We had a bit of a scare here at the church building last Sunday. Late Sunday afternoon, I got a phone call from one of our neighbors here in Spring Lake telling me that there was a fire on our property with smoke billowing into the air, and a fire truck was on the scene.
I headed here immediately and found that everything she told me was true. Apparently, one of our neighbors was burning some trash, and a spark traveled from their property to ours and caught the underbrush on fire at the back corner of our property. Fortunately, by the time I arrived, the fire department had everything well under control.
The underbrush was piled high, though, because of the clearing Joey has been doing back there, and there were still some embers smoldering down deep creating a lot of smoke. The forestry department brought out a dozer and cleared a path all around the smoldering brush, but they told me that the fire might continue to burn for days. Just keep a check on it.
So, for several days, I came to check on things and, sure enough, every time I came out, the fire was still smoldering. Every now and then, flames would flare up around the edges and threaten to spread. That continued until we finally got a good soaking rain Wednesday night.
I’ve got to admit that I was a little bit nervous about it all, mostly because of a past experience. Several years ago, the house across the street from our house caught on fire and the garage burned down. The firemen put it out and left a smoldering pile of ashes and then a couple of days later, those smoldering embers turned back into a raging fire that completely burned the entire house down.
All of what has happened here this past week has reminded me that anger is like a fire. There are two dangerous ways that anger can express itself. First of all, anger can be explosive, like an explosive raging fire. Picture in your mind someone tossing a lit match into a closet containing an open can of gasoline. That gasoline explodes and the building bursts into flames. That’s one picture of what anger can look like.
But there are other times when anger expresses itself in a more subtle way. When the fire department leaves after a fire is out, underneath, that fire is still smoldering. And it may smolder for days, for weeks, even for months. That’s a second picture of anger. Anger can be that slow, simmering smoldering flame that has the ability to re-ignite at any moment.
Listen to this description of the people of Israel, “Their hearts are like an oven; their anger smolders all night long, but in the morning it bursts into a flaming fire.” (Hosea 7:6, NET). Anger can flare up and anger can smolder, sometimes for years. But both of those manifestations of anger can be deadly to our relationships, and so, love doesn’t do either one of those things.
So far, in our study of I Corinthians 13, we’ve seen that Christ-like agape love is patient and kind; it’s not envious, boastful or proud. It’s not rude or self-seeking. Here’s what’s next on Paul’s list. In verse 5, we find that love “is not irritable or resentful.” Or, as the NIV puts it, love “is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.” Which is just another way of saying that love doesn’t flare up, and love doesn’t smolder.
It’s very difficult for us to love other people while we’re angry at them. Which means that it is becoming more and more difficult for us to love because our world just seems to be getting angrier and angrier. People in the mental health profession say that we live in “the age of rage.” And if you spend any time at all in public, then you have witnessed people’s rage, whether it’s behind the wheel of a car, or on a plane flight, or at a customer service desk.
And, unfortunately, we seem to be more likely to express our anger at home than anywhere else. Which isn’t a new thing at all. In fact, the first act of murder recorded in the Bible happened between brothers as a result of uncontrolled anger (Genesis 4:3-8).
Studies in psychology tell us that anger is usually expressed in two extreme ways – we either “blow up” or we “clam up.” Which brings us back to what Paul says here in I Corinthians 13. Anger can either flare up or it can smolder for a long time. But love is different. Love “is not irritable, it’s not resentful.”
So, let’s start by taking a look at the first of these two ways that anger can manifest itself.
I. Love is Not Easily Angered
In other words, love doesn’t “blow up”. In verse 5, Paul said, “Love is not irritable” (I Corinthians 13:5) or as the NIV puts it, “Love is not easily angered.” Other translations say that love “is not easily provoked” or love “is not quick-tempered.”
The Greek word here is the word “paroxuno”. It literally means to “explode”. You’ve heard of people who carry a chip around on their shoulder and “explode” at the slightest thing that offends them. That’s the picture painted by this word. Paul tells us that love doesn’t explode when people irritate us, and there will always be somebody who irritates us.
As we look at how this word is used in the New Testament, though, we see that this explosion can be either a good thing or a bad thing depending on the situation. In Acts 17, Paul is visiting Athens. He sees a city that’s filled with idols and false gods. Verse 16 says, “Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols.” (Acts 16:17)
Here’s that word “paroxuno”. Paul’s spirit exploded. There was a violent reaction inside of Paul that caused him to start preaching in that city. We don’t know whether he was moved by anger or sadness or simply an overwhelming desire to share Christ. But whatever those feelings were, they were explosive enough to motivate him to action.
In Hebrews 10:24, the writer says “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works.” The King James Version says, “Let us consider one another to provoke unto love and good works.” Those words “stir up one another” or “provoke one another” come from this same word “paraxuno”.
The Hebrew writer wants us to find a way to keep each other from being lazy. “Find ways to jolt each other! Think of things you can do to lift that fire. Make the desire to love and do good works explode in each other’s lives!” Notice in these two passages that this provoking, this explosion, is a good thing.
But in Acts 15 we see the negative side of this word. Paul and Barnabas had a problem. They disagreed about whether or not they should take John Mark with them on their second missionary journey. Verse 39 says, “And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other.” (Acts 15:39).
That phrase, “sharp disagreement” again comes from the Greek word “paraxuno”. Which tells us that this wasn’t just a nice quiet discussion about the good and bad points of taking Mark with them. No, those two men exploded at each other and that explosion blew them far enough apart that they each went their separate ways.
But here in I Corinthians 13, Paul tells us that love does not explode. Love is not easily angered. And it’s easy to see why being quick-tempered is not a loving characteristic. Remember we’ve said time and again that love is not selfish. Love doesn’t think about itself; it’s concerned about the other person. But someone who is intent on having his or her own way is always going to be easily provoked, he’s always going to be easily irritated.
Think about the last time that you lost your temper and you’ll realize that it happened when you were thinking about yourself. When I’m easily angered, when I’m irritable and I lose my temper, it’s generally because I think that someone else has done me wrong. “I’ve been sitting in the doctor’s office for 45 minutes. How dare they waste my time!” “You didn’t do things the way I said to do them. How dare you ignore me. You need to do things my way!”
When Paul says that love is not easily provoked, he’s talking about how we react to things that are done against us or things that we find personally offensive. And once anger poisons our mood, every little thing sets us off. We get quarrelsome and contrary. We respond to the slightest provocation with bickering, complaint, annoyance, cutting remarks, and maybe even profanity.
There’s no telling what’s going to come out when we let our anger get out of control. There’s a proverb that says, “Anger is a stone cast into a wasp’s nest.” That’s an appropriate image. If you’ve ever seen a wasp’s nest disturbed, you know that all sorts of unpleasant stuff comes flying out. And that’s the same thing that happens when you rub a quick-tempered person the wrong way.
But that’s not how love acts, because that’s not how Jesus acted. Love doesn’t explode at people when they say or do something that displeases us or when they keep us from getting our own way. Love never acts in retaliation. Love doesn’t go around with a chip on its shoulder daring anyone to knock it off and suffer the consequences.
In fact, Phillips paraphrases this verse, “Love is not touchy.” Love doesn’t have a hair-trigger temper. There are some people who when you’re around them, you know that you have to walk on eggshells. Because you know that they are easily offended. One little thing that doesn’t go their way and “KABOOM!” And if you say something to them about it, they may say, “Sure, I have a bad temper. But I get it all out and it’s over with in a few minutes.” That may be true, but you could say the same thing about a bomb. But look at the devastation it leaves behind!
The Bible has a lot to say on the subject of losing your temper. Let me share just a few passages with you. In Proverbs 19:11, Solomon gave wise advice when he said, “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.”
In Ecclesiastes 7:9, Solomon said, “Be not quick in your spirit to become angry, for anger lodges in the heart of fools.”
James said, “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” (James 1:19-20). In other words, losing your temper isn’t going to bring you any closer to God. In fact, quite the opposite; it’s very likely to take you further from God.
I don’t know that there is any more destructive element in human nature than that of being quick-tempered. So many terrible things have been said, so many terrible things have been done, so many precious relationships have been destroyed because of someone’s quick temper.
The problem with being irritable and easily angered is that we never know exactly what’s going to happen. We never know exactly what’s going to come out. In an unguarded moment, you may say a word or commit an action that will take years to live down, if ever.
There’s an Italian proverb that says that “anger is a very expensive commodity.” I heard about a talented athlete who lost his temper and struck his coach. That burst of anger cost him a $23 million contract!
Countless others have lost money or lost jobs because they were unable to control their temper. And while losing money or losing a job may be a terrible thing to experience, Paul would say that, especially for Christians, a far worse result of our quick temper is the effect it has on our relationships. We may open up wounds that take a long time to heal. We may create resentments that can last a lifetime. And, in fact, we may completely destroy our relationship with people around us.
Love is not easily angered. Love doesn’t blow up. But it’s also true that love doesn’t “clam up.” In other words…
2. Love Doesn’t Hold a Grudge
Have you ever thought about how important our memory is? We orient a large part of our lives with the past. We store up the past and use those experiences in our present-day living.
Think about how important our memories are to us. They keep from making the same mistakes over and over. They allow us to relive and savor the good moments of the past. They allow us to share our experiences with others so that they can benefit from our lives as well. We learn, regret, laugh, cry, relish the past. And sometimes we try to forget it.
That word “forget” is going to be important because there’s a certain kind of forgetfulness involved in this next attribute of love. Paul tells us that love “is not resentful”. The NIV says that love “keeps no records of wrongs” (NIV). The Living Bible says that love “does not hold grudges”.
The Greek word that’s used here is an accountant’s word; it literally means to keep a record or make a calculation. It was originally used for what an accountant did when he entered records into a ledger. Now why does a bookkeeper write things in a ledger? It’s so that he won’t forget them.”
And that’s the picture that Paul is trying to paint. Here’s a man who is keeping a ledger of all the mistakes that other people make. Whenever someone does something wrong to him, he writes it down in his ledger so that it will never be forgotten. And that’s precisely what some people do. But Paul says here is that “Love doesn’t keep a running record of all the wrongs done to it. Love doesn’t hold a grudge for hurtful things that have been done.”
This is the same word that’s used when scripture says that God doesn’t impute our guilt to us. Once our sins are forgiven, God wipes the slate clean, and he doesn’t bring those sins up again. That’s what love does. Love doesn’t keep a tally of wrongs and hold a grudge. It doesn’t try to gain the upper hand by reminding the other person of their past mistakes. Love is willing to forgive.
I heard about one married man who said to his friend, “You know, every time my wife and I get into an argument, she gets historical.” His friend said, “Historical? Don’t you mean hysterical?” He said, “No, I mean historical. She rehearses everything I’ve ever done wrong in the whole history of our marriage.” That’s keeping score! But that’s not love.
Think back for just a moment to all the bad things that people have done to you all throughout your lifetime. Think back to elementary school, junior high, high school, as you began your career — all the way to the present.
Some of us are ready to accept that invitation much too eagerly. We’ve got a lot to remember. We remember all the times that someone has said something bad about us or lied to us. We remember all the times we’ve been cheated out of something or didn’t get a fair shake. We remember all of the times people didn’t do what they promised they would. We remember all of the bad things that have ever been done to us by others.
And the result is that we become bitter and miserable people. We act coolly toward certain people because of what they did at one time. We avoid speaking to others altogether. We gossip about those we resent. We refuse to help others who are in need because of what they have done to us in the past.
This is that smoldering anger that I talked about earlier. It’s not an anger that explodes. It’s an anger that we’ve buried, but it’s still smoldering, we can still see the smoke. And it smolders for days, for weeks, for months, for years. The smoke never goes away. And, every now and then, it will flare up around the edges.
But Paul tells us that love doesn’t hold a grudge. Love doesn’t dwell on the hurts of the past.
But sometimes we “keep a record” of wrongdoing until we can get back at people. There’s something within us that wants to strike back whenever we are offended in some way; we want to get even. This desire for revenge is seen in our lives from the time we are children. I heard about a six-year-old boy who came crying to his mother because his little sister was pulling his hair. His mother said, “Don’t be angry. Your little sister doesn’t realize that pulling hair hurts.”
A short while later, Mom heard more crying, and she went in investigate. This time the little sister was crying and her brother said, “Now she knows that it hurts.”
But even as adults, revenge seems appealing. We want to live our lives by the slogan – “Don’t get mad; get even.” But just imagine for a moment what the world would be like if we all held onto all of our resentments until we have gotten back at everyone who has ever done us wrong. Who could stand to live in a world like that?
Suppose we get a bunch of people that you know together in one big room for a game of revenge. Everybody is given a baseball bat and they’re told that at a given signal they can avenge themselves on anyone in this room who has ever done something to offend them. Who would you go to first? Or would you spend most of your time looking over your shoulder at the people you have offended?
Now imagine a whole society like that. Everybody getting even with everybody else. We couldn’t stand to live in a place like that. But when we’re resentful and we want to get even, isn’t that the kind of world we are advocating? So, go ahead and get even. Just remember there’s somebody gunning for you, too.
But sometimes we “keep a record” of wrongdoing with no intention of getting even. We just want something to hang on to, something to give us the upper hand. Suppose, 15 years ago, your wife lost your keys and made you late to a very important meeting. It was unintentional of course, and, being the sweet and loving person you are, you forgave her. But if you keep a record of wrongs, what’s going to happen tomorrow if she loses the keys? You know exactly what’s gonna happen; you’re going to dredge up the past by going back to your ledger.
We all do it. Every time we’re offended, we go back to that ledger and we bring up all those things that were done to us even though we were supposed to have forgiven them. And why do we do that? Because we haven’t yet learned that agape love doesn’t keep records.
I’ve heard that in the Polynesian Islands, where the natives spend a lot of time warring and fighting, it’s customary for every man to keep visible reminders of his hatred. They do this by suspending little articles from the roof of their huts, with each article representing something about somebody they hate.
Can you imagine doing that? Imagine everybody’s house decorated like that. Perhaps we do that more than we like to admit. We don’t hang them from our ceilings, of course, but we do hang onto them in our minds.
But that’s not what love does. It’s not what God does. Psalm 103:12 says, “As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.” In Hebrews 13, “This is the covenant that I will make with them…I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” (Hebrews 13:17)
I think such a tremendous example of this characteristic of love was Joseph in the Old Testament. Here was a teen-ager who was terribly mistreated by his brothers. They hated him. They wanted to kill him. They threw him in a pit and sold him as a slave to a foreign land, far from his family and friends.
Most of us would have written those offenses down and held onto them in our hearts for the next 20 years or so. We would have gotten our revenge. But Joseph had a love that kept no record of wrongs committed against him. There was no resentment, no holding a grudge. Just love.
Love and resentment can’t exist in the same heart. Which means that if we’ve got one of them, we don’t have the other one. And, as followers of Jesus, it’s important for us to choose love and get rid of resentment. Love does not and cannot keep a record of wrongs. Love doesn’t hold a grudge.
So, we’ve seen that anger can manifest itself in two very different ways, just like a fire. It can explode, ore it can smolder. Both of these responses are dangerous, and both of them can destroy a relationship. But love doesn’t do either one of those things. Love isn’t easily angered, and love doesn’t hold a grudge.
I like the way I heard one preacher put it. In regard to anger, he said we can either clam up, blow up, or grow up.” And it’s time for some of us to grow up.
But there’s just one thing standing in our way, and our granddaughter Avonlea knows exactly what that is. Recently, Amber had a conversation with Avonlea about anger. She said, “You need to be nice to your brothers and stop hitting them every time you get angry. To which Avonlea replied, “I want to! …but my heart isn’t working.”
Perhaps some of you can relate to that. Fortunately, I happen to know a good heart surgeon who has the ability to take old hearts and replace them with a brand new heart. But first, you’ve got to be willing.