Thursday, September 29, 2011

Biblical love is not selfish , irritable or resentful !

TEXT : 1 Corinthians 13:4-7   

TITLE:  The Properties of Love  #4 :  Love is not  selfish  ; it is not irritable or resentful

Date :  25  /09 /2011

This  teaching on  the nature  of biblical love  in the first  letter to the Corinthians occurs in the context of a  discussion  on spiritual gifts.  God has saved us to use our gifts  in a  loving ,  constructive way. We have seen that  this  is  where the Corinthian Christians had come  far short. They were saved and gifted people, but they were hardly a model for export. It would be doubtful if  this church would have had a strong evangelistic attraction  in their  world. Many  people  are saved on a daily basis by the grace of God , but many are not able to find their way into a  Christ centered,  loving church .  A loving church  is an evangelistic  tool  in the hand of God.  The world , I believe,   is attracted  to  such unusual love.  The early church in Acts provides such a model for us.

Sadly , spiritual gifts were not used to love God and others. They were abused for selfish ends .  This is   a very common problem in the church , and we need  to  know how  to deal with this problem which tears many good churches apart .  Think about your own spiritual gift , and ask yourself whether what the Holy Spirit has deposited into your heart and hands is actually used for the  building up of your church .  This is an important subject  and we  need a  Christian    worldview – a Christian mind  and attitude on this matter .  Surely all of us  want to be salt and light in this world , but  as we   desire  to export  the love of Christ to  a  world  that needs  the gospel so very desperately ,  we also  need to make sure that   it works here at home .  
So we  are not here  to point  self righteous fingers at the Corinthian Christians . We are here to learn from their mistakes , and we  are so thankful  that  the  Holy Spirit inspired the apostle Paul to write  with  divine authority  and wisdom  concerning these problems in the church .
This letter to a  ‘messed up’ church has indeed become Holy Scripture for us .   I remind you that   Paul  says to Timothy  “ All Scripture  is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof , for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”  ( 2 Tim 3:16). 
It is this inspired Word of God that  reforms   our minds  which have been so distorted and twisted by the effects of our fall  into sin ( Genesis3) .  That is why Paul speaks about the necessity for  mind renewal  : “ Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind , that by  testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is  good and acceptable and perfect.”  ( Rom 12:2).

We are learning  how  to   be  the church . The  attitude  in which we serve God and one another  is  in  the spirit of   Christian ( agape) love .  We have already   covered substantial ground  in  this , and I will not repeat myself  at this time .  There are 15 verbs (words that describe an action)   used her to  help us to understand the nature of biblical love  - either by way of  helping us to see what love is , or what it is  not. 

Today we shall  consider the next three  verbs  or actions by which we learn  what   love is  not like,  and we pray and ask God the Father  to seal  these  truths  to our hearts
  • (Love)   does not insist on its own way; [ NIV it is not self seeking]
  •  it  is not irritable  [ NIV – it is not easily angered ]
  • (it is not ) resentful [ NIV -  it keeps no record of wrongs  ]

Once again we  note that  Paul chooses  to put  this  in  a negative  format . He could of  course  have said  : Love is selfless ; love is  patient ; love  is forgiving  ( or love thinks the best of others), but he chooses to put this in  the negative . This is an effective teaching method . We are sometimes helped  by  understanding a particular principle  better  by   using this  method.

1.      Love does not insist on its own way; [ NIV it is not self seeking]
Literally translated - "love  does not seek the things of its own “   or simply  put – “love is not selfish”.  We know that through  Adam’s fall our  human default tendency is inclined towards  selfishness  and  "selfishness is a very little    world inhabited by one man".
Thankfully , through God's redeeming work in Christ's death on the cross the  believer once again receives  the ability  to live unselfishly by the power of the  Holy  Spirit.  The fact that this problem existed in the Corinthian church indicates  to us that believers  are not  instantly freed from self centredness. It remains a battle . However , the believer  is  different from the  non believer in that he/she has  received the power to say  ‘ no’ to ungodliness ( Titus 2:12)  , which includes  the ability to control our tendency towards  selfishness , irritability  and being resentful .

As we struggle with the habit of selfishness  , we must try to  understand  the difference between  selfishness and self love .  It is not wrong to love oneself! The Lord  Jesus Christ ,  in Matt 19:19  says  :  "Love your neighbour as  yourself ". He   assumes that  we do love ourselves, which means that we must take care of ourselves .  We are  encouraged to  seek a happy and blessed and good life.   However  we must  understand that the good life  is not to be an end in itself . God is at the end of our life . We are accountable  to Him.
So  where is the dividing line between  biblical  self love  and selfishness?  The dividing line lies in the degree to which we allow our  self love  overtake our love for God and man!   
The biblical  order of  love  is this : God , others , me – in that order  !  That is the  teaching of the law and the prophets  according to Jesus in Mark 12:31  - Love God , love your neighbour as you love yourself . When we invert  or mix up that  order then  we are  in trouble. 
This is what happened in the Corinthian church: self  is number one !  This remains  one of our greatest  challenges this side of heaven.
Before the fall  this was not a problem.  Adam  loved God ,  he loved Eve with a pure love   and he  loved himself  as God’s  created being and made in His image  . Paradise was  when  God was on the  throne of Adam's heart   and all relationships  were  harmonious and in order.  After the fall  when man  had  died  spiritually  he  continued to love himself, but no longer  with respect  to God  and his fellows man.   Adam was no longer capable  of  loving  Eve  with a pure love. The first act  of sinning  against her was blame shifting ( Gen 3:12)  instead of taking personal  responsibility!  Their first offspring , Cain  killed his brother Abel ( Gen 4:8).   Man’s  love for God   and  for  his fellow-man was  now hopelessly overshadowed by his love for himself! The verdict given by Paul in his  letter to the  Philippians  ( 2:21 ) is accurate: "For they  all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ."

The good news is that  when   we become Christians , we are  redeemed . We become a new creation  ( 2 Cor 5:17)  and we have  power  to overcome  our  old nature .  Because we have received a new heart  we  are able to love  God ,    our neighbour and ourselves  once again in a biblical way . This  happens  in a growing sense if we take into consideration that sanctification (growing in the likeness of Jesus)  is not an instant achievement but a gradual  process.   So , the thrilling  news for us who believe is this : We have  received power  to be unselfish . We are not slaves to sin . The love that God  has  poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit (Rom 5:5)  enables us to  do this.

2.  Love it  is not irritable  [ NIV – it is not easily angered ]
(Gr paroxuno)  This  Greek word has to do with ‘ sharpness ‘ . This word is used in  Acts 17:16 where we read that Paul’s spirit was  provoked within him when he saw that the city was full of idols . This has to do with the ‘sharp  feeling’  - that stab  which  we sense  when our  temper rises  when  something   begins to  irritate  us.  I am sure that you know the feeling .
It is  dangerous for any professing Christian to "just let rip". Someone  said : "Anger is a wind which blows out the lamp of    the mind."   "People who fly into a   rage, always make a bad landing.”  
Let's get some  perspective on  anger  . Eph 4:26 literally  says  :  "Be angry -  and not sin ." Anger ,  in itself  is not wrong  - but it can so easily lead to wrong . One   wise man  said: "Anger is just one letter short of danger."  John Trapp (Puritan writer)   reminds us  that  "It is not a sin to be angry; but it is hard not to sin when  we are angry!"
Anger  needs to be kept under control – but how?  Thank  God  that  “His divine power  has granted  to us all  things that pertain to life and godliness…” ( 2 Peter 1:3). Thank God that   Romans 5:5 teaches us that  the love of God is   poured into our hearts. We are able to control our anger , because God helps  us.  So  we must never  allow  our angry  thoughts   lead us to  be besides ourselves. Never  tell anyone “ I wish you were dead” or “ go to hell!”. We need to remember  that we must  be  quick to forgive  when  personal  attack’s  come to  us  . Christ is our  example ; the Holy Spirit is our strength.  

2.      Love  is not  resentful ; NIV – love  keeps no record of wrongs ; KJV -   “ love thinketh no evil
The KJV translation  here is the  most literal :  “ love thinks no evil “  .  The NIV seems to stretch  things  a little! The apostle Paul puts this negatively , but we could also  put it positively , or   the other  way around  : love  only thinks   good – or  the best of others !  Love is forgiving. The  basic thought here  is that love always thinks the best of others ; it does not  continue to  bear grudges. Love  first thinks positively  about others . Love is not cynical ; it  does not allow  us  to think bad of people before we think good of people.
This does not mean that we must be naïve. When people sin against us , it is not that we  will simply ignore the sin , although it is certainly true that in many  cases  love  should overlook a multitude of offenses ( Proverbs  19:11 ).  Even if the  offense has reached saturation point ,  love looks for the repentant spirit and the restoration of relationships  .  This is certainly implied in  the  church discipline outlined in  Matthew  18:5ff . Love  is  certainly  longsuffering ! (v.3)
A loving Christian does not sit with a glee in their heart,  rejoicing   over their enemy’s downfall .  It   seems as if some people delight in hearing of the misfortune of   others!   Jonathan Edwards says : "Their spirit seems to be greedy of it; and it  is, as it were, food to the hunger of their depraved hearts, and they   feed on it, as vultures do on rotten meat!"
True Christians  who have the love of God  poured into their hearts by the Holy Spirit  do write people off . It may be that  we  must   sometimes let people  go  on their sinful ways ; we may sometimes  have to put a detour sign on   some  people who persist in willful sin  , but  we can never write them off .  We  don’t consign people to hell .  We remember  that love hopes all things, endures all things  . We shall see more of this when we get to  vv 6 &7 . Biblical  love is exemplified  in the parable  of the waiting father looking for the return of his prodigal son  (Lk 15:11ff) .     

Conclusion :
Let this meditation be sufficient for now . We  must now  turn to examine ourselves :Christian love  is not selfish ; it  watches  its tendency to  sharp responses ; it  thinks no evil – but  sees  the best  in others  . 
This  is agape love , and  we must  have our minds , hearts and actions reformed  in this area . We must be aware of our default reactions . If we are  habitually  selfish , irritable  or resentful  let us confess this  before our heavenly  Father  and   know that with  His  help  we have received power to   do far more abundantly more than all we ask or think, through Jesus Christ our Lord ( Eph 3:20).  And the grace of God  will be with us as we have our hearts set on doing God’s will in these matters  . Amen !

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