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Does Love Mean You Have to Be a Doormat?

Daily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling
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Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.

1 Corinthians 13:7

At first glance, 1 Corinthians 13:7 seems to suggest that Christians who love might have to be doormats, trampled on by others who wipe their dirty feet on us while we just lie there and take it. If love never gives up, then does that mean I need to forever put up with an abusive parent or spouse? If love never loses faith, then should I always believe that people are going to get better, even when they're doing nothing to improve their character? If love is always hopeful, does that mean every kind of wishful thinking is okay? And if love endures through every circumstance, does that mean I should never protest when I'm the victim of injustice?

"Doormat theology" abounds in some sectors of Christianity. It can appear to be consistent with biblical teaching such as found in 1 Corinthians 13:7, not to mention Jesus' teaching about turning the other cheek (Matt. 5:39). To be sure, Scripture calls us to patient endurance, even to suffering for the sake of Christ. But the Bible does not teach us to be people who simply and silently put up with all forms of abuse and injustice.

For one thing, 1 Corinthians 13:7 is poetry, not prose. This comes across powerfully in the original language, which includes a series of four parallel sentences that could be rendered in English: "[Love] covers all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things." When we read poetry, we don't expect it to be literally true. To provide an obvious example, biblical love would certainly not including believing falsehoods. Believing all things does not mean believing, for example, that God is hate or that Baal is the true God. Rather, believing all things has to do with persistently and consistently trusting that which is true. As the NLT reads, "[Love] never loses faith." So, as we read 1 Corinthians 13:7, we should attend to the evocative and emotional power of the poetry without turning it into unambiguous moral principles.

Moreover, we must always interpret Scripture in light of Scripture. The Apostle Paul, who rhapsodized about love covering, believing, hoping, and enduring all things, was well-known for his patient endurance in service to the Lord. But he certainly did not put up with wrongdoing or poor theology. He did not take a "live and let live" attitude as if this was what love required of him. Rather, he consistently confronted wrong actions and wrong beliefs, standing up for righteousness and truth. This was, in fact, an essential facet of genuine love (13:6). Paul did not, for example, allow his opponents in Corinth to walk all over him. Rather, he penned 2 Corinthians in order to defend both himself and the Gospel of God's grace in Jesus Christ.

Jesus, as you may recall, did not teach his disciples simply to put up with the wrongs done to them by others. Rather, he taught them—and us—to directly confront those who have sinned against us so that there might be reconciliation. (I have written extensively about this teaching in a blog series: What to Do When Someone Sins Against You.)

Christ-like love will indeed call us to be people of endurance, trust, hope, and patience. But it will also fire our passion for God's truth and justice. Even as we put up with people's faults and foibles, and even as we always look for God's presence in their lives, we will not allow them to trample on the image of God in us as if we were helpless doormats. Rather, we will learn how to walk the second mile with people even as we refuse to let them walk all over us.

QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: How do you understand and apply First Corinthians 13:7 in your life? How can we know when loving someone means putting up with them and when it requires confronting them? Are there relationships in your life that require more patience and endurance? Are there relationships where you need to stand up for truth?

PRAYER: Gracious God, sometimes your Word is so clear we can't miss its meaning. But sometimes we have to grapple with the text in order to understand what you are trying to say to us. 1 Corinthians 13:7 is one of those "grappling" verses.

Teach us, Lord, how to love in a genuine, full, and Christ-like way. Help us to know when we should endure, and when we should stand up for what is right and true. Keep us from being doormats who put up with all measure of injustice and falsehood. Rather, may we be people who know how to imitate the self-giving love of Jesus, who also boldly proclaimed the kingdom, stood up for your righteousness, and taught us to confront those who wrong us.

Today, I pray especially for Christians who have a long history of being "doormats" in relationships. Help them to discover a new way of being, one that continues to turn the other cheek, but one that also reflects your justice and truth. May we help each other to love in ways that are healthy and that reflect the fullness of your revelation.

All praise be to you, God of love, God of truth. Amen.

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