Agape and Death
I Cor. 13 is "a portrait of Christ's life painted in blood."
To Love is to Die to self . . . . Agape & Death are synonyms (sort of - that only works one way of course - to truely love requires death to self, but death, obviously, does not require love . . . )
In Pastor Patton's review, he noted they had covered the first seven "Love is" words - Patient, Kind, Not Jealous, Not Bragging, Not Arrogant, Not Rude, Not Selfish. These, he described as "What love does in response to the evil that resides in us." This evenings sermon began a focus on "What love does in response to the evil in others."
Love is not PROVOKED. Now there's a tough word! "Provoked" in the Greek has the connotation of "roused to resentment," "embittered, "to be irritated, upset, angry."
If you have a problem getting upset, angry or irritated when offended, you are being selfish! (ouch, that one really hurt!)
Why shouldn't we be provoked? Because being provoked arises out of our belief that we have a right to something that we are not getting - respect, understanding, attention . . . fill in the blank - and this all boils down to pride. For instance, when I'm driving down the freeway to work (yes, this is a real life confession . . .) and somebody pulls into "my" lane ahead of me, then goes "too slow" - if I get irritated (which I must admit too) it's because I think somehow I had a right to continue going the (typically excessive) speed I wanted to go and the other driver had "no right" to get into "my" lane. That's foolish pride.
Here's a less obvious example - and one that really brought this lesson home to roost for me. A relationship goes wrong and the other person, in ending the relationship, uses hurtful words to describe my character - words which have no foundation in a true understanding of who I am, nor did they reflect the true issues that brought about the ending of the relationship. This action provoked me. I didn't really realize it until hearing this sermon - I just knew I was dealing with some ugly feelings resulting from the situation - feelings I felt were wrong, but also felt justified about.
You see, I thought I had a "right" to be understood, to have my character thought highly of, to be given the benefit of the doubt. I didn't - and I don't. Nor do I need that right. As the clay in the Potter's hand, I have no right to dictate what tools he will use to shape and form me - and if being misunderstood or thought poorly of is necessary, then I should accept it with grace - only then can I be conformed more to the image of Christ who, like a sheep to the slaughter, opened not His mouth.
Why don't I need that right? Because - my character, motives, intent - the very deepest parts of me - have already been judged pure and clean and acceptable in the eyes of the only One who's opinion matters. Christ stands as my defender - I have no need to defend myself. I am either doing what is right and therefore need no defense, or I need to repent - there is no middle ground.
I realized I needed to repent of not having true agape love for my friend - as was evidence by my being provoked rather than forgiving of my friend's hurtful words.
Think this is too radical? That we should stand up for ourselves when others misjudge us? Surely there are times when we should - as Paul did - but only when such a defense is required to defend the gospel we preach, not when it's strictly a personal offence. This is seen throughout the life of Paul and is beautifully summarized in Matthew 5: 38-41, "You have heard it said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two."
There are times when we must confront, in love, our brothers and sisters in Christ when they are judgemental as that is sinful, but when it is only a personal offense that it really does not harm us to forgive or when unbelievers mistreat us we are to be different from the world. "Love covers a multitude of sin."
Let us ask ourselves when wronged by an unbeliever - should we really expect anything different from someone in slavery to sin?? Their offense is only a symptom of a much more eternal problem. Their offense should drive us to our knees in prayer for their salvation.
Let us ask ourselves when wronged by an unbeliever - is this a sin issue that must be dealt with in my brother/sister's life? If not, then there is no question about what we must do - we must forgive - we must unconditionally love - and we must remember that Christ has forgiven us far greater offenses.
Love - agape love - dies to self. Self becomes unimportant; self has no rights; self takes it's place under the cross; self finds its justification - its defense - in Christ alone.