What does it mean that love “believes all things”?

by | Mar 1, 2024 | Ask the Pastors

QUESTION

In 1 Corinthians 13:7, what does it mean that love “believes all things, hopes all things”? It kinda sounds like that means we’re supposed to just believe everything, but that doesn’t seem right…

ANSWER

Whenever we interpret Scripture, we must use Scripture itself to help us interpret correctly.1 This is possible because the Bible is perfectly united and doesn’t contradict itself. Interpreting Scripture with Scripture is especially important when we come across parts of the Bible that are harder to understand: we should look to clearer parts of the Bible for help.2

With this particular verse, we don’t have to look very far. In verse 6 right before this, the Apostle Paul says that love “rejoices with the truth.” It should be obvious, then, that when he says love believes all things, he is not saying, for instance, that love believes lies (at least not willingly). This is especially the case when we take into account other passages of Scripture, like Proverbs 14:15: “The naive believes everything, but the sensible man considers his steps.” The Bible never commends naivety.

So what is the Holy Spirit saying through the Apostle Paul here?

Seventeenth-century pastor Matthew Henry has a helpful explanation of this verse. His language is a bit archaic, so I thought it would be helpful to translate what he wrote into more perspicuous English for us modern-day folk:


Love believes and hopes well of others. To say that love “believes all things” does not mean that love doesn’t think carefully or that it naively believes anything anyone says (Prov. 14:15). We can be loving and be wise at the same time. However, love prefers to believe well of others, and to have a good opinion of them when there is no reason not to. Love even believes well when things look bad but there is no clear evidence to show that someone has done wrong. Love is favorably disposed towards others, and prefers to see things in the best possible light. Love will judge well, and believe well, as far as it can with any reason. It will even extend a favorable attitude beyond outward appearances in order to maintain a good opinion of someone else. Love will only with the greatest reluctance accept a bad opinion of someone, and it will guard against such an opinion as fairly and honestly as possible. Then, if that kind of love still cannot reasonably believe well of someone, it will still hope well, and continue to hope as long as there is any reason for doing so. Love does not quickly assume that anyone is beyond changing for the better. On the contrary, love has a desire to see even the worst men turn away from evil, and it sincerely hopes that they will.

Christian love is truly good-natured and agreeable. How beautiful is the mind that is wholly affected with such benevolence, and that has all of its thoughts influenced by charity! Happy is the man who has this heavenly fire of love glowing in his heart, flowing out of his mouth, and spreading its warmth over all with whom he has to do! How lovely a thing Christianity would appear to the world, if those who called themselves Christians were more driven by this divine principle of love, and if they paid closer attention to this command specially emphasized by our Lord: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples” (John 13:34–35). Blessed Jesus! how few of Your so-called disciples are distinguished and marked out by love!3

  1. The fancy theological term for this is the “analogy of faith.” ↩︎
  2. Our confession of faith reads, “The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself: and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly” (Westminster Confession of Faith, 1.9). ↩︎
  3. Here are Matthew Henry’s original words, so you can judge for yourself whether I faithfully conveyed his message: “Charity believes and hopes well of others: Believeth all things; hopeth all things. Indeed charity does by no means destroy prudence, and, out of mere simplicity and silliness, believe every word, Prov. 14:15. Wisdom may dwell with love, and charity be cautious. But it is apt to believe well of all, to entertain a good opinion of them when there is no appearance to the contrary; nay, to believe well when there may be some dark appearances, if the evidence of ill be not clear. All charity is full of candour, apt to make the best of every thing, and put on it the best face and appearance; it will judge well, and believe well, as far as it can with any reason, and will rather stretch its faith beyond appearances for the support of a kind opinion; but it will go into a bad one with the upmost reluctance, and fence against it as much as it fairly and honestly can. And when, in spite of inclination, it cannot believe well of others, it will yet hope well, and continue to hope as long as there is any ground for it. It will not presently conclude a case desperate, but wishes the amendment of the worst of men, and is very apt to hope for what it wishes. How well-natured and amiable a thing is Christian charity! How lovely a mind is that which is tinctured throughout with such benevolence, and has it diffused over its whole frame! Happy the man who has this heavenly fire glowing in his heart, flowing out of his mouth, and diffusing its warmth over all with whom he has to do! How lovely a thing would Christianity appear to the world, if those who profess it were more actuated and animated by this divine principle, and paid a due regard to a command on which its blessed author laid a chief stress! A new commandment give I to you, that you love one another, as I have loved you, that you also love one another, John 13:34. By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, John 13:35. Blessed Jesus! how few of thy professed disciples are to be distinguished and marked out by this characteristic!” ↩︎

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. All rights reserved.

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