By Scot Arnold
Guest Writer for NSM.
Love is patient, love is kind, but only if there's peace of mind? Perhaps Christians should rewrite the verse found in I Corinthians to read in this manner (I Cor. 13:4). I am not in the habit of rewriting Bible verses, but as I assess my own life and relationships I have come to the conclusion that I may already be doing it with my actions. I fear my claim of allegiance to Christianity may be just that a claim.
Many of us grew up reciting the 13th chapter of I Corinthians, but how many of us only learned the words and not the application? Perhaps there are those of you reading this who have left the church because you did not see this chapter lived out. Maybe some of you have declined the invitation to join the church, because as Christians we have failed at living out the most important aspect of our faith. Please accept my apology for my own actions and the actions of my fellow believers.
Unconditional-love is a term that one can hear in many circles. The church no longer has the corner on the market for this term and I think I know why. It's because we are just plain lousy at implementing it. We suck at it, but we act like we're good at it. We love with words instead of actions and so now others have picked up the torch and are carrying it in whatever way they can.
I believe we need to get back to building intimate, loving relationships. We need to take a serious look at I Corinthian 13 and apply it, not just read it and memorize it. After all, do we believe this stuff or not? Unfortunately true application of unconditional-love is costly and the price is too high for most of us.
Face it folks. We like being comfortable. We are not accepting of anything that may challenge us, question us in any way, or worst of all, cause us to question ourselves. The moment a relationship becomes uncomfortable, because the other person makes a mistake or is honest with us, our desire is to end it. We are all guilty of practicing this type of relationship euthanasia for the sake of remaining comfortable. We like being safe.
I must say that the very best relationships I have, are those that have weathered bad times, stupid mistakes and even harsh words. I almost got in a fistfight once with the person I will always think of when anyone mentions the term best-friend. That relationship has weathered more then all my other relationships combined and despite the distance between us we will always share a special bond.
Ether of us could have walked away at any given time. I know we both sometimes wanted to. We even had to take a break at different times because of the hurt we had caused. But in the end, we always came back. There was willingness on both sides to continue, but usually one of us had to make the first step. Circumstances were often conditional, but our overall relationship was based on unconditional love.
All of us have been hurt and sometimes from our perspective there is nothing to do but cut and run. But this is the question I have for every one of us that has found hope in Christ. What if Christ had cut and run?
It is humbling and shaming to think that Christ took on unparalleled suffering for my benefit and yet I can't give someone another chance because my feelings are hurt. Boy, am I petty. If Christ's fuse is as short as mine, I am truly damned.
"If you love only those who love you, what good is that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that." (Matt. 5:46-47 NLT)
Now I move on to an even more difficult topic. In Matthew 5 Christ calls us to an even higher standard. He wants us to love those who don't love us back. He wants us to be kind to them, patient with them and to not be easily angered by the things they do, even if they do those things to us.
I know you are thinking of someone right now. I know I am. People do irritating things. People are mean, backbiting, hateful, overbearing, sneaky, tricky, selfish, arrogant, thieving, self-righteous, lazy, smelly and down right annoying. Guess what. You are one of themand I am too. We all effect people in any number of negative ways.
As Christians we like to throw around words like, forgiveness and grace, but mostly we like to receive these things. We're not very good at passing them on to others. I have heard people say, "I'll forgive, so and so, but I'll NEVER forget." God forgive me, but I'm pretty sure I've uttered that phrase. Now, I will admit that forgetting is not an easy thing, but making a point to say that I won't forget just says to me that I'm not really forgiving.
Here are some synonyms for the word, forgiveness: pardon, absolution, acquittal, compassion, grace, overlooking and vindication. There are more, but I think these make the point.
I'd like to focus on pardon and acquittal. These two really bring home the meaning of forgiveness to me. If I have truly forgiven someone, it should be as though they were pardoned or acquitted of a crime. The point being that they are no longer guilty. Do I do that? Do you do that? Sometimesmaybe or do we at all? How often do we hold back forgiveness to see if the person deserves it? Maybe they'll hurt us again. Maybe they will. For those of us claiming a relationship with Christ, how often do we bring Him to tears with our actions? How often do we drive those nails back into his flesh hoping He'll stay there just long enough for us to fulfill our own selfish desire? Monthly? Daily? Hourly? It's safe to say that it is often.
Forgiving, in light of the forgiveness we have been given, should make it very easy. So, why doesn't it? I would have to say it is because we are just plain bull-headed. We don't want to forgive. Sometimes we are too hurt to do it immediately and that is understandable. Pain gets in the way of many things, but too often we don't even make it our goal to forgive. We stay in the pain and wallow in our bitterness. Many times we pamper the infection of bitterness and work hard to raise it to adulthood. We need to stop it. We need to get over it and get past it. Yes, it is easier said than done, but so are many other things in life. My father told me that bitterness is like drinking poison and expecting someone else to die. He's right. It doesn't do us any good. I've been hurt. You've been hurt. All of us have been hurt. Here's the rub. We've all hurt other people and we all have done things we wish we could take back. We can't take those things back, but we can live our future differently.
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not 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 have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing (I Cor. 13:1-3 NIV).
Love is the key. The writers of the New Testament knew this 2,000 years ago. It is little wonder why poets, musicians and artists have been trying to express the same thing since the dawn of time. The God of love has created us and we are made in the image of that God. Half hearted statements of love are not going to cut it. It is time for those of us who claim Christ as Savior to also claim Him as Lord. His command was for us to love our neighbor. He also made it clear that the term neighbor includes the most unlovable person we can think of. The act of true love is not easy, because it requires us to put our own desires aside for someone else. We tend to be self-seeking egotistical beings. We often bully our way through life only to satisfy our own carnal inklings.
2,000 years ago, I believe God came to earth as a man. He set aside his throne and walked with mankind to show us how He wanted us to be. Many of us have said with words that we want to live out His example. Our lip service is not good enough. Saying will 'try' is not good enough. Making a commitment to do it is what is required of us. A daily commitment to love in the way Christ did is the only answer. Until we do that, nothing will change. It will not be our words that will change the world. It will be our actions.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, 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 (I Cor. 13:4-8).
For now I will leave the words of First Corinthians 13:4 unchanged. I am committed to live them out in my own life even if it's just one word at a time. For anyone who makes this commitment, they must realize it will not be easy. Most things worth accomplishing are not easy, but they are importuned and needed none the less. It is time for us to stop making excuses and start loving people with our lives. That's what Jesus did and He expects no less of us.
Copyright 2005, Scot Arnold