"The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth." John 1:14

Monday, October 10, 2011

Love and Rudeness

This week I am returning to 1 Corinthians 13 to our phrase by phrase ownership of the famous chapter on love’s superiority to any spiritual gift without it. Paul here states,” Love…is not rude.” Study of the Greek word revealed that it is found only here and in the same letter, chapter 7, when Paul states that a man who has been engaged to a woman for a long time and finds that he is “acting improperly” toward her, can go ahead and marry her if he wishes. If he does so, Paul concludes, he is not sinning. This passage seems odd to today’s reader and is worthy of its own analysis. Suffice it to say here, that the meaning has something to do with not taking into account the effect of one’s behavior on the feelings and reputation of another. To act in such a way, with disregard for how we are affecting others, is to act improperly, to act rudely. One has the distinct feeling that this is one of those words that loses something in translation, but we are stuck with what we have.

Rudeness in this sense seems to carry a tone of insensitivity, callousness, indifference to the wellbeing (emotional, spiritual, reputation) of another whom we are called to love. The Corinthians were exhibiting rudeness in their worship (insensitivity to how their disorderly worship might affect newcomers) and in the observance of the Lord’s Supper (showing favoritism). To this extent, they were not exhibiting the agape love God intended.

Today’s reader can learn a lot from considering this phrase. In our quest for boundaries (I am responsible for my own feelings and no one else’s) we may, at times, go too far. In Western culture, we stand upon our independence. In so doing, we are fond of declaring our rights: our right to say and do and eat and drink exactly as we please. Our freedom in Christ may give us even more reason to declare that no man can tell us what to do. We are not legalists, after all, bound to a set of rules. But we are not to forget that just because a thing is permissible, that does not mean it is profitable. And permissable does not make it beneficial. If a newer believer, or one weaker in the faith, witnesses us doing a certain thing, might it cause him to stumble? Then love might call us to make another choice.

There are many things that are not technically sin that can wound another. While we are not unilaterally responsible for the feelings of others, we are commanded to build one another up. In another letter, one written to the Ephesians, Paul challenged Christ followers to allow only those words to cross their lips that were beneficial for building one another up. What a different experience the church would be, if we took these charges to heart. Sensitivity toward one another is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of Christlikeness, as we take on his compassion, and leave behind the rudeness of the world from which he called us.

“Love … is not rude.” 1 Corinthians 13:5

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only that which is useful for building others up according to needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Ephesians 4:29