it began to move. Undeterred in his full-bore pessimism, the man quickly changed his chant. “He can’t stop it!”
Two pessimists met at a party and shook heads.
The words of pessimists:
“Hope is merely disappointment deferred.” – W. Burton Baldry
“Hope is the most treacherous of human fancies.” – James Fenimore Cooper
“A pessimist is a man who, faced with trying to choose between the lesser of two evils, chooses both.” – Oscar Wilde
“There is no sadder sight than a young pessimist.” – Mark Twain
Contrast with the words of hopeful men:
“It is certainly wrong to despair, and if despair is wrong, then hope is right.” – John Lubbock
“The hopeful man sees success where others see failure, sunshine where others see shadow and storm.” - O.S. Marden
“Hope is the pillar that holds up the world.” - Pliny the Elder
I am completely convinced that a man who is on the path of growing in grace and in the knowledge of Jesus Christ is a man who is on the path of being delivered from the sin of pessimism.
III. The Benefits of Hope
Love gives rise to both faith and hope. We nurture faith and love; hope can be the forgotten member of that triad, but when we lose hope, we do great damage. Hope leads to patience, waiting for positive results in the expectation that these might be realized in the end.
Love keeps on hoping no matter what. Hope is an absolutely critical element to life. Say what you will about Jesse Jackson; his motto is right on target: “Keep Hope Alive”. I like that.
I’m not giving up on you. Don’t give up on me, or on another person. I can think of another friend—and many of you can, no doubt—who is very far away from God at this moment. He’s involved in some very ungodly things—and the temptation is to say, “yeah, I know God can forgive and restore, but from where he is, it looks so far away.” He is not beyond hope! Not even close! I don’t have much faith or hope in him, but I have faith and hope in God Who can change him!
I don’t want to give away who I’m talking about here—and actually, there are several general examples of this in our congregation—but I was talking with Pastor Steve this week about how excited we are to see great change in a certain person’s life in our fellowship. Little encourages us more than to be able to look at a person and to say, without any doubt, that God is doing an amazing work in that person’s life. Talk about growth! It is evident in this person’s life—and again, since there are a good number of such examples of this, it might be any of a number of people here! How can we not be filled with hope when we see God working in the lives of people of whom humanly speaking we might have said, “there’s not much hope!” I am thus encouraged by hope rewarded; when I consider the great working of God, I am filled with encouragement.
Anchor of the Soul
Hope serves as the anchor of the soul (Hebrews 6); this speaks of our sure hope of God’s fulfillment of His promise to us to bless us future.
Hope gives us buoyancy and stability amid the storms of life. Elmer Bendiner tells the story of a B-17 bomber which flew a bombing run over Germany near the end of WW II. The plane was hit several times by shells and flak, with some of the hits taken directly to the fuel tank. Miraculously, the bomber didn’t explode, and when it landed, 11 unexploded 20-mm shells were removed from the fuel tank. The shells were dismantled and, to everyone’s amazement, were all found to be empty of explosives. Inside one shell, though, was found a note written in Czech. The note simply said, “This is all we can do for you now.” It was written by a member of the Czech underground, forced to work in a German munitions plant, who had left the explosives out of shells assembled on his line. On he toiled, never likely knowing if his subversive efforts would have a negative effect on his Nazi captors, spurred on by the hope that what he was doing would in some way make a difference. Hope sustains us in the most difficult situations of life.
IV. The Source of Hope
Jesus is the Object of the hope that is the anchor of the soul; God is the Source of that hope. I don’t love you with a love that “hopes all” because I necessarily see in you reason for hope; I love you hopefully because I place my hope in Jesus Christ, and it is the Holy Spirit Who enables me to so hope! I might look at you rationally as a hopeless case, as one beyond change, beyond redemption; you might look for all the world like a lost cause. But I have hope for you despite appearances because I know the power of God, because I know how Jesus can change a life.
Pardon me for this, but I get a kick out of going online and having a spirited discussion with people who disagree with me. It’s okay to talk to people who agree with me—but I don’t get much of a charge out of that. What gets me excited is the chance to talk to people who are light years away from me, people who in some cases, hate Christians and all that Christians stand for. I’m right now in the middle of a debate with four atheists; that’s it, me and four atheists. Sure, I’d like the score to be a little more even; it’d be nice if they could recruit 5 or 6 more! Man, is that fun! But those folks are so far away from any idea of God, so far away from Jesus, that it’s difficult to see from them any signs that are hopeful. And yet, I can have hope for them because I know the power of God.
Where is hope to be placed? When we look in the Bible, we find the following spoken of: Hope in the Lord, His Word, His mercy, the glory of God, Christ is our hope. Our hope is linked to our believing God, and is attended by joy and peace (Romans 15:13).
“My hope is in the Lord” is the continual witness of Scripture, from the Psalmist to the Prophets to Paul and Peter and John and the writer of Hebrews. Hope links itself vitally to the power, plan, and purpose of God. Sustained pessimism is a sin, you see, because it fails to place hope in the Lord. It is a sin because it denies the power and the ability of God. I look at you through the eyes of hope because I know that God is the God of the possible. He is able to do, in the old KJV rendering of Ephesians 3:20, “exceeding, abundantly, above all we ask or think.”
The final word isn’t my failure; the final word is God’s grace. Keep on praying. Keep on working. Keep on giving. Keep on trusting. Keep on believing. Keep on keeping on. The very fact that this book is in the Bible—a book written to a bunch of abject failures who were sinning all over the place—is evidence enough of the fact that Paul—and more importantly, God—didn’t consider the Corinthians a lost cause. Why? Because love hopes all things!
And Communion is a time when we consider again the hope that we have in Jesus Christ. Join me at the table, will you?