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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The (Almost) Impossible Paradigm: Following Jesus, Part 3

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Love.

We left the rich young man after hearing Jesus give him the terrible diagnosis of his life: in order to follow Jesus he must discard his competing loyalties. In his case it was wealth. In our case it can be any one (or more) of a vast number of things: anything that puts something else before our loyalty to Christ.

But let’s go back one step in this story. The young man has just claimed he is living what he considers to be a good enough life; he maintains he has kept all the requirements of the Jewish Law. He wants confirmation from this rabbi that he can claim eternal life as his just deserts.

How does Jesus respond? Here in Mark 10:21, Mark describes Jesus’ reaction from a point of view that invites us right into Jesus’ heart. It is a moment that deserves our full attention, because it is the story of humanity in a nutshell. We, too, each live our lives by an ethical scale of sorts; we have either transposed it from the principles that our families, our traditions or our society have established, or we have created it from an eclectic collection of any of the above. We may even claim we reject any concept of right and wrong, but honestly, we don’t live that way do we? We all live by some internal classification system of right and wrong.

So here is Jesus, God in the flesh, the One whose character is the basis for all moral excellence —listening to this young man’s proud assertions that he has followed moral law to the letter. How will He respond? –By congratulating the young man? –By slamming him for his pride? –By laughing at him?

We’re told, “Jesus looked at him and loved him.”

This is how Jesus looks at each of us. We may prattle on about how good we are, or we may keep silent about our personal convictions. We may regularly leave hints for others to observe and come to the conclusion that we are pretty good people. Or we may march in parades proudly displaying our ideologies and daring others to contradict us. It doesn’t matter. Jesus still looks at each of us and loves us. Does that mean He condones our self-made rules for living? No.

Jesus knew that not many days after this meeting with the rich young ruler He would be walking the path from Jerusalem’s Praetorium, his back in bleeding shreds from a scourging, his scalp dripping from the piercing, humiliating crown of thorns. He would be walking toward the most egregious form of execution the Roman Empire could devise, and He would be taking the punishment the totality of humanity deserves for the crux of our moral flaw—our hatred of God and His sovereignty. He would be buying our freedom from an eternity of self-destruction each of us face upon our own deaths. And it was in this knowledge that Jesus looked at the rich, self-satisfied young man and loved him.

What do we do with this? How do you and I respond to this same Jesus who even now looks at you and me, and loves, loves, LOVES us? This is the quintessential issue of life. Nothing else matters but this. Jesus knows about our foolish attempts at morality (mostly used by us to earn a sense of self-esteem). He knows only His ransom-paying death and death-defying resurrection can supply us with the eternal life we all ultimately long for. And He longs to love us into His kingdom of eternity.

But it comes down to this: Do we look at Him and love Him in return?