What Love Rejoices In
Series: Love Is
We talked last week about what love things, but what does love feel, especially when it’s no longer assuming wrongdoing of others, but faced with real wrongdoing? Love is not a general positive feeling; there is something in which love does not rejoice: Love does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.
Loving the Way Jesus Loves, Phil Ryken
We’re continuing our series on love this morning from 1 Corinthians 13, and one of the things to notice about love in the passage is that it extends not merely to our actions, but also to our thoughts and feelings. Last week we talked about how love affects what we think: We not only don’t do evil to others; we don’t think evil of others. A big part of that is we don’t assume the worst about people when another explanation is possible, but there is a kind of tension in that that perhaps you felt last week. Sometimes people, ourselves, included, really do wrong things, all unfair assumptions aside. And we struggle to deal with that: On a societal level, our world tends to talk about love as a general positive feeling about yourself and a blanket positive affirmation of others. On the other hand, especially in this election season, we seem to have no trouble getting really angry at one another when we perceive the other is obviously wrong. We feel the tension personally also: I don’t like feeling bad about myself, but on the other hand, if I’m really honest, I’ve done things and sometimes want to do things I know are wrong. I know I’m supposed to love others, but what about when they do things God seems to say are wrong? Today the verse at which we are looking brings clarity. It focuses not so much on what we think as on what we feel, and we are going to see that there are things love has positive feelings toward, and things that it does not. There are things love does not rejoice in, and things with which it does gloriously rejoice. Specifically, in the words of verse 6, Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.
Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing
The first half of our verse tells us that love does not rejoice at wrongdoing. The word wrongdoing here could also be translated unrighteousness or injustice; it’s the language of law. It assumes there is a law, a law that defines what is right, and therefore wrongdoing is anything that fails to conform to that law. From the beginning of the Bible, we see that such a law does exist. After creating the first humans, God gave them a law not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and promised the curse of death if they disobeyed. The most explicit form of God’s law was given later in the form of the Ten Commandments: You shall have no other gods besides the true God, you shall not worship God through images, you shall not murder, etc. These commandments are expressions of God’s righteous character, calling us to conform our character to it. A blessing was promised to those who obey, a curse to those who did not. That’s law. Wrongdoing, then, is anything that fails to conform to God’s law, and love does not rejoice in such things.
There should be no question in anyone’s mind that Walter Wallace, Jr.’s death was tragic; love will grieve it, and certainly not rejoice in it. It’s certainly legitimate to also ask whether it was caused by some wrongdoing. It seems difficult for us to say whether the individual officers did wrong; self-defense is not a violation of God’s law, but there’s a legitimate question whether that’s what they were doing in this case, and it’s certainly legitimate to demand that be impartially reviewed by those responsible for such a judgment and pray for God to bring such justice, as we already have today. It’s also legitimate to ask whether there was wrongdoing that lead to it, whatever the responsibility of the individual officers, perhaps in the way we do policing, or the way we as a society handle mental illness, or the racism that still exists in our systems and hearts, and if there was, love will not rejoice in that by passively allowing it to continue. If wrongdoing occurred, there’s a posture love requires we take toward it.
And that’s interesting, right? Because the text doesn’t just say, “Love does no wrong,” though that’s true. Instead the text says love does not rejoice in wrongdoing, because let’s face it: In the world in which we live, wrongdoing happens. We need to therefore also address the posture of love toward the wrongdoing that already exists. But here’s the catch: We can’t just do that by addressing the wrongs we see others commit. To go around rebuking the wrongs of others while hiding our own is hypocrisy. Not rejoicing in wrongdoing starts by dealing honestly with the wrong inside of us. The most obvious way we rejoice at wrongdoing is when we pride ourselves on our wrongdoing. So early in the Bible, just after the first wrongdoing, we find a man, Lamech, going to his wives and saying: “I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for striking me. If Cain’s revenge is sevenfold, then Lamech’s is seventy-sevenfold” (Gen 4:23-24). He took far more than an eye for an eye; he murdered a man, and in so doing violated God’s law. Then not only did he do wrong, he rejoiced in his wrongdoing. Are there things you know are sin that you’ve later bragged about or told others to get a good laugh about?
We also rejoice at wrongdoing when we plan to do wrong in the future, when we look forward to it. Or maybe we aren’t going to do wrong, but we really want to. This is another place it’s significant that the passage doesn’t say, “Love does no wrong”; it says “Love does not rejoice in wrongdoing.” In other words, love doesn’t say, “I really want to sin, but I know God says I can’t, so I won’t.” If a husband says, “I really want to be with other women, but I love my wife, so I won’t,” is that really as loving as a husband who says, “I love my wife so much I don’t want to be with other women?” So also, love for God will incline us not only to avoid wrongdoing; it will kill all of our rejoicing in it. Love for God brings hatred of sin. So if you notice that you actually want to do wrong, don’t act on that, but also don’t accept it. Confess the sin down there: Not only that you do it, but that you want to do it, and start cultivating a hatred for it. The older theologians called this “the mortification of sin.” A great theologian, John Owen, wrote a book by that title, and the idea is that if you find your heart is rejoicing in wrongdoing, you can either cultivate that further, or you can cultivate a hatred for it. Love will cultivate the hatred.
Perhaps the most extreme form of rejoicing in wrongdoing, on the other hand, is when we not only enjoy our wrongdoing inside, when we not only plan to do it, do it, and then brag about doing it, but when we actually begin to call it right! When we call our irritability “righteous anger,” our selfishness “self-care,” our arrogance “self-esteem,” our harshness “honesty,” our sexual immorality “love.” This is a massive temptation in our cultural moment, because our culture’s message to us is that we ought to feel good about ourselves, so that if you genuinely desire something, as long as it doesn’t harm anyone else, the message is that you should feel good about that. So our culture has developed ways like the examples I’ve just mentioned to take things God’s law calls wrong, and call them right. But true love does not do that. True love is not unadulterated rejoicing; there are things it does not rejoice in. There are times when true love does not feel good, and we all know that right? If I actually love my wife, I won’t feel try to preserve positive feelings about things I know she hates by pretending she loves them. She will matter too much to me. And if you really love God, He will matter too much to you for you to take things He calls wrong and call them right, so you can continue to feel good about them.
This brings us to the next way we can rejoice at wrongdoing: When we see it in others. So far we’ve been focusing on how we respond to wrongdoing in ourselves, and that is where love starts. Love does not rebuke the wrongdoing of others while rejoicing in its own. That’s hypocrisy. Love does not rejoice in its own wrongdoing, but remember that love also expands, and here we find another real rub with our cultural concept of love, seen perhaps most obviously in its approach to homosexuality. Our world says, “Ok, you may not be gay, but if someone else tells you they are, if you really love them, you’ll love them for who they are,” which means not only that you will respect them and treat them with dignity; certainly love does that, but they mean if you love them, you will affirm their homosexuality. That’s actually not love, according to 1 Corinthians 13. True love begins with love for God, and therefore says, “There are some things that are wrong, in which I do not rejoice” and then it extends to neighbor and says, “Precisely because I love you, I do not rejoice when you do wrong.” Love also doesn’t blast people for wrongdoing; remember where our description of love began: Love is patient and kind, and I know whatever wrongdoing I see in another, I see more of it in myself. Nonetheless, love for God and neighbor means you will not rejoice in wrongdoing when you see it in a neighbor, and certainly means that you will not begin taking things God says are wrong and calling them right. That’s saying to God, “Your law is not good,” and it’s saying to your neighbor, “I don’t care that you are heading down a path toward judgment,” and neither of those are love.
The final way I’ll mention that we rejoice in wrongdoing is when we take pleasure in seeing our enemies fail. As the election comes up, this is especially common on both sides of the aisle. The left really hopes Trump does more things wrong, and the right really hopes Biden does more wrong. In a police-involved shooting like that of Walter Wallace this week, some of us hope to find out the cops abused their power, while others of us hope to find out Wallace had a record. We can get a strange pleasure out of reading about the sins of others or watching them on TV; we can get a strange pleasure out of spreading them ourselves through gossip. Do you see how godless all that is? There is no sense that a holy God has been offended in these things; there is no sense that the people doing these wrongs are images of God in danger of eternal judgment; there is no sense that the people affected by their wrong are images of God who are now in pain. Do you see now why if love is anything, love is not that? Love is not unadulterated positive feelings. There are things in which love does not rejoice, and love does not rejoice in wrongdoing. Rather, love rejoices with the truth.
Love rejoices with the truth
The truth here is in obvious contrast with wrongdoing, and that’s interesting, right? We might expect, “Love does not rejoice with wrongdoing, but rejoices with rightdoing.” Instead, we get the truth, which means the truth of who God is, and a life that is in accordance with it. Romans 2:20 calls God’s law the “embodiment of knowledge and truth.” Romans 2:8 says we can “disobey the truth.” How does one disobey the truth? When one does not live in accordance with it. To rejoice in the truth, then, is to rejoice in what God says is true, and to rejoice in deeds that conform to it.
Unlike rejoicing at wrongdoing, love rejoices to tell the truth about wrongdoing. When it comes to our own wrongdoing, this looks like confession of sin. 1 John 1:8-9 says, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Rejoicing in the truth doesn’t begin with telling the truth about everyone else’s sins; it begins with telling the truth about your own. Love doesn’t dress it up; it says about it what God says about it, because what God says about it is true, and love rejoices with the truth. Are you shading the truth in how you present yourself? That’s not love.
When it comes to the wrongdoing of others, it means those who are responsible to judge an action tell the truth about it, rather than concealing or minimizing it. That is what love requires of those responsible to review the shooting of Walter, Wallace, Jr. And our rejoicing should not be tied to the result that affirms our narrative: Our hope should not be that the police officers get off free or that they get slammed; our hope should be that the truth comes out and justice is served; in that love rejoices. When the wrongdoer is a fellow church member, love confronts the wrongdoing. Now don’t forget what we said last week: Love does not assume evil of others, so love will first consider if there is another possible explanation for the person’s actions before it confronts, but this is the other side of the balance: Sometimes people really do violate God’s law in a way you can observe. Especially as you get to know people better, that is likely to happen. People sometimes say, “I love this person too much to confront them,” but if they’re really engaged in observable wrongdoing, and you don’t confront them, who does that help in the end? It helps you; you don’t have to go through the discomfort of confrontation, but it doesn’t help them, and it doesn’t serve the glory of God.
This process of telling the truth about wrongdoing within the church is what the Bible calls church discipline. In fact, it was this practice of church discipline that Paul wanted the Corinthian church, the original recipients of this letter, to engage in. In 1 Corinthians 5 he wrote of a man who was in an openly sexual relationship with his father’s wife, and he said that they were arrogant about this, when they ought rather to mourn! In other words, they were rejoicing at wrongdoing, when they ought to have mourned it. He then tells them to remove the member guilty of this from their church. He uses the image of removing leaven from bread, and then says this, “Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Cor 5:8). He’s saying the way we rejoice with the truth, is we rejoice as a church while speaking the truth about sin in our midst and removing any who refuse to repent of it. We stop pretending. We stop getting together to worship and take the Lord’s Supper while pretending all is well. We confront sin, we deal with it, and then we rejoice together with sincerity and truth.
But rejoicing with the truth not only is honest about our own wrongdoing and the wrongdoing of others, it sets a new aspiration or us: The thing we look forward to is people walking in the truth. 3 John 4 says, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” That’s rejoicing in the truth. Let’s be a people who not only rejoice when one of us gets a promotion, but when one of us takes a costly step of obedience. Let’s not only compliment one another’s haircuts and clothing, but one another’s faithfulness in prayer, consistency in service, courage in evangelism. Catch one another saying what’s true, believing what’s true, and living in accordance with what’s true. Let’s not only talk about what’s wrong with us; let’s rejoice in what’s right and true by God’s grace, and what’s right and true about God Himself. And the best way we can do that is to rejoice with the one who is the truth. Every other religious leader has come and said, “I will show you the path to truth,” but when Jesus Christ came He said, “I am the truth.” God sent Him because God saw all of our wrongdoing, and He did not rejoice in it. You ever wonder why God didn’t just forgive us? Why send Jesus, why have Him die on a cross? Because God is love, and love does not rejoice with wrongdoing.
God did not pretend our wrongdoing was not there, and He certainly did not start calling it right. He rejoices with the truth, but He loved us so much that He wanted us to be able to rejoice with Him. So He made a way to condemn our wrongdoing without condemning us, and Jesus is that way. Though He was Himself the truth and had no wrongdoing of His own, He took our wrongdoing upon Himself, willingly received the judgment for us, and rose from the dead to new, unending life with God, now rejoicing because the sins of His people had not been celebrated or swept under the rug, but dealt with. Believe this truth, and all your wrongdoing will be forgiven you. He will send His Spirit to live in you, whom He calls the Spirit of truth, to lead you into all truth.
Then you won’t have to pretend your wrongdoings are right. You can tell the truth about them, because you’re already forgiven for them! You don’t have to fear coming into the light; Jesus is the light. You don’t have to avoid the truth; Jesus is the truth! Don’t rejoice in your wrongdoing; despise it. Kill it. Do you see what it did to Jesus? Do you see what He did to save you from it? How could we then brag about it? How could we then enjoy it? How could we then call it right? If our wrongs are actually rights, then Christ died for nothing. And don’t rejoice in the wrongdoing of another, even if it is your enemy’s. Grieve it, pray for them, and when it’s your friend, love them boldly enough to look at them and say, “I know what you’re doing feels like it’s good, but it isn’t. If you would turn from it, to the one who is the truth, there is greater joy for you there, and I know it, because I’m a wrongdoer too, but I’m learning to rejoice with the Truth. Won’t you join me?”