Love is Not Self-Seeking, Part II

Title: The Love Chapter: Love is not self-seeking

Text: 1 Corinthians 13:5

Time: May 6th, 2007

Continuing 1 Corinthians 13, the love chapter by the Apostle Paul, we arrive at the seventh point in what love is and isn’t: love is not self-seeking. So far, Paul lists what love is and what love isn’t. He uses comparison and contrast to help Christians understand the love God wants us to live by. Just like the popular song says, “What the world needs now is love sweet love,” God wants us to live with a loving attitude in all we do. That’s hard to do because the world is anything but a loving place. If we try to draw love from the world and incorporate it into our lives we’ll fail, so we must draw forth love from God and bring it into the world in order to make it a better place. That is part of our responsibility as Christians, to shine forth the love of God in a cold and dark world. How can we ever be role models of love for the world? By hearing God’s Word of instruction to us about love, and then by applying God’s Word of instruction to our lives so that we actually live it out every day. A big challenge for us is actually knowing what love is in a very confusing and chaotic world. The world teaches a different kind of love than God teaches. The world teaches a type of self-centered love, which is really not love at all. Think about it. The popular teaching on love is that it is primarily a good feeling. Listen to the popular love songs on the radio and you’ll hear about love as a feeling. Watch how love is depicted on television and in the movies and again you’ll see love based on romantic feelings. Most of what our popular culture teaches about love is flat out wrong, exactly opposite true love, because it is actually centered on the self rather than on others. Consider this. In most movies, love songs and television shows, love is about how one person makes another person feel. In popular culture if someone makes me feel good I’m told this must be love, I must be in love. The benefit of love then is selfish because it’s based on how another person makes me feel. The search for love becomes the search to find another person who can make me feel good about myself. The popular understanding is that if a find a person who makes me feel good, I’m in love; I’ve found love. But this notion is self-centered; it’s all about me. But that’s not real love; that’s not what God teaches us about love. According to God, love isn’t self-centered; it’s other centered. If I love someone, if I show love towards someone, I care about them and there well-being, not because of what it does for me, but because I’m concerned about them, period. In the seventh description of love in 1 Corinthians 13, Paul reminds us again that “love isn’t self-seeking” — a great warning and correction to our selfish society and its definition of love. So let’s explore further what Paul might mean when he instructs us that love is not self-seeking.

First, there’s the legitimate self-seeking love. 1 Corinthians 13:5, “Love is not self-seeking.” Jesus commands us in Matthew 19:19 to “love our neighbor as we love ourselves,” which implies there is a legitimate self love from God. And this only makes sense because if we didn’t love ourselves enough to feed ourselves, then somebody else would have to feed us. If we didn’t love ourselves enough to earn a living, then somebody else would have to earn a living for us. If we didn’t love ourselves enough to bath and take care of ourselves, then somebody else would have to do these things for us. In other words, if we didn’t love ourselves enough to take care of our basic needs, we would be a burden on society, since somebody would have to take care of us. Paul says something similar in teaching about marriage in Ephesians 5:28-29, “In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it. . . .” Paul is teaching that a husband should love his wife as he loves himself, taking care of her just as he takes care of himself. And we all take care of ourselves naturally. We feed ourselves every day, we give ourselves sleep, we bath, brush our teeth, and comb our hair. We do this because we actually do love ourselves, we care for ourselves, and we preserve ourselves. Or you might say that we seek after our own good, which is proper and right. This is the legitimate use of self-seeking love. If you didn’t love yourself enough to seek to take care of yourself, then somebody else would have to do it. Our friend John Curran recently lost his apartment and was sent to Jones Hill Hospital, and from there was placed in Tanglewood nursing home. John can’t take care of himself, so the nursing home staff has to take care of him. They feed him, bath him, and exercise him, because he can’t do these things on his own for himself. Sometimes that’s necessary, but it isn’t something anyone looks forward to, and so we try to avoid it at all costs. But there is a legitimate sense of self-seeking that is perfectly acceptable by God. When you are in the hospital you can’t take care of yourself, so others have to do it. And there are other situations when we can’t take care of ourselves, for example, when we are sick for a day or two. Hopefully you have someone who can make you hot chicken soup to eat and things like that. But normally, God wants us to seek to take care of ourselves. This is not what Paul is talking about in 1 Corinthians 13:5, when he says, “Love is not self-seeking.” Of course Paul knows that we all have to take care of ourselves, we all have to seek after our own food, clothes, shelter, transportation, and finances. Paul isn’t talking about regular self-sufficiency; he’s talking about excessive self-centeredness that only seeks for itself and not others.

Second, there’s illegitimate self-seeking. 1 Corinthians 13:5, “Love is not self-seeking.” It’s ok to be self-seeking in order to meet your basic needs and the needs of your family in life, because it’s ok to love yourself — “love your neighbor as you love yourself,” according to Jesus. But to forget about your neighbor and others and focus only on seeking after your own needs is selfish and wrong and isn’t loving. Yet this is the trap we can fall into because of today’s society that teaches us to be selfish — we don’t need a lot of encouragement, we are already naturally selfish and when commercial advertisements teach us to seek after selfish needs, we naturally follow. But Paul teaches that we must resist the common temptation to be exclusively self-seeking and exclude concern for others. One of the great benefits of marriage and family is that it trains us to be concerned about others not just ourselves. We can’t just sit down and eat in front of others who are hungry, so family teaches us to think in terms of the needs of everybody in the family. We all sit down and eat together. If one person needs something, everyone pitches in and helps him get what he needs. Marriage and family is a natural training ground in love. But the problem today is that more and more people are living single, less people are getting married. What are the consequences for this? More people are worried less and less about the needs of others, and more and more focused on their own selfish needs. I have to remind myself of this as a single person because when I go to the grocery store to buy food, I’m buying for myself. When I go shopping, I’m shopping for myself. It would be easy for me to fall into the trap of self-seeking and forgetting about the needs of others. It’s a temptation for all single people. But Paul helps us remember that it’s not enough when our own needs our met, we must think about the needs of others beside ourselves. If we only think of ourselves, if we are only self-seeking, we are not loving the way God calls us to love. A self-seeking person stops when his or her own needs are met, but a loving person keeps seeking until the needs of others are met. How do you match up to this test? Are you self-seeking or do you also seek to meet the needs of others? The selfish person always asks, “What’s in it for me?” He’s always looking out for #1. She’s always looking to help herself. But that’s not love. Love not only is self-sufficient, but also looks out for others as well. It isn’t enough when you’ve got just enough to buy the things you need: food, clothing, and transportation. Love goes the next step and asks, “Ok, who is hurting in some area, who doesn’t have enough in some area, how can I help someone less fortunate than myself?” Do you ask these kinds of questions? Or are you satisfied when your needs are met without caring about whether other people’s needs are met? Love cares.

Third, there’s another illegitimate self-seeking. 1 Corinthians 13:5, “Love is not self-seeking.” Now we’ve been using the New International Version translation of the Bible which follows most other translations, including the King James Version, which says, “love seeketh not her own.” But there are a few translations of the Bible that translate the verse a little differently, for example, like the New Living Translation, they translate the passage: “Love doesn’t demand it’s own way.” Now that’s a little different meaning than “Love is not self-seeking,” but it’s close. If we use this second meaning, then what Paul is teaching is that love doesn’t always demand it’s own way in everything. Or in other words, everything doesn’t have to go as we want it to go, when we want it to go, where we want it to go. We all know some people who seem to want to be in control of everything so that all things go their way down to the last details. We all know how hard it is to work with people like that. I’m sure there are times when we act like that too. I’ve heard that some brides during their wedding rehearsal and actual wedding day can get pretty demanding and demand that everything go exactly according to their plans. I’ve seen a special on television that went behind the scenes of a couple of weddings where the bride was so controlling that nothing or nobody could do anything during the rehearsal or wedding day without her control and permission. In wanting to have the perfect wedding she was actually ruining it for everyone else. Well, we can do that in life if we don’t resist the temptation to overly control. Maybe we have a job where we have lots of control over people at work, then we bring that same attitude home or to our friends and try to control them, insisting that everything always go the way we want it. Do you find yourself controlling or trying to control people and things? Do people ask you, “Why do we always have to do things your way?” If so, you may have a control problem. That isn’t love. I’m not talking about parents to children. Children need control or else they will get themselves hurt or into trouble. I’m talking about other adults. According to Paul, “Love doesn’t demand it’s own way” — as some translations put it. Again, society trains us to seek after our own way. I mentioned it last week, but Burger King advertises, “Have it your way.” We start thinking that it’s all about us, it’s all about what I want, all about what I need. But love doesn’t insist that others always conform to our own personal expectations. Love cuts some slack. Love doesn’t demand total conformity.

As you can see, Paul’s teaching on love is very practical. Every single point Paul makes can be applied directly and immediately to almost all of our relationships today. Married couples ought to review this love list every year (maybe on their Anniversary?) because it’s so simple yet practical. If couples would just follow or try to follow these instructions from God their marriage would be ten times better. If families, I’m talking about adults and children, would review Paul’s love list there would be a lot more harmony in the family. If friends would look over this list, if employees and employers would review 1 Corinthians 13, there would be more harmony at work. Of course, these things go against our own sinful human nature. That’s why we have to review them and pray to God for his strength in doing them. Now something that will quickly be apparent is that these qualities of love will be pretty nigh impossible to fulfill without God’s active help. That’s why we need to get our hearts right with God and get God working in our lives in order to love better. Ideally, every married couple should convert to Christ before they get married. That way their hearts are right with God in order that their hearts might be right with each other. Is your heart right with God? Have you come humbly before God in prayer and confessed that you are a sinner? Have you repented of your sins before God and told God, “I don’t ever want to sin again, even though without your help I know I’m doomed to fail. Help me never, ever return to the sins of the past. Fill me with your power to live in holiness of life.” Then, have you turned to God through the Savior Jesus and said, “God, I trust completely and wholly in you. I give you complete control of my life. I trust that you will not only save my soul from judgment through the forgiveness of Christ, but that you’ll also help me live for you from this day forward.” There is really no other way to live a life of love than to surrender our lives to Jesus, because only with the help of Jesus can we even approach living a loving life.


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