Given the propensity of the human heart to devise and carry out sin, it is important that we understand how Christian love confronts evil. In today’s passage, Paul gives us an understanding of how we are to view the evil done by others, as well as by ourselves.
First of all, love does not assume the worst about other people. First Corinthians 13:5 tells us love “is not irritable or resentful.” This phrase is translated as love “thinks no evil” in other translations, including the New King James Version, and is basically informing us that love does not jump to conclusions about the heart of another person. Instead, love leads us to assume the best about another’s intentions. When we do not do this, we can become resentful, assuming evil motivations even if they are not present.
When we say love thinks no evil, we mean that a loving person does not focus his attention on the wrong others do to him. Love recognizes that only God knows the hearts of people. It does not hastily assume sinister intents lie behind another’s actions.
There is an important qualification, however. While love thinks the best of others, it is not naive. We are also called to be discerning. If we have strong evidence of evil we must act accordingly. Yet as we do this, we must be careful to be as impartial as possible in our evaluations of other people.
Otherwise, we run the risk of rejoicing in wrongdoing, something Christian love will never do (v. 6). When we quickly assume ill of others, we invite the temptation to gossip and slander. The human heart loves to hear salacious stories. At times, many of us take a perverse delight in the recounting of another’s sin or assumed motivations. In doing so, we rejoice in evil — not in the truth.
Finally, we must all be wary lest we find joy not only in gossip and slander but also in the very act of sin itself. Romans 1:26–32 warns us that the rebellious heart indulges in all kinds of sin and will even give approval to acts known to be evil. If we are not careful to avoid evil, God may turn us over to this sin, and we might find ourselves with a seared conscience approving of wickedness.
It is interesting that in addition to some of what we might consider the more “vile” sins in the above passage from Romans, Paul also lists gossip and slander (vv. 29–30). Unfortunately, these sins seem to be some of the most common sins plaguing people in the church. Do you rejoice in hearing unsubstantiated rumors about others, especially church leaders? If you have besmirched another’s reputation through gossip, do what you can to restore it.