The language of the Bible is graphic – sometimes even shocking! While I may take other opportunities in blog posts to demonstrate the shock value of some scriptures, in this post I want to shed some light on how graphic the language Paul uses to define love would have been to his original audience.
New Testament scholar Anthony Thiselton notes that in the love passage of 1 Corinthians 13, “every verb depicts an action or a stance, usually under the guise of a metaphor or pictorial image.” So, we should understand that “love does not envy,” paints the picture of someone “boiling” on the inside with discontent that so-and-so has something they themselves ought to have. Similarly, “love is not easily angered” would have plainly suggested to the original Corinthians that “love doesn’t act as if it is being jabbed with a sharp stick.” The vocabulary that Paul uses is heavily weighted towards words that bring images to mind. Of a boiling pot, an iron spike, a bag of hot air… But not this time.
When Paul writes that “love keeps no record of wrongs,” he is not using colorful language so much as he is using technical language. He has moved from the typical language of caricatures to the more specialized language of finance. There is still a picture, but it is a bit more developed than the relatively simple image of a cattle prod or the full bladder of a bellows. Instead we see a banker sitting at his table reviewing all of the debits his client has amassed. He is making his list and checking it twice. He will not miss one penny of what his debtor owes him.
This may be a picture of many of us. But it is not love. Love does not do this. People do! But love does not. The emphasis in Paul’s word choice falls on the “reckoning,” the focus is on the act of remembering to keep account – on being certain not to lose track of the debt. And love does not do this. Love does not make it a point to remember the wrongs committed against it.
Although Jesus does not use the same word, he appeals to the same metaphor when he teaches his disciples to pray. Many of us have memorized the Lord’s Prayer and recited it thousands of times since childhood: “Forgive us our debts (trespasses) as we forgive our debtors (those who trespass against us).” The word Jesus uses is rightly translated “debtor” – one who owes something. And in that prayer we are asking God to keep no record of our wrongs (trespasses), in the same way as we keep no record of the wrongs people commit against us. In a very real sense, you may as well be asking God to love you in the same way that you love those who have hurt you. Yikes.
Would you dare to pray that way? Perhaps we should all take some time and ask God for forgiveness for the wrongs we have so carefully kept a record of – we have kept the real and imagined failures and evils of others on our relational radars – and we have held them under our censure – sometimes for decades. I have long since lost track of the times I have heard Christians say, “I can never forgive so-and-so for… “
Isn’t it amazing how patient and long-suffering God is with us! This February, as Valentine’s Day draws near, consider something that you have kept a record of against someone you otherwise love – and perhaps you love them well in many respects. But in this you have not loved them well. You have kept that record and held on to that wrong… Forgive them. If they have any reason to know that you have kept this against them, ask them for forgiveness for keeping that record. And may we grow in our ability to truly love others the way that God in Christ has so truly and dearly loved us.
 Antony C. Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, NIGTC (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2000), p. 1053.
N.B. I wish I could give proper credit for this awesome image of Ebenezer Scrooge from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, but alas, no credits could be found.