Summary: This is the sixth installment in a series I did on I Corinthians 13, and focuses on the fact that "love does not act unbecomingly."
January 26, 2003
Love of Another Kind – I Corinthians 13
Given the frigid weather of this month, perhaps this poem is a fitting way to begin:
Six humans trapped by happenstance in bleak and bitter cold,
Each one possessed a stick of wood, or so the story goes.
Their dying fire in need of logs, the first man held his back,
For on the faces around the fire he noticed one was black.
The next man looking across the way saw one not of his church
And couldn’t bring himself to give the first his stick of birch.
The third one sat in tattered clothes; he gave his coat a hitch.
Why should his log be put to use to warm the idle rich?
The rich man just sat and thought of the wealth he had to store,
And how to keep what he had earned from the lazy, shiftless poor.
The black man’s face bespoke revenge as the fire passed from his sight,
For all he saw in his stick of wood was a chance to spite the white.
The last man of this forlorn group did naught except for gain.
Giving only to those who gave was how he played the game.
Their logs held tight in death’s still hand was proof of human sin.
They didn’t die from the cold without; they died from the cold within.
We have been talking about the difference that love makes in a person’s life, according to Paul. Jesus tells us that the item of greatest importance in the life of the Christ-follower is love. Priority One is loving God with every thing we have; the second priority follows right on the heels of the first, and indeed is inseparable from it: that we love each other as we love ourselves. In I Corinthians 13, in the middle of a discourse on the use and abuse of spiritual giftings, Paul talks about the context that is necessary for the exercise of any and all spiritual gifts: the context of love. What does love for one another look like? Today we resume our study—stand with me as we read together!
I got an email invitation this week from a group holding a meeting in a couple of months. The roster of speakers for the event was populated by a group of men and women whose names I didn’t know save one—and this one was particularly troubling. I had heard and read this individual on several occasions, supposedly a preacher of the gospel and a moral crusader. All I saw was arrogance, rudeness, and hypocrisy; I remember thinking to myself that, if ever there were begun an organization called “Jerks for Jesus”, this gentleman would make for an excellent president. I emailed the lady back who had sent the invitation; she responded to me the next day with word that the organization was withdrawing its invitation to the man, because several folks had emailed concerns. Sadly, among the other concerns came news that this individual had broken faith with his wife, divorcing her for a much younger woman—though sadly, it hadn’t stopped his self-righteous crusading. Knowing that pride comes before a fall, I found myself un-surprised, but saddened all the same.
Paul begins what is verse 5 to us by describing love as something which “does not act unbecomingly”. We don’t often use the word “unbecomingly” in common discourse. NIV says “rude”, which is close but somewhat stunted, I think. KJV says that love “doth not behave itself unseemly”; if “unbecomingly” is an uncommon word, more so “unseemly”! J.B. Philips says, in his translation, “love practices good manners.” So what is it that Paul is driving at here?
I. The Offense: Men (and Women!) Behaving Badly
Paul may have in mind particularly the conduct of the Corinthian believers at worship as described in 11:2-16, as well as chapter 14. In chapter 11, Paul has mentioned a cultural issue there in Corinth; the women were behaving in a way in that culture which served to disregard a distinction between the sexes, and so dishonored the name of Christ. There are several characteristics of this “behaving badly”, this rudeness, that I’d like to suggest; first, it involves behaving
“Rude” is a culture-sensitive term; mores differ according to culture, and the definition of what it means to be “rude” will differ as well. At the heart of rudeness, regardless of culture, is a thoughtless disregard for the feelings and sensibilities of others. This is a form of disrespect. We act unbecomingly when we simply don’t take the time to think through our actions, when we just plunge right ahead with whatever it is we are determined to do. Americans are especially good at this; reticence is not generally found conspicuously among our traits!