By Meg Gemelli, Crosswalk.com
“Love keeps no record of wrongs.” 1 Corinthians 13:5
What do you think of as you read that Bible verse? Do you feel a little defensive, wondering if I’m about to point my finger at you and “force” you to forgive somebody who hurt you? Does it feel like relief because blame and shame has been nipping at your heels for years? Is it just plain confusing? Or you’re not exactly sure how this scripture applies to you?
Join the club. The verse is used all over the place. It’s thrown in for good measure in sermons that champion forgiveness and getting along with each other. It’s spoken liberally in support groups, where members stumble beneath the burden of self-loathing and pain.
1 Corinthians 13:5 written on bathroom mirrors and bulletin board note cards as reminders for us all. It’s an amazing verse! But what does it actually mean as we attempt to put it into practice?
The Word is inspirational, but it’s also meant to be carried out with the help of Holy Spirit. It’s alive and active, and if we don’t find a way to take action, then we’re no better than the man who looks at himself in the mirror, who walks away, and who immediately forgets what he looks like.
Before we can figure out how to show our love, or erase any sort of record of wrongs, we need to understand what the scripture means, and who it was intended for in the first place. Then we can brainstorm ways to show it to our spouse and families. So let’s dive into the meaning of “love keeps no record of wrongs” from 1 Corinthians 13:4-5, and ideas for ways to act on it:
What Is the Meaning of This 1 Corinthians 13:5?
Is love really blind? Does love actually make the world go ‘round? What is love anyway, and what does the word mean to you?
Love for a spouse, a friend, or a favorite movie—we use the word in so many different ways. Our understanding of the idea can be vast, based on our life experiences too.
The writer of much of the New Testament was communicating to the church of Corinth—a city located on the northeastern coast of the Peloponnese peninsula of Greece—when he penned the letter containing this verse. Here’s the breakdown of what Paul wrote, according to Strong’s:
In this instance, Paul is using the word agape. This type of love isn’t infatuation or romance, but it means to love, to wish well to, take pleasure in, or long for. Reading further, we discover that agape love keeps no record (meaning to count, charge with, decide, think, conclude, or suppose) of wrong (bad or evil in the widest sense).
Imagine what that type of acceptance could look like among believers!
It can seem like an impossible task, since it’s the same kind of affection we’re supposed to practice while loving our neighbor. That’s easier said than done sometimes. We’re only human, so there’s good news for us tucked away in 1 John 4:16. The sentence is short, sweet, and to the point, and it provides the solution to the problem of messy humanity.
“God is love…”
...and can you guess what kind of love He is? You got it, Agape!
To finish the sentence from 1 John, we read, “God is love, and the one who abides (remains) in love, remains in God, and God abides in him.” Mind. Blown.
Now I’ll admit, this is a little bit of a geek out in Greek, and I realize that not all of us think in those kinds of terms, so maybe we can imagine it reading it together like this:
I, God, am patient and kind...I won’t suppose that you’re evil or count you as bad. (1 Cor. 3) I am the One who wishes you well, and takes pleasure in you. And when you stay in Me, I stay with you too. (1 John 4:16)
That sounds a little less threatening than our arms being twisted into a sort of forgive-them-or-else submission, right? When we look at the Greek, it comes across as more of an invitation than a demand.
What Is the Context of This Verse?
So why did Paul remind the Corinthians of God’s capacity to remain patient and kind, and to make sure that they weren’t counting one another as generally evil or bad? The short answer was that they were fighting with one another.
The church in Corinth had become deeply divided over a number of issues within their faith, and instead of hiding, Paul got straight to the point.
If he’d been a modern-day influencer, I picture it sounding something like, “Hey you! Stop sinning, and seriously, no more accusing everybody who doesn’t agree with you of being terrible and wrong. Let’s get on the same page according to God, not our opinions.”
It was pretty simple back then, just as it is today. We argue. We mess up. We fall short. And it’s up to us to either stick close to (abide in) the Lord, or to rely on our own plans and logic.
Here are some ways to apply the scriptural concepts of “loving well, and keeping no record of wrongs.”
Photo Credit: ©Unsplash/Tyler Nix
1. Assume the Best of Others
I hope I’ll get to meet Paul someday in heaven. Not only was the man a phenomenal writer and teacher, but he was also no-nonsense about the fact that he, himself, was a mess. He complained about his flaws, just like we do. Here’s a paraphrase of his admission from Romans 7:15:
“I don’t understand what I do. I do things that I don’t want to do, and then hate it. I want to do good, but I can’t follow through.”
Don’t we all?
To stop assuming the worst, means believing that others are doing the very best they know how to do—or at least, they’re doing the best they’re capable of, within their current heart condition. That’s true of most of us, especially those who claim to know Christ.
We don’t mean to mess up...but we inevitably do.
How might those people around us step into freedom if we approached them as folks who mean well, instead of discounting them or supposing they’re just bad? How much faster might we unite, connecting in both our broken humanity, and strength in Christ?
I dream of such a world.
2. Wish Others Well, Regardless of Circumstance
But I don’t want to…
I don’t want to wish the guy/girl that hurt me well anymore.
I don’t long to be around my coworker, or take pleasure in my spouse who acted unkindly.
I know. It doesn’t always feel safe to love like that, does it? That’s because it’s not.
And actually, some agape love is best done from afar, trusting that Holy Spirit will bridge the gap. Sometimes our best acts of love happen through intercession—praying that somebody will step into wellness, along with wishing them well. It’s not a perfect system, but it’s about remaining in God and trusting that He is in control.
We can practice wisdom without lording others’ shortfalls over them, or expecting them to “make it up to us.” We can also wish them well, while understanding that it may not be our role to walk with him or her throughout a particular season.
That’s still love.
3. Focus on What We Have in Common, Not Our Differences
God, I pray that we could suffer short memories—of our mistakes and differences, that is. Despite society’s best efforts at blaming and separating humans based on money, skin color, gender, etc., the truth is that we have much more in common than not.
We bleed. We hurt. We cling to one another when life gets hard. And we have a God who is love incarnate, regardless of whether we choose to acknowledge Him.
We all run the race, just at different speeds.
So it’s strange to me that, while there are people asking for help to tie their shoes, many of us are screaming from the finish line, fixated on our stopwatches. “Why aren’t they getting here faster?” we sigh and roll our eyes.
But how much joy could we experience if we returned to our humble beginnings and walked together? If we realized that many of us are simply scared and insecure—wondering if running is even possible?
We’re offered the opportunity to unite every single day...online, at work, at home, in marriage, and while parenting. But will we? I desperately pray that we do, because only in Agape do we find the true acceptance we all seek.
God I thank You that, as far as the east is from the west, Your memory is separated from our mistakes. You are agape itself. Please help us to stay in You, while You stay close to us. Because apart from you, we’re lost and lonely creatures—prone to fear, judgment, and holding grudges against those who are so much more like us, than we could ever be different. Help us to be there from one another, not assuming the worst, but seeing Your creative blueprint within every precious soul we encounter. Thank you for your son, Jesus. It’s in His name we pray. Amen.
Photo Credit: ©Unsplash/Kelly Sikkema
Meg Gemelli is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, and the founder of theMakingofaMarriage.com. Along with polishing her Crossfit participation trophies, she can be found Pinterest-failing in the kitchen, glamping with the fam, or reading a great book oceanside. However flawed, she practices faith over fear every single day.