I Corinthians 13:5
Have you ever taken a look in the mirror and exclaimed, “Oh, my! I didn’t think I looked that bad!”? Sometimes we feel like we look one way – when the truth is far different. And as they say, the mirror doesn’t lie!
Well, we are going to “look in the mirror” this morning. The Book of James says that the word of God is like a mirror. When we look in it, God’s Holy Spirit shows us how we really are – NOT how we “think” we are, but how we really are.
We are continuing our study of agape love from I Corinthians 13:4-8, looking at the 15 terms there which describe love. We come today to verse 5, which says that love does NOT do three things. I believe that if we will each look intently at God’s word today, we will find ourselves looking in a mirror – and we may not like what we see. But may God help us to see ourselves clearly today – and then to call out to Him to help us to be different, by His grace!
I. Does Not Act Rudely
Verse 15 says love “does not act unbecomingly.” My venerable New Testament professor at Southwestern seminary, Dr. Jack MacGorman wrote that this basically means that love “does not behave rudely”.
Among the many problems the church at Corinth had was that they were being rude to each other. They didn’t practice what we might call “simple decency” or politeness towards each other. Paul, writing of the problems in the church, in Chapter 11 says that when they took the Lord’s Supper meal, “each one takes his own supper first, and one is hungry and another is drunk.” They didn’t practice what we might consider basic politeness towards each other at their Lord’s Supper meals. They did the same thing in their worship services; Chapter 14 of this book goes on to say that they would all speak at the same time – one might be trying to preach, and another would break out in speaking in tongues – and Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit told them to stop it; “let all things be done decently and in order” – in other words, practice civility; practice good manners; stop being rude to each other. And so to correct that, he writes here in I Corinthians 13 and says that what they need is love, for love “does not act unbecomingly” – in other words, it is not rude!
And, of course, they did not have a monopoly on rudeness in the first century. It still rears its ugly head today. Rudeness can express itself in several ways:
— a person can SAY something rude
— a person can DO something rude
— Or, a person can NOT do something, and that omission is considered to be rude.
We see an example of this, in Luke 7, when Jesus came to the Pharisee Simon’s house, and Jesus said to him: “I entered your house, and you gave Me no water for my feet … you gave Me no kiss … you did not anoint My head with oil …”. Now, these things don’t sound unusual to us, because we don’t do those things today. But they were all customary for an honored guest back then – and Simon did NOT do them for Jesus. He basically “snubbed” Him by NOT doing the things which were customary to honor Him as a guest. It would be like us having someone in our home today, and not asking them to sit down, or not seeing if we could bring them some tea or something to drink. Those omissions would just be considered rude.
So many times, a person will try to justify themselves and say, “I didn’t do anything; why were they offended?” Well, often they know very well that it was not what they said or did, it was what they did NOT say or do that offended the person. Rudeness can be what you say; it can be what you do; or it can be what you did NOT say or do!
But the Bible says here that agape love does NOT act unbecomingly; it is NOT rude to people, in any of those ways:
— it means you think before you say something. It means you DON’T use that cutting remark you had planned to say. You DON’T say something rude.
— it means that you don’t DO something rude, either.
— And it means that you don’t omit anything gracious and polite from a person. It means there is no one you stick your nose up in the air and don’t greet in a civil way. It means there is no one in the church to whom you won’t give a handshake. Snubbing someone by not shaking their hand is something that should never happen in a Christian church!
Now, just as we are to apply love in every circle of our influence, we are also to apply all of the 15 qualities of love which we find here in I Cor. 13, in every circle of our influence. That means it should begin at home! Start by being civil and polite to the members of your own family! If you are polite to everyone except your own family, you are a hypocrite! Politeness should begin at home. Then, of course, we should practice it at church too, just like I have mentioned. But it goes beyond the church. Jesus commanded us to “love your enemies.” That means that we are to be polite, even to our enemies!
There is SO much room for application here. John MacArthur writes: “sometimes our attitude and behavior in the name of righteousness are more improper, and less righteous, than some of the things we criticize.” For example, you may know someone who is a practicing homosexual. And you know that according to scripture, that is a sin. And so you turn your nose up at them, and snub them, and treat them rudely – but what good does that do for the Kingdom of God? All that does is give Christians a bad name, as “holier than thou”, or just even basically rude! Jesus said “LOVE your enemies” – that means treat them with civility and politeness and respect. You may or may not win someone to Jesus by showing them basic courtesy and love, but you never will by showing them rudeness! Love “does not act unbecomingly” – to anyone – it is never rude.
II. Does Not Act Selfishly
The verse goes on to say that love “does not seek its own.” This is one of those places where we see how Biblical, agape love, is the exact opposite of what the world often calls “love.” So often the world describes as “love” when someone makes them feel good, or does something for them. But Biblical love, we see here, is just the opposite: it “does not seek its own.” In other words, agape love does not focus on what another person can do for you, but on what you can do for the person whom you love. Jesus is of course, the great example of this. He didn’t come to earth for Himself, but out of love for us. He didn’t come for what He could get out of it, but for what He could give us, in salvation, and for His Father’s glory. Jesus said, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” He did not come to seek anything for Himself; He came in love – and this verse tells us that love “does not seek its own.”
There are SO many applications of this quality, and especially in marriage. I think one of the biggest problems people have in marriages today is that they focus too much on what their spouse is supposed to be doing for them: “they don’t do this for me, and they don’t do that for me.” Now, the scripture does give us some very specific responsibilities which the husband and wife are to fulfill for each other. Yes, the wife is to submit to her husband, and respect him. Yes, the husband is to sacrificially love his wife like Christ did the church. But YOUR focus, husband, is not to be on how well your wife does or does not submit to you. (That was the problem of the man I talked about last week. All he focused on was how his wife didn’t submit to him. That should not have been his focus. His focus should be on what HIS responsibilities to HER were: He should have dedicated himself to sacrificially love his wife like Christ did the church – and leave her responsibilities to her and God!) And the same is true for the wife. Don’t seek your own; don’t focus on how your husband is not loving you, and sacrificing for you – YOU focus on what YOU are supposed to do; you submit to him and honor him, and leave what HE is supposed to, to him and God. The truth is, a wife is much more likely to want to submit to a husband who is laying down his life for her; and a husband is much more likely to lay his life down for a wife who respects him and submits to him. But the key is, you must not focus on what your partner is supposed to be doing. YOU focus on what YOU are supposed to do, and leave what they are supposed to be doing, to them and God. “Do not seek your own.”
But this is the big problem in most marriages today; most people just “seek their own.” People say: this isn’t good for ME; this isn’t making ME happy; this isn’t meeting MY needs, etc. Do you see the problem there? It is all “me”, “me”, “me” – it is totally selfish and self-centered. And that is not what love is! Genuine, Biblical, agape love is not about you! It considers what is best for the other person who is supposed to be loved by you – AND it considers what is best for your kids (and I can tell you, statistically speaking, it is almost always best for the kids to have a whole family; even if you don’t think it is best for you personally!); it considers what is best for society, what is best for the church, and for the glory of God, which is reflected in marriage, which is supposed to be a picture to the world of Christ and the church – which virtually NO ONE thinks about today, because all they think about is their own selfish needs! And that is NOT LOVE! Love “does not seek its own”!
What we need in marriages and families and in the church today is a radical infusion of God’s love, in which we stop seeking what is best for ourselves, and start looking out for what is best for others instead.
My wife Cheryl thought it was very revealing when her hair stylist told her that a lot of women come in and get their hair straightened, but they tell the stylist, “My husband likes it curly, but I want it straightened.” Or vice-versa: “My husband likes it straight, but I want to curl it.” Cheryl asked the question: “Who are they getting their hair done for?!” Hopefully not for another man! And ideally, not just to please themselves either! A woman should get her hair done in the way that pleases her own husband the most. It should NOT be just what is supposed to be “fashionable”, or even how she likes it the best. Love does “not seek its own”; it seeks to please one’s spouse. And that doesn’t apply just to hair; it applies in a multitude of ways in a marriage, as you can imagine. You apply this to the specific issues in your own situation; but the principle holds true: do not seek your own selfish interests in your marriage; seek to please your spouse. Love “does not seek its own”.
And what if we applied this in the church as well? It would radically change our churches, if each of us as members would stop seeking our own, and start seeking what is best for each other in the church, in real agape love. Paul uses this same Bible word earlier in I Corinthians 10, where he is talking about one of many controversies they had in the church at Corinth: eating food that had been sacrificed to idols. Some people in the church felt that they were free to do that; others felt that it was a compromise. And Paul wrote in I Cor. 10:24, “Let no one seek his own good, but that of his neighbor.” These are the same Bible words as used here in I Cor. 13. He’s saying in the church, we need to consider not only what we want and prefer, but we need to think about how it affects others. Philippians 2 says: “Let each of you regard one another as more important than himself … Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others”. How it would dramatically change churches if we started practicing that – seeking what is best for others, instead of merely ourselves, in our programs, in our priorities, our budget – and in our music!
Last summer I heard the testimony of a grandmother who said that she listens to these little cartoons that have these catchy songs with them. Someone said to her, why do you listen to those shows; don’t you hate them? She said, Oh I don’t really like those shows at all, but, she said, I watch them because my grandkids like them, and they sit up in my lap and watch them, and I put up with the music because I love my grandkids, and I want them to be with me.” I think some of our grandmas in the church can apply that lesson! One of the big issues that has divided churches over the last few years has been music. Younger people like one style of music, the older generation another. Each wants its own. But what if we applied agape love here? What if each said, I am not going to seek my own here, I am going to seek what is best for those I love? What if the spiritual grandmas & grandpas, who are supposed to be the most spiritually mature in the church body, said, like that grandma about the cartoons, “You know, I don’t like that music, but if it will keep my grandkids in church, I will put up with it – because I love my grandkids more than I love getting my own way in music!”
THAT kind of attitude would radically change churches today – and not just about music, but in every area. When you look at the church budget, don’t just look at how it will affect you, or your group, but what it will do for others. When you are making plans, don’t just take your own schedule into consideration, but the schedule and needs and preferences of others. Our churches would be dramatically changed for the better if each of us would stop “merely looking out for our own personal interests” and start “looking out for the interests of others” just like Philippians 2 says. And that is what real love does. It looks out for others. In marriage, in family, in the church, in every arena, God’s love “does not seek its own.”
III. Does Not React Angrily
Now, understanding that there are times and places for righteous anger, what the Bible is describing here is NOT “righteous anger”! This is an interesting Greek Bible word, Paroxunetai. A.T. Robertson, the great Baptist Greek scholar, says that it means “irritation or sharpness of spirit”. Matthew Henry, the great Puritan commentator, translated it, “not exasperated.”
There is an English word, “paroxysm”, which comes from this Greek word. In case you didn’t use it in the course of conversation this week, “paroxysm” means “a sudden outburst of emotion or anger”. A person may have a “paroxysm” of laughter, or a “paroxysm” of anger – a sudden outburst. And this is exactly what this Bible word means: a sudden outburst in response to something that someone says or does to you.
The only other time this word is used in the New Testament is in Acts 17:16, and it refers to when the Apostle Paul was in Athens, and he saw how the city was full of idols, and it “provoked” his spirit. Now, Paul did not respond in a bad way to his spirit’s provocation in Athens; he responded by preaching the gospel to the people there. But that is what this word means; it means to be provoked in your spirit, to respond – and here it especially means to respond in an angry or sharp way.
This is really the flip side of the first quality we looked at in this list in I Corinthians 13: “love is patient.” When we studied that word, we saw that it means that love “has a long fuse.” What it is saying here is: love does NOT have a short fuse. It is not provoked. It doesn’t “explode” in anger.
Galatians 5 is well-known for its famous passage on “the fruit of the Spirit.” But a little less-known is that right before it lists the Fruit of the Spirit, Galatians 5 lists “the deeds of the flesh.” And among those “deeds of the flesh” is “outbursts of anger” – exactly what the Bible is describing here. Love does not have outbursts of anger.
— it means you don’t “fly off the handle” when someone tells you something unpleasant.
— it means you don’t lash out when someone has a word of criticism about you.
— it means you don’t “explode in anger” because something didn’t go your way.
If agape love is not easily angered, what would your husband or wife say about the way you love them? If love does not lash out in anger, what would your kids say about the way you love them? Or your or co-workers, or your fellow members at church?
Some of you may say, “Well, pastor, I do love my husband, or wife, or family (or whomever) but I just ‘fly off the handle’ every so often.” Here’s what you really need to understand: NO, you don’t love them! This is where we’ve totally misunderstood love. Love is not some “good feeling” you have about someone; love is the actions we see here in I Corinthians 13 – these 15 verbs. If you are doing these things toward someone, then you are loving them; if you are not, you don’t – and that is the truth about love.
Now for some of us today, that is quite an eye-opener. Some of us, if asked, would say, “sure I love (so-and-so)!” But the truth is you don’t, because you are NOT doing what these verses tell us love does! The Book of James says that God’s word is like a mirror – it shows us what we really look like. We may have a picture of ourselves, but the reality may be far different.
When we were in seminary, our Sunday School class had a fellowship and we all went ice skating downtown. I felt SO graceful out on the ice; I never once fell down the entire evening. It was great. I loved the feeling of so fluidly taking the corners, etc. As part of the party, someone video-taped our group skating. I couldn’t wait to see the video. And when I did, I was shocked! I was so stiff; I looked like a robot with one broken leg! It was horrible; I vowed that I would never go ice skating again! But the thing was: I felt like I looked one way – but the reality was entirely different.
What we need to understand is that God’s word today is like that video camera; it is, like James says, a mirror. It shows us how we really are – NOT how we think we are; but how we really are. That is what the Lord has to show us; for us to make any headway spiritually, we have to see in how bad a state we really are.
In Matthew 19, the Rich Young Ruler thought he was a pretty good guy. When Jesus told him to keep the commandments, he replied: “All these things I have kept from my youth.” Then Jesus said, “Go, sell your possessions …” and suddenly he saw: he wasn’t so good. He hadn’t kept all the commandments; he hadn’t even kept the first one: he had put his possessions ahead of God! Jesus confronted this man who thought he had been so good, and showed him how he really looked to God.
This scripture passage today for some of us is like that Rich Young Ruler’s confrontation with Jesus. This word stands before us today like a video camera; like a mirror, and it is saying: you have been laboring under the delusion that you are a pretty good person; that you are this “loving” person. But God’s word is showing you today that you are NOT the loving person you thought! You are rude, you are selfish, you are self-centered, you have outbursts of anger, and the truth is, you do NOT love the way you think you do.
And that is what He wants you to see here. Because the first step to getting where God wants you to be, is admitting that you are NOT there. As we look at these scriptures, many of us today need to cry out to God and say, God, I am not living like this; I am not the person of love I should be! I need Your help. I need You to fill me with YOUR Spirit, and to help me love my family, my friends, my co-workers, my fellow church members.
— Some of you need to ask God Spirit who is in you to produce His fruit of love in you, and help you to be courteous, and selfless and patient with those around you.
— Some of you don’t have God’s Spirit in you; you need to ask Him to save you. You’ve sinned. You may have thought you were a pretty good person, but as we look at what real love is, you see that you are not. You have a lot to ask forgiveness for – but thankfully Jesus’ death on the cross will pay for any sin. Admit your sin to God; ask Him to forgive you – and ask Him to send His Spirit into your life to change you, and begin to make you the person of love that He wants you to be, who “does not act unbecomingly, does not seek its own, (and) is not provoked.”