Paul taught that love is not easily angered, keeps no record of wrongs, and does not delight in evil. Instead, it rejoices in the truth and always protects. Continuing his study through the characteristics of genuine Christian love, Alistair Begg challenges us to examine whether we display the same love Jesus so generously lavishes upon us to the world.
If you’re visiting tonight, you just arrived in the midpoint of some studies in 1 Corinthians 13. And if you care to follow along, we return to the characteristics of Christian love which Paul is identifying for us there.
We’ve been discovering in these weeks that although our initial inclination is to view 1 Corinthians 13 as a kind of cozy chapter, in actual fact, to study it is like walking through a minefield. It’s a little like sitting on pin cushions. And certainly last time, as we looked together at these initial characteristics, we saw that without these facets of genuine Christian love being discovered and displayed in the family of God, any local church without them will begin to drift and will eventually disintegrate. We said last time that what Paul provides for us here between verse 4 and the beginning of verse 8 is essentially fifteen facets of the diamond of agape love. And again, so that we would return, as it were, to first base on each occasion, let me remind you of what we’ve said concerning this love that we defined in our opening study. I’m quoting Leon Morris now; he says that the love that we are dealing with here is
a love for the utterly unworthy, a love which proceeds from a God who is love. It is a love lavished [on] others without a thought of whether they are worthy to receive it or not. It proceeds rather from the nature of the lover, than from any merit in the beloved.
Last time, in order to set the challenge before us as clearly as we might, we suggested to each other that we would remove the word “love” from verse 4 and following and try and read out loud the ensuing verses by replacing our individual names there, or that we would try it putting in the name of our church so that we would be forced to read, “Parkside Church is patient, Parkside Church is kind, Parkside Church does not envy, Parkside Church does not boast,” and so on. When we begin to do that, we see just how challenging these verses really are.
We dealt last time with the first seven of these facets, and we pick it up again partway through verse 5, simply working through the list, and we’ll go as far as we can as the time allows.
We dealt with “It is not rude, it is not self-seeking,” and we come now to the phrase “it is not easily angered.” Paroxunetai is the word in Greek, from which we get our English word paroxysm, which, if you look it up in a dictionary, it will have a definition somewhere along the lines of “a violent, temporary crisis of emotion,” and we usually think of it in terms of a fiery outburst having to do with temper. And the fact is that there are some people for all of us who simply provoke us. Sometimes they do it wittingly; most of the time probably not deliberately and not knowingly, but nevertheless consistently. If we might put it down at the most mundane terms, there are certain people who just get on our nerves. And we represent that for others too. We can be in their company, but they largely annoy us.
And the tendency is to blame such people because of the impact they are having on us. We say to ourselves, “If they weren’t around, I wouldn’t feel the way I do. If they didn’t show up, then I wouldn’t be provoked as I am. So it’s all their fault for existing, for living, for being in the same house as me, for coming into my bedroom,” says the brother of his sister, whatever it might be—when in point of fact, such reactions fail to face realistically and honestly the fact of our own irritability and our touchiness.
John MacArthur recounts the story of the daughter of Jonathan Edwards. One of Edwards’s daughters had a violent temper. And when a young man who had fallen in love with her requested her hand in marriage, he was denied by the father, by Jonathan Edwards. Jonathan Edwards said, “No, you can’t marry her.” And when the young man sought an explanation, the father said, “She is not worthy of you.” And the young man said, “But isn’t she a Christian?” And the father replied, “Yes, she is”—and now I quote Edwards—“but the grace of God can live with some people with whom no one else could ever live.” There’s a tremendous realism about that, a brutal honesty, especially in relationship to your daughter.
And the real challenge is, do we fit the bill there? Is that in any way descriptive of us? Instead of loving people despite all their faults and their foibles, many of us tend so to focus upon what annoys us in the people that we are continually provoked to anger. We say of people, “I just can’t be in their company. They just get me.” If you think of how many of our offices in daily routine of business, our freeways as we drive in our cars, our school classrooms and our hospital wards display this kind of irritability and touchiness, this provocation—and it has to do with our turf, and it has to do so often with our rights. And when we feel that our turf has been tramped on or our rights have been invaded, then we feel that we have every right, as it were, to respond in this way. And we are “easily angered,” justifying it all the time on the basis of what another has done or just because of their presence.
Now, this is in direct contrast to everything that we see of the embodiment of love in the Lord Jesus himself. We’ve referred to 1 Peter 2, and I turn you to it again, in verses 23–24: “When they hurled their insults at [Jesus], he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.” He who had every provocation against him, every reason from a human perspective to result in fiery outbursts, chose not to do that. He embodied this kind of love.
“Well,” says somebody, “but what about in Matthew 21:11–12, where it speaks of Jesus casting the people out of the temple? What was happening then?” Well, I’m glad you asked that question, because it’s a good question. Because it is often posed. And people say, “Well then, if he is such a great lover, and if that is the embodiment of love, how could somebody ever react in that way?” And the answer is obvious when we think about it. Jesus was reacting on that occasion not to any sense of self-provocation. He was reacting not to any maligning of himself or impinging upon himself in any sense of wrongdoing, but he was reacting to the profaning of his Father’s house. And his anger was provoked not by personal abuse but by a concern for God’s glory.
Every so often in reading the great apostle Paul, it becomes apparent that there is that which produces in him this righteous indignation. But when you check, it’s not about the fact that he was imprisoned. You never get anything from Paul bellyaching about the fact that he was in jail nor bemoaning the dreadful way in which he was treated in those dreadful floggings. But his anger comes through when he responds to the distortion of the truth or when he responds to the presence of immorality.
In the same way, I put it to you that anyone with a concern for God’s truth and for righteousness must surely have been provoked by the women’s section in our local newspaper this past week. Do you read that on whatever day it is? I think it maybe is a Tuesday, with the women’s section, or Thursday, whatever it is. And there on the front this week we were treated to the picture of a lesbian couple cuddling a baby. Now, if that did not infuriate you, you better take a Bible test. You better take a moral test. You better take a Jesus test. Because the inference behind the picture was straightforward: “Isn’t this a lovely scene? Who could possibly say anything bad about this? After all, nobody’s treating the child in an unhelpful way. Isn’t it a lovely picture of nurture and care and so on?” And for the vast majority of people, it washes over them, erodes any sense of conviction, and produces within them again that degenerative influence that will finally bring this into total acceptability in the mainstream of our nation. But for the Christian, it cannot be.
And there is a sense in which that kind of provocation, which is not directed against ourselves in any way, produces within us righteous indignation. But such righteous indignation is a far cry from touchiness in my life with my wife or with my kids, touchiness with my colleagues, irritability with my friends, an unwillingness to see the selfishness in my own life and blaming all my reactions on the impact of the third party. Every time that I burst into flames in response to the actions of my brother or my sister, I declare that I know little to nothing of agape love.
It’s challenging, isn’t it? Love “is not easily angered.”
Then, love “keeps no record of wrongs.” If you have the King James Version, it reads, “thinketh no evil.” Love does not store up the memory of the wrongs it has received.
All the time at the moment, we’re given all these little devices. I saw one that intrigued me just the other day that you can buy at Sharper Image. It’s as thin as a credit card, they said you can carry it with you, and it will store up to twelve things for you, one on the top of the other, so that you don’t have to write when you’re driving in your car. And you can just talk to it; it is voice activated, as small as a credit card, and it will store twelve messages. Depends what you’re like; if you’re a gadget person, then you’re intrigued by that. If you’re not, you like your big pad of paper sticking off the front of your windshield. Carry on; that’s up to you. But there is so much that can store things for us. And we’ve grown accustomed to that kind of storing.
The verb which is used here is a word which emerges from the world of bookkeeping and accounting. It is the verb which means “to credit to someone’s account.” It is the word that is used by Scrooge when we see him, or read of him, in Dickens’s work as he’s constantly entering into the ledger all the things that people owe him and keeping a record of it all, meticulously, in his copperplate handwriting. Well, says Paul, where love has invaded a life, where love has invaded a church—for remember, he is writing to a church—it will not be filled with people who love to store in their memory bank the record of wrongs received.
When you read anthropology, you discover that at times in the history of man there have been communities that spent most of their time—at least the men did—either feasting or fighting. They were either eating or they were fighting people. And many of these communities—you can read of them, for example, in Polynesia—were so consumed with both of these things that they always had a big pot boiling so that they could eat, and they also attached to themselves the reminders of their feuds. And when they were home, they would hang them from their roofs. And when they made journeys, they would hang them from their belts. They went out, and in the words of the boxer, “spoiled,” and they carried the reminders of every blow that laid them low or cut them till they cried out. And when you met them, there was every evidence on their person that they had been wronged. You could never meet them but you knew they had been wronged.
You ever met somebody like that? You’re not in their company for five minutes, and they start to give you the chronicles of all the wrongs done against them? Some of them can go back a long way. Some of them have an amazing capacity for recollection. Things that ought to have been long dealt with, long buried, long released are hanging from their belts, are worn on their lapels. You can see them hanging from the roofline of their homes. They are brooding people. They are neutralized people, in terms of Christian effectiveness.
When you and I find ourselves in this position, no matter how well we may go through the routines, we are held captive to the fact that we have determined that although love keeps no such records, we keep them and we like them. If you like, we have them all on video, and every so often, when no one’s around, we put the video in and we replay it, and we know at exactly which point to freeze the frame. And when we freeze the frame, we remember all over again: “She did that to me. He did that to me. He said that to me. He thought that of me.” Do you have such a video in your library? Then I say to you, erase it. Record over it. Choose not to play it. For love keeps no such record of wrongs.
Think of how the Lord Jesus has treated us. Paul writes to the church at Rome, and he says,
Blessed are they
whose transgressions are forgiven,
whose sins are covered.
Blessed is the man
whose sin the Lord will never count against him.
Never count against him! Not even the remotest possibility that it will count against us. No possibility of entering his presence and having him run the video and show it to us all over again. And when we go back with our own warped theology to say, “Oh God, I remember all those years ago, and I did this,” and we go back through all the garbage cans of forgiven sin, the Lord looks at us and says, “I don’t even know what you’re talking about.” Why? Because he loves us with an everlasting love.
And when people come to confess to us and remind us of things, we need to remember that we’ve been treated with such grace in response to the enormity of our offenses that surely we ought to forgive and forget the offenses done against us. Seems to me that one of the great arts in life is learning what to forget. Why is it that it is so easy to forget what you need to remember and to remember what you need to forget? It’s part of our fallenness, and the perversity is none clearer than in a life or in a home or in a church that harbors the record of wrongs.
So we proceed through the minefield of 1 Corinthians 13. You will never again believe this to be a cozy chapter up to which you cuddle. Never again. It is one of the most challenging sections in the whole Bible.
Next, “Love does not delight in evil,” or “rejoiceth not in iniquity,” as the King James Version says. “Oh, well,” says somebody, “we can just gloss over this one. It’s not a problem, is it?” Well, think it out. There’s a perverse streak in human nature which actually is intrigued by and even enjoys evil, especially in others. Isn’t it true? You’re halfway through Jeopardy, if you watch Jeopardy, and they have one of those twenty-second promos from one of our famous little news channels to which we all look forward at eleven o’clock at night, I’m sure. I want to ask you a question: When that little twenty-second thing comes on—you can run your own check on this—how often do they come on to tell you something good? Not often!
It came to me vividly, because I was in preparation for this during last week, and I was thinking along these lines. I’m watching Jeopardy, it cuts away, the man’s face comes up and goes … and it shows a picture of some gentleman, and it says, “Grandfather involved in the molestation of his grandchildren. More about this at eleven o’clock.” Oh, yes, sure. I want to stay up for more of the filthy trash out of the gutters of life. And yet there is a perversity in human nature that says, “Oh, I wonder what that’s about.” Oh, we’re not going to do that! We don’t do that! But that evil intrigues us—vicariously involved in other people’s badness.
Think about it in relationship to movies. Everybody loved the music—I have a compact disc of Out of Africa—the great, wonderful, soaring lines there from the great pictures of the Ngong Hills. But it really was a bad story. It was an evil story. It was a story about adultery, and love cannot rejoice in adultery. Love cannot rejoice in evil.
Stand in the grocery line and look at the folks try to sell us magazines. Even the little old Reader’s Digest, isn’t it now? They don’t leave it permanently on there, I’ve noticed; they have one of these sticky sheets that they put on the front of it. Have you seen that? So that you can tear it off, and it goes away, and then you can keep the Reader’s Digest in your bathroom, and no one will know what it said on the front. But they’re into it now as well, because that boring little missive as it appears is gonna to need to get jazzed up next to People and Cosmo and all the others. And what’s on the cover? Adultery, indecency, cheating, lies, corruption, filth! Why? ’Cause it sells. Why? Because men and women have an appetite for it.
You see, the transforming power of Jesus Christ is what Paul is addressing here. And he’s saying when the love of Christ invades a fellowship, it’s going to transform all this stuff about coming to the temples of demons. It’s going to transform the way we relate to one another. It’s going to make us the kind of people who learn to live in love and therefore rejoice not when evil is exalted. It’s Philippians 4, essentially, and verse 8: “Whatsoever things are true, and whatsoever things are holy, whatsoever things are of good report, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, if there’s anything excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things.” And yet, we can too easily, as Christians, fall into the trap of delighting not in those things but actually in what is murky and sordid.
Let me tell you one of the key ways in which it happens in the life of the Christian: gossip. Gossip. Anytime I gossip, I violate this facet of agape love. Because usually when I gossip, I take a vicarious delight in passing on bad news or poor news concerning another person. I somehow manage to elevate myself above it by mentioning it and thereby distancing myself from it, but there is a perversity even in the heart of the Christian that kind of likes to send that news down the line, and often under the disguise of a prayer chain or something. Now don’t, if you have a prayer chain, for goodness’ sake, think that I know about your prayer chain, because I don’t know about your prayer chain. But I do know about prayer chains in the past, and there’s more gossip goes down telephone lines under the disguise of prayer than I’ve had hot dinners. Because when we gossip, we gloat over the sins and shortcomings of others, and we derive a perverse form of satisfaction from restating them.
So what Paul is saying, instead of condoning sin by passing it on, we’re to confront sin. That’s why in Matthew 18 we have the nature of church discipline, so that we may confront sin in the lives of one another and go directly to them and bring before them witnesses and bring it to the church, because if you don’t do that in a church, the church just gossips about it. Some of the greatest antagonism that I’ve faced over the years here has been directly related to what we’ve done or attempted to do in church discipline. “How could you possibly do that?” people say. “Isn’t this supposed to be a loving church?” Well, yeah, we’re following the words of the loving Christ, who said to lovingly do this, because if we don’t do this, what happens is that people pass it on by way of gossip.
The challenge is clear: we ought to gauge our reading, our viewing, our listening habits from this positive perspective.
Let’s go one more: love “rejoices [in] the truth.” It “does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.” Let me give you Phillips: “It does not keep account of evil or gloat over the wickedness of other people. On the contrary, it is glad with all good men when truth prevails.” It’s a wonderful paraphrase. What is love like? It’s “glad with all good men when truth prevails.” So it rejoices in seeing truth. Joy and truth and love are interwoven. Love cannot rejoice when truth is denied. The guy says to his girlfriend, “You know, I really love you, and I want you to do this,” but it violates truth; he doesn’t love her. So tell him to take a hike. For love and truth are interwoven, and there is no rejoicing that is indifferent to moral considerations.
This is one of the great ways in which love falls down, and this is where 1 Corinthians is so helpful to us. Love and righteousness cannot be separated. “Oh, well, I’m hopelessly falling in love with you.” I was speaking to the singles the other night, and I was quoting this song. I don’t know who the fellow is that sings it. It’s a bunch of nonsense. You’ve heard it on the radio:
And I don’t care what’s right or wrong,
And I don’t know what’ll happen next,
But I’m hopelessly falling in love with you.
Oh, I’ve been walking the wire,
But now I’m going down the other side,
’Cause I’m hopelessly falling in love with you.
So somehow or another, this “hopelessly falling” experience legitimizes any kind of lifestyle at all. Do you know how many marriages are breaking down under that kind of silliness, even in Christian churches? Love rejoices when all good men see truth exalted. This is something that we need to hold onto and understand clearly.
Let me just quote to you from John, who was the Apostle of Love. In 2 John he writes, “It has given me great joy to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as the Father commanded us. And now, dear lady, I am not writing you a new command but one we have had from the beginning. I ask that we love one another.” And then he defines it: “And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love.”
So how do we know we’re in love? When we walk in obedience to his commands. It’s simple. And any love relationship—between a husband, a wife, a boy or a girl, a brother or sister, members of the family of God—that does not walk in obedience to God’s command is less than the love that is here described. And the encouragement of it is that by the impulse of the Holy Spirit, walking in the truth of Scripture, we may enjoy this kind of love, and indeed, we should settle for nothing less than it.
So in contrast to the previous facet, which is a denial of that which is evil, here he turns it on the other side, and he says love is seen to focus on the good, on the true, and on the wholesome. It doesn’t embrace wrongdoing. It doesn’t embrace heresy. That may be embraced by weakness, by sentimentalism, or by foolishness, but not by love.
Well, how are we doing? Do you want to put your name in there yet? “Parkside Church is not easily angered. It’s not full of a bunch of touchy people who are always just bursting into animosity. Parkside Church keeps no record of wrongs. If there is discipline, it is within accord with Scripture; it is done, it is dealt with, it is passed over, and it is gone. Parkside Church does not delight in evil. It’s not a hotbed for gossip being passed around concerning what people have done in terms of offense. Parkside Church rejoices with the truth.”
And finally, we’ll just take one more: “Parkside Church is a protective place to be.” Because love “always protects.” If you have a King James Version, it reads, love “beareth all things.” Phillips: “Love knows no limit to its endurance.” The Greek word is stegei, which actually means “to cover as a roof,” or “to bear a load as a roof would do.” Therefore, it is variously translated “to bear patiently” or “to protect.” In relationship to itself, love endures. In relationship to others, it protects. It reminds us of the words of Solomon; Proverbs 10, he says, “Hatred stirs up dissension, but love covers … all wrongs.”
Now, that doesn’t mean—and sometimes people fall foul of this; they say it’s the same as you get in the New Testament: “Love covers … a multitude of sins,” or “Love covers all wrongs.” They see that in terms of lifting up the corner of the carpet and shoving a bunch of stuff underneath. “Oh, love covers all wrongs? I see. You don’t talk about it. You don’t expose it. You don’t deal with it. You don’t confess it. You don’t ask for forgiveness for it. ’Cause love covers all wrongs. Therefore, you stick it under the carpet, and you just fold the carpet over it.” You don’t have to do that too many times till everyone’s tripping over the carpet. And every church that tries to pull that stunt will eventually fall on its face together.
It does not mean that. It doesn’t mean that love is in any way dishonest. It doesn’t mean that love justifies or conceals sin. Rather, love warns, love corrects, love exhorts, love rebukes, love disciplines. That’s what love does. Love risks friendships. Love puts itself on the line in order to bear another’s burdens, in order to protect. I read a letter this week, written by a young man to his friend, and his friend is on the very brink of the total destruction of his marriage. The young man wrote to him to say, “I love you too much to allow you to do this. It would be like sitting on a railway line with a locomotive coming at you. And I am prepared to risk your friendship for the sake of seeing you reclaimed.” It’s not the covering up of sin. It’s the exposing of sin and the protection and the bearing up.
Someone put it like this: “God pardons like a mother, who kisses the offence into everlasting forgetfulness.” Oh, I like that. You go to your mom when you’re a wee boy. You’ve been down over at somebody’s house, and you did their apple trees for them. And I don’t mean you pared them or pruned them; you rifled them. And you have a dreadful guilty conscience, and your stomach is sore, because they were lousy apples in any case, and you’ve been riding your bike around and around and around, and you can’t get yourself sorted out at all, and you know you’ve gotta speak to somebody. And you go to your mother. And if she is anything worthy of the name, she’s going to discipline you, and confront you, and kiss your error into everlasting forgetfulness. She will not, the following Monday, when you fail to pick up the towels in the bathroom, say to you, “Aye, there you go, leaving the towels in the bathroom, y’ wee sinner, the same way you stole the apples from Mrs. Robertson’s garden.” Why won’t she do that? ’Cause love keeps no record of wrongs. And when I am offended by my brother or my sister and they put in their videotape and drag up the last five deposits made in the ledger to their account in terms of the error of my ways, I know they do not love me. And when I do it, I know that I do not love them.
When we think of covering for sin, what do we think of? If we know the Old Testament, we think of the mercy seat, where there was a covering for sin, speaking of the Day of Atonement, symbolized in all of the Old Testament sacrificial system, and then expressed manifestly in Calvary. And when Jesus died upon the cross, he threw, as it were, the mantle of his forgiveness over all our evil and of all our rebellion.
Love “always protects.” Peter learned that on the lakeshore in the gracious response of Jesus. And every humble, repentant sinner will learn it too.
How protective do you think is Parkside Church as a place of love? How protective are you as a lover? Do you care enough—do I care enough—to put my life on the line because of the love I have for someone else?
The story’s told of a young girl in the time of Cromwell—and with this I conclude. In the time of Cromwell, engaged to be married to a young man, she discovered that her fiancé was under the judgment of the Lord Protector—namely, Cromwell himself—and that he was to be executed. It was for some relatively trivial offense; there was some question as to the legitimacy of the offense. But Cromwell, who was a proud man, refused to recant, refused to commute the sentence, despite the protestations of this girl. And he announced that at the sounding of the curfew bell the young man would be put to death.
As the evening shadows fell and the man went to ring the bell, in pulling on the rope, it never rang. And the more he pulled, the more he was met simply by deadness and no resounding ring. Recognizing that there was some problem with the mechanism, he gave off attempting to ring the curfew bell and in searching up in the housing discovered the body of the young girl wrapped around the clapper in the bell. And they took her beaten, bloodied body down from the bell housing. And Cromwell commuted the sentence. A poet put it in this way:
At his feet she [told] her story, [showed] her hands, all bruised and torn;
And her sweet young face, still haggard with the anguish it had [borne],
Touched his heart with sudden pity, lit his eyes with misty light.
“Go! your lover lives,” [said] Cromwell. “Curfew [will] not ring to-night!”
I love you with the love of the Lord.
[Oh,] I love you with the love of the Lord,
[’Cause] I can see in you the glory of my King,
And I love you with the love of the Lord.
Let us bow in prayer:
Father, make these truths real in our hearts and lives, in our homes, in our workplaces, and in our church. Forgive us for constantly replaying the video of offenses caused against us. Bring about the kind of transformation that only you can bring by your Spirit. Please marry the principles of the morning hour in Nehemiah with the presence of genuine Christian love in these evening studies so that we may not be ashamed at your coming. And may the pondering of the love of the Lord Jesus Christ draw those of us who do not know him to his feet in repentance and faith and those of us who do to his feet in adoration and praise. For we ask it in his lovely name. Amen.
 Leon Morris, The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary (1958; repr., London: Tyndale, 1960), 181.
 Attributed by John MacArthur, Drawing Near: Daily Readings for a Deeper Faith (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1993), 30.
 Romans 4:7–8 (NIV 1984).
 Philippians 4:8 (paraphrased).
 See Matthew 18:15–17.
 Rob Fisher and Rick Astley, “Hopelessly” (1993). Paraphrased.
 2 John 4–6 (NIV 1984).
 Proverbs 10:12 (NIV 1984).
 1 Peter 4:8 (NIV 1984).
 Henry Ward Beecher, Life Thoughts (London: James Blackwood and Co., 1858), 22.
 Rose Hartwick Thorpe, “Curfew Must Not Ring To-Night” (1867).
 Jim Gilbert, “I Love You with the Love of the Lord” (1977).
Copyright © 2021, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.