Is Not Rude.
A lump of clay is rudimentary. It is the raw material of something more. When it had been part of the riverbank, its form had fit its function. It was a wall against spring rains swelling the creek into a riotous rush, threatening to overrun the edges of field, forest, and even city. But as a lump, washed from the bank and carried downstream, clay no longer assumes its natural function. Clay smears, smudges and muddens everything it touches. It stains clothing, clumps annoyingly on boot soles, and gets wedged under fingernails. It is rude.
When the Apostle Paul addends his list in I Corinthians 13 to include what love is not, he declares, “it is not rude.” What does this mean? Is it just another ‘thou shalt not’ that adds to the negative impression many have of what it means to be a person of faith? If it’s just about tiptoeing around other people’s compulsive sensitivities, surely we are culturally beyond that sanctimonious Victorian-era of priggishness, are we not?
Yet there it stands: “Love…is not rude.” No apology or explanation. What did Paul mean? Firstly, Paul didn’t actually use the word rude, because the international language of trade was not, of course, English. The word he used was a word with a negative prefix added to it—the way we add prefixes to words to make them mean the opposite—like: a-symmetry, mis-understanding, and il-logical. The word he negativized was from the verb ‘to form.’ He made it into something like de-form.
“Love,” Paul writes to the new believers in Corinth, “does not deform.” Love does not deform, twist, warp, disfigure or besmirch others—either in actions or with words. It does not muddy the waters of truth, smear others’ reputations, or stain the purity of others’ minds with its clinging insinuations.
“Let no unwholesome talk come out of your mouths,” Paul elaborates to another budding group of Christ-followers, “but only what is helpful for building others up, that it may benefit those who listen.” Unwholesome talk is a part of rudeness. It must go. But as with many aspects of being formed with the character of Jesus and living with integrity, the void it leaves must be filled with something Christlike. It’s like taking that messy, muddy, clay and bringing it into the craftsman’s studio. It must be dealt with on the potter’s wheel. It must be thrown, centred, pushed, pulled, squeezed, pressured, collared, shaped, raised, smoothed and inspected (my potter friends can confirm if these actions will make something of usefulness and value in the process of their craft).
“Finally,” Paul expands in an epistle to a third young assembly of believers, “…whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Bringing love into the workrooms of our minds is where rudeness is reshaped into grace, disrespect is molded into consideration, and impropriety is transformed into high and noble conduct. Love is applying the beauty and grace of Christ to the raw material of our hearts and minds so it can work its way out through our mouths and hands and feet. It is centering our worldview upon the eternal truths of God’s Word. It is submitting ourselves to the hands of the Great Potter to see what He will create.
Paul was right. Love is not rude. It is too vast and inclusive to be bound by the sorry restrictions of rudeness. The Holy Spirit, the one Jesus designated to counsel and supply wisdom to His true followers, is present and perfectly qualified to do His recreative work in us, so let’s work with Him. We have love to become.
(Photo Credit By Siim Sepp – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=328890)