Message # 49 | 1 Corinthians 13:5-6 | June 11, 2017

Introduction

Setting. We come to the seventh of eight anti-characteristics of love. We began by looking at “love is patient and kind” – then began to look at the 8 anti-characteristics of love – love is not arrogant. It is this arrogance that works itself out in boasting, envy, and rude behavior. Love as well does not demand its own way and is not easily provoked. We now come to the seventh anti-characteristic. Love is not resentful.

Peter Miller was not resentful. Peter Miller was a minister in the German Reformed Church in his early life. He came to America as a minister in 1730. . . . He served as pastor of Bethany Reformed Church, near Ephrata, and doubtless others in this section. He withdrew from the German Reformed Church and joined the Seven Day Baptists in Ephrata. He moved to their settlement and became their pastor. He resided there during the American Revolutionary War.

Michael Witman also resided at Ephrata. He was a deacon in the German Reformed Church; the withdrawal of Peter Miller from the church greatly [angered] Witman, who now secured an unenviable notoriety for his abuse of Miller and the Seven Day Baptists; on one occasion he struck Miller in the face, and on another occasion he spit in his face. Miller endured it all with Christian fortitude. He never spoke a cross word to or against Witman for his shameful conduct.

Witman kept one of the two hotels which were then in Ephrata . . . On a winter evening two men came to the hotel of Witman for supper and shelter for the night. He was ignorant of the character of his guests, but was outspoken in his views in regard to the war, and spoke freely in favor of the British. . . . However, these two men were American spies. [At some point they sprang up and attempted to arrest Witman, who] escaped through the window and . . . fled to the Seven Day Baptist settlement . . . He then escaped to Zion’s Hill, where he remained until famished from cold and hunger, he surrendered. He was taken to General Washington. He was tried for treason, found guilty and sentenced to be hung.

. . . after the death sentence was passed, Peter Miller arose early in the morning, took his cane and set out on foot, through the snow, to visit General Washington at Valley Forge, to intercede for the life of Witman. He was told that his prayer for his friend could not be granted. “My friend!” exclaimed Miller. “I have not a worse enemy living than that man.” “What!” rejoined Washington. “You have walked sixty miles to save the life of your enemy? That, in my judgment, puts the matter in a different light. I will grant you his pardon.” “The pardon was written, signed by General Washington and handed to Miller, who at once set out for West Chester, fifteen miles distant, where the execution was to take place on the afternoon of the same day.”

He arrived just as Witman was being carried to the scaffold, who, seeing Miller in the crowd, remarked: “There is old Peter Miller. He has walked all the way from Ephrata to have his revenge gratified today seeing me hung.” These words were scarcely spoken, when Miller waved the pardon and commanded them to halt We will not picture the scene that followed. It is said they embraced each other. They walked home to Ephrata together and remained firm friends. [He was restored to his family, life was spared, but his property was all confiscated and sold in 1780.][1]

Love is not resentful.

Define resentful. Logizomai refers to “keeping a mental record” or “taking into account.” [2] It is an accounting term. It accounts for the list of wrongs and possesses the ability to accurately look back and pull up any specific offense. As any accountant knows, if you keep track of someone’s payments or debts, it is because you have every intention of drawing their attention back to those financial obligations at some point in the future. The same is true in this case. Those who keep a record of offenses (real or perceived) done to them, the intent is to bring those back up at some point in the future and hold that person responsible for their actions. This, love does not do.

Slight differences in translations. Most translators interpret logizomai as not keeping a record or account of wrongs (NAS, NLT, NIV). A couple translate this idea as being “resentful” (ESV, NET). But there is potentially one slight difference as seen in the KJV’s translation, “thinketh no evil.” This seems to be more in line with both Chrysostom and Barnes.

Let me attempt to reword Chrysostom’s quote: Paul doesn’t say, “worketh no evil” but, [instead love] thinketh no evil.” Love is so far from evil that it doesn’t even suspect evil of her beloved. How could she even be provoked? The fountain of wrath flows from the presumption of evil.[3]  Albert Barnes reflects a similar thought.

BARNES. It means that love, or that a person under the influence of love, is not malicious, censorious, disposed to find fault, or to impute improper motives to others. . . .  it is not disposed to think that there was any evil intention even in cases which might tend to irritate or exasperate us. . . . it puts the best possible construction on the conduct of others, and supposes, as far as can be done, that it was in consistency with honesty, truth, friendship, and love.[4]

Both Chrysostom and Barnes reflect an insightful thought that is as well imbedded in the KJV’s translation. If you never conclude that someone was malicious towards you and if you always assume the best of people’s intentions, it will be easy to overlook an offense because you will never take the offenses personally. This is a little different than the conclusion of modern translators and commentators. They see this term as referring to accounting. In this case, the person would be aware of an offense, but they would not keep track of or record offenses. While Paul’s intent is likely “love keeps no record of wrongs,” most certainly we should strongly consider the exhortation to accomplish this first by not being offended in the first place – not assuming the worst of someone’s motives. If we assume the best in people, we will likely have far fewer potential offenses to overlook.

Personal Example. I can recall a brief period of my ministry experience in which I erred in keeping a record of wrongs. A few people within the ministry I was serving were offering critiques to me quite regularly. They were rather proficient at it as a matter of fact, offering dates and quotes. This was extremely challenging for me. Of course I didn’t enjoy the criticism, but I also couldn’t recall with any kind of accuracy the way an event unfolded, what I said, or when it happened. I just assumed they were right, and would usually apologize for having done something wrong. After a few times of coming home and my wife correcting the account, I thought I better write down different kinds of interactions as they occurred. A period of time went by, and I can recall one day sitting at the desk in my office. I don’t recall the exact nature of the moment (ironically) but I remember thinking of this passage – Love does not keep a record of wrongs. It struck me like a ton of bricks. I was clearly keeping a record of wrongs – in fact a literal and physical record – with the intention of being able to bring these things up later if I needed them.

Maybe you have never kept a literal record of wrongs, but I would imagine that most of us can admit to at least keeping a mental record of wrongs. The Proverbs counsel us concerning this kind of resentment. “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense” (Prov 19:11 ESV). “The vexation of a fool is known at once, but the prudent ignores an insult” (Prov 12:16 ESV).

Positive example of this word. In contrast to our tendency to keep a record of wrongs, God in Christ is the perfect example of not holding an account for our sins. In Romans 4:8 Paul quotes a Psalm, “Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity” (Psalm 32:2 ESV). Paul as well tells us that this work was accomplished through the work of Christ. “In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them” (2 Cor 5:19 ESV).

Biblical Examples. If you were to look for biblical examples and started in Genesis, you wouldn’t have to go far to be overwhelmed with examples of individuals keeping record of other’s offenses. (1) Cain and Abel in Genesis 4. Both Cain and Abel brought offerings to the Lord. Cain brought an offering from the fruit of the ground and Abel brought the firstborn of his flock. “The Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry” (Gen 4:3-5). What does Cain do? Cain keeps a record of this Abel’s offense, and as a result one day when Cain is speaking to Abel in the field, he rises up against Abel and kills him (Gen 4:8). Love would have overlooked the offense.

Rachel and Leah in Genesis 30. If you pass over a number of other potential examples and read on to Genesis 30, you find one of the most bizarre stories – at least to our modern Western sensibilities.  Jacob is married to both Rachel and Leah. Let’s set aside the whole story that got him into that awkward marriage fiasco. At the start of Genesis 30, Rachel is unable to have children and bemoans to Jacob, “Give me children, or I shall die!” Rachel’s solution to this problem is to give Jacob her servant, Bilhah; and through her, Rachel had two sons.

At this point, Jacob has 6 sons, four through Leah and two through Rachel’s servant, Bilhah. At this time, Leah is unable to have any more children, so she gives her servant, Zilpah, to Jacob, who then has two more sons through Zilpah.

Now comes one of the most intriguing twists in this storyline. Reuben goes out to the wheat harvest and comes back with some mandrakes (a root). Rachel requests of Leah to have some of the mandrakes. Now then, note in Leah’s response how she keeps record of wrongs. Leah says, “Is it a small matter that you have taken away my husband? Would you take away my son’s mandrakes also?” (Gen 30:15 ESV). Rachel’s response is equally disturbing, “Then [Jacob] can lie with you tonight in exchange for your sons mandrakes.” So Leah comes up to Jacob that evening and informs him “You must come in to me, for I have hired you with my son’s mandrakes” (Gen 30:16 ESV). Apparently that night turned into a couple of years and Leah has two more sons and a daughter. All this happens prior to Rachel then giving birth to Joseph and Benjamin.

And it is in the stories of Joseph that we find even more resentment between he and his brothers. His brothers continually keep record of his offenses, so much so that they throw him in a pit and then sell him off into slavery.

Brief side note. Keeping a record of wrongs done to you never works out well for anyone.

Example in the Corinthian Church. This idea of keeping a record of wrongs was as well deeply imbedded into the life of the Corinthians church. Some were taking others to court because they were keeping a record of wrongs. Instead of loving one another and settling offenses with humility, they demanded their own way and sued each other. Paul told them, “to have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?” (1 Cor 6:7 ESV).

Love is the solution to resentfulness. Another way of saying, “love is not resentful” is to say that “love is forgiving.” Instead of holding a real or perceived wrong against someone, love either chooses to not take it as a personal offense; or if it is a personal offense, chooses to forgive. Far too long the cliché “forgive and forget” has rooted its shallow counsel into Western Christianity. I would imagine that anyone of us, who have ever genuinely been hurt by someone else, realizes that your ability to forget seems to be relegated to anniversary dates and child hood phone numbers. The memory of personal offenses seem to linger far past their desired expiration date. Therefore, love is not “forgive and forget” but instead “remember and forgive.” One commentator eloquently states, “Love writes our personal wrongs in ashes.”[5]

Paul directs us, in Ephesians, to “forgive one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph 4:32 ESV). This is our goal, but as we continually strain towards that goal, let’s always be reminded by and revel in the greatness and magnitude of God’s forgiveness to us. Chrysostom offers a beautiful and helpful picture. “Sin is drowned in the ocean of God’s mercy, just as a spark is extinguished in a flood of water.” Not only does Christ forgive us, but he as well blots out our sin in such a way as to leave no trace of them. Most often, when a wound occurs, a scar remains, but “God does not suffer the scar even to remain, but, together with release from punishment, grants righteousness also, and makes the sinner to be equal to him who has not sinned. He makes the sin neither to be nor to have been.”[6] Thomas Manton likely is quoting Chrysostom when he writes, “Thy sins are like a spark of fire that falleth into the ocean; it is quenched presently. So are all thy sins in the ocean of God’s mercy; there is not more water in the sea than there is mercy in God.”[7] This is love. It does not keep a record of wrongs. It is to this we strive.

Is there ever a place to keep a record of wrongs? How exactly can you help someone see the repetitive nature of sin in their life if you don’t keep track of incidences? In other words, is it ever appropriate to keep a record of wrongs?

In Matthew 18, Jesus directs you, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault” (Matt 18:15 ESV). How does confronting someone about an offense against you reconcile with Paul’s exhortation here in 1 Corinthians to “not take into account a wrong suffered” (1 Cor 13:5 NAS)? It seems that Paul is exhorting us to not hold on to offenses that are done to us. How do we do that while at the same time confront someone who sins against us?

To answer these questions, we must understand that there are two perspectives to consider: how I process the offense internally and how I process the offense with that person. (1) If I truly love someone else, I am going to internally process the offense through the lens of forgiveness. Love is going to result in me not holding the offense against them. I’m not going to dwell on it. I’m not going to allow that offense to negatively impact my treatment of that person. I’m not going to bring it up and use it against them with the intention of hurting them. Simply put, I’m going to forgive them. (2) But, how do I process that offense with that person – assuming that I need to at all. Love for that person may, at some point, demand that we discuss the sinful behavior. Love, seeks their best interest and their betterment, and results in lovingly and graciously discussing the sinful behavior (or perceived sinful behavior) with them. If I do discuss the offense with them, I’m not doing so in anger or with a desire for retribution or vengeance. That conversation is totally focused on the well-being of the other person. Love has already internally forgiven them, but may lead to ongoing care for the other person’s spiritual walk.

 

[1] Hiram Erb Steimetz. Lancaster County Historical Society, Historical Papers and Addresses of the Lancaster County Historical Society, vol. 6 (Lancaster, PA, 1901), 40–44, https://books.google.com/ebooks/app#reader/0A08AAAAIAAJ/GBS.PA46.

[2] Timothy Friberg, et al., Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament,247–248.

[3] John Chrysostom, “Homilies of St. John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople, on the First Epistle of St. Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians,” in Saint Chrysostom: Homilies on the Epistles of Paul to the Corinthians, (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1889), 198.  [And he said not, “worketh no evil,” but, “not even thinketh;” i.e., so far from contriving any evil, she doth not even suspect it of the beloved. How then could she work any, or how be provoked? who doth not even endure to admit an evil surmise; whence is the fountain of wrath.]

[4] Albert Barnes, Notes on the New Testament: I Corinthians, ed. Robert Frew (London: Blackie & Son, 1884–1885), 250.

[5] H. D. M. Spence-Jones, ed., 1 Corinthians, The Pulpit Commentary (London; New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1909), 424.

[6] W. R. W. Stephens M.A.. Saint John Chrysostom: His Life and Times (Aeterna Press: Kindle Edition), 277-278.

[7] Thomas Manton, The complete works of Thomas Manton. Vol. 6. ( London: James Nisbet & Co, 1872), 447.

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