Learning to Love (I Corinthians 13), Part 10

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Does Not Delight in Evil.

Love “does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth,” claims the author of I Corinthians 13—the Bible’s love chapter. We innately know the essential component of love is its complete absence of evil. We affirm that statement so easily. Perhaps we can skip over this phrase, ticking off the little box as completed—accomplished!

But the words insist we stay a moment. We need to delve a little deeper. There is something here for us and we must not to sweep it away as peripheral, inconsequential and irrelevant. The inspired words are giving us a glimpse into the inner workings of the human heart—your heart and mine. By now we are aware that words inspired by God, if understood correctly, cut to the quick. They penetrate into hearts and have a habit of revealing thoughts and attitudes we thought were well hidden.

Surprisingly, the key word in this phrase is not evil. That comes eventually. First, the author wants us to look at delighting, at the human heart, its role and purpose and its set point. Our heart is not only capable of delighting; its primary task is to delight. It must absorb the glories of something outside itself that is good and expand with the resulting joy, or else be in bondage to something—even itself—that is not worthy of its worship, and finally shrivel and die.

To be delighted is to be entranced, enthralled and enchanted. It is to be riveted, transfixed and mesmerized. Look at those words again. Do you see what they are all doing? They are holding the heart in a sort of bondage. They do not offer the heart options; they demand the delight response. We become captivated by something and try as we might, we cannot escape. It may have started out as a first look, our attention caught by something interesting, but soon the attraction becomes irresistible. We have begun to delight in it.

Create a list of things that enthrall. The list is endless. To determine what it is that delights us, we simply need to ask ourselves, “What is it I cannot live without, or will be angry with God if it is taken away?” These things may not be evil in themselves, but they do hold sway over our thoughts, emotions, and even our actions.

Now we need to come to the word evil. How do we determine whether the things that delight us are evil or good? The Bible often uses words like wicked to describe people captivated by evil, and like righteous to describe those captivated by good. Even the terms righteous and wicked, though, come with some baggage, some incomplete or faulty impressions. The author of the very first Psalm gives us some insight on how we can determine good and evil, where our heart’s delight lies, and how to rectify the situation if the news is bad.

“…(Y)ou thrill to God’s Word,” explains the author of Psalm 1, describing those captivated by God and everything about Him, “you chew on Scripture day and night. You’re a tree replanted in Eden, bearing fresh fruit every month, never dropping a leaf, always in blossom. You’re not at all like the wicked, who are mere windblown dust—”

Author Timothy Keller looks at it from another angle. “The righteous,” he explains, “are by definition those who are willing to disadvantage themselves for the community while the wicked are those who put their economic, social, and personal needs ahead of the needs of the community.” Good and evil, Keller continues, “is inevitably ‘social’, because it is all about relationships.”

Relationship with God is number one. Growing within that relationship requires absorbing everything He reveals about Himself in His Word, communicating with Him in prayer and living in line with that truth. Relationship with the people He created in His image is number two. Reaching out to them with as if we are the hands and feet of Jesus keeps those relationships in perspective. When we focus our primary delight on God and our secondary delight on people, we will find ourselves protected from being in bondage to the delight of evil. We will be safeguarded from the shriveling, minimizing effects of placing our delight in lesser things and becoming like them—nothing more than windblown dust.

The stakes are high. We can ride the wave of any delight that rolls our way and discover that love escapes us in the end, or we can delight in God Himself and in His magnificent love for us. One deceives and the other is truth. One destroys, while the other recreates ever-expanding truly human beings. One is loneliness and one is true community. Come and delight in the God who is love.

(Photo Credit: Retrieved from https://www.google.ca/search?safe=strict&biw=1920&bih=868&tbm=isch&sa=1&ei=PNU_WvT6F-Oe0wLDv4mgDw&q=apple+trees&oq=apple+trees&gs_l=psy-ab.1.0.0i67k1j0l2j0i67k1j0l6.3443.4452.0.6727.5.5.0.0.0.0.73.324.5.5.0….0…1c.1.64.psy-ab..0.5.322…0i7i30k1j0i13k1.0.HDgX1M7A0OU#imgrc=Ld7j-xZD1ckMrM:)

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Learning to Love (I Corinthians 13), Part 9

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Keeps No Record of Wrongs.

Have you ever wondered how many criminal records exist worldwide? It would be an all-consuming occupation keeping tabs on all those cases, the many individuals who have been guilty of a spectrum of misdeeds over the years. Those records of wrongs remind us of the impact wrongs have had on society.

They speak to us of justice. Justice says that when one commits a wrong—serious enough to affect society negatively—there must be compensation that brings restitution to the victim, that perhaps punishes the perpetrator, and that hopefully acts as a deterrent to future wrong behaviour. Records of wrongs are a necessary part of our complex society, but necessary as they may be, they can be an evil too; they can cause undue hardship to individuals who have long since paid for their errors.

So when the writer of I Corinthians 13—the love chapter of the Bible—explains that love “keeps no record of wrongs” we may experience a variety of reactions. If we have been victims of wrongs done to us, our sense of justice rises up and demands “Not fair! Wrongdoing must have its consequences!” If we have been the perpetrator of wrongs, our sense of relief whispers “Whew—that was close!” And if we reject the concept of right and wrong, the whole notion of justice repels us as “an archaic concept put to rest at last!” But this insistence that love keeps no record of wrongs is much more complex than the variety of human responses to it. This affirmation reveals something about God Himself.

Two descriptors of God go uncontested by anyone who accepts the Bible as the revealed Word of God: that God is love, and that God is just. Psalm 103 combines these two great truths in several verses.

“The LORD works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed…” and “…The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.” There they are, justice and love. But look a little further. The psalmist goes on to say, “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” What has happened here? God is extolled as loving, but what happened to justice? Can He just ignore transgressions, wrongs, and criminal offenses—removing them as far as the east is from the west? Can the murderer get off scott-free?

This is the place where we must come if we want to understand how love “keeps no record of wrongs.” This is as complex as the concept of ethics gets. God is not white-washing anything, but neither does He imagine any of us are capable of living perfect lives—even if it is the standard which He has imprinted upon our hearts. God solves the dilemma of both complete love and complete justice by incarnating Himself as a human; He arrives uniquely, He lives perfectly, and He dies a ransoming, redemptive death for all other humans. The record of wrongs we humans have acquired is destroyed in one fell swoop by a debt-paying exchange only God Himself could accomplish.

So when we read in I Corinthians 13 verse 5 “(love) keeps no record of wrongs,” let’s not imagine this is something we can accomplish in its grand fullness. It’s too big. It’s too impossible for mere humans like us. This is talking about Jesus! In fact, it’s all talking about Him. Jesus is patient, Jesus is kind. Jesus does not envy, does not boast, is not proud. Jesus is not rude, is not self-seeking, and is not easily angered. Only Jesus keeps no record of wrongs. Now we see what is being said here to the Corinthians. Jesus is the truest expression of love a human can have. We ourselves are so far from reaching that standard. And yet, He is gracious and calls us to come to Him, worship Him as our Redeemer and King, and invite Him to work His transforming work in us today. He promises those who submit to Him in this life that in the next life—for eternity—we will finally be like Him, able to keep no record of wrongs, able to truly love.

Today, our task is simple: We must live in community with others, treating them as if they had never done a single wrong. We must see our co-workers and family members, our bosses and local panhandlers as image-bearers of God Himself. We must treat each and every person on this planet with the dignity every human deserves. We may not agree with them, but honouring them does not signify concurring with their beliefs or behaviours. That is exactly how Jesus treats each of us—with dignity and respect. Loving like this is difficult—even impossible on our own, but we are not alone. Jesus is present and loves to work through us to love others, because we have much more to do today than keep records of wrongs.

Learning to Love (I Corinthians 13), Part 8

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Is not Easily Angered.

We have read so far that “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not self-seeking…” Now we add “it is not easily angered.” It’s no surprise that the description of love as “not easily angered” falls close on the heels of “not self-seeking.” Anger is a close relative of the self-seeking behaviours.

From toddlerhood each of us develops extensive and creative systems for our own self-defense; its first expression is inevitably in the angry use of the word “No!” wielded with great authority from lips little more than novices in their own mother tongue. We learn early to defend our own self-determined plans and before long become masters at the task.

Self-defense—and by this I do not mean primarily physical protection of one’s self—is necessary when there is no one outside of ourselves to whom we can entrust the job of protection. If I see myself as the primary person responsible for guarding and fortifying the value of me (my ideas, my hopes and my dreams), I must practice self-defense. I must build certain walls and barriers to protect my vulnerabilities from being discovered, and my plans from being hindered. And in some cases, when my defense warning system is deployed, a weapon must be wielded to ensure self-protection—I give vent to unmitigated anger.

“For many,” observes C.S. Lewis, “the great obstacle to (love) lies … in our fear—fear of insecurity.” We may not consciously admit it to ourselves, but we are afraid for our very lives and we’re scrabbling to cover that fear with bluster.

The Biblical directives toward restraining anger are not external and superficial fixes. They are not commands to control our rage on the outside, while we continue to seethe and smolder or shake and shiver within. They get to the root of the problem, to our inner need to solve the problem of our insecurity. Let’s be ruthlessly honest: none of us is capable of loving like this chapter in I Corinthians suggests. We are rightfully insecure to recognize how little capable of loving (not to mention living rightly) we truly are.

Jesus once explained to a couple of disconsolate travelers that Scripture is not a list of dos and don’ts. It is not quick fixes or fake smiles. Scripture is all about Himself, Jesus—it’s a picture of Him coming into our sad human condition and offering us something we can never create for ourselves. He is the great Rock and Shield who alone can defend and protect our inner selves. He gave the Emmaus Road travelers example after example, and the revelation opened their eyes and ears.

“Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” they asked each other afterward in awe. This was not the burning of anger but the warmth and energy of Christ’s loving Spirit entering into their hearts and minds and souls. This was the great ‘ah hah’ moment; they finally understood that Christ was moving through history to ensure He would—in God’s perfect timing—die for all humanity to rescue us all from our great insecurity, and then rise to lead us to everlasting life.

Jesus is perfect love. He initiates loving us, and if we receive His overtures, we find ourselves dropping our guard and finding true inner rest. The events or persons or situations that used to anger us now fall more and more under the influence and authority of Jesus, our Protector.

So once more we find Jesus to be relevant to life. No more hiding behind ramparts, shooting angry darts at others and causing chaos all round. When we come to Jesus for love, we gradually learn to recklessly love others without defending ourselves. No need for anger. Anger never worked anyways.

(Photo Credit: By Darren Shilson from St Stephen, UK, United Kingdom (Pendennis Castle B+W Uploaded by oxyman) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons)

Learning to Love (I Corinthians 13), Part 7

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Is not Self-seeking.

Nothing is more natural to us than to look out for ourselves. We do it all the time, and sometimes it is even good for us. We prepare our meals keeping our fingers away from the sharp edge of the knife; we look both ways before crossing the street; we don warm clothes in winter and sunblock in summer. But paradoxically, nothing is more of an obstacle, barrier, and impediment to love than looking out for ourselves.

The writer of I Corinthians 13 has been scrutinizing the notion of love. He has been examining, defining, and virtually dissecting every facet of love for those who care to listen. The ancient text was written specifically to new believers in the Greek city of Corinth (c. A.D. 56), but also to “all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours.” He wants people to understand some hard lessons about love.

He has started by explaining that love is patient and kind, that it does not envy or boast, and that it is not proud or rude. Those were the kindergarten and elementary lessons on love. We need to work on those, but they are child’s play compared to what’s coming. Now the Apostle Paul propels us into graduate-level course work. Enough of the easy stuff; it’s time, he seems to suggest, to get down to the real labour of love—the nitty-gritty, ‘get your hands dirty or get out of the garden’ kind of love.

“Love…” Paul explains, “is not self-seeking.”

Adjectives for self-seeking are: self-esteeming, self-interested, self-important, self-serving, self-centred, self-absorbed, and self-obsessed. Read that list again slowly, thoughtfully and carefully. There are other adjectives that go even further, descriptors like egotistical and narcissistic—pathologic extremes of self-centredness—illustrating how destructive the tendency in us can become. But for now, let’s choose from the ‘self’ list one adjective that describes, at least to some degree, our own experience. Let’s put it under the microscope and see what the fuss is all about.

Paul warn us against self-seeking behaviours because in the long run, when we put self-interest ahead of others-interest and ultimately God-interest, we destroy ourselves. Our self was not made to bear the weight of our own inward focus. God created us to find our greatest fulfillment by centering ourselves on Him first, on others second, and on ourselves last. Reversing that order is counter-productive to our need for love. So why do we do it?

We do it because we fall for the world’s oldest lie. The deception is: “The only way to truly be happy is to look out for myself.” We won’t go into where that lie originates; that’s a story for another day. Self-seeking motives hide deep in the recesses of our souls, come imbedded in our very DNA, and cause at least three injuries to us.

Firstly, they are isolating. When we are making decisions based on how to ensure outcomes that benefit us, they are bound to segregate us from others—especially the ones who suffer from our benefitting. When we become preoccupied with our own issues (our external appearance, our social media standing, our finances, our passions, and even our sufferings and experiences as victims) we fail to concern ourselves with others. We become care-less in looking out for the weak, the hurting and the love-needy. We become self-determining islands of isolation, focused only on our self. And selfishness ultimately makes us unlovable, further reinforcing that isolation.

Secondly, self-seeking motives are disillusioning. The lie sets us up to believe that the more we attend to ourselves the better things will be for us in the long run. We begin making choices out of fear for our own happiness, but find happiness an elusive thing to grasp. The older we get, the more we realize the labours of our lives ending much differently than we had planned. The disillusionment that follows this disappointment is often nothing less than overwhelming. Look at any example from the world’s highest pedestals of success and we see the carnage of lives crushed with disillusionment.

And thirdly, the inner drive for self is, in the end, self-destructive. The lack of love for others makes us not greater ourselves, but lesser. Our souls shrivel; our thoughts become disordered; our words take on twisted deceptions; we lose our hold on truth and reality and our actions become self-limiting. The goal of creating ourselves into masterpieces results in a corrupted shell of the glorious individual into which God envisioned making us.

What is the solution? In a word, Jesus. Jesus taught, “whoever finds his life will lose it but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” It’s a bold statement. It’s an impossible task. But here’s the miracle: Jesus came down to earth to live a life of selfless servanthood toward His heavenly Father and to all of humanity—to you and me. He repelled all temptations of self-interest and sacrificed His very life at the call of the Father to deliver us. And He offers His own Spirit to empower us to live for Him and to be like Him. That’s the breath-taking solution, designed and modeled by Love Himself. Here’s our opportunity. Each day He awaits our invitation to begin or continue the process of learning to love.