The most excellent way (part 7): Looking out for others

In the previous two posts, I’ve suggested that Paul’s teaching that “love…isn’t rude” (1 Cor 13:5, CEB) might be read as “love doesn’t act inappropriately,” implying that loving people respect social norms.  That’s not to say that Christians must blindly follow the will of the group, lest they violate the commandment to love.  But it does mean that those who love will try to stay aware of the ways in which, within a community, their behavior affects other people, even if the consequences weren’t intended.  “I can do whatever I want, as long as I’m not directly hurting anybody” just won’t cut it in the church.

If that’s a valid reading of Paul, it ties in nicely with his next statement.  Love “does not insist on its own way” (1 Cor 13:5, NRSV) Paul writes, also translated as “doesn’t seek its own advantage” (CEB) and “is not self-seeking” (NIV).  Paul used the word earlier in the letter to argue that while it was perfectly permissible in terms of Christian freedom to eat meat that had been previously offered in pagan sacrifice, believers should not do this if it violated someone else’s conscience:

Everything is permitted, but everything isn’t beneficial. Everything is permitted, but everything doesn’t build others up.  No one should look out for their own advantage, but they should look out for each other.  (1 Cor 10:23-24, CEB)

As we’ve seen, in 1 Corinthians 13, Paul says more about what love isn’t or what love doesn’t do than what love is or does.  Love, he says, doesn’t insist on getting what’s good for me.  And although he doesn’t say it directly in chapter 13, surely, given what he’s already said in chapter 10, the positive side is implied: love is about looking out for what’s good for others.

No surprise there.  But these may have been particularly pointed words for the Corinthians to absorb, especially those who were unaware of (or willfully blind to) the fact that their seemingly super-spiritual behavior was arrogant and unloving.

Do such things still happen today?  Maybe we enjoy wine with dinner, or occasionally attend sexually explicit R-rated movies.  We believe that we are doing so in Christian freedom.  But perhaps one amongst us struggles with alcohol or sexual temptation, and even just hearing that we have done these things provokes mental conflicts.

What’s the loving thing to do?

Too obvious or moralistic an example?  Perhaps the pastor has been encouraging people to memorize Scripture.  You seem to have a knack for it, and have been going gangbusters, memorizing whole chapters at a time.  With pride and delight, you mention to others in the most pious terms how blessed you are because of it — without realizing the way in which you may be discouraging others who have great difficulty memorizing two verses together.

Again, what’s the loving thing to do?

What the examples share in common is a blindness to how our behavior might negatively affect others.  Love isn’t self-focused, even if it means getting good things for the self.  Love seeks what is good for others.

In the pursuit of our own spirituality, have we missed some way in which others have been hurt by our behavior?