Short fuse, long list

My study of the “love chapter” is really revealing things to me about the way I show love to people. Allowing God’s Word to soak in like this helps me as I try to replace the way I have been doing things with the way I should be doing them. Clearly I will remain a work in progress as long as I am in this body, but I am so thankful for the lessons the Holy Spirit is teaching me along the way.

[Love] is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. – 1 Corinthians 13:5

I wonder how many times in a day I get irritated with someone? Whether it’s someone on the road that cuts me off, or maybe my kids when I have to repeat myself for the umpteenth time. Maybe it’s a less than helpful salesperson or a friend that cancels plans. Maybe it’s my husband when he forgets to do something on the “honey-do” list. Honestly, reflecting on my answer to this question has really made me think. Unfortunately I think I get “easily angered” more often than I’d care to admit.

So how do I change that? How can I be less easily angered and more loving? One word instantly comes to mind. Perspective. I think that the vast majority of the time that I complain about someone that has annoyed me or get snappy with someone who has irritated me it’s because I’m focusing too much on myself. How I’ve been so mistreated or neglected. How my feelings have been hurt. As if all of these little annoyances are part of some big conspiracy to make my life miserable. Maybe if I tried to put things in proper perspective and to manage my expectations a little bit  I wouldn’t be easily angered as often. Maybe I should consider the possibility that the “offender” didn’t even realize they were doing something that would make me mad? Or that their actions are a direct result of some circumstance in their own life? And if I respond back to them in an unloving way, then the cycle of anger is just continuing and there’s no love in that! Is it possible that if my response to someone that ticked me off was a smile rather than a glare it could change their whole day? It would certainly change mine.

Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires. – James‬ ‭1:19-20‬‬‬

And right along with the “easily angered” thing is the “list of wrongs” thing. It probably wouldn’t be much more loving to decide not to respond in anger to all those aggravations and instead just keep a mental log of them in case I need to refer to them later. If you consider that agape love is God’s love, you can’t get by the fact that the biggest part of that is forgiveness. God’s whole purpose for sending Jesus to pay the price for our sins was so that we could be forgiven. And in light of God’s perfect holiness, our “list of wrongs” before him would be longer than we could ever bare without Christ’s atoning blood. If God wants us to show agape love to others, that has to include forgiveness. And if we truly forgive someone, we shouldn’t have their misdeeds on some list that we pull out whenever we need some ammunition. If we are keeping score, no one has a chance. How could we show real love to someone who’s name is on a naughty list in our mind? These lists will pile up like junk mail on the dining room table if we don’t get rid of them. And it will be impossible to show agape love to anyone if we’re keeping track of their faults.

Yes, some things are easier to forgive than others. But the Bible is clear about forgiveness. It’s not optional. And God wants us to forgive not just for the sake of the offender, but even more so for our own sake. Pent up unforgiveness will eat away at us and rob us of the peace and joy God wants us to have in him. Not circumstantial happiness, but real peace and joy that comes from knowing that God has it all under control. The devil would like nothing more than to see one of God’s children harborring anger and unforgiveness. It means we’re bringing on our own misery and doing his work for him. We cannot allow the devil to have this kind of stronghold on us.

Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. – Colossians‬ ‭3:12-14‬

Of course none of this is easy to do on our own, but we have to remind ourselves – were not on our own. Once we accept the Lord Jesus as our Savior, we receive the Holy Spirit to enable us to accomplish God’s purposes in our life.  We have to allow the Holy Spirit to accomplish his work in us.

Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”‭‭ – Acts‬ ‭2:38‬

…for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. -Philippians‬ ‭2:13‬

It’s not about me

[Love] is not rude, it is not self-seeking – 1 Corinthians 13:5

Being rude is so much more than just not using your manners or budging to the front of the line. The Greek word used here is more about a way of life. A character trait that describes a person that couldn’t care less about other people. They’re only concern is getting what they want without any consideration of how it may affect other people. It’s as if they are not even aware of the fact that there are other people in the world. And this type of behavior is completely in contrast with the kind of love God has for us. The kind of love we are supposed to have for others. Agape love not only sees other people, it sees them through God’s eyes. When we show agape love, we set aside what might be best for us especially when it could cause harm to someone else. We become conscious of other people’s time, their needs, their concerns. And people notice!

The next admonition is along the same lines. Agape love is not self-seeking. Today’s world of self-help best sellers and attitudes of entitlement has caused us to spend far too much time looking at ourselves. A self-seeking attitude asks, “What’s in it for me?”  Agape love turns this attitude inside out and upside down. This kind of love seeks nothing in return. Not even good feelings. It means considering only what I can do for someone else.  Agape love is not a fair-share, 50/50 kind of love. We give 100% for other people because we know God will fill us back up.

“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others. – ‭‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭10:23-24‬ ‭‬‬

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. – Philippians‬ ‭2:3-4‬

Don’t envy… don’t boast

It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. – 1 Corinthians‬ ‭13:4‬ ‭

Anytime we wish that we had things the way someone else does we will get ourself into trouble. Envy will change our entire focus and it will become the driving force behind all that we do. If we envy the possessions of another person, we may allow the desire to get more stuff to impact the giving of our time or of our tithe. Or worse, we may even resort to dishonesty or stealing. And if we envy the success or attention someone else has, we may find ourselves working with flawed intentions. Setting out to make ourselves look good instead of fulfilling God’s purposes. Seeking the approval of men and not working for God.

For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. – James‬ ‭3:16‬

And whatever it is that we may envy about someone else, the envy we harbor will eat away at us and cause us to feel resentment towards them and it will be nearly impossible to love them once our heart has been hardened by envy.  

A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones. – ‭‭Proverbs‬ ‭14:30‬

On the flip-side of envy is boastfulness and pride. It is no more loving to be puffed up about the areas God has blessed us in. We must remember that if God has blessed us with certain gifts, whether money or talents or whatever – he has only done this so that these gifts can be used to bless others. Our God-given gifts are for his glory, not our own.  If someone is struggling in an area, they don’t want to hear about how much better off we are. Even our offer to help someone can be unloving if the intent in our heart is to highlight our blessings. 

Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. – ‭‭1 Peter‬ ‭4:10‬

Sometimes we even boast about how much worse we have it. Someone confides in us about a problem they’re facing and instead of offering to pray or to help, we quickly “one-up” their struggle with three of our own. Pridefulness in any form seeks to place the attention on our self and goes against the very definition of selfless agape love. 

No matter how you look at it, whether we wish we had what someone else does (envy) or we are puffed up about our own blessings (pride) – both of these attitudes will greatly hamper our ability to show agape love to someone. Agape love rejoices with others. Agape love is humble and thankful. Agape love sees circumstances (ours or someone else’s) as opportunities provided by God for his glory. 

Patient & kind

Love is patient, love is kind.  (1 Corinthians 13:4)

As I examined the first sentence of the love chapter, I reflected back on recent days of my own life. Have I been patient and kind? Well, right off the bat I know I could use a lot of refining in this area when it comes to my husband and my kids. How many of us seem to be the least patient and the least kind with those we’re closest to. Of course we love them, but are we making the effort to agape love them? Are we we patient and kind when they don’t do something our way or in our time? Or do we fuss and fight, convinced that if they would just do it like we do everything would be peachy? I have to shake my head when I think about my impatience and even sometimes unkind words to my family when they don’t “get it right”. It’s pretty hypocritical if you think about it. No doubt there are many times when I blow it according to God’s plan and yet his patience and kindness endure. His agape love remains. I definitely need to work on this!

And how does this translate to the rest of the world? Sure, I’m probably “kind” to most people in a “Minnesota nice” kind of way, but is that just a pretty little veneer that doesn’t really impact anyone? What if I started looking at everyone I meet the way God does. He loves them all. He created them. What if I started to think about the fact that everyone has their own story. That the person I’m so irritated with because they are taking too long in the line ahead of me could be distracted by some bad news they just received from the doctor. Or that the person who returned my friendly hello with a grumpy glare could’ve just found out they lost their job. God’s plans are not just about me. He’s working in different people’s lives in different ways. If he’s placed them in our life even for a moment, it could be because he wants us to be a blessing to them in that moment. Do we really want to blow that assignment?

Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. – ‭‭Colossians‬ ‭3:12‬ ‬‬

The most excellent way

The lead into to the “love chapter” (1 Corinthians 13) comes on the heals of Paul explaining to the church the special gifts they have received as part of the body of Christ. As he finishes explaining these gifts, given by God to accomplish his purposes, he makes a statement that leads right into his explanation of agape love. 

And yet I will show you the most excellent way. – 1 Corinthians 12:31

It’s as if Paul, led by the Holy Spirit, suddenly realized he needed to remind them that all of these gifts would be useless if they were not seasoned with agape love. 

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. – ‭‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭13:1-3‬

When I read these verses one word comes to mind. Connections. When I think about the way God loves, he doesn’t do it in some impersonal way. He doesn’t just toss a little good will our way and then move on to the next person on his list. He loves us each individually and cares for us each according to the needs he knows we have. It may be true that we can never know someone the way God knows them, but if we pay attention to others and ask God to help us to see them as he sees them, we will be able to love them with an agape love that will actually get their attention. We will be able to minister to them as God desires us to. We will be able to be “Jesus with skin on”. 

God knows our heart. God knows our intentions. He doesn’t want us to just “go through the motions” so that we look like nice Christian people. He wants us to truly love people like he does so that our love motivates our actions. If we are gifted by God with eloquence but we are so busy talking that we don’t even know what someone really needs to hear, then our message is just noise. If God has gifted us with discernment and understanding because he wants someone to know him but we don’t even get to know people, then we’ve accomplished nothing. If God has given us the gift of faith and we believe God for amazing things but we don’t love people enough to pray for them unceasingly, then how is our faith being used for God’s purposes? If we give all that we have – our time, our money, our very life – to a bunch of nameless and faceless people to whom we do not also give love, we actually gain nothing. Nothing! We will stand before God with a long list of completed tasks but a short list of meaningful contacts. 

And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. – ‭‭1 John‬ ‭4:16‬‬‬

Love – our “secret sauce”

Recently my pastor gave a sermon on love and on the famous “love chapter” (1 Corinthians 13). I know. We’ve heard countless sermons on love and can probably recite or at least cite this chapter from all of the weddings we’ve been to. But he shed some new light on the whole “agape love” thing for me and I decided to go in and really look at this chapter to determine what it means to me.  (A little side note – as God so often does, this message was restated for me from one of the pastors I listen to on the radio. It’s like God is saying, “Did you get this? Are you listening?”)

So first a quick Greek grammar lesson. As you may (or may not) know, there are times in the Bible that the English word we use to convey the original word doesn’t quite give the whole meaning. The word “love” is one of those times. We only have one word for love but the Greek actually used a few different words for “love”. The most common of these were:  phileo, which expresses the kind of love felt for a close friend; storge, which expresses the natural empathy felt with love for your family; and eros, which expresses a sexual, passionate kind of love. 

The less common word used by Greeks for love is the word “agape”. This kind of love is the kind of love felt by God for man. The kind of love that is completely selfless, totally unconditional, expecting nothing in return. Nearly all of the New Testament occurrences of the word love are “agape”. And I recently learned that outside of the Bible during those times there was only one other time this word was used. Pagan Greeks didn’t do “agape” love. They knew no god that loved them. Their gods were impersonal. This kind of love didn’t make sense to them, and it doesn’t make sense to unbelievers today.  My pastor used a great analogy. He called it our “special sauce”.  

So if that’s true, and if agape love is our “special sauce”, then I must have the recipe so that I can offer it to everyone. I want people to truly see how amazing my God is not just because I’m nice. Not just because I’m friendly. But because I am all these things and more even when when it might seem that I every right not to be. I want to surprise people with my love. Actually, I want to shock them!

Stay tuned. I’m going to dig into the “love chapter” so that I can really understand how God wants me to love. Then by the grace of God and power of the Holy Spirit I’m going to seek to live it out. 

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. – ‭‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭13:1-8‬‬‬

We must teach our children the truth!

What in the world is going on? I have a theory. We are seeing the result of a generation of people raised to believe they should never have to experience disappointment. (The “participation trophy” phenomenon.) Now that their candidate for president has lost they are protesting, skipping classes and threatening to leave the country. What’s crazy is that every four years since the start of this country a group of American’s has watched the “other guy” take office when their candidate lost. And I may be wrong, but I don’t recall this type of reaction happening in the past. Especially on this level. 

We have to do a better job of teaching our children the truth. We are not doing our children any favors allowing them to believe that “everyone’s a winner”. Raising them to believe that they are the center of their universe. Telling them that they should always feel good about themselves. That they can go ahead and think what they want. Feel what they want. Do what they want. As long as it “feels good”. Telling them that truth is relative. That there is no right or wrong. None of that is Biblical!

For starters, how about the fact that himself Jesus said: “In this world you will have trouble.” (John 16:33) And not just the “my soccer team lost” kind of trouble, but the “I might die for my faith” kind of trouble. Things are not always going to feel good. We don’t do our kids any favors when we spend their whole lives sheltering them from pain and disappointment rather than pointing them to Jesus for peace. 

And the whole “self-confidence” revolution is also not Biblical. Our “self” on its own, apart from the Holy Spirit, is a sinful mess. The only one we should be teaching our kids to have confidence in is Jesus. Any good thing in us is not on account of our wonderfulness. It is only because of the grace of God who bestows good on us and in us for his good purpose. The Bible says: “Don’t be misled, my dear brothers and sisters, whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father…” (James 1:16-17) We should not be teaching our children to love themselves. We should be teaching our children to love God! We should be teaching them to be thankful for any talents and gifts they may have rather than being prideful as if they accomplished them all on their own. God already loves us far more than we can love ourselves. 

Then there’s the whole entitlement thing. How in the world did a whole generation of people grow up believing that they are owed something just because of who they are. The Bible does not say that. The Bible says you should work for what you need and give to those who can’t work for themselves. The Bible doesn’t teach us to run around asking for hand-outs. The Bible doesn’t tell us that we should expect to be taken care of. Even when the apostles were spreading the gospel they were an example to us. “We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden on anyone.” (2 Thessalonians 3:7-8)

We have got to do better for our children and grandchildren. We have got to give future generations the capacity to live a godly life and to boldly stand for Biblical values. To know the truth. The one truth!  That God is in control. That the Bible is his standard. And most importantly that he sent his Son, Jesus, to suffer and die for us so that through him alone we may be saved. “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” (Acts‬ ‭4:12‬)

Jesus is coming back soon! America today looks an awful lot what the Bible said we’d see as his return drew near..

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people. They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over gullible women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth. – ‭2 Timothy‬ ‭3:1-7‬