What does it mean that “love trusts all things,” as 1 Corinthians 13:7 says? How do we show an appropriate level of trust in others, and when are the times we shouldn’t? Listen as Alasdair Groves discusses what it means that “love always trusts.”
Hi, my name is Alasdair Groves and I’m the host of Where Life and Scripture Meet, a podcast of CCEF, the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation, where our mission is to restore Christ to counseling, and counseling to the church.
What I'd like to get into today is a particular verse that I've watched cause significant challenges for people over the years. In fact, it's actually really a specific phrase and a specific verse. And it's from 1 Corinthians, chapter 13. And it's the verse where Paul says that, most of you know 1 Corinthians 13. But in case you're not familiar, it's the passage about love. And Paul reflecting in really cool, and poetic, and extended fashion about what love is, and how it works and how love operates. And among the many things he says is that love always trusts. Or love believes all things. So “always trusts” is the NIV translation; “believes all things” is the ESV translation. But this core idea of love giving credence in a pretty sweeping, pretty universal always kind of way. And I've just seen this particular verse be a stumbling block for people, particularly in friendships or in marriages, after there's been some kind of breach of trust. Or some kind of breaking of trust, or hard things that's happened between two people. Because people feel like, I don't feel like I can trust this person. I don't feel like I should trust this person, but I feel like I'm commanded to. If love always trusts, then the fact that I'm not trusting this person feels like I'm sinning. I'm running counter to what the Lord has commanded me. So I end up in this weird situation, and I don't think I've ever had anyone quite put it in exactly these words. But the way I would frame what I've watched people wrestle with is I feel like, on the one hand I have scripture commending wisdom to me, which would pretty strongly say, I don't feel like I should trust this person. Or at least in this particular area, I don't feel like I can trust this person given their track record. But B, I have a command to trust them. If I am really going to say I love, if I'm really going to follow Jesus and obey him, then I have to completely restore trust to this person. And I feel caught in the tension of that. I feel caught between these two things. So I just wanted to explore that tension, and suggest a way forward for people who have found themselves caught in that particular trap. And maybe this isn't a place you've ever particularly struggled. But I think even if it's not a particular place you've ever been stymied as you've tried to live out scripture and faithfulness, I think just some reflection on how does trust work? What does it mean to trust another human being on this planet given that we're sinners? Given that life isn't perfect, given that we are not omnipotent or omniscient. How can we think about a biblical view of trusting each other?
So let me start with a little thought experiment here. Let's say you are a parent, and let's say you have a two-year-old, two-and-a-half-year-old child. Is it possible to say from a human perspective that you love your child? Yes, in fact, it is. I'm happy to say people really can love each other. You can love your two-year-old, dearly and deeply. Not perfectly, the way that God loves us. None of us are perfect. Our love is never perfect. But you can really and truly, in a God-honoring, God-reflecting way, love a little two-and-a-half-year-old rascal that he has put into your life. Now, you love this child. You love your child. Would you leave that child alone in a room for five minutes with a big plate of cookies on the floor right before dinner, and trust that they would not spoil their dinner? What if you even had gone so far as to tell that child, "Now, don't eat the cookies." And then you walk out of the room. What level of trust and confidence should you have in that little person not to eat the cookies?
Well, some of you are parents, or aunts and uncles, or have worked in childcare situations and babysat. Or really, anyone who's ever spent more than about 10 minutes with a two-year-old can tell you that your level of confidence should be right in the neighborhood of zero. There are very few two-year-olds in the history of the planet who would not help themselves to a cookie, even if directly and explicitly told not to when left by themselves with a plate right there on the floor where they can easily access it.
Now here is the question of this admittedly somewhat high-handed thought experiment. Can you say at the same time, I love my child and I would not trust my child alone with a plate of cookies unsupervised? My answer to you is yes, I do think you can. I think that those statements can absolutely go together. And there ought to be a way to speak about loving someone without giving a foolish, ridiculous level of trust that you can be extremely confident that of course they're going to violate that trust. Of course they're not going to do the thing you're trusting them to do. Which leads us then straight back into the tension. Okay, but what do we do then with a passage in 1 Corinthians 13 talking about this need to believe? And love really trusting?
Well, I'm going to get there in a second. But let me just, before we get into the weeds on thinking about how we can understand that passage in a way that's faithful to the breadth of scripture, let's just along the way, notice one or two other things. First off, John chapter two. And different translations put it differently. But at the end of John chapter two, there's this interesting scene where Jesus is, he's being introduced to the ministry. And we've had the temple cleansing, we've had the wine turned into water. Excuse me, the water turned into wine episode. And so people are taking notice of this new figure who’s come on the scene. And there’s questions about him, and there’s concerns about him. And it says, “But Jesus did not entrust himself to them.” He did not trust himself, did not trust them with sharing about himself the fullness of his mission, all the information. We don’t even know fully, exactly all that’s probably intended by that phrase, he did not entrust himself. But the point is, here’s Jesus not trusting these people who are part of the very group he loved so much that he came to save.
Then you have the apostle Paul in various places speaking about not trusting people around him. And he flees out the side of a city, being let down in a basket from a window at one point. Not trusting people. Love your enemies, is fundamental to Jesus' teaching and Paul certainly is going to live that out. But he doesn't trust those enemies not to kill him, and he hides and gets away. And in fact, you even have this episode where Paul has a sharp disagreement over the question of whether John Mark should come on their next missionary journey. And Paul says, "I," essentially, "Don't trust him to come with us. Because the last time he came with us, he left. And he abandoned us, and he isn't trustworthy to stay the course with us on this kind of thing.” Because of the level of the suffering and the persecution, or whatever it was that drove him away. Again, we don't have a lot of detail about the situation. But here's Paul. Clearly someone he has shared a missionary journey with. He's not saying I hate this guy, but he isn't trusting him to come along on a further missionary journey. So here are even Jesus and Paul, the author of the words in 1 Corinthians 13, doing a wise, appropriate level of trust. So whatever Paul means by saying love always trust, love believes all things, it doesn't seem to mean what the people who get stuck here have taken it to mean.
What does it mean? What can we say? Well, I want to be careful in offering too sweeping of a conclusion. I suspect there is a great deal more in this passage than I have yet been able to see. But let me offer at least this one bit of trying to make sense, again, of a richly and fully biblical picture. Of what Paul is trying to get at when he talks about love hoping all things, trusting all things, believing all things, enduring all things in that passage. I think maybe the place to start is being reminded that the only person we can fully trust is the Lord himself. Only the Lord is deserving of full, utter trust. To always be good, to always be the same. The same yesterday, today, and forever. We have a God we can trust 100% in every situation to be who he says he will be. And in fact, who he says he will be is utterly trustworthy and good. There is no situation where we can't trust him.
And as such, that means we can perfectly, truly, fully, always in every situation, trust and believe whatever he is up to in another person. Whatever he's up to in our own lives. Whatever God is doing in another human being, we can trust. Always, in every situation. We can believe that God is up to good in the people around us. Does that mean everything they do is good? No, of course not. Does it mean God is working his good and mysterious, and complex, and difficult-to-understand ways? And they're still sinning, but they are growing if the Holy Spirit is dwelling with them. So there there's this complex mix of, okay, you're a sinner. You have feebleness and weaknesses that aren't sinful, they're just, you're two. I don't trust you to preach a deep theological sermon. You don't have that capacity. There's nothing sinful about not being able to preach a deep theological sermon. That's simply a capacity level. Could be life experience, could be cognitive abilities, could be public speaking abilities, right? There's a whole number of things where we would say, okay, what the Lord is up to in this person is what we can and should trust. And I think that's really at the center of what's going on here. Is we love the Lord, we love people because he has loved us. We love others as a response of gratitude, and joy, and thankfulness for a God who has loved us. And worked in us. And we can trust him, again, whether it's in the simple, more common grace image-bearing capacity of what he has done in others, or where the spirit of God is actually at work renewing and restoring, has regenerated someone unto life and opened their eyes to their own sins and to his lordship. We can trust these things. We can trust the fruit of the spirit, which grows slowly over time in all of us whom the Lord has drawn to himself.
Now, I'm not saying that everybody matures. But we watch people mature and we watch people spiral downward. We watch Christians grow more deeply into the things of the spirit, and we watch people have some sort of initial flash in the pan of faith, or an initial season where they seem to be running in good paths and then it seems to dwindle. So all we can do is say, what do I see that the Lord seems to be up to? As far as I can tell, what is happening that the Lord is doing in this life? And so we're making judgment calls about trust based on what we see the Lord being up to in another person.
And the real trick here, the place where I think Paul is especially pushing us. I mean in one sense, trust the Lord for what he's up to. That's challenging, but that's not an especially challenging or difficult or novel thing for scripture to say, or for 1 Corinthians 13 to lay out. What is especially difficult though, is there is a temptation to withhold trust. And to try to keep ourselves safe by not trusting things that actually are trustworthy. By not giving trust to what God has done. By not giving someone the opportunity to demonstrate growth, to demonstrate a new and deeper maturity. Not giving a chance to demonstrate repentance, and so on and so forth. There's going to be a temptation for us to hold back, to seize control of the world by saying, yes, I won't trust anyone. Now, sometimes that's because I've been burned in the past in these kinds of situations, and I'm not going to let myself ever have that happen again. Even if I'm now in a different situation with different people. And actually there's a trustworthiness to the community I'm in now that wasn't true when I got burned earlier.
Or it could be even with the same specific person. Of, here's a person who failed in a certain way, but who really has demonstrated a different path since. But I'm not going to trust them because hurt wants, and the way to stay safe is to cut myself off from other people and not to give trust. And ultimately, a true and utter distrust of everyone is a guarantee of complete relational isolation. So trust is necessary for any kind of relationship to exist. Even stranger on the street and asking them for directions, back when people still did such things. I mean now with our phones, we really hardly ever have that interaction. I guess I'm realizing as I say that. But point being, a simple 30-second interaction with someone you've never met before and will never see again, there's some level of trust of that this person is a reasonable person, and that they're not out to get me, and that we can have an interaction where I'm trusting them to have a small level of my best interest at heart as just a fellow human being, and common courtesy being something they would be interested in.
So long story short, we want to trust what God is up to. We want to trust in ways that make sense, and we want to be willing to open ourselves. And to trust at all is indeed to make yourself vulnerable. And ultimately, the way I would say it is, the reason love always hopes, love always trusts, always believes, is because we can really trust our God to be up to good things in the sinners around us and in the sinner who is us. So trusting God fully includes trusting what he is up to in the mixed bag process of living it out with other people. And it is right to trust, in an appropriate way, what is trustworthy. It is right to have an appropriate trust. You can love your two-year-old and not trust them with a plate of cookies. But you might trust them to obey if you were sitting there and the cookies were up on the thing and you said, "We're going to have these after dinner. If you eat enough dinner, you can have a cookie." And the cookies are out on the counter, and you might trust them enough to not put them locked in their highchair because you don't trust them to not climb up on the counter and just grab them. So trust is not all or nothing. Trust is something built over time, and that's even true between us and the Lord. He deserves our full trust immediately from the moment that we can open our eyes. And it's a lifelong struggle for all of us to place a deeper, and deeper, and deeper experience of and weight of trust in his hands. And that's something he's incredibly patient with us about, even though that's us not trusting him in the way that is trustworthy in him.
Let me make one last extremely important comment here. Because what I'm saying is true in the broad strokes everywhere, but where it especially gets tricky, and when people especially bump into the challenge of this particular question, it's usually because a bridge has been burned quite badly. Trust has been broken quite badly. And particularly, when the question of forgiveness gets involved ... I'm called to forgive as Christ has forgiven me, which is utterly and completely, to recognize there's actually a difference between forgiving and rebuilding trust. So we are called to forgiveness, and that in of itself can be quite challenging, complicated, extended process, right? Forgiveness is not this easy little checkbox of like, okay, yeah, you need to forgive that terrible thing that happened against you. True forgiveness can be an extremely difficult process. Both a difficult first moment, and a difficult walking it out. And that's another podcast for another day on forgiveness.
But just because you have struggled through to forgive somebody does not mean that you are wise to trust them, or that you are commanded to trust them. Rebuilding of trust is looking at, what has God been up to? What have I seen? Where is the track record, given credence to the fact that the Lord has actually helped this person who's badly broken trust with me move in a different way. So especially where a break of trust has been grievous, we do not rebuild trust overnight. One tearful apology does not allow you to restore full trust. You should not restore full trust just because there's been one apology, no matter how great the apology is. There just hasn't been enough time to pass, to restore a fullness of trust, or even a significant amount of trust.
The only way to build trust, the only way to wisely, rightly, give further and further trust to another person is for that person to demonstrate over time that they are walking in a trustworthy way. That what God is doing in them, that their ability to care about the right things, and to value relationships and to behave in ways that are appropriate, and upright and good. Again, if we're talking about Christians here, we want to see a deepening fruit of the spirit. If we're talking about non-Christians here, we're at least looking for mitigation of problematic, trust-breaking behaviors. We're talking about walking in a different way where they say, okay, the consequences of what I went through are enough, at least, to show me I don't want those consequences again. I'm going to walk in a different way. So we're looking, over time, to have something demonstrated, which is God's kindness. Because people really can change. And we want to be people who are rooting for trustworthiness to grow. Rooting for trust to be restored. Because you won't always get to restore trust much or at all. There'll be situations where trust is broken and the person doubles down and they lock down. They don't change, they don't see it, they don't own it. They won't walk a different path, and you cannot restore trust in that situation. That is not what Paul is calling us to in 1 Corinthians 13. What he is calling for us to do is to pray for, and root for, and deeply desire to be able to trust people, even those who have hurt us, because of the good work of God in their lives. Because they would be and demonstrate a trustworthiness that actually would make some level of trust, a growing level of trust over time, the right wise, appropriate, loving response.
This is hard stuff, especially if you have been in a situation where this question has been front and center for you. This is incredibly difficult. So let me just take this moment to pray, for you and for all of us, that we would grow in trusting the Lord and grow in trusting his work in our lives and the lives of those around us.
Oh Lord God, we come just asking your help. Asking that you would help us to trust you. That we would obey you in all things, because we really can trust that you are good, and you're going to meet us there. And you're going to provide and care for us. And when things totally fall apart, even when we've obeyed to the best of our ability, that that's not a sign that obeying you doesn't work. It's a sign that you are up to things greater than things being easy, or going the way we hope. Lord, I'm so thankful that we can trust you in all things. Would you help us to trust each other in ways that are fitting? To be fans of each other, to desire deeply that we would grow in trustworthiness. That we ourselves would aspire to be more trustworthy, that we would become more faithful, more true, more righteous and upright and upstanding, and the kind of person you would want in your life. May we be that friend, that neighbor, that brother, that sister, that coworker. God, will you make us those people, and will you help us to trust in ways that are fitting, to extend that to each other in ways that are full of love and of hope, and of willingness to endure hard things? Because we want to be more deeply connected. We want to move toward each other, and in doing so, honor and worship and entrust ourselves to you. We pray this in your name. Amen.
Alasdair is the Executive Director of CCEF, as well as a faculty member and counselor. He has served at CCEF since 2009. He holds a master of divinity with an emphasis in counseling from Westminster Theological Seminary. Alasdair cofounded CCEF New England, where he served as director for ten years. He also served as the director of CCEF’s School of Biblical Counseling for three years. He is the host of CCEF’s podcast, Where Life & Scripture Meet, and is the coauthor of Untangling Emotions (Crossway, 2019).