Love...Does Not Do Good Math
I think this is a hard concept to understand and talk about. Where exactly is the line that separates common sense and keeping a record of wrongs? Because, I happen to believe in the saying, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them.” So, I had to ask myself: is that considered “keeping account”?
After digging deeper into each of these terms, the concept becomes clearer, and I think it is a good idea to go through these terms briefly before we make any applications to our relationships today. Paul was not speaking of feelings or suspected wrongs; he was referring to actual wrongs that originate from the sinful nature, which we all have. And “keeping a record” is literally like your credit card company. It is an account of wrongdoings with the intent to exact payment. It seems to me that Paul is not saying that noticing wrongs is “keeping a record”. The emphasis seems to be on the relationship of the payee to the payor. One pays to the other. The tally marks, mental scorecard, the emotional interest we allow to accrue onto an intangible, but literal, ledger in our minds: these are the things that Paul is using prove that in our hearts, we believe someone else owes us…something…and we are going to make sure we get what we are owed!
How did we get here?
How did we get to this place, as human beings, of emotional accounting?
God is a just God. We desire justice because we are humans that are made in the image of God. God’s warning has born true: eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil would bring death, and nothing but death. Before the Fall, humanity knew nothing of Good and Evil. Adam and Eve only knew “good”. Being with God, walking with Him in the cool of the day, following His will without burden, was justice…because all of it was “good”. Even God (the most just Judge ever) said it was “good”. But, after the Fall, we inherited the ability to know Evil; to sense it, fall to it, be infected with it, and affected by it. And it brought death. Not only the death of our fleshly bodies, but also the death of knowing only the good. So, we now innately feel the need for justice. Knowing that there is evil – knowing there is another side of the pendulum – throws our balance off from the original “good” justice of Eden. When we see evil, especially when it is an evil done against us, we feel anew the debut of original sin. It stings.
Our spirits desire wholeness, a return to the “good” of Eden. Yet, Justice guards the way. It demands a price be paid for the “evil” before we can return to the “good” we once knew. There’s always been a price for evil – which is why God asked that Adam and Eve not eat the fruit of that blasted tree! So, whether we realize it or not, our offended self with its anger and pain, is really the overflow of our need for spiritual equilibrium to be restored. Justice wants to offset the damage of “evil,” because we still yearn for the “good”. This is why we feel justice. It is the equalizer within us. This is how we got here.
Additionally, we know that God’s perfect justice requires an accounting for sin. And we know that we inherited a costly ledger with a payment that we could not make even on our best day. Our interest has compounded over time and the balance has grown simply because we are not perfect. No matter how much we long to return to “good”, we cannot do it. The yearning for justice to be paid cannot be accomplished by ourselves. Jesus saw humanity’s account. He knew the balance, the interest, our spiritual poverty, and our growing inability to do anything but increase that balance. Jesus knows how Justice equalizes the evil, yearning to return to “good”. So, Jesus paid off our account, transferring our exorbitant balance onto His perfectly spotless ledger.
Suppose that Jesus, in all His wonder and knowledge, saw our ledger and said, “Hey, I’ll make a deal with you. How about I go talk to my Dad. I’ll just tell Him that I am going to pay your balance off so He doesn’t have to keep His distance from you, and you can hang with Him in heaven one day. And when He gives me the receipt from the payment I make on your behalf, I’ll just tuck it away in my little black book over here. When you get some time, you and I can just work out how you can pay me back since I’m the one who actually paid your tab, okay? Sound good?”
We would be doomed.
And that’s the point that Paul is trying to make. He’s reminding the Christians in Corinth that the kind of love shown to them at salvation was not simply a spiritual transaction of having their debt passed from one debt collector to another debt collector. No, the debt they owed to satisfy justice, was removed from their ledger all together. It was given to Jesus. It’s on His ledger now. He is the debtor. He pays the debt in full.
This is the love we are to put into practice in our own lives today. And what does that look like? Well, Paul answered that question in this same letter, just a few paragraphs previous, when he wrote, “Do you not know that your body is not your own? You were bought with a price. Therefore, honor God with your body.” Paul’s point was, “Hey, your sins have been paid by Christ. So, live like it!”
Regardless of how we feel the weight of “evil” and the need for justice, when we keep a record of another’s sins, we are usurping God’s place as the ultimate judge who rules with perfect justice. Our hearts were not designed to carry such a heavy weight. We are doing the exact opposite of what Jesus did for us. God asks that we let go of our desire to be the one who brings about justice. He asks that we mimic His Son, Jesus, by loving others enough to let God be the Righteous Judge and not outselves.
Let’s be honest: THIS. IS. HARD. PERIOD.
Because we are wronged and we wrong others…A LOT.
So, how do we work all this out in the real world – in this place where things get messy and complicated – when we have a deep desire for justice but without the credentials to bring it about? Or what about those who are willingly taking advantage of us in our relationships? How do we mimic Christ when there is infidelity, blatant lying, patterns of manipulation, selfishness, unkindness, or (worse) abuse, in our intimate relationships or friendships?
First of all: If you are experiencing any form of domestic abuse, or if you’re not sure but think you might be, contact someone you trust, immediately. Call the National Domestic Abuse Hotline (800) 799-(SAFE)7233 and speak with someone. Visit your pastor, call a counselor, and tell them the truth – even if your voice shakes. The first step always seems impossible. Do for yourself what you would advise your closest friend to do if she were in your shoes. And I want you to know: you are valuable and loved.
Not all of us have or will experience abuse, but I am confident we have or will encounter forms of difficult friendships/relationships at some point in our lives. Tricky friendships that may start well, but then turn sour. Some of these relationships are friendships of choice, which allows us the flexibility to walk away when we need to do so. Yet, some of these relationships may be harder to distance ourselves from, such as the connections we have with family members, neighbors, etc…
For these tricky relationships, can I offer a few practical suggestions?
Be honest in your relationships: honest about when you are hurt, honest about when you hurt another, and then talk it out until it’s settled. Don’t hold it in, because that can easily start to function less like “I’m hurt” and more like “They owe me.”
Practice discerning the difference between a one-off mistake and a pattern: Choose to consider character as more weighty than occasional offenses. If you see something that develops into a pattern, then be honest about it, without setting yourself up as judge. Be curious, not accusing. Talk it out until it’s settled.
Admit your own stuff: Focus on you and your stuff, more than the other person. As counselors say: “You worry about your side of the street.” If someone else’s stuff from their side of the street, affects your side of the street, then be honest about it. And talk it out until it’s settled.
Focus on the goal - the relationship: If Solomon was right, and “two are better than one, because if one falls, the other can help him up”, then we have to assume that being in mutual relationships is worth the work. It is never about your way or their way, or about the right and wrong. It’s about the relationship. Being in relationship means we have to work out the kinks. Like gears in a motor, if one is a bit wonky, the whole engine will suffer. Ongoing friction between pieces can cause major damage over time. Instead, handle the friction sooner rather than later, even if it seems minor. This is going to require some time and clear communication. So, talk it out until it’s settled.
· See a theme here?
In good, healthy relationships between friends who want to learn and grow, and who care for one another above themselves, talking it out until it’s settled brings about the “good” of walking together and growing together. There is no need to tally up what the other person owes you, because there are no debtors when no one is scrambling to be the judge.
I know…I know…some of you are saying, “I’ve tried all this. It doesn’t work.” I actually believe you. Because I know that we live in a fallen world. Sometimes, relational brokenness remains until we reach heaven, no matter how pure our intentions are in trying to reconcile. That’s a hard truth.
If this is the case, and you find yourself in a relationship that is broken and seems impossible to repair, then it is even more important that you not keep a record of wrongs. Do not hold on to the wrongs of another, as if they owe you something. Release their ledger to Christ, and give Him the space to work in their heart. We can trust God to “talk it out until it’s settled” in their hearts and minds better than we ever could.
Releasing someone from “owing” you does not mean that you ignore the truth of someone else’s actions. In fact, Paul did not brush offenses under the rug or turn a blind eye. Instead, he handled disagreements by talking about them. He was honest with both Barnabas and Peter in the face of both procedural and theological differences. Paul was able to honor the truth, talking with another person until the issue was settled, or allowing for their differences to be worked out in separate spaces. He was able to do this without tallying up what he was owed, because the goal wasn’t his own “rightness” – it was the relationship (whether two are better than one) and ultimately, how Christ was glorified through the relationship. In the case with Peter, coming to an agreement was necessary (theology), and in the case with Barnabas, allowing for differences (procedural) and a period of separation most likely gave rise to a broader reach of the gospel. And in both these cases, we see God at work.
Humility and honesty are most likely two of the most valuable, yet most rare, traits found in friendships today. But both tools are needed to protect our hearts from “keeping a record of wrongs”. It is engaging in the hard work of remaining humble and being honest with ourselves and others that keeps the ledgers clean. It’s our humility that keeps our hearts from setting up ourselves as the judge, and it’s our honesty that keeps the gears of our friendship running smoothly. Honesty and humility work hand-in-hand to help our relationships grow and flourish. Regardless of how our relationships evolve, whether growing closer together or parting ways, there can be peace for our hearts when we have allowed God to be the arbiter of justice. And He is capable of working out His will in the lives of those whose hearts are free from the burden of keeping the score.
ARTWORK BY: Lauren Garner of Willow & Stone Designs.
To see more of her beautifully creative artwork, check her out on Instagram @willowandstonedesigns .