A Portrait of Love

August 21, 2011 | By Derick Parfan | 1 Corinthians 13:5-6

At Greenhills Christian Fellowship – Manila District

Deformed: Looking at Media’s Distorted Portrait of Love

One reason we struggle in loving other people – spouse, fellow Christians, coworkers, unbelievers, enemies – is because of our sinful human nature. Yes, we already have the Spirit as Christians, and the fruit of that Spirit is us is love. But that is not automatic. We need to do something to let the Spirit shape our hearts. One of the things that shape our hearts is the things we look at. “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind,” Paul said in Romans 12:2. What we see fills our minds and our hearts.

Don’t underestimate the influence of media in our minds. What we see in media – TV shows, commercials, movies, Internet, magazines – are a reflection of our culture. More than that, they shape our culture. And we are letting media shape our hearts and we saturate our minds with media’s generally (not all, of course) distorted portrait of love.

We have to admit that even Christians act like the Christ-less world today in terms of our relationship with each other. Instead of painting our lives with a beautiful portrait of love, we become content and satisfied with a distorted version of love we see in movies. A distorted portrait of love desires to get from other people what we want. A beautiful, Biblical portrait of love desires to give to other people what they need, truly need.

Many young people today pursue unholy love, which is no love at all. It is not uncommon for teenagers to engage in premarital sex, and some of them are proud in talking about it. That’s what we see in movies. A man and a woman meeting each other for the first time and they already have a connection. That night they go to bed together and “make love.” Well, that’s not making love, that’s breaking love. Why? Because love “does not rejoice at wrongdoing (like sexual impurities), but rejoices with the truth (like sexual chastity)” (1 Cor. 13:6). Christian men become like the world when we think impure and lustful thoughts about our sisters in Christ, and take advantage of their emotions. Christian women became like the world when they try to attract other men by how they dress without modesty, insensitive to the sexual struggles that even the most godly men face.

Sexual immorality is one of the problems Paul was trying to address in his first letter to the Corinthian Christians. They were not doing something about it, some are even proud of it. But we see distortions of love not just in our sexual relationships. But also how we relate with each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. In Corinth, there were divisions, they were trying to settle their conflicts in courts, there were disorderly and boastful practices of their spiritual gifts, there were inconsiderate attitudes regarding the eating of food that might be a stumbling block to other Christians.

Painting a Portrait of Love

So in order to address the problem in the church in Corinth, especially regarding the unloving use of spiritual gifts, he devoted an entire chapter on love. In chapter 13 verses 1-3, he argued about the necessity of love. In verses 8-13, he argued about the permanence of love. Here in our passage in verses 4-7, he listed the characters of love. In a way, he is like painting a beautiful portrait of love, a portrait alien to the pagan and sinful society where they live.

Not Rude

Since your pastor already explained verse 4, let us now just focus on verses 5-6. Let’s continue looking at this biblical portrait of love. It is not rude. To be rude is to “defy social standards, to be ill-mannered, to behave improperly.” The word is also used in 7:36, “If anyone thinks he is acting improperly toward the virgin he is engaged to…” To be rude is to act improperly toward other people, to act in a way that may bring shame or dishonor to one’s self and also to the other person. It is to act in a shameful, dishonorable way.

The Corinthians were not careful about the way their ladies cover or not cover their heads (chap. 11). They were also not appropriately behaving in observing the Lord’s Supper. “When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not” (11:20-22). He spoke the same way about their abuse of their gift of speaking in tongues, “All things should be done decently and in order” (14:39-40).

We become rude when we are not careful with words. When we joke or laugh about others imperfections. When, even if we don’t mean it, we offend others. When we are not sensitive to the feeling of others. Instead of being rude, love respects other people. Love does to others things that will honor them, that will lift them up, that will make them think that they are people of value.

Not Self-Seeking

It is not self-seeking. We become rude because we are self-seeking, we think primarily of what we want, what is good for us, even to the harm of other people. Literally, the word used here reads “does not seek itself.” “Does not insist on its on way” (ESV). “Does not demand its own way” (NLT). On the issue of eating food offered to idols, the Corinthians were self-seeking. “For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died” (8:10-12). Instead of thinking only of their own appetite and cravings, Paul admonished them regarding the eating of meat offered to idols, “Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor” (10:24).

In using their spiritual gifts, they were doing it to exalt themselves instead of edifying their brothers. That is why Paul said, “So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church” (14:12). In the matter of lawsuits, they were also self-seeking, seeking their own advantage. “To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? But you yourselves wrong and defraud—even your own brothers!” (6:7-8). In failure to sacrifice one’s own comfort in reaching out to non-believers, they were self-seeking. They must love unbelievers like Paul did, “Just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved” (10:33). Love thinks of the interests of others as we seek our own or even above our own (Phil. 2:4). Love is not self-seeking, but serving others.

Not Easily-Angered

It is not easily angered. When we are self-seeking and things happen not to our advantage or not in the way we expect, be become easily-angered. It is “to let oneself be carried away” (EDNT 3:43). It is to lose control of our emotions or lose our patience. In response to wrongs done to us, we think of negative thoughts, of vengeance, of the harm of others, we say things that will put others down.  Love is patient. But when you are self-seeking, you are also easily angered. When you do not get what you want, when others achieve more than you, when others don’t do what you expect, when you feel mistreated, when you feel neglected. Love does not respond in self-righteous anger. There is righteous anger, when we see that God is offended, when we see that others are mistreated. But often we become angry for selfish reasons. And that is not love.

Instead of thinking how the church can serve you, think how you can serve the church. That’s love. That’s not self-seeking, not easily-angered.

Keeps No Record of Wrongs

It keeps no record of wrongs. The language used here is that used in bookkeeping – counting or reckoning. When you love, you don’t hold others accountable anymore for the wrongs they have done against you. You canceled their debts. There is true forgiveness and true reconciliation. You don’t just set aside sin and bring that back at some future time, you permanently cast it off. You burned their record of wrongs, so that it doesn’t stand in the way of the relationship anymore. In the ESV, “not resentful.” It is a feeling we develop when we constantly remind ourselves of the wrong or injury done to us. It is “a feeling of indignant displeasure or persistent ill will at something regarded as a wrong, insult, or injury” (Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary).

Does Not Delight in Evil

It does not delight in evil. Evil here might refer to our own sin, the sin of others, or the misfortune suffered by other people. “Love never takes satisfaction from sin, whether our own sin or that of others. Doing wrong things is bad enough in itself; bragging about them makes the sins even worse. To rejoice in unrighteousness is to justify it” (John MacArthur, p. 349). Love hates what God hates. Since sin and any kind of evil is an affront to God’s holiness, we must despise it. Paul rebuked the Corinthian Christians for not disciplining members who are practicing sexual immorality. He said to them, “Your boasting is not good” (5:6). He later told them “not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one” (5:11).

We delight in evil when we are pleased with the misfortune suffered by our enemies. We delight in evil when we gossip and enjoy talking about other people’s sins or mistakes. Gossips are like small fires that can burn the whole forest. Our church was almost divided because of just one wrong information spread around. We delight in evil when we do not do something about sin in our churches. It is painful to see a brother and a sister in Christ fall because of premarital sex. If we love them, we will do something about it, to bring them to repentance and restoration. Paul is reminding us not just of the evil we see in others, but also the evil in our hearts. We delight in evil when we don’t do something about the lusts in our minds and the immoralities in our lives.

Rejoices with the Truth

It rejoices with the truth. Paul started the portrait with two positive pictures of love (“Love is patient, love is kind.”) Then launched a series of seven negatives (“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…”). Now he’s back with a positive portrait. “But rejoices with the truth.” Truth here might refer to knowledge of biblical truth (God’s revelation in Scripture and in Jesus Christ), living by that truth, and proclaiming the truth. When you rejoice with or in something you consider that something very important, very valuable. You treasure it, you pursue it, you make it your life’s goal.

Looking to Jesus, the Perfect Portrait of Love

This truth has all to do with Jesus Christ, who is “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14) who said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (14:6). The apostle Paul here in Chapter 13 is painting a beautiful portrait of Christian love. A portrait marred by the Corinthian church’s lovelessness, which is characterized by divisiveness, immorality, disorderly worship, and disregard for others. “Paul is painting a portrait of love, and Jesus Christ is sitting for the portrait. He lived out in perfection all of these virtues of love. This beautiful picture of love is a portrait of Him” (John MacArthur, 1 Corinthians, p. 338). We need to look at how Jesus loves and as we behold the glory of the love of Jesus we will be transformed into that same image of Christ-like love (2 Cor. 3:18).

Jesus is not rude. Paul appealed to the Corinthians “by the meekness and gentleness of Christ (2 Cor. 10:1). “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth” (Isa. 53:7). Even when his executioners were rude – mocking him, insulting him, spitting on him, striking him – he was still as meek as a lamb (Matt. 27:27-31). That is love. Pure love.

Jesus is not self-seeking. He came down from heaven and dwelt among us. He won’t do that if he will think only of his own welfare. His incarnation and especially his sufferings and death were acts of self-denial. “Though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:6-8). He came not to be served but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). The Lord of the universe became a slave so that we who are in bondage to sin might be freed to be in his heavenly kingdom. That is love. Pure love.

Jesus is not easily-angered. Yes, we saw him turning tables over in the temple courtyard, but that is because of his love for the Father and his passion that people worship him in spirit and truth. But he is not easily-angered when he was reviled and mocked. When he was on the cross, he even prayed for those who crucified him, “Father, forgive them.” On the cross, “He is the propitiation God for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2). He is the sacrifice that bears the wrath of God for us and turns it into mercy and love. That’s love. Pure love.

Jesus keeps no record of wrongs. “In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them” (2 Cor. 5:19). “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross” (Col 2:13-14). “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:1). That’s love. Pure love.

Jesus does not delight in evil, rejoices with the truth. That is why he came to earth, to purge evil and to vindicate the holiness of God. He is “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). One day when he returns, evil will be no more, there will be no more sin, no more pain, no more crying, no more suffering. He does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth. That is love. Pure love.

Where do you look at? What portrait of love are you looking at? If you seek only entertainment and watch all the TV programs you want and feed your mind with trash, you won’t just get entertainment, you will get a deformed version of love. But if you will look constantly to Jesus, his words and his works, and trust in his present work through the Holy Spirit, you will be transformed. “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding (seeing, looking, contemplating) the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:18 ESV).

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