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Love’s Delight in Holiness (1 Cor. 13:6)

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Introduction

Today our attention is on 1 Corinthians 13:6, which states, “[love] does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.” If we reflect on the key words for a moment we can come up with a title for this message. Rejoicing is the main verb in each clause on both sides of the contrast (“does not rejoice” but “does rejoice.”). So the notion of joy, pleasure, or delight has to be part of our title. I will use the term delight. The subject is love; it is “love” that delights in something a certain way and not in another way.

So we have “Love’s Delight” as part of the title for today’s message. But what does love delight in? Its delight is not in wrongdoing but in “right-doing” from which I get the idea of holiness. Thus my title for today is “Love’s Delight in Holiness.” Again, it will become clear that this love chapter is not talking about a superficial Hollywood version of love. It is talking about Christ-like, Christian love. Three things can be said about love’s delight in holiness: it is comprehensive, practical, and responsible.

1A. Love’s Delight in Holiness is Comprehensive

Some commentators (cf. Lange’s Commentary on 1 Corinthians, 270) think that love must be seen here in terms of relationships so verse 6a does not refer to unrighteousness in general as done by Jonathan Edwards (Charity, 221-222). Instead, they claim it must refer to the specific evil of rejoicing in the downfall of another or simply rejoicing at seeing others sin (cf. Rom. 1:32, the sins of oneself and others are given approval). It is the thought of not rejoicing at the sins of others that was part of the reading from 1 Corinthians 13 in the movie, “A Walk to Remember.” This reading is thought to be more in keeping with the context (particularly with love’s relational orientation). However, some things can be stated that support the interpretation offered by Edwards.

1) First, there is a forward and widening movement of the passage from particular things to all things (from v. 4 to v. 7). Particular graces are cited (love is patient and kind, v. 4) followed by particular vices (what love is not: envious, boastful, arrogant, rude, selfish, irritable, or censorious, vs. 4-5). Skipping over verse 6 for the moment, when we reach verse 7 particularization has given way to full universalization (the particulars have given way to universals, cf. “all things” that love comes to terms with, v. 7). In this flow of thought verse 6 has a sweeping and general quality akin to verse 7 (cf. “wrongdoing” and “truth”); it is moving in that direction. This indicates that Paul, in verse 6, is concerned with the big picture. He has cited sufficient details and now summarizes. He cited particular graces now he speaks to all graces in general. He cited particular vices, now he speaks to all vices in general.

2) Second, a shift in thought that is forward looking and widening is also indicated by the combining of internal attitude with external action that occurs in verse 6. Earlier, either an inward attitude (patience, envy, resentment, etc.) or an outward action (kindness, boasting, rudeness, etc) was cited. Now (v. 6) Paul connects rejoicing in the heart with righteousness and holiness (and “unholiness”) in the life. This suggests that Paul is concerned with a central attitude of heart that relates to all the specifics he has just cited and to those in the same categories that he has not cited. The ones cited are cases in point. To cover all the bases, Paul now generalizes. Lists could go on and on; some limiting is helpful and it is helpful to give direction with regard to things not listed.

3) Third, the forward movement of the passage would be compromised if Paul were concerned with envy again in verse 6 since he just mentioned it in verse 4.

4) Fourth, there is no reason to limit the scope of the vices and virtues in view. The contrasting breath of “unrighteousness” and “truth” with the specificity of censoriousness, irritability, rudeness, etc. is striking. It is evident that Paul is widening the territory to be covered, which necessitates general language of summary.

5) Finally, though the passage always has human relationships in view (i.e., an others orientation), it is clearly the case that the attitudes and actions cited are those of the loving or unloving person. Thus the context supports the idea that not only the vices and virtues of others are in view but our own vices and virtues are in view as well.

Thus Paul moves forward, widens, and generalizes. To take verse 6 as a reference to envy or to limit it to the sins of others is backward moving, contracting instead of widening, and narrowing instead of generalizing. To think that way goes in the wrong direction. Because of the flow of thought, we should agree with Edwards on the point being addressed here by Paul, namely, that “love in the heart tends to holy practice in the life” (Charity, 221). He summarizes Paul’s teaching in this way:

As if he had said, “I have mentioned many excellent things that charity has a tendency to, and shown how it is contrary to many evil things. But I need not go on to multiply particulars, for, in a word, charity is contrary to everything in the life and practice that is evil, and tends to everything that is good — it rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth” (221).

Unrighteousness obviously refers to “everything that is sinful in the life and practice” (221) and truth in this context refers to “all virtue and holiness, including both the knowledge and reception of all the great truths of the Scriptures, and conformity to these in the life and conduct” (222). Therefore, love’s delight in holiness is something very comprehensive. Love’s distaste for unrighteousness is quite acute as is its taste for true righteousness. Love paints a picture of holiness with a very broad brush.

Pointedly, then, love does not rejoice at the appearance of envy, boasting, arrogance, rudeness, selfishness, irritability, or censoriousness. A loving person is not happy when these things show up either in one’s own conduct or in the conduct of others. But a loving person is happy at the appearance of patience and kindness. These are happy graces and love fellowships with them happily. From these particulars, Paul shifts attention to all acts of unrighteousness and all acts of righteousness. He stresses the fact that love does not rejoice in any acts of unrighteousness but it does rejoice in all acts of righteousness.

2A. Love’s Delight in Holiness is Practical

After a list of seven negatives, Paul opens verse 6 with another negative but this time we do not have to infer to the positive because Paul does so himself: Love does not rejoice in unrighteousness (wrongdoing) but [it does rejoice] in the truth.

But there is something unusual about the inference that Paul draws. We can see something initially odd if we infer in a very direct and exact way. Doing this we go from not rejoicing in unrighteousness to rejoicing in righteousness. All we have to do is to keep the word rejoice (as Paul does) and then simply turn each negative into its opposite. In this way “does not rejoice” becomes “does rejoice” and unrighteousness becomes righteousness (not “un” or not “not” becomes a positive). Interestingly, Paul coordinates truth with righteousness by making it the opposite of unrighteousness. We should examine this association made by Paul; we should meditate on it because it is significant and suggestive. There is a superimposing of truth over righteousness.

Love is honest (i.e., true) in its outlook rather than deceitful. In that sense, its delight in holiness is true. But there is more here than the avoidance of deceit and hypocrisy. Truth is something to be lived. Love’s delight in holiness is extremely practical. Truth is something in which you walk. It is much more than something you know. There is an inseparable bond between knowing and doing in Scripture. Knowing is ultimately ethical; there is no knowing just for knowing sake. Learning is always ethically qualified.

Various perversions result when knowing and doing are disconnected. a) If you learn without doing, you have a form of godliness that contradicts the power thereof. b) If you do without learning, you have zeal that pursues the path of ignorance. The Corinthians were faulted for their zeal without knowledge (for one, it was necessary that tongues be balanced by prophecy and the knowledge prophecy imparts, ch. 14). But if we hear this indictment against them and go to the opposite extreme, then we will be long on doctrine but short on practice (on the other hand, we could have prophetic powers and all knowledge without love. In that case, we are nothing, 13:2). However, love in the heart tends to holy practice in the life.

The implication is that all seeking after truth (in any area and especially in Scripture) must be for doing. We are to learn in order to live. Learning is for doing; we must always seek the truth for obedience to the Lord. Hence emphasis on the sovereignty of God without a balanced emphasis on His commandments yields an untrue “Calvinism.” We must remember that to embrace Christ as sovereign Lord is to embrace the king who commands those under His authority. We do not believe in His sovereignty if we are not earnest about living under His authority. Thus, besides being diligent about attending to the means of grace, those who embrace the sovereignty of God in truth will also embrace the Ten Commandments in their true spirit and intent. Truth is a path on which the Christian walks (3 Jn. 3-4). This stands in contrast to those who do evil versus doing what is true (Jn. 3:20-21) or who by unrighteousness suppress the truth (Rom. 1:18), or who in unbelief take pleasure in unrighteousness (2 Thess. 2:12), or by self-seeking do not obey the truth but obey unrighteousness (Rom. 2:8).

A passage for further reading and study in this connection is James 3:14 where bitter jealousy, selfish ambition, and boasting are “false to the truth.” From the context (v. 13f), wisdom and understanding are connected with peace, gentleness and being open to reason.

Holiness that is “of the truth” or true holiness is a practice of life: per Edwards again, “love in the heart tends to holy practice in the life” (221). This kind of holiness is based on the grand teachings of Scripture known and received in a life that seeks conformity to them.

3A. Love’s Delight in Holiness is Responsible

At this juncture, I am interested in the duty that is implied. Recall that Paul’s entire discussion of love is put before us as an excellent pathway on which we are to walk (cf. 1 Cor. 12:31b). So this description of love’s delight in holiness is a summons to duty. But how is it a duty? Is Paul telling us that unless we have delight in some act then the act lacks goodness? No, that is not where he takes us; he does not define a good act. Instead, he defines and delimits love. Love that is Christian and Christ-like rejoices in holiness in a comprehensive and practical way.

But again, this brings us to the question of how the loving person takes this up in a responsible way. Love’s delight in holiness is responsible and dutiful. But how is this so? We do not simply turn on the emotion of joy like turning on a facet. Surely this text is not telling us that we must have the right feeling in place first before attempting something good. We are not being told that there must be some measurable joy or affection in any act of obedience or it is not obedience but hypocrisy.

Granted, the parallel is made by some between being a cheerful giver and being a cheerful Christian. Without cheerfulness in the act of giving, the act is unacceptable to the Lord. Thus, likewise, some argue that without cheerfulness in any act of obedience, the act is unacceptable to the Lord. This view is actually a spin off of the teaching of Jonathan Edwards on the religious affections. But before saying anything else, we should put the parallel with giving in perspective. To be a cheerful giver means that we do not give grudgingly, that is, reluctantly with ill will or resentment. It is giving with the hands wide open and not being grieved at the prospect of letting go of some money or goods. Scripture does not tell us that sharing the gospel with a defiant neighbor or being patient when deeply afflicted must be done cheerfully in order for these acts to be acceptable to God.

Nonetheless, it is especially important that the one who does acts of mercy do so with cheerfulness due to the needs of the recipients who are often downcast and discouraged (cf. Rom. 12:8; also note that this text accents liberality as central in giving versus grief at parting with things). Thus cheerfulness in the acts of giving and of showing mercy is essential.

So how do we rejoice with true righteousness (or holiness of the truth, cf. Eph. 4:24)? We do not simply turn on the facet and have joy gush forth. This brings into view another basic fact that pertains across the board to these graces; namely, the fruits of love are fruits of the Spirit. They are, therefore, not something that we can produce. The Holy Spirit must produce them. Joy is something we cannot produce, not true spiritual joy. It is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23). But we have responsibility to which the Spirit points us in Scripture. We must take up due means and processes looking to the Lord for the blessing of growth in charity and its fruits. Hopefully, so far in this series, the impression has not been created that we somehow produce these graces. Indeed, we have duties to cultivate them by God ordained means but we do not give life to the seed or growth to the tree of righteousness.

In this connection, we can answer the “how?” question by looking both in the NT and the OT.

1B. In the NT, joy is the fruit of abiding in Christ

This is taught in John 15:1-11. Actually a number of things are intertwined in this passage. 1) Foremost is the fact that there will be no spiritual joy without abiding in Christ for branches (what we are) cannot bear fruit of themselves but must abide in the vine (what Christ is, v. 4).

2) Second, abiding in Christ involves abiding in His word (7a, it is to have His words abiding in you).

3) Third, the fruit that He will bring about both glorifies the Father (v. 8) and proves our discipleship (v. 8b, the fruit manifests discipleship showing that learning the word truly and properly results in a fruitful walk to the glory of God).

4) Fourth, love results from abiding in Christ and in His commandments; we thus abide in His love (in Him and in His word). Doing this we emulate Christ and thus develop Christian, Christ-like love for when we abide in His commandments we follow His example: “just as I have kept my Father’s commandment and abide in his love” (v. 10).

5) Finally, there is a tie of love and joy; there is a joy of love. Specifically, the joy of love derives from the commandments. We know this because “these things” have been spoken, Jesus says, “that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full (v. 11). In other words, by abiding in Christ (in Him personally by faith), by abiding in His word, by abiding in His love, and by abiding in His commandments (keeping them by striving to keep them), disciples abide in His joy and have His joy abiding in them. And this joy is experienced in a full and complete way.

Thus, returning to 1 Corinthians 13:6, we can say that love rejoices with true righteousness and righteousness of the truth by abiding in Christ, in His love, in His commandments. The joy is not a condition that must be met to perform a righteous act. Instead, it is an out flow of abiding in Christ.

2B. Rejoicing with true righteousness is the dynamic of OT as of NT holiness.

The Psalmist captures this sentiment in the things that he puts in parallel with delighting in God’s testimonies and statutes (Ps. 119:14, 16). The parallels with delighting are: walking in the law (v. 1), keeping God’s testimonies (v. 2a), seeking God with the whole heart (v. 2b), having the eyes fixed on all God’s commandments (v. 6), storing up the word in the heart (v. 11), meditating on the precepts of the Lord (v. 15a), fixing the eyes on God’s ways (v. 15b), and not forgetting God’s word (v. 16).

If you observe the parallels with delighting in the law in the rest of the Psalm of the word (Ps. 119), you will find many similar indications as to what it means to rejoice in righteousness and truth in the earnest pursuit of holiness.

1) Delight means to have God’s commandments so in your mind and heart that they become your counselors (vs. 23b-24).

2) To delight in the law means to pray for instruction and understanding (vs. 32-35).

3) It means to speak of God’s testimonies (vs. 46-47).

4) Being taught and taking delight in the law involves progress in keeping God’s precepts with the whole heart (vs. 68-70).

5) It includes meditation (vs. 77-78).

6) It includes a determined effort to not forget the law and precepts (vs. 92-93).

7) Delight again means the Psalmist petitions for understanding by meditation for obedience (vs. 143-148).

8) At the end he adds singing of God’s word and commands to not forgetting them (vs. 172-176). This shows that though singing is an expression of joy its first place in worship is to serve the effort of not forgetting the word (cf. its subordinate place in serving the word per Col. 3:16 where it is the word of Christ that is taught by singing).

How then is rejoicing “with” true righteousness to be explained? In light of John 15 and Psalm 119, the notion of “with” makes a lot of sense. Truth (righteousness of the truth) is personified. It is a joyful person. If you associate with this person, he will affect you. When you are around a joyful person, the joy rubs off on you and you rejoice too. You rejoice along with the truth.

Bottom line: by taking up the means of abiding in Christ, in His word, and in His commandments you fulfill the responsibility of love’s delight in holiness. In pursuing the truth for obedience, you delight in holiness in a responsible way. This is the way to the joy of love as a fruit that you cannot produce but that is the gift of the Spirit. It is a gift we experience in the way of the means He has appointed. It is along this path that love’s delight, joy, and pleasure is comprehensive, practical, and responsible.

Related Topics: Sanctification, Love