Love's Characteristics

That Which Is Least

He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much.—Luke 16:10

Carl Hagensick

Perfection is in the details. Life is shaped, not so much in its eventful moments, but in the common-day ritual. Character is not molded in one complete whole but, rather, formed in tiny parts and assembled during an entire lifetime. A person may steel himself for major trials, but is often eroded by the steady dripping of countless small irritations. In the words of a popular song of a half-century ago, "little things mean a lot."

The apostle Paul speaks of the enduring nature of true character in 1 Corinthians 13:13, "And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity." The attribute of charity, or unselfish philanthropic love, is like a ray of purest light which, when viewed through a prism, reveals a spectrum of all the colors of the rainbow. It is these components of love which Paul enumerates in the earlier verses of 1 Corinthians 13:4-7.

Love is patient [NIV]: It is often easier to exercise patience for the long haul than to endure the irritation of small delays. The farmer will plant his fields, knowing full well that the fruitage will not come for many months (James 5:7). A troubled mind, on the other hand, may lay awake all night, impatiently waiting for the morning light (Psalm 130:6). How often we are willing to wait for the fruition of some grand plan to take shape, but are highly irritated when a traffic situation delays us for a few minutes. Impatience breeds frustration, and frustration anger. It is in these situations we need to call to mind the hymnist’s words:

My times are in thy hand,
My God, I wish them there.

It is only when we remember that our concept of time is so different from that of our Father, to whom one day is as a thousand years (2 Peter 3:8), that our perceptions of time change. It is this realization that should help a Christian endure petty irritations from spouse, children, co-workers, classmates, friends and neighbors, and even the strangers that are met in the day-to-day concourse of life.

Love is kind: The words "polite" and "politician" are etymologically related. Yet there is a vast difference between the polished urbanity of the politician and the true kindness that emanates from a heart full of love. The kindness of love is constantly on the alert to supply the needs of his fellow, whether it be a word of encouragement, a helping hand, financial assistance, or just a cheery greeting. Earthquakes, airplane crashes, floods, and other calamities frequently spawn feats of heroism. Food, money, medical aid, and physical assistance rush in to the troubled area. True Christian kindness does not wait for the calamities, but seeks daily to be of service to one’s fellowman. The symbol of service for the Christian is Jesus washing his disciples’ feet (John 13:5-14). When he had finished, he said to his disciples, "I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you" (John 13:15).

Envy is self-love, a desire to gratify self with the things that another has. We live in a world Love envieth not: where commercialism uses envy as a tool to incite sales. The final commandment, the only one that governs thoughts instead of actions, is "thou shalt not covet" (Exodus 20:17). Living in a materialistic world, where everything is available to those who sufficiently desire it, envy needs to be stopped at its lowest level. A visit to a friend’s house may arouse a desire for such a simple thing as a tablecloth like theirs, or a desire for a piece of furniture they have. Such desires, indulged, lead to wanting a better car or a better home than others. How different is the admonition of the apostle Paul: "I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content" (Philippians 4:11). Envy is not limited to possessions. We may envy another’s prominence or desire another’s opportunities. Instead the Christian is urged to esteem the other as "better than themselves" (Philippians 2:3). Another form of envy is jealousy, desiring the special friendship of another. We often rationalize that such jealousy is born of our deep love for that person when in fact it manifests a love for ourselves born of our imagined need for the other. It is little wonder that Solomon describes such jealousy as "cruel as the grave" (Song of Solomon 8:6).

Does not boast [NIV]: Boasting is a sign of an inferiority complex. Feeling our own inadequacies, we seek to make up for them by either emphasizing what good we have done or comparing ourselves to others who have even greater lacks in one area or another. Paul’s exhortation is direct on this point: "We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise" (2 Corinthians 10:13, NIV). The faithful Christian will rather seek to emphasize and rejoice in the superiority of another and to attribute all of our good works to the grace of Christ working in and through us.

Is not puffed up: Incipient pride is one of the most dangerous of the "little foxes that spoil the vine" (Song of Solomon 2:15). Like an inflated balloon, pride is often composed of more hot air than substance. It manifests itself as much in little matters as in big ones. When one feels his answer is always the best, he often merits the reproof of Job to his comforters: "No doubt but ye are the people, and wisdom shall die with you" (Job 12:2). It can show itself in claiming a prayer privilege over others (Luke 18:11,12). It is evident when one does good deeds in a public manner (Matthew 6:1, 2). The antidote for pride is to acknowledge and show appreciation to others for their part in our accomplishments and, above all, to express gratitude to the heavenly Father for his enabling us to come off conquerors through Christ (Romans 8:37).

Is not rude [NIV]: Courtesy has been described as love in little things. Courtesy is the attribute of the gentleman, the man who acts gently toward others. The story is told of a man who always gave a word of cheery greeting when purchasing his newspaper from the same vendor, an ill-tempered and grumpy merchant. When asked why he was cheerful to such an ill-tempered person, he responded, "I am not going to let him decide how I will live my life." Rudeness is frequently a reaction to the attitude of another. The biblical remedy for rudeness is found in Proverbs 15:1, "A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger."

Is not selfish [Today’s English Version]: The New English translation reads "does not demand its own way." It is natural to feel that we are right, but it is wrong to insist that others see it the same way. Our judgments are, at best, subjective. Of Israel’s period of the judges, when idolatry brought them frequently into subjection to other nations, we read "every man did that which was right in his own eyes" (Judges 21:25). Solomon adds these words of wisdom, "There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death" (Proverbs 16:25). Selfishness has been the bane of humanity since the original sin. A wise Christian does well to listen to the words of others and thus seek correction in small matters or large. "Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed" (Proverbs 15:22, NIV). Pastor C. T. Russell offers this wise advice, "It will not do to say, `It is my way,’ for all the ways of the fallen nature are bad" (Reprints, page 2204).

Is not easily provoked: It is frequently the small matters that provoke us most deeply. We may be prepared for expected opposition and handle it well. But small irritations may quickly erode our fašade of good temper. Someone has well remarked, "where there is hurt, there is pride." If a sudden and unexpected disagreement ruffles our composure or a quick turn of events disrupts our plans, we have found a challenge to be overcome. It is human nature to take our selves too seriously and to bridle when things go wrong. Only by taking the long-range view and recognizing that, no matter which direction our lives take, "all things work together for them that love God," can we successfully fight the adversary’s temptations to provoke us to wrong attitudes and negative feelings.

Thinketh no evil: "Faults," it is said, "are thick where love is thin." A person may be trusting with those he likes, yet suspicious of those for whom he has less regard, particularly if he perceives they have wronged him in the past. Yet, while perhaps remaining cautious, it is best to give the benefit of the doubt, making all possible allowances for errors of judgment rather than to impugn the motives of the heart. It may be better for one to suffer a wrong than to develop a critical and fault-finding disposition or to pursue a matter to a judgment (1 Corinthians 6:7). When we judge another, too often we do so only on outward evidence. How wise to remember the Scriptural words, "man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart" (1 Samuel 16:7). It is well to recognize that when we point a finger at another, three more point back at us. "Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things" (Romans 2:1).

Rejoices not in iniquity: We all occasionally hear reports of the misconduct of others. Is it our tendency to believe them, especially if they come from what we consider a reliable source? It may be well to remember the Roman law, "that he which is accused have the accusers face to face, and have license to answer for himself concerning the crime laid against him" (Acts 25:16). Proverbs 18:13 delivers similar advice, "He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him." It is for this reason that Jesus lays down specific rules for the settlement of offences in Matthew 18:15-17, rules that were given for the objective ascertaining of truth and not for the pronouncement of judgment. Rules for the specific purpose of regaining one’s brother. "Perfect Love rejoiceth not in iniquity under any circumstances or conditions, and would have no sympathy but only sorrow in the fall of another, even if it should mean his own advancement" (Reprints, page 2204).

But rejoices in the truth: The Christian should be a "truth person," not because he has all truth, but because the obtaining of objective truth is his highest goal in life. It is when we learn a truth that is unfavorable to ourselves that it is most difficult to "rejoice in the truth," for it is then that we are called upon to change our course of action to be in harmony with such a truth. If a rocket bound for the moon were only off course by one degree, it would miss its target by thousands of miles. So the small mid-course maneuvers the Lord calls upon us to make have great significance in reaching our ultimate goal. We must likewise rejoice in the truths held by others, no matter what our predisposition toward them might be. If we truly rejoice in truth, we will also find the telling of an untruth, a lie, repugnant to us. "Little white lies" can create big black sins.

Beareth all things: Strong’s Concordance defines the Greek word stego (#4722) as "to roof over . . . to cover with silence." On page 407 in The New Creation, Pastor Russell writes "Love `covereth all things,’ as with a mantle of sympathy—for nothing and nobody is perfect, so as to stand full inspection. Love anticipates and has her mantle of benevolence always ready." Proverbs 17:9 phrases it this way, "He that covereth a transgression seeketh love; but he that repeateth a matter separateth very friends." Defending another who is under attack is one of the ways we can "bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ" (Galatians 6:2). It is those who do thus who earn the commendation of the apostle Paul in Hebrews 10:32,33: "But call to remembrance the former days, in which, after ye were illuminated, ye endured a great fight of afflictions; Partly, whilst ye were made a gazing-stock both by reproaches and afflictions; and partly, whilst ye became companions of them that were so used."

Believeth all things: Love acts on the principle that it is better, if necessary, to be deceived a hundred times, than to go through life soured by a distrustful suspicious mind—far better than to wrongly accuse even one person unjustly. While one may be prone to accept an apology at face value the first time it is offered, it becomes increasingly difficult to do so when the offense reoccurs. It is little wonder that the apostles asked, "Lord, increase out faith" after Jesus told them, "Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him. And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him" (Luke 17:3-5). A certain amount of naivetÚ is helpful, though the Christian is not asked to go to the other extreme and be gullible.

Hopeth all things: Even when love must cease to believe an opponent, it may still hope for a change on that person’s part. Therefore such love is not easily discouraged. To be faithful in hope is to give the other party another opportunity to do that which is right—to "go the extra mile." If we have such hope in the ultimate reform of another, it will give us the patience to wait for that change of character—"if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it" (Romans 8:25). It is because of this character of hope that love . . .

Endureth all things: It is because love hopes, that love can endure. The list of ingredients of love in 1 Corinthians 13:7 really forms one sentence. It is because love seeks to cover the offenses of another that it is quick to believe an apology, and even where it cannot so believe, it can hope for true reform so that it can endure all manner of reproach. It is because of this enduring quality of love that "it is impossible to fix a limit where it would refuse the truly repentant one" (The New Creation, page 406). The example for the Christian is set by his Lord and Master, "Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously" (1 Peter 2:23).

Faithfulness in developing these attributes of love begins with adherence to the small details of life, for if we are not faithful in their small beginnings we shall never achieve their larger fruitage. As Peter wrote of another list of attributes, "For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 1:8).

Perfection is in the details. May we pay attention to the details so that, being faithful in that which is least, we may eventually be found faithful in much.