Paul began what we refer to as the Love Chapter with a hard truth: “If I speak with the tongues of mankind and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” (1 Cor 13:1) As I write this today, I know that things have come out of my mouth that have been said without love, but instead with deep anger and hurt. So those words were just noise, and likely hit the target I aimed for and hurt someone who hurt me.
“Love is patient, love is kind, it is not jealous; love does not brag, it is not arrogant [or self-righteous]. It does not act disgracefully, it does not seek its own benefit; it is not provoked, does not keep an account of a wrong suffered, it does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; it keeps every confidence, it believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor 13:4-7 emphasis added).
I am a very imperfect Christ follower who sometimes (and very recently) gave the devil a foothold and allowed myself to be puffed up with self-righteous pride that laser focused on being provoked into anger by a wrong suffered. And when I noticed one wrong suffered, out came the list of previous wrongs. And even worse than that, I shared those with others. “If anyone thinks himself to be religious, yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this person’s religion is worthless.” (James 1:26)
I have sinned in rebellion (Lev 16:21) to God’s Word. This rebellion seen from God’s perspective showed Him that I despised His Word: “Why did you despise the Word of the Lord by doing what is evil in His eyes?” (2 Sam 12:9-10) Despising means that I treated His Word, by and extension God Himself with disdain and contempt. In my rebellion and despising of His Word, I “defied the Word of the Lord and have not kept the command the Lord your God gave” (1 Kings 13:21). Defying God’s Word is seen by the Lord as a direct challenge to His authority. It wasn’t just something that I did that was wrong, and an indiscretion. No! I have sinned against my Lord, and I repent of that sin.
I can’t be patient and kind if I am puffed up in self-righteous pride. Every time I find myself in self-righteous pride, I know I’ve already given the devil a foothold. We are all born into sin, and it is natural to sin if we aren’t taking everything to the foot of the cross. We have emotions (including anger that will rear it’s ugly head) from time to time. It’s what we choose to do with it when it arises that matters. God’s Word gives us a great alternative to allowing anger take over in our hearts and minds: “Be angry, and do not sin. Meditate within your heart on your bed, and be still.” (Ps 4:4)
In this most recent incident, I did not do that. Instead, I stirred up and ruminated in anger, and then I opened up my mouth. I didn’t even consider this great advice: “So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath” (James 1:19). Instead I gave my tongue free rein. “And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell.” (James 3:6)
I have been struggling with how to deal with the aftermath. My sinful nature wanted me to be just fine with it because I thought I was in the right. But God’s Word reminded me that I not only sinned against others, but most importantly I sinned against Him and His Word. Jesus said the greatest commandments are: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matt 22:37-40)
I’m reminded of who I am to be in this world, Christ’s ambassador, and I have failed miserably because I chose my own righteousness, which is idolatry. It is only by walking in the Spirit that I can fulfill God’s Word on how to speak with others: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Eph 4:29-5:2)