By St. John Chrysostom
(From Homily 33 on 1 Corinthians)
1 Corinthians 13:8
"Love never fails."
What means, "never fails?" It is not severed, is not dissolved by endurance. For it puts up with everything, since whatever happens will happen, he that loves never can hate. This then is the greatest of its excellencies.
Such a person was Paul. Wherefore also he said, "If by any means I may provoke to emulation them which are my flesh" (Romans 11:14); and he continued hoping. And to Timothy he gave a charge, saying, "And the Lord's servant must not strive, but be gentle towards all ... in meekness correcting those that oppose themselves, if God perhaps may give them the knowledge of the truth" (2 Timothy 2:24-25).
"What then," says one, "if they be enemies and heathens, must one hate them?" One must hate, not them but their doctrine; not the man, but the wicked conduct, the corrupt mind. For the man is God's work, but the deceit is the devil's work. Do not therefore confound the things of God and the things of the devil. Since the Jews were both blasphemers, and persecutors, and injurious, and spoke ten thousand evil things of Christ. Did Paul then hate them, he who of all men most loved Christ? In no wise, but he both loved them, and did everything for their sakes. And at one time he says, "My heart's desire and my supplication to God is for them that they may be saved" (Romans 10:1); and at another, "I could wish that myself were anathema from Christ for their sakes" (Romans 9:3). Thus also Ezekiel seeing them slain says, "Alas, O Lord, will You blot out the remnant of Israel?" (Ezekiel 9:8). And Moses, "If You will forgive their sin, do forgive" (Exodus 32:32).
Why then does David say, "Do not I hate them, O Lord, that hate You, and against Your enemies did I not pine away? I hate them with perfect hatred" (Psalm 139:21-22).
Now, in the first place, not all things spoken in the Psalms by David, are spoken in the person of David. For it is he himself who says, "I have dwelt in the tents of Kedar" (Psalm 120:5); and, "By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept" (Psalm 137:1); yet he neither saw Babylon, nor the tents of Kedar.
But besides this, we require now a more complete self-command. Wherefore also when the disciples besought that fire might come down, even as in the case of Elijah, "You know not," says Christ, "what manner of spirit you are of" (Luke 9:55). For at that time not the ungodliness only, but also the ungodly themselves, they were commanded to hate, in order that their friendship might not prove an occasion of transgression unto them. Therefore he severed their connections, both by blood and marriage, and on every side he fenced them off.
But now because he has brought us to a more entire self-command and set us high above that mischief, he bids us rather to admit and soothe them. For we get no harm from them, but they get good by us. What then does he say? We must not hate, but pity. Since if you shall hate, how will you easily convert him that is in error? How will you pray for the unbeliever? For that one ought to pray, hear what Paul says: "I exhort therefore, first of all, that supplications, prayers, intercessions, thanksgivings be made for all men" (1 Timothy 2:1). But that all were not then believers, is, I suppose, evident unto everyone. And again, "for kings and all that are in high places." But that these were ungodly and transgressors, this also is equally manifest. Further, mentioning also the reason for the prayer, he adds, "for this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior; who wills that all men should be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth." Therefore, if he find a Gentile wife consorting with a believer, he dissolves not the marriage. Yet what is more closely joined than a man to his wife? "For the two shall be one flesh" (Genesis 2:24), and great in that instance is the charm, and ardent the desire. But if we are to hate ungodly and lawless men, we shall go on to hate also sinners; and thus in regular process you will be broken off from the most, even of your brethren, or rather from all, for there is not one, no, not one, without sin. For if it be our duty to hate the enemies of God, one must not hate the ungodly only, but also sinners, and thus we shall be worse than wild beasts, shunning all, and puffed up with pride, even as that Pharisee (cf. Luke 18:9-14). But not thus did Paul command us, but how? "Admonish the disorderly, encourage the faint-hearted, support the weak, be long suffering toward all" (1 Thessalonians 5:14).
What then does he mean when he says, "If any obeys not our word by this epistle, note that man, that you have no company with him?" (2 Thessalonians 3:14). In the first place, he says this of brethren, however not even so without limitation, but this too with gentleness. For do not cut off what follows, but subjoin also the next clause: how, having said, "keep no company," he added, "yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother." Do you see how he bade us hate the deed that is evil, and not the man? For indeed it is the work of the devil to tear us asunder from one another, and he has ever used great diligence to take away love that he may cut off the way of correction, and may retain him in error and you in enmity, and thus block up the way of his salvation. For when both the physician hates the sick man and flies from him, and the sick man turns away from the physician, when will the distempered person be restored, seeing that neither the one will call in the other's aid, nor will the other go to him?
But wherefore, tell me, do you at all turn away from him and avoid him? Because he is ungodly? Truly for this cause ought you to welcome and attend him, that you may raise him up in his sickness. But if he be incurably sick, still you have been bidden to do your part. Since Judas also was incurably diseased, yet God left not off attending upon him. Wherefore, neither do you grow weary. For even if after much labor you fail to deliver him from his ungodliness, yet shall you receive the deliverer's reward, and will cause him to wonder at your gentleness, and so all this praise will pass on to God. For though you should work wonders, and raise the dead, and whatsoever work you do, the heathen will never wonder at you so much, as when they see you displaying a meek, gentle, mild disposition. And this is no small achievement, since many will even be entirely delivered from their evil way; there being nothing that has such power to allure men as love. For in respect of the former they will rather be jealous of you, I mean the signs and wonders; but for this they will both admire and love you. And if they love, they will also lay hold of the truth in due course. If however he become not all at once a believer, wonder not nor hurry on, neither require all things at once, but suffer him for the present to praise, and love, and unto this in due course he will come.
And that you may clearly know how great a thing this is, hear how even Paul, going before an unbelieving judge, made his defense. "I consider myself blessed," says he, "that I am to make my defense before you" (Acts 26:2). And these things he said, not to flatter him, far from it; but wishing to gain him by his gentleness. And he did in part gain him, and he that was till then considered to be condemned took captive his judge, and the victory is confessed by the person himself who was made captive, with a loud voice in the presence of all, saying, "With but little persuasion you would make me a Christian" (Acts 26:28-29). What then says Paul? He spread his net the wider, and says, "I would to God, that not only you, but also all that hear me this day, might become such as I am, except these chains." Why do you say, O Paul, "except these chains?" And what confidence remains for you, if you are ashamed of these things, and flee from them, and this before so great a multitude? Do you not everywhere in your Epistles boast of this matter, and call yourself a prisoner? Do you not everywhere carry about this chain in our sight as a diadem? What then has happened now that you deprecate these chains? "I myself deprecate them not," says he, "nor am I ashamed of them, but I condescend to their weakness. For they are not yet able to receive my glorying; and I have learned from my Lord not to put 'a piece of undressed cloth upon an old garment' (Matthew 9:16). Therefore did I thus speak. For, in fact, unto this time they have heard ill reports of our doctrine, and abhor the cross. If therefore I should add also chains, their hatred becomes greater; I removed these, therefore, that the other might be made acceptable. So it is, that to them it seems disgraceful to be bound, because they have not as yet tasted of the glory which is with us. One must therefore condescend, and when they shall have learned of the true life, then will they know the beauty also of this iron, and the luster which comes of these bonds." Furthermore, discoursing with others, he even calls the thing a free gift, saying, "It has been granted in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer in His behalf" (Philippians 1:29). But for the time then present, it was a great thing for the hearers not to be ashamed of the cross, for which cause he goes on gradually. Thus, neither does anyone introducing a person to a palace, before that he beholds the vestibule, compel him, yet standing without, to survey what is within, since in that way it will not even seem admirable, unless one enter in and so acquaint one's self with all.
So then let us also deal with the heathens: with condescension, with love. For love is a great teacher, and able both to withdraw men from error, and to reform the character, and to lead them by the hand unto self-denial, and out of stones to make men.