First Corinthians 13--Love does not reckon evil
Jul 26, 2017
Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 13:5 (NASB) that love “does not take into account a wrong suffered.” The KJV reads, “thinketh no evil,” which, according to Dr. Bullinger’s notes, means “reckons not the evil (done to it).” In other words, love does not lay blame.
Obviously, God holds men accountable for evil that they do to others, for we read of this often in Scripture. There is divine judgment for sin, which is evil committed against God and men. So it is apparent that Paul did not mean to tell us that all sin should be overlooked. Likewise, if we were never to hold our children accountable for their actions, raising them without discipline, how would they mature in the character of Christ?
Does not love demand discipline within the bounds of justice? Or does law enforcement and justice function outside the scope of love? Earlier, in Paul’s discussion about judging disputes among believers in the church (1 Corinthians 6), the apostle does not say that the wronged party should refrain from seeking justice. He only chides them for seeking justice from the secular authorities, because they ought to be capable of judging matters internally. In fact, he says, the believers are destined to judge angels and the world, so they ought to begin practicing their calling immediately.
Was Paul counseling them to act in an unloving manner? God forbid! He was counseling them to judge with love for both parties. Love corrects injustice and protects the innocent from harm. But to judge a dispute inevitably means that one party is justified and the other is held accountable.
So how can we walk in love, not taking into account a wrong suffered?
The Law of Victim’s Rights
This love-principle is bound up in the Law of Victim’s Rights. The victim of injustice has the right to receive restitution, and the law was given to support those rights. The problem comes in the application of this principle. Those who lack agape love are incapable of forgiving the sin. Perhaps they are limited to the level of phileo love.
Phileo love is a judicial love that demands justice or fairness. Hence, it seeks compensation for wrongs, and the law supports their right to do so. But there is a higher principle of love that allows a victim the emotional freedom to forgive sin when it is beneficial to the sinner. A victim who has agape love in his character is not limited or hindered by self-interest.
Often, as in the case of parental discipline of children, a disobedient child must be held to account in order to train him properly. This does not mean that the parent lacks love—unless, of course, the parent over-disciplines the child. Love knows how to administer justice by the mind of God and also knows when to show mercy.
Throughout all, however, a good parent always forgives the child ahead of time, even while holding him accountable. Even the discipline itself is only a means to an end. The purpose of justice is to bring correction, not destruction, so that the child may be brought back to joy and know that he is forgiven. Justice without forgiveness breeds rebellion. Justice without a return to joy breeds discouragement and bitterness, which in turn spawns a multitude of sins.
Our God of love disciplines His children, for we read in Hebrews 12:5-8,
5 and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons, “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor faint when you are reproved by Him; 6 For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives.” 7 It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.
God disciplines His legitimate sons. Those who are undisciplined are illegitimate, that is, counterfeit sons. God disciplines all, but some accept that discipline and learn from it, while the counterfeit sons “regard lightly the discipline of the Lord.”
If God is our Father, then we ought to expect and appreciate His discipline. We do not appreciate it while we are immature. Immature children view discipline as a form of hatred and full of injustice. Maturity is seen when a child is finally able to thank the parent for disciplining him. However, such maturity will seldom be seen in those who are over-disciplined, or those who are beaten unjustly. Maturity requires godly discipline, whose goal is restoration, forgiveness, and joy.
When Paul says that love does not take evil into account, we are not to understand this in a way that contradicts the judgments of God. Paul was not telling us to stop holding men accountable for sin. He was telling us first to be capable of mercy and forgiveness that is found in agape. Secondly, by revealing the nature of love, he was setting forth the character of God, which is the divine standard for all believers.
God does indeed hold men accountable for the evil that they do; however, His judgments are designed to bring about forgiveness in the end. Justice is only a means to an end, a temporary pain that ultimately brings joy. There is never a time in history where God is not judging men and nations. But since most “regard lightly the discipline of the Lord” until the day they die, it is necessary for God to arrest them later, raise them from the dead, and bring them to the Great White Throne for a final judgment (Daniel 7:9, 10; Revelation 20:11, 12).
At the Great White Throne, God’s love is not suddenly cast aside, nor does His justice force Him to over-discipline mankind. God’s character remains the same, and when He established justice, He did so in accordance with His character. He must remain true to Himself, and so all justice is meted out by agape love. This means that all justice is administered with its purpose intact. Its purpose is to restore, not to destroy. The lake of fire destroys all that is not of God, so that the sinner may be released into the glorious liberty of the children of God (Romans 8:21).
(See my book, The Judgments of the Divine Law.)
Hence, Paul’s statement that agape love does not reckon the evil done to it reveals a long-term benefit to sinners. In the short run, there is judgment. In the long term, God’s justice must end so that God’s character is not violated, nor is agape love brought into disrepute.
Jesus appealed to the Law of Victim’s Rights when He was on the cross, saying in Luke 23:34, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” This prayer was not merely wishful thinking on His part. It was the statement of the ultimate Victim of the sin of the whole world (1 John 2:2). As the Victim, He had the right to forgive or to hold men accountable for their sins. He chose to forgive.
Many do not understand this, because they think that the judgments of God make it impossible for His prayer to be answered. But such misunderstanding is due to a lack of understanding of biblical law and divine justice. The Great White Throne administers justice, but it does not over-punish. The law of Jubilee and the law of forty lashes both establish limits on justice. Those limits establish mercy and grace in the end.
If we have this mind that is in Christ, then we too will be able to discipline our children and ultimately judge the world by the same principle of agape love that Jesus exhibited.
This is part 80 of a series titled "Studies in First Corinthians." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones