Love is Not Rude (1 Corinthians 13:5)
by Ted Schroder
The KJV translates “rude” as love does not behave itself “unseemly.” Paul is
simply saying that there are many ways of behaving badly, and that love avoids them all. J.B. Phillips paraphrases it by saying that “love has good manners.” The root meaning of the word derives from behaving indecently, improperly, disgracefully or dishonorably. Love renounces all such behavior. Love treats others with courtesy and respect. To be rude is to be inconsiderate of others, it is to be offensive.
It is possible to be so self-absorbed, so focused on one’s agenda, one’s to-do list, that the needs of others are ignored. The Type A individual who is task-oriented does not stop to think how rude he can appear to others as he rushes by on his way to achieve his goals. The person who is in the middle of a project does not realize how his irritation at being interrupted is apparent to others who need his help. The colleague who meets you at a social function does not appreciate how he comes across when he relates to you only at the level of his agenda, and ignores relating to you as a friend or as a peer. Basic to these encounters is the failure to honor the person as a whole, to notice them as children of God and worthy of their attention, to take time to greet them, to take an interest in them as people, and not just as functions. It is at its worst when employers treat their employees dishonorably, by failing to pay them fair wages, and by failing to give them the dignity of being their equal in God’s sight.
In contrast, love slows down to acknowledge the worth of others. Love sees the opportunity that interruptions can give to help others and to be of service to them. Love puts yourself in the position of those who serve you. Love tips generously. Love is appreciative of what others do for you.
Love is not rude, and does not behave itself unseemly. Love does not pollute the environment. Love does not conduct loud conversations in public places. Love does not use cell phones when you are having a lunch date. Love does not litter. Love does not make others endure second-hand smoke. Love does not assault others through crude jokes and cursing. Love does not use slurs or character assassination. Love does not assail you with pornographic images or displays of public immodesty that degrade personal relationships.
Love honors the physical body as a gift of God, and the sexual relationship as the linchpin of holy matrimony. Love does not dishonor it for recreational purposes by seeing it only as an animal function that is to be satisfied by casual hook-ups in one-night stands. The sexual revolution of the 60’s, with the advent of contraception may have contributed to the ushering in of apparent guiltless sexual freedom without the consequences of pregnancy, but it has also dishonored marriage. Women are even more under the pressure of satisfying sexual desire without the respect and security of marriage. Men are not courteous and respectful of the needs of their sexual partners beyond the moment. Both men and women do not want to make commitments, or limit their options, and in the process dishonor how God has wired them to be one flesh, and to be responsible for the birth and nurture of children.
Jesus gives us an example of how love overcomes rudeness in Luke 7:36-50. Simon the Pharisee invites Jesus for supper in his house. An unnamed prostitute comes into the room weeping. She says nothing, but by her actions shows how much Jesus means to her. Her tears wet his feet, she wipes them with her hair, kisses them, and pours expensive perfume on them. Simon the Pharisee is appalled that Jesus would allow this woman to touch him. He looked down on her. He treated her with disdain. She was one of the unclean, the unwashed, irreligious refuse of the city whom he avoided at all cost. You can almost see him gathering his robes around him so that he would not be polluted by her. Yet we may have a certain amount of sympathy for the host. Who amongst us would not be embarrassed and repelled by such a person gate-crashing our party? We would want to get her removed pronto.
Jesus picks up on his attitude, and decides to teach his host a lesson he will never forget. He identifies with the woman, and not with his distinguished host. He points out that Simon the Pharisee was as rude to him as he was to the prostitute. He had neglected to provide the basic amenities to Jesus when he arrived at his home. His host had failed to welcome him appropriately for an honored guest. He had not given him any water to wash his feet after his journey, but she had wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. He had not greeted him at the door with the oriental kiss on the cheek, but she had not stopped kissing his feet in humble gratitude. He had not offered to anoint his head with oil (Psalm 23:5), but she had poured perfume on his feet.
She had expressed her love in ways that honored him for what he meant to her – Savior, Redeemer – the forgiver of her sins, the bearer of the love, grace and mercy of God. Simon the Pharisee had expressed his rudeness in ways that dishonored him, not even giving him the courtesy and respect that ordinary guests are due. Simon the Pharisee disrespected Jesus, while the prostitute honored him. She knew his true worth. Simon was blind to the worth of Jesus. He could not appreciate whom he was entertaining. He loved little because he did not realize his own need to be forgiven.
We learn to love to the extent we know we have been loved. When we know how much we need to be forgiven, how big a debt has to be paid, and how Jesus has paid it for us on the Cross, we know how much we are loved. When we know that, we know how much we can love others, for we know that we are not superior to others – we all need to be forgiven.
Jesus treated the woman with dignity. He assured her again that her sins were forgiven. She must have known that before she entered the room. Why else would she be so overwhelmed with love and gratitude to Jesus that she wept and kissed his feet, and anointed him with her most precious possession? He anointed her with a benediction: “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” He behaved to her as would a gentleman to a lady of distinction. He never spoke down to her. He never withdrew from her. He never avoided her or rejected her. He raised her up from her humble service to a position of notability. He ennobled what she did with his attitude of generous love.
As this woman loved Jesus by her grateful service, so we are called to express our gratitude and love for his forgiveness in what we do for him. As Jesus loved this woman by accepting her, and assuring her of the gift of forgiveness; so we are called to love the lowest and the least. We cannot be self-righteous in relation to those who behave immorally or indecently. The answer to unseemly behavior is not rudeness in return, but love that gives those who have lost their way, the courtesy and respect that Jesus gave to this woman.
February 11, 2007
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