Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Love: The More Excellent Way, Part 5

[Love] is not selfish, is not provoked,
and does not keep a record of wrongs. 1 Corinthians 13:5

These three elements that love does not display are very closely related. First, love is not selfish, or as the ESV puts it, love does not insist on its own way. This is so hard for so many people. I have experienced it from time to time myself, though it is not something that I struggle with. I have been married for nearly 12 years now, and not insisting on my own way has been one of the many ways I have shown love to my wife. She likes things done a certain way in the house. For instance, cabinet doors must be closed when not in use. I had a habit of leaving them open, not because I wanted to per se, but that was just how I did it. When I found out she had a preference on that, I sought to change my behavior for her. Now,  the cabinet doors stay closed. Incidentally, my 17 month old has picked up on this habit, and whenever he sees a door or drawer open that is normally closed, he will close it. It's especially funny when I am in the pantry and he comes up and shuts the door behind me!

It is important to understand here that not insisting on your own way doesn't mean you never have an opinion. It also doesn't mean that you don't insist on the best way, if a "best" can be quantified in any given scenario. Think about this: God is love (1 John 4:8), and to love God is to obey Him (1 John 5:3), or do things the way He insists. So how do we reconcile those two ideas? Well, for one, things that apply to us do not always apply to God, and vice versa. God is quite literally in a class by Himself. Two, God's way is always the best way. This absolutely cannot be said of us. When it is just your own preference, it can be an act of love to surrender that desire to someone else's preference. But when it is the way that God has established, acting in love may very well mean insisting that it be done the best way, God's way.

If something doesn't go your way, how do you respond? Are you provoked to anger? This is a dangerous place to be. Anger and bitterness are so detrimental to every area of your life. They are a spiritual cancer that will eat away at you the longer you hold on to them. Consider the words of James:

James 1:19-21 My dearly loved brothers, understand this: Everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger, 20 for man’s anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness. 21 Therefore, ridding yourselves of all moral filth and evil, humbly receive the implanted word, which is able to save you.

Anger often leads to bitterness, and the most dangerous thing about bitterness is how easily it hides itself. Its effects are subtle and yet pervasive, and it can ignite the fires of anger and rage at a moment's notice. Many years ago I had asked a friend and mentor to come to my wedding. He had moved about 9 hours away after some really difficult times in his life. He didn't give me much explanation, but he responded to my email to simply say that he wasn't going to come. I was angry and hurt, but because he was so far away, I put it out of my mind without dealing with it. Nearly a year later, he sent out an email to several people to let them know that he was on the road to recovery from his past difficulties. Rather than being able to rejoice with him, I responded in anger. I honestly don't remember what I said, but it was so terrible that it scared me straight. Within a couple of days, I confessed my sin to God, gave my hurt to Him, forgave my friend, and sought his forgiveness for how I responded.

When you are bitter, when you keep a record of the wrongs people have committed against you, that's all you can see when you look at them. No matter what they say or do, you see their actions through the darkened lens of your bitterness. Even words of encouragement from them can be twisted to be painful barbs. It is important to remember that while the initial offense is the responsibility of the offender, your response is all on you. Every time you respond in anger and bitterness, you multiply your sin against that person.

Are you selfish, always insisting on your own way? The answer is humility.
Philippians 2:3-4 Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. 4 Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.

Are you easily provoked to anger? The answer is grace.
Hebrews 12:14-15 ESV Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. 15 See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled

Do you keep a record book of all the wrongs someone commits against you? The answer is forgiveness.
Colossians 3:12-13 ESV Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.

Selfishness, anger, and bitterness, or humility, grace, and forgiveness. One is the path of spiritual poison, the other the path of spiritual peace. Which one do you want?