My sincerest thanks to my family, friends, supporters and opponents for inspiring this blog. You drive me deeper to search for meaning in life and greater understanding of the One who made us. There will be a lot of scripture in this blog, which reflects my sense of the importance of this issue in the times we live in. Unfortunately this blog is much longer than most so if you want to get to the conclusion, skip to the end and then circle back for the supporting material. I’ll try to be less long-winded next time but there is no way to handle this properly without a thorough look at the subject. It is too important.
When speaking of love, the Apostle Paul said: “It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.” – 1 Cor 13:5 NIV
Perhaps no portion of the famous “love chapter” written by Paul to the believers in Corinth has been more referenced in recent years, especially “it keeps no record of wrongs.” This is a foundational concept in the extreme grace movement sweeping Christianity today. Yet, the very same Paul also says elsewhere:
“Alexander the metalworker did me a great deal of harm. The Lord will repay him for what he has done. You too should be on your guard against him, because he strongly opposed our message.” – 2 Tim 4:14-15 NIV
“And I will keep on doing what I am doing in order to cut the ground from under those who want an opportunity to be considered equal with us in the things they boast about. For such people are false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.” – 2 Cor 11:12-15 NIV
“When Cephas (Peter) came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray. When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?” – Gal 2:11-14 NIV
In light of these passages (and others), what did Paul mean by “keeps no record of wrongs”? Furthermore, in his letters to Timothy and Titus, Paul lays out the qualifications of an elder (I didn’t quote these scriptures to keep this blog to a manageable size, however look up these passages). How could his readers act on this instruction without observing and keeping record of the behavior of potential elders? Before attempting to answer this question, let’s make sure Paul is not misaligned with other New Testament writers such as:
“Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take them into your house or welcome them.” – 2 John 1:9-10 NIV
“I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will not welcome us. So when I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, spreading malicious nonsense about us. Not satisfied with that, he even refuses to welcome other believers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church.” – 3 John 1:9-10 NIV
“But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them–bringing swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow their depraved conduct and will bring the way of truth into disrepute.” – 2 Peter 2:1-2 NIV (all of this chapter builds on this theme)
“For certain individuals whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.” Jude 1:4 NIV He goes on further to say…
“These people are blemishes at your love feasts, eating with you without the slightest qualm–shepherds who feed only themselves. They are clouds without rain, blown along by the wind; autumn trees, without fruit and uprooted–twice dead. They are wild waves of the sea, foaming up their shame; wandering stars, for whom blackest darkness has been reserved forever.” – Jude 1:12-13 NIV
Just to make triple sure, how about we reference Jesus himself? Hear his own words to the Pharisees:
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.” – Mat 23:27 NIV
“So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?” He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: “ ’These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’ You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.” – Mar 7:5-8 NIV
To the woman caught in adultery:
Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” – John 8:10-11 NIV
To five of the seven churches in the Book of Revelation:
“Yet I hold this against you…” – Rev 2:4 NIV
“Nevertheless, I have a few things against you…” Rev 2:14 NIV
“Nevertheless, I have this against you…” – Rev 2:20 NIV
“Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy.” – Rev 3:4 NIV
“So, because you are lukewarm–neither hot nor cold–I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” – Rev 3:16 NIV
and finally probably Jesus most profound words on this subject:
“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.” – Mat 7:15-20 NIV
How could the authors of the New Testament point out false apostles, teachers and prophets, people like Diotrephes and Alexander and even Peter himself unless they were “keeping record of wrongs”? How could Jesus point out the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, the shortcomings of the churches in Revelation and gently remind the woman caught in adultery to leave her life of sin unless he was keeping track? Perhaps most importantly, how on earth can you discern good or bad fruit unless you examine it and remember what you observed?
Is it possible that the famous love chapter in Corinthians has been misinterpreted? If we apply bible interpretation discipline to our interpretation of this passage, I propose that the conclusion is yes, this is exactly what has and is still occurring. Let’s take this one step at a time using time-tested principles of bible interpretation:
One of the key principles of interpreting scripture is to ask yourself: What did it mean to the people who originally heard it (their time and place)? In other words, in what context was it written to the original audience?
The love chapter in 1 Corinthians is chapter 13, which is sandwiched between chapter 12 and 14 (duh!). Chapter 12 begins with “Now about the gifts of the Spirit…”. This is a transition that separates what is about to come from what has been said by Paul up to this point. Chapter 15 begins with “Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you…”. This starts another new thought. Our conclusion is that chapters 12, 13 and 14 form a complete thought that should be read that way. Remember there were no chapter divisions in the original letter. So where does that leave us?
The love chapter (13) is sandwiched between two chapters that are addressing the use of spiritual gifts in the meetings the believers in Corinth were having. At that time, Paul was extremely concerned about abuse and overemphasis on supernatural gifts in the church at Corinth and was writing to correct their behavior. Is it possible that the beautiful treatise on love in chapter 13 should be read in this context? What if not dishonoring others, being self-seeking, easily angered or keeping no record of wrongs was entirely to do with how the Corinthians were to conduct themselves in the area of the operation of spiritual gifts? Try reading 1 Cor 13 with this context in mind.
Examining the original text
Difficult or challenging passages should be studied by examining the original language of the writer (in this case Greek) to ensure the translation (NIV in my case) accurately reflects the writer’s intent. Rather than bore you with a detailed word study, another way to do this is to look at other translations. Let’s do this for our original passage (1 Cor 13:5)
“It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.” – NIV
“Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil” – KJV
“does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil” – NKJV
“or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or count up wrongdoing” – ESV
“does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered” – NASB
This really sheds some light into the meaning of the passage. Let’s leave the dishonor, rude, self-seeking and easily angered parts alone since they are fairly consistent and self-explanatory. In focusing on “keeping no record of wrongs” we discover that the phrase “keeping no record” in the original Greek is a term often associated with accounting as in keeping track of a list of entries (“logizomai”). The sense is keeping track as an accountant would on a ledger of accounts (i.e. detailed and thorough). The other other key word which is translated as “wrongs, wrongdoing or evil” are all different translation of the Greek word “kakos” for what is being recorded in the “ledger”. The net conclusion is that the issue being addressed is making a long recorded list of evil/wrong done by a person, which may also imply unforgiveness on the part of the one making the list. When combined with our first principle of context, it would appear that the readers are being implored not to keep a long list of wrongs or even evil intent in use of spiritual gifts.
Use scripture to interpret scripture
This principle has already been demonstrated earlier in this blog by the many additional scriptures I have cited which make it quite clear that the key writers of the New Testament and Jesus himself “kept record” of “wrongs” committed by others. This principle is using other scriptures to help us understand the difficult passage we are wrestling with. Note that these are only a small sample of many such instances throughout scripture that should cause us to question any conclusion that Paul is suggesting in the love chapter that we are to simply look away and ignore wrongdoing or evil perpetrated by others. What then can we conclude?
It is interesting to observe that most of the examples demonstrate not only recording of wrongs but actual confrontation of the perpetrators. The common thread is that they involve people in leadership roles or more importantly those claiming to represent or speak for God. The Pharisees, false apostles, Peter, Diotrephes and the five churches in Revelation were all claiming to know or speak for God. Alexander is mentioned as a coppersmith but there is also an Alexander mentioned by Paul who Paul references in his letter to Timothy (1 Tim 1:20) as someone he should not emulate. Paul has “turned him over to Satan, so that he will learn not to blaspheme”. Perhaps he was also in some type of leadership role? Only the woman caught in adultery was not in any way claiming to speak for God but Jesus went much easier on her than he did leaders.
If we meditate on this we will find this thought is consistent with Jesus’ life and his very different behavior and statements toward publicans and sinners versus religious leaders. Compare his approach to Zaccheus, Mary Magdalene and the Samaritan woman at the well versus the Pharisees, Sadduccees and teachers of the law. How does this impact us today as we interact with people with little or no knowledge of Jesus versus those who claim to be Christians or Christian leaders?
At this point it is important to point out this issue has nothing to do with forgiveness, which would be a subject of another very long blog. In short, forgiveness is not optional and we must forgive those who wrong us, despitefully use us and even harm us. However, this topic will have to be saved for another day.
The conclusion to this long examination of “love does not keep record of wrongs” is that this statement has nothing to do with an across the board exhortation to look the other way when evil or wrongdoing is committed by others, especially those who are claiming to be leaders or to speak for God. This should come as some relief to those who have been physically, emotionally or sexually abused and may have been told to “turn your love button on” toward those who have abused them. It is very likely that the entire intent of the famous love chapter in 1 Corinthians should be understood in the context of the exercise of supernatural spiritual gifts rather than universally in all situations. This is further supported by examples from Paul, Peter, John and Jesus himself where they clearly kept a record of wrongs committed by others.
Perhaps love has memory after all.