Love is Not Selfish

            Have you ever seen on the internet where someone was trying to follow a recipe they saw on Pinterest or some other website but their version didn’t come out quite like the picture?  And what’s humorous is our culture has adopted the phrase “nailed it” to describe those results when that’s really the opposite of what happened.

            For example, there are these delightful rubber ducky cupcakes. Aren’t those cute?  If you’re going to have a duck themed party for your child, these would be great.

            But here’s someone’s attempt to recreate those cupcakes.  Nailed it!  I suspect that somebody’s child is going to be in therapy for a few years.

            Or how about this Despicable Me cake? Kristyn, I’m sure you would love to have one of these. How hard could it be to make that?  

            This is probably closer to my attempt.  Nailed it!  

            Or, if you’re into Frozen, there’s this cute sculpture of Olaf. 

            This sculpture isn’t quite as cute.  Nailed it!

            Or, if animals are more your thing, then you’ll appreciate this porcupine cake. 

            The Society of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals may be preparing to file charges against the person who made this cake.  Nailed it!

            Here’s the point I want to make and, by the way, I hope I haven’t brought up any bad memories from some of your culinary delights. If so, we’ll try to schedule you some counseling.  But here’s the point I want to make — sometimes we think we can nail something or we think we have nailed something when the truth of the matter is that our version falls far short of the standard we were striving for.

            And that’s not just true of our baking skills or lack thereof, it’s also true of characteristics in the Christian life where we may have convinced ourselves that we are on the right track in a particular area but then we hold ourselves up to the light of God’s Word or the example of Jesus Christ and we see just how much of a mess we really are and how much further we still have to go to get it right. 

            And I think this is especially true when it comes to the concept of love.  Because it’s so easy for me to think that I’m doing a really good job of loving everyone around me.  But I’m worried that perhaps the angels in heaven have their own version of the Internet and one of them has created a meme of my inadequate attempts to love others with the words “Nailed It” across the bottom.

            And I’m being facetious, of course, but the truth is I’m not nearly as good at loving others as I think I am.  And perhaps some of you can say the same thing.  And that’s why we constantly need to be looking to God’s Word to see what the standard is, to see what love is supposed to look like.

            Then, over time, as we learn and as we grow, we can actually become more like the pattern, more like the standard, more like what God wants us to be, more like the example of Jesus.

            So, with that in mind, let’s continue in our study of 1 Corinthians 13 where the apostle Paul breaks down, phrase-by-phrase, what true Christ-like agape love is supposed to look like, as well as what it doesn’t look like.

            So far, we’ve seen that love is patient and kind; it’s not envious, boastful or proud.  This morning, we want to look at the next two qualities – “Love…is not…rude. It does not insist on its own way.” (I Corinthians 13:5).  While it may not be obvious, these two qualities are very closely related to one another, so I want to look at them together.  And I actually want to begin with the second of these…

1.         Love Does Not Insist on Its Own Way

            Different translations translate it as – Love “is not self-seeking” (NIV), “it does not demand its own way” (NLT), “it does not seek its own benefit” (NASB), “it is not selfish” (HCSB).  But maybe the best translation is The Message which says, “Love isn’t always me first.”

            Keep in mind, here in I Corinthians, we’re not talking a romantic love, we’re not talking about a friendship love, we’re talking about agape love.  And agape love is a love that is unconditional and sacrificial.  The ultimate expression of agape love is Jesus himself.  And that kind of love is not selfish.

            I heard a story about a little boy and his sister who were riding a rocking horse together.  As you can imagine, it was a little bit crowded with both of them on it.  After a few minutes of rocking, the little boy said to his sister, “If one of us would get off this rocking horse, there would be more room for me!”  And that’s one example of selfishness. 

            The Corinthian church had a serious problem with selfishness.  In chapter 6, we saw that they were dragging each other into court so that they could get what they thought they deserved.  In chapter 10, we saw them eating meat offered to idols with absolutely no regard for how that might affect a weaker brother.  In chapter 11, they ate their so called “love feast” with every man for himself.  In chapter 12, we saw how they used their spiritual gifts as an opportunity to make themselves more important rather than working together for the common good.  Everything the Christians in this church did seemed to be motivated by selfishness

            But that’s really not surprising, because the Corinthians were letting the world influence the way they were acting toward one another, and selfishness has always been the way of this world.  But I think it’s gotten even worse.  You’ve heard about the “Me” generation?  That’s what we’re living in right now.  Looking at our society as a whole, we see an entire culture that puts “me first” — that doesn’t understand at all the concept of thinking about others.  The focus is all on me, me, me. 

            I look around at what’s going on and I’m reminded of that song by Toby Keith a few years ago, “I want to talk about me”.  He sang, “I want to talk about me, I want to talk about I, want to talk about number one — Oh my me my — What I think — what I like — what I know — what I want — what I see — I like talking about you, usually, but occasionally, I want to talk about me.”

            Over the past 10-20 years, we’ve had this proliferation of social networking sites — it started with a site called, appropriately enough, “My Space” — from there it’s gone on to Facebook and other sites where you create a homepage that’s all about you — what you like — what you’re doing – what’s important to you — and you expect people to come and view your site because you’re that important – you’re so important that people all around the country need to know what you’re doing and what you’re eating and what you think about every topic. 

            And that’s not to say that social networking can’t be used for good – like posting pictures of those precious grandchildren – but for the most part, social networking is a way for everyone to say, “Hey, look at me, pay attention to me.  Check out this selfie.  And make sure you click the like button so that I can see how much everybody likes me.”

            Selfishness is the focus of our culture.  But God has called those of us who are Christians to choose a different way – a better way – the way of love.

            Selfishness will regard one’s own personal good more important than someone else’s.  It’s a pre-occupation with self. It’s an excessive or exclusive concern for self.  It’s seeking one’s own advantage or pleasure without regard for the well-being of others. When we are selfish, our good becomes the highest good and people around us always seem to be in the way.

            We all behave like that little boy on the rocking horse.  “If one of us would get off this rocking horse, there would be more room for me.”  But love is not selfish.  Instead, love says, “Let me get off this rocking horse so there will be more room for you.”

            But can we all admit that putting others first doesn’t come naturally?  And if we hope to make any progress in developing a love that is not selfish, we need to start with an honest assessment of ourselves.

            It’s like the old saying, “The first step to dealing with a problem is to admit you have the problem.”  So, the first step in dealing with selfishness, so that we can have a love that is not selfish, is to admit that we are selfish.  And the truth of the matter is that all of us struggle with selfishness. 

            After years of counseling people and talking with them about relationships, especially marriage relationships, I’ve come to the conclusion that most of the problems in a relationship come down to the fact that either one or both of them is focusing too much on “self” and not enough on the other person.  They’re focused on their wants — their needs — their happiness — and if they don’t think their needs are being met in this relationship, then they’re ready to get out and start another one.

            Selfishness is directly opposed to love, which means that you can’t be selfish and loving at the same time.  And if the focus of your relationship is “you” rather than the other person, it is doomed for failure.  Rick Warren has correctly said that “selfishness is a poison to relationships.”

            When you focus on “me” and “I,” you are telling the world — and telling those that you claim to love — that you are more important than they are.

            But Paul said to the Philippians, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:3-4)

            The antidote to selfishness is to get the focus off of you and to put it on someone else.  So that instead of constantly talking about my wants — my needs — my desires – we can focus on others and what we can do for them

            The Bible uses the term “one another” 58 times. — “love one another” — “serve one another” — “be devoted to one another”.  Time and time again, we are told to put others above us — and we do this, not only in Sunday worship, but throughout the week, living out our love in all of our relationships. 

            It’s all about developing a mindset of service.  When you serve others, it helps you to quit thinking about yourself and start thinking about those around you.  So, with that thought in mind, let’s look at this other quality of love.  Paul tells us that…

2.         Love is Not Rude

            At first glance, this doesn’t seem to be all that big of a deal.  And we’re tempted to dismiss it by thinking that Paul is simply telling us to make sure we say “please” and “thank you”.  But it’s so much more than that.

            The word rude has to do with acting toward others in a way that is unbecoming, inconsiderate, or dismissive.  The NIV translates it this way:  Love “does not dishonor others.” So, when we dishonor other people, we are behaving rudely.

            Which means that when Paul says “love is not rude”, he’s not talking about somebody putting their elbows on the dinner table, or somebody who doesn’t know which side of the plate the silverware is supposed to go on.

            Rather, Paul would say that you’re rude when you don’t care how your behavior make other people feel.  Rudeness is all about having a disregard for others.  Rudeness basically amounts to saying: “I don’t care what you think; I don’t care how you feel; because you don’t really matter.” 

            Which means that this quality of love is very closely connected to what we’ve already been talking about, “Love is not selfish.”  Rudeness is treating other people like they don’t matter.  And once you understand that, you realize that rudeness is not a small thing.  It’s a big problem.

            Because agape love always ascribes worth to others. That’s what Jesus did for you and me when he died on the cross to save us from our sins. The Son of God laid down his life for our sake, which means that we are people of infinite worth in the eyes of God!

            But the apostle John said in I John 2, “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” (I John 2:2).  What that means is that, in the eyes of God, every person you will ever have contact with was worth Jesus dying for. And if that’s the case, then every person you will ever have contact with has infinite worth.

            As followers of Jesus Christ, it is important that we see people the way God sees them — that we see them as individuals of infinite worth, and we need to affirm that worth in the way we think about, the way we treat, the way we relate to others.  That’s what agape love is all about.

            Which is precisely what makes the problem of rudeness such a big deal. Because how can you begin to affirm another person’s worth if you don’t even have basic consideration — basic regard — for that person? How can you to begin agree with God that someone has infinite worth when you think and behave as if that person doesn’t really matter?

            Let me suggest a few ways that rudeness shows up in our lives.

            Sometimes, rudeness comes from an attitude of superiority. There’s an old saying that goes:  “You can spot a gentleman not by the way he addresses the king, but by the way he addresses his servants.”  In other words, do you see all people as people of worth regardless of their status, and treat them accordingly?  Or do you show regard to some, but not to others?

            Perhaps you’re very respectful at work toward your boss.  But you’re harsh and rude toward your server at a restaurant. Anyone who’s ever waited tables can tell stories about being treated rudely by customers.  And most of them will tell you that the rudest customers of all are those who show up for Sunday lunch after getting out of church.

            So why do so many people treat their bosses one way, and their restaurant servers another?  Maybe it’s because you know your boss is above you in the pecking order, and you realize that how you treat him or her has implications for your career.  You treat your boss respectfully because there’s something in it for you.

            Or maybe you see yourself as a cut above your server, and take that as a license to treat him or her rudely and give them lousy tip when your dining experience doesn’t live up to your expectations.

            You haven’t considered that maybe the restaurant was extra busy, maybe they were short-staffed, maybe your server has had a rough day, but you don’t care about any of that. Because your attitude of superiority makes you feel entitled, and a sense of entitlement almost always leads to rudeness — a form of rudeness which basically says, “I’m more important than you are, so I can act any way I want.”

            But most of our rudeness is just plain thoughtlessness.  We see it all the time. 

            People blasting music from their car or in their yard.  Their attitude is, “It’s all about me.  I don’t care what you think; you don’t really matter.”

            People cutting in line at the grocery store, at public events, at amusement parks. “It’s all about me.  I don’t care what you think; you don’t really matter.”

            People littering, throwing trash out onto the side of the road.  “It’s all about me.  I don’t care what you think; you don’t really matter.”

            People who aren’t handicapped who park in handicap spaces.  “It’s all about me.  I don’t care what you think; you don’t really matter.”

            And the list could go on and on, but you get the idea.  Rude behavior always treats other people as if they don’t matter – as if they don’t even exist.  It is behavior that only considers self and takes no thought for anyone else.

            There’s one more form of rudeness I’d like to mention, because rudeness isn’t always about making yourself out to be more important than someone else, and it’s not always about thoughtlessness.  It can also be about intentionally putting other people down, either with name-calling or insults.

            This can happen in families.  It can happen in schools, often in the form of bullying. It can happen in workplaces. But I think, in our culture, the place where this happens most of all is on social media.

            A recent article in Psychology Today points to studies that show how the social remoteness of being online tends to lower people’s inhibitions.  And what that means is that people will publicly vent and put others down online far more readily, far more often, and far more harshly than they ever would do if they were in the same room with someone.

            And since most people are on social media these days, guess what?  We are all exposed to far more rudeness than we ever were before. So much so that this article says, “Rudeness has become our new normal.”

            And here’s what’s dangerous about that. Rudeness is contagious.  Rudeness spreads like a cold. Even watching someone else be rude is enough for us to become infected, psychologically, and for us to carry it with us and pass it on to others.  Rudeness affects the way we think, the way we act, and the way we feel.

            When we take into account that social media has more than doubled our exposure to rudeness, we begin to understand that we’re not just facing an epidemic of COVID in this country.  We’re in the midst of a far more dangerous epidemic of rudeness.

            But love is not rude. So, what does look like for us to love others in an age of epidemic rudeness?  To put it very simply, it looks like Jesus, whose life and ministry is the ultimate embodiment of agape love.

            Someone (Craig Blomberg) has said that you could accurately substitute the word “Jesus” for the word “love” throughout 1 Corinthians 13:  Jesus is patient and kind. Jesus does not envy. Jesus is not boastful or proud.  Jesus is not rude.  Jesus is not selfish.

            When you look at the life of Jesus, you never see him looking down on others.  He was never thoughtless and inconsiderate.  And even though he sometimes had to speak hard truth to certain people, he always did so in a spirit of love.

            Jesus didn’t treat the so-called important people one way and the so-called unimportant people another.  If anything, Jesus flipped the script on this, because the people you would think he’d want to impress — the religious leaders, the wealthy, the influential — he often challenged and confronted. But Jesus had tremendous regard for those whom society considered to be of less value.

            For example, the disciples tried to keep children away from Jesus, because in the first century, people didn’t think kids mattered. But Jesus said, bring ‘em on!   While the religious leaders stayed away from sinners like prostitutes and tax collectors, Jesus treated them with dignity and love, which led many of them to leave their life of sin and turn to God.  Because Jesus regarded everyone he met to be of infinite value.

            Jesus was never rude because love is not rude.  But it’s important for us to realize that, here in this passage, Paul is not just giving us some sort of a “thou shalt not be rude” command. He’s not wagging his finger at us and saying, “Hey, you need to behave yourselves. Don’t be rude.”

            When Paul says that “love is not rude” he’s telling us that rudeness is a signal that we’re not walking in God’s love as fully as we need to be. The remedy for that is not to try harder to be less rude, but to fix our eyes on Jesus and his love for us, as well as his love for everyone else.  It’s an invitation from God to fill our hearts with his love, so that that love can then flow from us to bless others.

            Rudeness is essentially treating other people like they don’t matter, whereas the call to love involves understanding that with God that every person you encounter — even your enemy— was worth Jesus dying for, and therefore has infinite worth.

            I want to suggest something that I think can help you to do that.  It’s something you can pray when you get up in the morning and as many times as you need throughout the day.  “God, you believe that this person has infinite worth.  Help me to see them the way that you see them, and I pray your blessing on him or her in Jesus’ name.”  

            You may want to write that down on a card and carry it with you for handy reference until you’ve committed it to heart. “God, you believe that this person has infinite worth.  Help me to see them the way that you see them, and I pray your blessing on him or her in Jesus’ name.”   

            And let me suggest that before you complain or vent about someone on social media, pray for that person.  It’s so sad to see that some of the rudest social media posts out there these days come from people who profess to follow Jesus. And while I’m grateful that I see very little of that sort of thing coming from Cruciform folks, all too often Christians have been quick to call names and harshly put down those who have different views — especially on social media.  When Christians rudely vent on social media, it hinders our witness in the world.

            So, if you are ever tempted to vent about someone else on social media, please pray for that person before you post. “God, you believe that this person has infinite worth.  Help me to see them the way that you see them, and I pray your blessing on him or her in Jesus’ name.”  And I’m willing to bet that if you will pray like that before you post anything, chances are, you’ll decide not to post at all.

            And if someone else’s rudeness on social media offends you, don’t get into a comment battle, okay?  Because that only tends to multiply rudeness. Let’s avoid that trap of returning rudeness for rudeness.

            For some of us, putting boundaries around our use of social media is probably a wise thing to consider. It’s a great tool which can and should be used for God and for good. But it can also an environment where we get a lot of exposure to rudeness, which can be contagious.  So, be careful.

            Folks, we are the people of God who follow the example of Jesus Christ.  Our number one goal in life is to love God and to love others. Love is not rude, love is not selfish.  It’s not all about me.

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