“It [love] does not insist on its own way…” (1 Cor. 13:5).
I love how the King James renders this verse: “Charity seeketh not her own.” Rightly, we understand charity as aiding someone without thought of reward or recognition. Well, except for the necessary tax deductions, and perhaps the name in the annual report or the plaque on the wall.
I often think about what is lacking in the life of the church, particularly in the local expression of the church where I pastor or where friends call home. I serve as the Stated Clerk of our regional church body (we call it a Presbytery), and have served in a similar capacity in another area. With these connections to the broader church, I have come to the conclusion that the things lacking in many churches is true charity.
1 Corinthians 13 is called the “love” chapter, for it is God’s word to us regarding the nature of love, a love that is expressed to those who look in faith to Christ Jesus for our salvation. This is what Paul says concerning charity, or love. In these few words we find the principles of the life of regeneration. There is a lot of talk of love today, and it is easy to describe in words what an ideal Christian should be. But what a great difference there is between words and deeds. When this love becomes reality in our lives, we begin to see how much we lack this love. We must not merely talk about love. Not our words, but our lives will prove whether we experience something of this love.
“Charity seeketh not her own.” Love is not focused upon self and does not seek her own affairs. That does not mean to say that we may not seek our own wellbeing. The psalmists often pray to ask God to deliver them in their need. Think of the crowds who came with their needs to Christ. Jesus never turned them away. We can have a certain self-love that recognizes that I must not be so other-oriented that I neglect my own care, and scorn the temple God has given me. Scripture tells us that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. We may, therefore, love ourselves.
Yet, what is contained in these words is enough to cause us to be shudder concerning ourselves, because when this self-love is separated from love to God and love to our neighbor, it will is not true love, no love at all. We are seeking only our own good, and this is selfishness. Selfishness is the root of sin. Then even our outward expression of true religion can conceal selfishness and be nothing but false love.
I often find myself patting another’s back in hopes of having my own patted. And this exposes the lack of charity that exists in my own heart. Or I simply grumble about another’s lack of charity, exposing my concern for me above the other. Have you discovered this within yourself as well, a love that puts our own desires first? There is self-love that can do without God; a love, that while our neighbor is being helped under the pretense of love, is still seeking itself. Think of the nine lepers. The fact that they came to Jesus begging for healing was no sin. Their sin was that they only sought their own self in this endeavor. Here we have a picture of each one of us, and this is our sin.
The answer is not to simply try harder to be loving and less selfish. The answer is to spend time with the God who is love, plead for his mercy in repentance for the ways that we do not love well, and ask him to help us to love well. Afterall, “we love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). And remember, in the gospel of Jesus Christ, this is true: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the LOVE of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Cor. 13:14).