Willie Deutsch.com

Religion and Politics from a Young Christian in Northern Virginia

How Does Love “Keep No Record of Wrongs?”

January 13th, 2013

Recently a Christian friend shared with me about an effort to reconcile with another Christian, with whom he had some relational difficulties due to a series of disagreements and altercations. He shared with me that during the course of his attempt to reconcile and heal his relationship with the other party, he was told that if he was truly loving, he should follow Paul’s description of love and “keep no record of wrongs” (I Corinthians 13:5). My friend expressed his confusion over the fact that this line of reasoning was used to justify a seeming unwillingness in the other party to admit wrongs committed in the recent past.  When he tried to address the issues hindering his relationship with this other Christian, he was essentially told that he needed to just “forgive and forget.”

In light of this conversation, I’ve been pondering the idea of love, and wondering how love intersects with working through past wrongs. Is it true that when we forgive, we are required to just forget about the past? Was that what Paul meant when he said that love “keeps no record of wrongs”?

My initial reaction was to try to look up the meaning of the Greek words involved in Paul’s description of love. I discovered that the idea expressed in I Corinthians 13:5 can be translated variously as: “love is not resentful,” “love does not count up wrongdoing,” or “love does not entertain evil thoughts.” It appears that the phrase is not equated with the idea of “forgive and forget,” but rather with the idea of being resentful and bitter towards another person because of past wrongs, and harboring evil thoughts toward them or about them.

Thinking about what the phrase could mean, I found myself turning to 2 Samuel 12 and the story of the prophet Nathan’s confrontation of King David. This is the story of Nathan’s convicting parable, and the punishment pronounced for David’s murder of Uriah and sin with Bathsheba. After Nathan pronounces the penalty, and David confesses his sin, there is a fascinating verse in 2 Samuel 12:13-14.

And Nathan said to David, “The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die. Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord, the child who is born to you shall die.”

Here we see God forgiving David, yet clearly not forgetting what He did, nor sweeping away the consequences for David’s evil actions. I think this passage can be insightful in terms of how God deals with sin.

While it is also true that God blots out our sin (Isaiah 43:25 and Isaiah 44:22), and removes it from us as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12), He does not forget them so that He could not recount them. To believe this would be to deny the omniscience of God. It also denies the fact that everyone will give an account to God for the sins they commit.  (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 and 2 Corinthians 5:10)  Instead, God in His mercy no longer holds those sins to our account. In terms of our justification, or right standing before Him, He attributes Christ’s righteousness to our account, and wipes our record of the many sins we have committed.

If God’s blotting or forgetting is in terms of holding things to our record, this is the way the idea of “keeping no record of wrongs” should be viewed. Following His example, when we forgive someone, we must choose not to “hold their hurtful actions against them.” In other words, we must choose not to view them with resentment or vengeance in our hearts. Fostering bitterness is dangerous, and contrary to love. However, this does not eliminate the need to work through issues as a consequence of sin, or in order to bring about restoration.

If you are trying to resolve an issue with someone else in a loving way, but are being told to just move on and “forgive and forget,” this is something to consider. You may not be able to forget the actions of another person, and it may not even be wise to try. However, you also can’t force people to reconcile with you, or admit past wrongdoing. If you are in this situation, it may be helpful to remind yourself that it is not a sin to remember wrongs that someone else has committed against you.

Choosing to continue acting with love towards that person is what matters. Be open to reconciliation. Walk in forgiveness. Choose grace.

Tough Love: Is it Loving or Just Tough?

November 28th, 2012

In my previous post on love, I took a jab at the idea of “tough love.”  The post does beg the question of whether there is a place for “tough love.”  To paraphrase a friend of mine, “Does showing love mean that the person will always ‘feel the love?'”

A very pertinent passage is Hebrews 12:5-11.  The writer cites Proverbs 3:11-12.

My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline
or be weary of his reproof,
for the Lord reproves him whom he loves,
as a father the son in whom he delights.

He then compares the Lord’s discipline to that of earthly fathers and finishes with a beautiful description of the purpose of discipline.

For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

So is someone being unloving if a person doesn’t “feel the love?”  Of course not.  However, there is a version of “tough love” where a person sees someone doing something they believe is wrong and acts in a tough and firm way.  The idea of intentionally showing love does not come into the equation because the purpose is simply showing the person how they are wrong in order to get them to change or conform.  Love becomes boiled down to “showing someone the error of their way” instead of the depth of care and long suffering that is fleshed out in I Corinthians 13.  It is this version of “tough love” that I was pushing back against.

Is there a focus on showing love and restoration in your supposedly tough version of love?  Would someone observing be able to see that you are showing love as you work towards long term restoration?  Is their an end goal of training and bringing about righteousness, or just showing guilt?

I’d like to share a story in which someone was undeniably tough but still loving.  A good friend of mine was fired by his boss.  It was a hard day for him and he cried, but he was regularly late for work and underperforming.  While a boss would be fine leaving it there, he chose instead to invite my friend to meet regularly for coffee to talk about things.  Through that choice to proactively reach out, a deeper friendship was developed that became very important to my friend.  Through showing love and care while being tough, a relationship was built, and an individual was influenced.

For some the love in “tough love” seems to be just the love it took to point out where someone was wrong.  However, through showing love to an individual while being tough, more can be accomplished.  This was how my friend was blessed, and I would argue as well it is part of God’s loving discipline.  Is your “tough love” simply tough, or is it intentional to show love as you are working to help the individual grow through it?  If your just being tough and not intentionally showing love, that’s fine. Just be willing to admit that and just call it being tough.

Is Being Right What is Most Important?

November 21st, 2012

A recent discussion online about evangelicalism made me think yet again on the question of whether there should be something more important for Christians than believing and doing the right things.  Ben Tribbett, one of the leading Democrat bloggers in the state, shared an interesting story.

Willie Deutsch, I’ll share with you a story that is non-political on why evangelicals have trouble reaching people. My mom is Jewish- my dad is southern baptist, and whenever I went to Roanoke as a kid I attended a southern baptist church with my grandmother. One summer when I was about 5 and visiting for a month and my parents were gone the youth minister came over to the farm. I went outside with him and he proceeded to tell me that my mother was going to hell, and he wanted to save me from doing so. He demonstrated this by setting up some sticks on the ground to represent heaven and hell and stomped on the “jewish” sticks. My grandmother was PISSED when she heard what happened- because even though she was a devout baptist, she didn’t like people speaking “ugly” about other religions or people. I was perfectly happy attending church with her until that happened and never liked it afterwords.

This story brought to mind I Corinthians 13:1-3 and the need for Christians to show love.  Here Paul rattles off a number of valuable actions.  Things like speaking in tongues, prophesying, having great wisdom, great faith, charity, even martyrdom.  All these are good.  But Paul declares that possessing them without love is worthless.

One of the qualities Paul mentions is understanding “all mysteries and all knowledge.”  Understanding right doctrine and right practice certainly fits within the description of “understanding all knowledge.”  Imagine someone who perfectly understands all theology, and how people should live.  Wouldn’t that be pretty impressive?  Paul says if the person doesn’t have love, he is nothing.  Paul believes that all of that knowledge doesn’t matter if the person does not possess love.

Think back to the story of the pastor I shared earlier.  One can argue with whether the pastor was “right” in what he said, but what is undeniable is that he was unloving.  This also answers the question of why love is most important.  What the pastor did turned Ben away from Christianity, and who can blame him for having that reaction?  If your presentation or discussion of truth is not couched in love, how can you expect the listener to be willing to listen?  (As an aside, humility when talking about truth is also a good thing.)  An unloving discussion of truth will burn the relational bridges necessary to be able to influence a person.  How can you expect someone to seriously consider an idea presented in an unloving way?  Even worse, what will they think of Christ, whom you claim to represent?

Before writing off what I am talking about, consider this: when you know someone thinks differently than you do, are you quicker to judge or to try to love and understand?  What about homosexuals?  Do we as Christians love them or judge them?  Abortion doctors?  Those who have had an affair?  Those who have committed other grievous sin?

Thinking closer to home… What about the Christians who don’t act exactly as we do? The church with a different style of worship?  Those who don’t have the same standards of modesty?  Someone who is an Arminian or a Calvinist or Premill or Postmill, or you name it?  Are you quick to judge and distance yourself, or do you love them as your brother or sister in Christ?

“But Willie,” you may say, “These things are important.”  I know they are, but to Paul believing the right thing is worthless if you have not love.

You may also say, “Willie, I’m just showing ‘tough love.'”  Really?  Does the way you are showing love line up with the way Paul describes love in the rest of I Corinthians 13?

Another issue is that of intentions.  You may feel love towards someone, and believe that your actions are motivated by love.  But are the actions themselves loving?  The description of love, describes actions.  It is great to have the best of intentions, but are the actions themselves loving?  Think back to the pastor.  He was probably very well intentioned in wanting Ben to come to salvation, avoid hell, etc…  The unloving way in which he displayed his presumably good intentions had the opposite affect.

Think about the “being right” v. “showing love” dichotomy another way.  It is the difference between being more concerned with what someone does than in developing a relationship or understanding why they do certain actions when responding to them.  When you are more concerned about outcomes than building a relationship, you lose the ability to influence.  When someone thinks you are more concerned with making sure you act or think the way you do, then you have lost the ability to reach them at all.  This is the dangers that Christians face when they value being right over showing love.

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For a related sermon, I would strongly recommend this one by Colby Garman entitled Love the Mark of Christian Maturity.

Willie Deutsch.com

Religion and Politics from a Young Christian in Northern Virginia