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.
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) .
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 !