Charity [agape love] suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil.
— 1 Corinthians 13:4,5
In First Corinthians 13:5, Paul continues his message about the agape love of God. The seventh characteristic he gives us is that this high-level love “…seeketh not her own….”
The word “seeketh” is the Greek word zeteo, which means to seek. However, it was also used to depict a person who is so upset about not getting what he wanted that he turns to the court system to sue or to demand what he is striving to obtain. Instead of taking no for an answer, this person is so intent on getting his own way that he will search, seek, and investigate, never giving up in his pursuit to get what he wants. In fact, he’s so bent on getting his way that he’ll twist the facts; look for loopholes; put words in other people’s mouths; try to hold others accountable for promises they never made; leap on administrative mistakes as opportunities to twist someone’s arm; or seek various other methods to turn situations to his benefit. This is manipulation!
There is no doubt that Paul had the image of a manipulating, scheming person in his mind when he wrote this verse. Have you ever met such a person? Have you ever encountered a man or woman who schemed and manipulated all the time to get what he or she wanted?
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The point Paul makes here is that love is not scheming or manipulating, for this kind of behavior is dishonest and untruthful. Scheming and manipulating to get your own way is simply wrong! If you can’t honestly state what you think or what you want, then don’t say or do anything. Speaking half-truths and white lies or operating according to a secret agenda is not the way that agape love behaves.
The Greek words in this text could be understood to mean:
“…Love does not manipulate situations or scheme and devise methods that will twist situations to its own advantage.…”
After making this point, Paul then lists the eighth characteristic of agape love. He tells us that love “…is not easily provoked….”
The word “easily” does not appear in the original Greek, but it was later supplied by the King James translators. Some scholars have asserted it was injected into the King James Version because the translators of the day wanted to make a certain point to King James, who was famous for losing his temper and flying off the handle!
The Greek text has the word paroxsuno for the word “provoked.” It is a compound of para, meaning alongside, and oxsus, which means to poke, to prick, or to stick, as with a sharpened instrument. When compounded together, the new word portrays someone who comes alongside another and then begins to poke, prick, or stick that other person with some type of sharpened instrument. He continues to pick, poke, and stick until the victim becomes provoked. He’s finally had enough of this person’s relentless actions of picking, poking, and sticking, so he responds by violently and aggressively assaulting the offender. The result is a fight — a conflict of the most serious order.
We find the word paroxsunos used in this way in Acts 15:39, where Luke records information about a conflict that transpired between Paul and Barnabas. Barnabas wanted to take John Mark on the next journey, but Paul was against it because John Mark had already proven himself unfaithful on an earlier trip. As they debated the issue, the words they exchanged must have been very sharp. This is why Luke wrote, “And the contention was so sharp between them.…”
This is a translation of the word paroxsuno, letting us know that Paul and Barnabas came alongside each other in close debate and then began to poke, stick, prick, and jab each other with their words. The Greek language leaves no doubt that the conversation that ensued was extremely hot. In fact, this provocation was so severe that it disrupted their friendship and destroyed their partnership in ministry.
The word oxsus is also the Greek word for vinegar. I especially find this interesting because the word oxsus is the exact word for “vinegar” in the Russian language. The fact that this is the word for vinegar lets us know that the words Paul and Barnabas spoke to each other were stringent, sharp, severe, sour, tart, bitter, and acidy. These words were so bitter that it left a sour taste in their mouths and their memories. As a result of these harsh words, these two men who had served God together in the ministry separated: “…Barnabas took Mark, and sailed unto Cyprus; and Paul chose Silas, and departed…” (Acts 15:39,40).
I’m sure Paul remembers this experience very well as he warns believers everywhere that love is “…not easily provoked….” He speaks by experience when he tells us that this is not the behavior of love. Having reaped the consequences of losing his temper and saying regrettable, acidy words in a moment of conflict, Paul warns us that agape love does not behave in this fashion.
An interpretive translation of Paul’s words in First Corinthians 13:5 could read this way:
“…Love does not deliberately engage in actions or speak words that are so sharp, they cause an ugly or violent response.…”
Then Paul lists his ninth point about love, telling us that agape love “…thinketh no evil.” The Greek word for “thinketh” is logidzomai, which was an accounting term that would be better translated to count or to reckon. It literally meant to credit to someone’s account.
Before us is the image of a bookkeeper who meticulously keeps accurate financial records. But in this case, the bookkeeper is an offended person who keeps detailed records of every wrong that was ever done to him. Just as a bookkeeper has an entry for every debit and credit on the books, this person painstakingly stores in his memory all the mistakes, faults, grievances, disappointments, failures, or perceived wrongdoings that someone has made against him. Rather than forgive and let it go, the offended person has carefully maintained records of each action done to him that he deemed unjust or unfair.
This is certainly not the way love behaves! If you want to know how love behaves, look at the behavior of God toward you. Although God could drag up your past before you all the time, He doesn’t do that! In fact, after He forgave you (Psalm 103:3), God decided He wouldn’t deal with you according to your sins or reward you according to your iniquities (Psalm 103:10). Although He could remember your past mistakes if He chose to do so, God doesn’t and never will choose to remember them.
Psalm 103:12 says, “As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.” This means that God doesn’t keep records of your past forgiven sins! Once they are under the blood of Jesus, God separates them from you forever.
You see, that is how real agape love behaves. So if you are ever tempted to keep mental records of wrongs someone has done to you, be aware that you’re not giving to that person the same mercy God has given to you. Someone who has been forgiven as much as you have been forgiven has no right to keep a record of someone else’s mistakes!
Paul’s words “thinketh no evil” should actually be translated:
“…Love does not deliberately keep records of wrongs or past mistakes.”
Is there anyone you are holding hostage in your mind because of what you deemed to be an inappropriate action taken against you? If that person did wrong, it’s right for you to confront him in love. But once you have dealt with the matter, you need to release the offense and let it go — just as Jesus has released you from your past and is believing that you are now on the right track!
If you have a hard time releasing people from their past wrongs, it’s a sign that you need agape to be released in your life. The fact that you’re flipping back to that old record of wrongs again and again — bringing up past grievances that should have been forgiven and forgotten — means you are not perfected in love! Throw that diary away! Didn’t God throw away His diary about YOUR past?
When all these Greek words and phrases are translated together, an expanded interpretive translation could read:
“…Love doesn’t manipulate situations or scheme and devise methods that will twist situations to its own advantage; love does not deliberately engage in actions or speak words that are so sharp, they cause an ugly or violent response; love doesn’t deliberately keep records of wrongs or past mistakes.”
Well, how do you feel after looking into the mirror of First Corinthians 13:4-8 today? There are three more days to go as we delve deeply into the precious, Spirit-anointed words in this passage of Scripture. Don’t rush through these particular Sparkling Gems. As you read them, take the time to carefully digest them; take them deep into your heart and soul. God wants to change you, but before you can change, you must first recognize what needs to be fixed!
If God is speaking to your heart, don’t rush from this quiet time with Him too quickly. Stop everything you are doing, and make it your most important matter of business to get your heart right first with the Lord and then with others!
My Prayer for Today
Lord, I ask You to help me put an end to any scheming or manipulating tendencies that still reside in my soul. I know that this is very grievous to You and damaging to my relationships. I repent for participating in this evil behavior, and I ask You to help me be honest in all my dealings with other people. Help me to curb my anger, hold my tongue, and refrain from speaking words that bring harm. Thank You for forgiving me for past sins. Today I am making a decision to wipe the slate clean regarding anyone who has ever acted unjustly or unfairly with me.
I pray this in Jesus’ name!
My Confession for Today
I confess that I don’t try to manipulate situations or look for ways to scheme to get what I want. I don’t deceptively twist situations to my advantage, nor do I deliberately engage in actions or speak words that cause an ugly or violent response. I have been forgiven much; therefore, I quickly forgive others, never keeping a record of others’ wrongs, sins, or mistakes. God is doing a mighty work in me, and every day I am becoming more and more free!
I declare this by faith in Jesus’ name!
Questions to Answer
1. Have you ever been guilty of manipulating situations or scheming behind the scenes to get what you wanted? When you were doing it, was your heart grieved because you knew what you were doing was displeasing to the Lord?
2. Have you ever spoken words that were so ugly, they resulted in harming a precious relationship? Were you afterward sorry that you didn’t control your temper? If you have damaged a relationship due to bad words, why don’t you lay down your pride and go ask that person to forgive you?
3. Have you forgiven those who have done wrong to you in the past, or do you still hold them hostage in your mind? Have you kept a record of their offenses so you can replay them over and over again in your mind, or can you honestly say that you have forgiven them and have no ill feelings toward them?