God’s Word for You
1 Corinthians 13:5 Love does not tally up wrongs
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Monday, May 29, 2023
We are in the middle of Paul’s discourse about Christian love. Paul teaches the people not to exalt themselves but to serve one another in unity of spirit.
5 It does not behave improperly, it is not selfish, it is not irritable, it does not tally up wrongs.
Love does not behave improperly. To “behave improperly” (see also 1 Corinthians 7:36) could be to behave indecently (as Absalom did, 2 Samuel 16:22), or dishonorably, or with arrogance or with rudeness. Does Paul have in mind the behavior of those wealthy Corinthians who were shaming the poor at the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11:21)? Certainly the apostle has more in mind than “superficial matters of etiquette.”
Love is not selfish. Someone who is selfish if often unaware of it; he doesn’t understand or comprehend that anyone might behave any differently. When he learns of some truly heroic or selfless act, he is amazed, but he may doubt whether the act was truly selfless because deep down he believes that no one can act in any way apart from self-interest. He seeks after himself the way Job’s eagle (or vulture?) “seeks out his food” (Job 39:29), “for where the slain are, there he is” (Job 39:30).
“(Love) does not seek a wage in its works but obeys freely. This is why charity loves even its enemies, even though no repayment can be expected from them. But now, the good works of the godly proceed from love. Therefore they should not look to a reward in those works” (Johann Gerhard, On Good Works §126, p. 220).
Love is not irritable. Love does not fly off the handle, as we say. It is not subject to fits of rage or fury. That was the way of Abigail’s first husband, Nabal (1 Samuel 25:3). Luther warns: “You must shun… inhuman conduct and show kindness to others in such a way that you do not hope for a reward in this life, just as your Father in heaven is kind to the ungrateful world…. A man looking around for a wife carefully selects for himself one he hopes will reflect his own ways in the most pleasing manner. But the hidden recesses of the heart are inscrutable. Gradually pride, jealousy, and irascibility come to the fore. Learn, therefore, that such is the character of the world; for just as God is God, that is, just as he is kind and good, so the world is the world; it is ungrateful and evil. Therefore let those who want to live under God be ready to serve everybody, and let them accustom themselves to putting up with ingratitude.”
That is not to say that love will never become angry, for surely the Lord himself is angered by idolatry (Deuteronomy 32:16; Ezra 5:12). “They angered him with their high places; they aroused his jealousy with their idols” (Psalm 78:58). But the Lord’s anger is tempered with his great patience. He is “a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love” (Jonah 4:2).
Love is forgiving and waits for the sinner, whether an enemy, a friend, or an erring child, to see their ways and repent. Christian love will also consider that the people we keep company with will influence the way we behave. Solomon says: “Do not make friends with a hot-tempered man, do not associate with one easily angered, or you may learn his ways and get yourself ensnared” (Proverbs 22:24-25).
Love does not tally up wrongs. The Bible presents two sides to this in the actions of God. First, the sins of the unrepentant do indeed end up being recorded in God’s heart and in the figurative book he describes. God told Hosea, “The guilt of Ephraim is stored up, his sins are kept on record” (Hosea 13:12). The downfall of the northern kingdom was that the people trusted in their kings more than they trusted in God. When Jeroboam set up his calf idols and made it easier to stay away from Jerusalem, they didn’t mind, even though they should have rebelled against him (1 Kings 12:27-29). But this and other passages like it are examples of unrepentant sin. For the believer cries out: “If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand?” (Psalm 130:3), and “With you there is forgiveness” (130:4). For the soul who turns from sin and asks God to forgive, the tally of sins is torn up and tossed away. This is the marvelous and unexpected mercy of God.
We are taught to pray by Jesus, “Forgive us our sins.” And Luther is quite correct as he explains: “Not that he does not forgive sin even without and before our prayer; and he gave us the gospel, in which there is nothing but forgiveness, before we prayed or even thought of it. But the point here is for us to recognize and accept this forgiveness. For the flesh in which we daily live is of such a nature that it does not trust or believe God and is constantly aroused by evil desires and devices, so that we daily sin in word and deed, in acts of commission and omission” (Large Catechism III:88-89).
As God puts our personal sins on display for us in the mirror of his law, he breaks our pride and reminds us how much we need his forgiveness, “for we daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment” (Small Catechism III:16). Therefore we also want to lay aside the wrongs other people commit. For although they may seem like wrongs and little or big sins against us, they are really sins against God and not against his humble servants. Allow God to deal with them in his own way. Point out a sin, as the Lord teaches us in the Ministry of the Keys: “Show him his fault, just between the two of you” (Matthew 18:15). But don’t keep track of all those faults, like a beggar throwing bits of trash into a shopping cart or a gunny sack. Be glad that God has forgiven you, and praise him for that more than anything else.
Pastor Timothy Smith