In an age that beckons us to inhale cynicism and exhale contempt, we have a prime opportunity within our churches to show a more excellent way. Our secret is not chipperness or naivete. It is sober-minded, truth-informed hope.
Cynicism. It’s now in the air we breathe, the thoughts we indulge, the words we whisper, the comments we post.
Is this really avoidable, though? There’s so much to be disillusioned about, after all, and we’ve been let down countless times. No wonder we’re here—donning emotional Kevlar, trying to shield ourselves from yet another encounter with broken trust.
Cynicism has become so ubiquitous that when we want to ask a genuine question, we feel we must preface it with the words, “Genuine question…” Ever noticed that? As if insincerity is the norm and we must signal, “Okay, please take this one seriously.”
We don’t trust media outlets. We don’t trust politicians. We don’t trust institutions. We don’t trust authorities. Suffice it to say, we are in a crisis of trust.
Crisis of Trust
At this point, you may expect a finger-wagging tsk tsk, but that would be woefully simplistic and unhelpful because, well, let’s face it: our cynicism is often vindicated. Many media outlets are one-sided; many politicians do deceive; and many authorities, including “Christian” ones, should not be trusted. Simply because someone appears to be worth trusting from a distance does not always make trust easy or wise.
Nevertheless, the New Testament’s most famous chapter crashes into our disillusionment with a challenge. No, not about marriage—1 Corinthians 13 isn’t in our Bibles because Paul misfiled an old wedding sermon. He’s in the midst of a pastoral rebuke. The “love chapter,” it turns out, is designed not to make a starry-eyed couple feel gooey but to make a divided church feel ashamed.
Before homing in on a particular phrase—“love…hopes all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7)—we should note something about the descriptions of love in the immediate context (vv. 4–7). In order to embody the majority of these descriptions, someone must hurt you first. To be a forgiven sinner is to be tethered—or to use the language of church membership, joined—to other forgiven sinners whom you are called to love (1 Corinthians 12:12–27). And this calling will be hard, the labor of a lifetime. In fact, it’s precisely when it’s hard that obedience to the love chapter truly begins.
Ready to Cheer
“Love hopes all things” is not a summons to be gullible or naive. Again, there is such a thing as shattered trust, and it can be wise in certain situations to keep one’s distance from certain people. In general, though, Paul’s words are stubborn in their insistence that Christian love find expression in treating people better than they deserve—beginning with our assumptions and expectations.
A mature believer is someone who excels in encouragement, in giving the benefit of the doubt, in being hard to offend and easy to please. The posture of Christian love is not skeptical—shoulders back, arms crossed, watching for failure. Instead, it leans in, arms open and ready to cheer, eager to see a fellow believer succeed.
And the reason such hopefulness is possible isn’t because we trust Christians; it’s because we trust the One who indwells them. Paul has already insisted that Spirit-filled people—that is, ordinary believers—are able to discern spiritual truth and even judge “all things,” for they have “the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:14–16). The apostle John reasons along similar lines:
You have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge. I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it…The anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. (1 John 2:20–21, 27)
The language here is striking and strange, and much could be said. But one thing must not be lost on us: the apostles did not share our skepticism toward other believers. They understood, rather, that residing within every ordinary, hard-to-love Christian is an infinite reservoir of life-transforming power. His name is God the Holy Spirit. He is the difference-maker.