Love Keeps No Record of Wrongs
(1 Corinthians 13:5)
by Ted Schroder
Love keeps no record of wrongs (NIV). Love is not resentful (RSV). Love holds no grudges (LB). The verb Paul uses here means ‘to calculate.’ William Barclay says that the word “is an accountant’s word. It is the word that is used for entering up an item in a ledger so that it will not be forgotten.” Lewis Smedes writes that “Resentment is our memory of the painful, angry past.”
Grudges can divide families and friends. “Someone in the crowd said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.’” (Luke 12:13) His brother may have been executor of the estate, and he was asking Jesus for a decision in his own favor, to intervene in the family dispute. Jesus will have nothing to do with it. “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” He came to bring men to God not to bring property to men. He goes on to warn the crowd about the dangers of greed. In the parable of the Rich Fool he teaches that we can’t take our possessions with us, and that we will be held accountable for our stewardship of what we have been given.
Inheritance can foster much resentment between family members. But love can prevent and heal resentment. Nowhere is this truth better expounded than in the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). The younger son asked his father to give him his share of the estate. So the father divided his property between his sons. The younger son squandered his wealth in wild living. When he came to the end of his resources he decided to return home and beg his father’s forgiveness, and ask for a job as one of his employees. He did not ask to be reinstated as a son or to be given any preferential treatment. His father, however, had kept no account of his son’s wrongs. All he wanted was his son back safe and sound. Perhaps one of the most poignant descriptions in Scripture is that of the father watching out for the son. “While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.”
Love covers a multitude of sins. Love keeps no records of wrongs. Love is not resentful. Love holds no grudges. It was more important to the father that his beloved son had returned home safely than that his money was safe. He valued his relationship of love with his son more than his wealth. He was not going to let his son’s foolishness get in the way of his love.
For the older son it was much more difficult. He kept a record of wrongs. He resented his brother’s return, and acceptance. He begrudged his father’s joy over his brother’s safe return. He did not love his brother. He loved his own record more. He reminded his father of his brother’s sins and contrasted them with his own worth. He wants his father to compare their scores in his favor.
When we are confronted with our own shortcomings we defend ourselves by dredging up past offenses by our accuser. We have kept record of them in our memories so that we can produce them when needed. We have to feel more virtuous than others so that we can maintain our self-esteem and avoid being put at a disadvantage. So we play the game of tit for tat, exchanging accusations until we exhaust the goodwill we have for one another.
Not only is this destructive in marriages and families, but it is also devastating amongst ethnic groups and nations. Hitler and his followers resented Germany’s defeat in World War I, and the humiliating terms of the Treaty of Versailles. The memories of their losses festered until they were able to avenge themselves in the Second World War. Similarly today, the resentment of the Palestinians over the loss of their land in the wars of 1947 and 1967, feeds the hatred of Israel today. The loss of power by one ethnic group, tribe or nation, is resented by their descendants, until the opportunity comes to get even through yet another war or revolution.
We keep score because it makes us feel superior to the person or ethnic group we resent. We enjoy feeling noble and worthy as the decent person or group who was wrongly hurt. War is waged to redress grievances, and to bring those who have injured us or our countrymen to account. We want to hurt them for what they have done to us in the past.
This is the state of the world today where conflict rules. Group is warring against group because of past grievances and present resentments. Imagine if the British still nursed the grievance of losing the American colonies, and schemed to get them back? Imagine the Confederacy still wanting its independence? You can’t live in the past. Healthy people move on and make a life for themselves rather than continuing to fight their ancestor’s battles. Children move on to fulfill their own dreams rather than depending on inheriting the assets of their parents to make it easier for them. Christians who have accepted the need for their own forgiveness, don’t hold others hostage to judgment. They let the dead bury their own dead. They want nothing to do with vendettas. For our own peace of mind we have to let go of our resentment against those who have hurt us or our loved ones. Despite our painful memories we don’t want to remain hostages to the past.
Love lets the past die. Love does not seek for justice even though it is in the right. Love wants to wipe the slate clean and start all over again. What is important to love is that it is possible to make a new beginning. “Accounts may go unsettled; differences remain unsolved; ledgers stay unbalanced. Conflicts between people’s memories of how things happened are not cleared up; the past stays muddled. Only the future matters. Love’s power does not make fussy historians. Love prefers to tuck all the loose ends of past rights and wrongs in the bosom of forgiveness – and pushes us into a new start. Letting go of the past and beginning here, now, where we are, to move again toward a reconciled life is one of the hardest things any human being is ever asked to do. Love is the power to do that.” (Smedes, Love Within Limits, p.71)
“Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” (Colossians 3:13,14)
Salvation in Christ results in the healing of painful memories. It is learning to forget what other people did to us and those we love. The power to forget is the power of the Cross. Jesus said, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Love is the power to forgive, to tear up the scorecard, to be reconciled, to leave the final accounting to the judgment and mercy of God. God settled accounts with us on the Cross. Let us leave our wrongs, our resentments, our grudges at the foot of the Cross of Christ. The love of God in Christ conquers all. The Gospel is God’s answer to the ills of the world.
March 4, 2007
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