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What Love Is Not

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. 1 Corinthians 13.4-8.

Yesterday I began to look at Paul’s description of agape— the highest of loves, the love without which a Christian is “nothing”; but I only got as far as the fact that it “is not rude”. Today there are four more “is nots”.

Love is not self-seeking. The Greek is literally “seeks not her own”; but her own what? Her own way, her own satisfaction, her own happiness before that of others or at the expense of others. The Message translates it as not being “me first” which is exactly right. I am reminded of what Paul says to the Christians at Philippi: “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant” (Philippians 2.4-7). I am also reminded of what Paul said earlier in this very same letter to Christians who were insisting that their freedom in Christ meant that they could do things that were upsetting some more straight-laced Christian souls: “‘Everything is permissible’ — but not everything is beneficial. ‘Everything is permissible’ — but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others” (1 Corinthians 10.23-24).

What else is love not? “It is not easily angered”. I noted yesterday that the “love is patient” with which Paul’s description of love begins, really means “love holds out for a long time before giving way to anger”, so is Paul repeating himself here? No. The verb parozunetai relates to quite a different sort of anger. It means “to be provoked or exasperated or roused to irritation”. It is an altogether far too accurate description of me as I far too often find myself.

And love keeps no record of wrongs. The verb here is a word I know all about because it is an accountant’s word. It is logizetai and it means to make an entry in a ledger. The point about an entry in a ledger is that it keeps the debt alive and prevents it from being forgotten. The strength of this comes home to me this morning as I recall that, just yesterday, in an email to a friend, I made reference to something a friend of hers had done three years ago that I had found offensive at the time. I find that I have a ledger — and Paul says here that I need to be rid of it. God, according to his unfailing love, according to his great compassion, has blotted out my transgressions (Psalm 51.1). There is no outstanding debt under my name in God’s ledger so, as Jesus clearly taught, I cannot have outstanding debts under anyone’s name in my ledger (Matthew 18.23-25). Indeed, I shouldn’t have a ledger at all.

Finally, this morning: love does not delight in evil. The sense of the Greek here is not that love does not rejoice in being evil — doing or thinking or saying things that are wrong; but rather that love does not get pleasure out of, or revel in, the wrong that others are involved in. If I have real love I will not get a kick out of seeing the pile-ups on the motorways of other people’s lives. And, of course, as imperfect human beings, that is something that we do — even in church circles … “Have you heard, Mandy and Bill are splitting up. So sad, isn’t it!” But there is a gleam of pleasure in the messenger’s eye. And though I would like to think that I am immune from that, I know that I am not …

Tomorrow, I will look at the six more positive aspects of love with which Paul concludes his definition; but for now I think I need to do some praying.

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