Believe it or not—love discriminates.
Love chooses what and what not to rejoice in, delight in, and celebrate.
In 1 Corinthians 13:6, Paul tells us that love
does not rejoice in unrighteousness
but rejoices with the truth.
I wonder whether these two characteristics of agapē-love are, for many well-meaning people, the main point of departure from loving like God. We do not like the choices—often difficult and painful—that agapē-love requires.
First, so that we are on the same page, “God is love”—agapē—and that is what Paul is describing for us. This is not the fluffy niceness that society often mistakes for love—an attitude which appears to accept, affirm, and endorse anything and everything.
Second, unrighteousness and truth are antagonists. For instance, Romans 1:18 states:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of [people] who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.
When embraced in our lives, unrighteousness has the power to suppress, overpower, or squash the truth. When that happens, the results will not be good.
Third, you can have truth without love, but you cannot have love without truth.
You can have truth without love. For instance, “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15) implies you can also speak the truth without love. To speak the truth without love weaponizes truth with the result of alienating, controlling, and harming those to whom you speak.
Let’s explore the other part of this third caution— you cannot have love without truth.
Paul wrote the 16 qualities of agapē-love to Christians living in Corinth. The culture of Corinth was, in many ways, a microcosm of the modern Western culture. Commercially prosperous, religiously diverse, politically influential, and morally deficient.
There were many practices in Corinth, even among the Christians, which Paul confronted as contrary to God’s love. As we have seen in earlier posts, they were engaged in a variety of immoral attitudes and practices.
The Corinthian culture was well known for debauchery. If you are not sure what “debauchery” means, here is a definition: “extreme indulgence in bodily pleasures and especially sexual pleasures.”
William Barclay verifies this trait in his commentary, The Letters to the Corinthians:
The very word korinthiazesthai, to live like a Corinthian, had become part of the Greek language, and meant to live with drunken and immoral debauchery.
The very name Corinth was synonymous with debauchery and there was one source of evil in the city which was known all over the civilized world. Above the isthmus towered the hill of the Acropolis, and on it stood the great temple of Aphrodite, the goddess of love. To that temple there were attached one thousand priestesses who were sacred prostitutes, and in the evenings they descended from the Acropolis and plied their trade upon the streets of Corinth…
So, it is not surprising to see Paul encountering sexual immorality in the Jesus-community at Corinth (and elsewhere): 1 Corinthians 5; 6:12-20; 2 Cor 12: 20-21.
In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul confronts a situation in which the sexual immorality was “of a kind that does not occur even among pagans.” The Christians were not only aware of this immorality, but they were “arrogant” (5:2) and “boasting” (5:6) in their false sense of enlightened endorsement of the immorality. In reality, this situation was evidence of the spreading infection of sin within their community. Paul writes that the Corinthian Christians ought to respond with grief and repentance rather than pride and boasting.
Paul desired the best for the Corinthians and the people caught in the mire of sexual immorality. He was not a thundering bigot; he was a messenger of the God who is love—loving like Jesus.
An illustration of these qualities from the life of Jesus can be seen in the incident of a woman caught in adultery (John 8:2-11). After the “lynching party” had left, Jesus says to the woman, “neither do I condemn you.” But we do not take the love of Jesus seriously if we do not add what Jesus adds:
Go now and leave your life of sin.
Direct reference to “unrighteousness” occurs in 1 Corinthians 13:6 and 6:9-10. The New Living Translation puts a catalog of the lifestyles—persistent practices—of unrighteousness in terms we may understand more easily:
Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people—none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God.
Again, Paul is not spouting hate or intolerance. He speaks the truth in love with the desire that those trapped in these various practices will find release and enjoy the new life with God in his Kingdom.
God’s agapē-love does not rejoice or celebrate, find pleasure or delight in, unrighteousness. Instead, God’s love rejoices with the truth.
So, what are we to understand by these two qualities?
Remember a caution I raised earlier: we can have truth without love. My generation has seen too much of this “truth,” which is harmful, hypercritical, hypocritical, and bigoted—in short, unloving!
The solution is not expelling the truth. That would be throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
The modern western culture is experiencing some of the results of separating truth from love. One counterfeit for agapē is a “fluffy niceness” in our modern western Christianity. The result: a Church that embraces, endorses, and celebrates unrighteousness, which can only condemn the world to a hopeless future.
Instead, we need to embrace the qualities of God’s love that does not delight in unrighteousness but rejoices with the truth. Wesley Hill expresses a God-honoring and people-blessing example in his book Washed and Waiting (click here for my review of his book).
What we need to do is reclaim the love—God’s love—that rejoices with the truth. This is:
What I hear Paul saying is, “Love like Jesus.”
As before, memorize these two qualities, together with the previous nine. Reflect on what these qualities mean in your life as you live toward loving like Jesus.
I conclude by repeating Dan Allender:
Bold love is courageously setting aside our personal agenda to move humbly into the world of others with their well-being in view, willing to risk further pain in our souls, in order to be an aroma of life to some and aroma of death to others.
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