By Bobby Graham
When the Spirit prompted Paul to write 1 Corinthians chapter 13, he was not doing so that the letter might be a bit longer or that people might have more to argue about. He further did not write for the edification of all except preachers. If it is true of love in one person, then it must be true of all: “Love does not rejoice in iniquity” (1 Cor. 13:6).
As is usually the case in the study of God’s Word, it is not the understanding of it that most challenges us, but the practice of its teaching. We accordingly give attention to both the meaning and the application of this principle.
Love is the chief consideration in this principle in that it constitutes the central focus of the entire passage. After setting forth the necessity of love in verses one through three, the apostle then described the behavior of love in the next few verses. In both negative and positive ways he made it clear how love will cause us to act. In doing so he demonstrated the principle of 1 John 3:18 that love needs to be acted upon, not just talked about. One who does not conduct himself as these verses describe does not really love, in spite of all his claims to the contrary.
Love is that genuine regard for another’s good, which causes one to act with that one in mind. This kind of “active good will” for another will forbid one to exult to delight in the unrighteousness of another. This amounts to saying that one cannot act for another’s good and also rejoice in influences that bring his downfall. The one claiming to love another while acting to the contrary, or holding attitudes leading to his spiritual demise or preventing efforts to strengthen that one, is obviously not speaking the truth. There is a large discrepancy between his claim and his conduct.
The complete thrust of this passage is conduct toward others. The definition of love demonstrates such to be the case, for it stresses conduct toward others. The examples cited in the early verses dealing with the necessity of love further indicate such a thrust. The attributes of love in the section on its behavior also show that the reader should understand the matter this way. In other words, it is a sin for one to delight in another’s iniquity because of the divine requirement that he love that person, whether he be friend, enemy, neighbor, or brother in the Lord.
The understanding of the principle involved immediately suggests that each one carefully guard his communications concerning others. In both hearing and speaking there is abundant need to be careful not to exult in the sins of others.
In hearing about another’s sinful conduct, whether in the form of confirmed reports or vicious rumor, the hearer must exercise special care. If the report is known to be true, even then it should be heard only when the information is needed by the listener to carry out the demands of love. When the true report is needed, it is still wrong for one to hear it with delight, because love does not rejoice in iniquity. The real test comes in answer to this question: Do you rejoice in someone else’s sin? If you do, then you do not love that person.
Likewise in telling of another’s unrighteous conduct, even that which is known to be true ought never to be told when one enjoys telling it, for he rejoices in that one’s sin. It should be obvious to all readers that the real problem in all of these matters lies back of the communication. It is the attitude of not loving another, as seen in the delight experienced on the occasion of his sin, error, downfall, or disadvantage, that ought to prevent one from sleeping at night. If a loving Father would do nothing to hinder that one in sin from repenting and returning to God, then how can one claiming to be his child do otherwise?
Preachers and brethren who write for the papers need to consider these matters. The vicious rumors, vitriolic reports, sarcastic statements, envious doubts, backhand scheming, and other diabolical devices, whether heard or spoken or acted out, ought never to be named among saints professing godliness.
Love for others demands dealing with their wrongs, in whatever form they exist (2 Tim. 4:2; 1 Tim. 5:20; Eph. 4:15). Love for others (both the offender and those endangered by his wrong) sometimes would dictate the wisdom of naming the persons in the wrong. The principle here being emphasized, however, would forbid that one who enjoys telling of the sins or errors allow others to deal with the matters.
It is difficult to understand how one who has been loved so lavishly by God, who is love, could fail to love others thus loved by the Father in heaven. “We love because He first loved us.” One who loves in this fashion will not find it possible to rejoice in the iniquity of another.
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