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.

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