Learning to Love (I Corinthians 13), Part 7


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.


Opening the Door to Psalm 119, Part 8

hippy van.jpg


You don’t need to speak a word of Hebrew to recognize the out-and-back symmetry of the Hebrew letter ‘Waw.’ Forward or backward, it is read the same way. Like the words ‘mum’, ‘racecar’ and even the sentence ‘Madam, I’m Adam’ the phenomenon is intriguing. Linguists call it a palindrome (from the Greek, meaning ‘running back again)’. Palindromes can even occur in the sequencing of our DNA when a region of nucleotides is inversely identical with a complementary strand (Go ask your nearby biochemist for a better explanation). As we look at the ‘Waw’ section of our Psalm, we see it has a sort of palindromic rhythm to it too.

“May your unfailing love come to me, O LORD, your salvation according to your promise; / then I will answer the one who taunts me, for I trust in your word. / Do not snatch the word of truth from my mouth, for I have put my hope in your laws. / I will always obey your law, for ever and ever. / I will walk about in freedom, for I have sought out your precepts. / I will speak of your statues before kings and will not be put to shame, / for I delight in your commands because I love them. / I lift up my hands to your commands, which I love, and I meditate on your decrees” Psalm 119:41-48

It begins with ‘love’; it rises to ‘for ever and ever…freedom’; and it ends with ‘love’. The hippie culture of the sixties ran with a similar version of that theme—love and freedom—albeit distorted by an anti-establishment ideology. But the psalmist’s theme is different, worlds different. Running like a golden chain through the beads of this necklace is the psalmist’s respect for God’s authority—not just His authority over the macro-world, the physical universe, but also on a micro-scale, over the minute details of each person’s life. That does not sound hippyish at all. The freedom-loving flower-wearing beatniks claimed freedom would be found in rebelling against laws, any laws, not submitting to them. “Don’t let the man keep you down!’ they insisted.

“Freedom itself,” explains N.T. Wright, “must be generated, protected, and celebrated. But thinkers from St. Paul in the middle of the first century to Bob Dylan in the middle of the twentieth, and beyond, are still asking what “freedom” actually means. In a Christian sense it clearly doesn’t mean the random whizzing about of the subatomic particle, however much some eager political or psychological rhetoric may go on about the total removal of constraints.”

The psalmist recognizes that freedom is ultimately about being free to be genuinely human. This foundational freedom is found only in God who sets the necessary constraints that create the framework for freedom and then communicates those conditions to us through His Word. They come in the form of directions, promises, warnings, and ultimately in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ. God’s intentions for us are essential for freedom because only God knows what is truly best for us and has taken action to ensure our freedom.

But the psalmist back then didn’t know Jesus in person. He was positioned in history a millennium before Christ’s advent, yet he had a hope, a notion breathed into his writings by God Himself that true freedom would be coming in the shape of One who would embody God’s Word. Notice how he phrases his hope in the ongoing past tense “I have put my hope in your laws,” and how he envisions that hope to affect his life in the future tense, “I will walk about in freedom.” Accepting this concept, trusting its value, and regulating his life by it gives the psalmist something every person on this planet needs. Hope. His hope was not unreasonable. It was not a flippant ‘I hope God comes through for me’ sort of whimsy. It was based on the bedrock knowledge of God’s trustworthiness.

Trust,” explains apologist Ravi Zacharias, “is not antithetical to reason.” It is supported by reason, by considering a body of empirical evidence and concluding it is reliably worthy of trust. The psalmist had found God to be faithful to past promises, and experiencing that faithfulness led naturally to his trust and hope in God to be a Man of His Word. The hope of God’s loving and ultimate plan to provide freedom for people is a theme that runs throughout Scripture.

Jesus Himself read from the scroll of Isaiah, claiming to be the fulfillment of the passage, “The Spirit of the LORD is on me, because He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor.” The Apostles John and Paul follow that same theme saying, “(Y)ou will know the truth, and the truth will set you free“ (John 8:32); “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (II Corinthians 3:17); and “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free” (Galatians 5:1).

The psalmist got us started by speaking of love and freedom and trust, but he must pass the baton on to Christ who is love and freedom and hope embodied in the perfect human. Because of Christ, we have not only a hope of freedom but more, an ever-present friend who Himself is freedom and gave up His freedom to purchase ours. That’s love, freedom, and more love.