A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. (John 13:34-35)
Coca Cola, Apple, IBM, FedEx, Nike, and McDonald’s all have famous logos. These trademarks make them easily identifiable, even if we can’t read the words of the advertisement. Police officers, UPS drivers, nurses, and judges all wear clothing that makes it easy for us to tell what work they do. The Lord says that Christ-like love is the visible trademark of His followers. Some of us have unique birthmarks on our bodies. But all Jesus’ followers are branded by the Holy Spirit with His “new-birth-mark” of self-giving love.
Drawing on 1 Corinthians 13 (the Bible’s “Love Chapter”) this continues our series on “Jesus-like Love.” I number headings for ease of discussion. If you missed them, you can read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 here.
7. Jesus-like Love is Not Selfish. In some ways, this is a key to understanding the whole list. Loving attitudes and actions are sacrificial, like Christ, who willingly went to Calvary’s cross for His people. Unloving attitudes and actions are egotistical, acting like we are at the center or that we matter more than others. The opposite of love is not hate; it’s selfishness. Self-seeking causes evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, stealing, lying, slander, and other sinful behaviors.1 Selfishness motivates us to help others to get something in return. When we ask, “What’s in it for me?” we are moving away from love. When we ask, “How can I please God and others?” then we practice love.
Selfishness is like bad breath. We smell it on others, but not on ourselves. Jesus called it the log and speck syndrome. Having a plank in our own eye, while criticizing someone else for a speck in their eye.2 A 2014 survey found that 71 percent of American adults believe that Millennials (born 1980-1994) are selfish. Surprisingly the exact same percentage of Millennials agreed with this stereotype of them. My generation, the Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964), may be even more selfish. In an article titled “I’m O.K., You’re Selfish,” The New York Times Magazine reported that only 17 percent of Americans admit they are self-centered, but 60 percent think that most other people are egotistical. We are quick to pin the “selfish” label on others but slow to acknowledge it about ourselves.3
The Lord calls Christians to put off our old self, our old sinful nature, and our former way of life, which is corrupted.4 Instead we are to keep in step with the Holy Spirit’s renewal of our thoughts and attitudes so that our lives are marked by the fruit of the Spirit.5 We are to live consistent with our new nature in Christ, born again to be like God, righteous and holy. Jesus said that the greatest love lays down one’s life for one’s friends. Christ did that in a unique way as our atoning sacrifice. We imitate Him by laying aside our selfishness and serving others in love.6
Prayer: Lord Jesus, make us more like you. Make us more loving, more self-denying, less critical, and less judgmental. Help us to seek your glory and the good of others, more than our own agendas, desires, and interests. Make us kind in our thoughts, gentle with our words, and generous in our actions. Teach us that it is better to serve than to be served; better to give than to receive; and better to forget ourselves than to push ourselves forward. Make us more like you. We pray in your name. Amen.
8. Jesus-like Love Is Not Easily Angered or Irritable. The Greek word here means sharpness, like a porcupine’s quills. Christ shows us, calls us, and helps us not to respond to others in an angry, pointed, spikey, or nasty way. He calls us to take time to think about responding wisely and rightly, instead of reacting harshly or rashly. Oswald Chambers said that quick-tempered Christians are the most obnoxious creatures under heaven.7 Surely we don’t want to be like that.
God warns us in Proverbs: Whoever is patient has great understanding, but one who is quick-tempered acts foolishly….Fools give full vent to their anger, but a wise person holds it back….An angry person stirs up conflict, and a hot-tempered person commits many sins….A hot-tempered person must pay the penalty; rescue them, and you will have to do it again.8
What makes us angry, annoyed, or irritated? There’s an almost endless list: being falsely accused, blamed, or criticized; liars and lies; being ignored, disrespected, abandoned, or betrayed; unwanted advice; bad manners and nosiness; being threatened or attacked; feeling frustrated or weak; being treated unfairly; people not respecting our feelings or possessions; interruptions and inconveniences. These are just a few of the ways people treat us unwisely, unlovingly, unkindly, cruelly, and without compassion. Some times they intend to hurt us. Many times they don’t even know that they are doing.
If we are Jesus’ followers, He frequently takes us on detours from the path we want toward the destiny He has prepared for us. Along the way that usually includes mistreatment from other people. The Lord allowed this with all of the Bible’s characters for the purpose of maturing and equipping them. And He does the same with us. If we become too attached to our expectations and plans and are not open and submissive to God’s agenda for us, we may be irritable, easily annoyed, bad-tempered, crabby, grumpy, and snappy. James warns us not to think that our plans will all be accomplished just the way we want. He says: Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will do this or that.”
Remembering God’s perfect providence is big helper in practicing Jesus-like love that is patient and self-controlled, not easily angered or irritable. Joseph’s brothers meant to hurt, harm, and destroy him. They were 100% responsible for their evil attitudes and actions and the Lord holds them accountable. But on another level, God had a bigger and better plan. The Lord overruled the brothers’ bad deeds to save many people at that time and place and to ultimately bring Christ to be the Savior of the whole world.9 When we suffer abuse, hardship, opposition, and bad breaks, Jesus takes over and works it for good. Sometimes we get to see that in our lifetimes, sometimes only in Heaven. Christ must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet like a footstool.10
Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank you that even when all others leave and abandon us, you never do. We can trust that you will stand by us, with us, for us. We cast all our cares and worries on you, knowing that you care for us. We believe, but our faith is weak. Remind us that we are never alone. You stood with Noah and his family, Abraham and Sarah, Rahab and Salmon, Naomi and Ruth, David and Bathsheba, and you with stand with us too. Help us to trust you with the specific trials and troubles that we are facing right now. Help us to trust that you will work it out for your glory and our eternal good. Help us to trust and obey you today and all our days. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Notes (various translations): 1 Matt 15:19. 2 Matt 7:1-5. 3 Ted Scofield, “The Island of Me,” Mockingbird blog (3-22-16). 4 Eph 4:20-5:2. 5 Gal 5:22-26. 6 John 15:13. 7 Run Today’s Race, January 17. 8 Proverbs 14:17,29; 19:19; 29:11,22. 9 Gen 50:20. 10 1 Cor 15:25; Luke 20:43; Psalm 110:1.