Genuine Love Is Unselfish

by Spiros Zodhiates

The Nature of Love-Part 3 of 8

The Nature of Love-Part 3 of 8

Editor's note: Dr. Zodhiates continues to elaborate on the Apostle Paul's powerful description of love as the supreme Christian evidence.

"Love . . . seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked…" (1 Cor. 13:5).

Selfishness lies at the root of all evil in the world between nations, families, denominations, churches, and individuals. Unselfishness is the criterion of genuine love. Our reason for loving a person proves whether we really do love him or whether the one we truly love is ourselves.

Paul is not speaking of mere human types of affection such as romantic love (éros) here, but of agápe, the love of God within the Christian. "The peculiarity of romantic love is that it is very easily provoked indeed. It is the victim of constant jealousy. It is really the love of one's self-the love of being loved" (Matheson, Messages of Hope, 177). But Christian love basically has nothing to do with the wish to be loved again and therefore has nothing to do with jealousy. It seeks no return for its own sake, only for Christ's sake. If there is no response to the Christian's efforts for the benefit of others, he feels regret but no personal enmity. He laments a failure in influencing a soul for the kingdom of God but not the failure of his own personal attraction.

The reason that Christian love (agápe) is not easily provoked is not because "love is blind." Christian love is not easily provoked because it is hopeful of the transformation of the one committing the offense. It sees the condition of those provoking it and is willing and ready to sacrifice anything for the conversion of the provokers. agápe love seeks to see people as they really are and as they can become through Christ.

There is no loving others without living for others. Loving action that springs from the love of God within us works for the good of others. Its prayer and faith and sacrifice are for the cleansing and comforting of others.

In the world there is probably more homage offered to self than to any outward object. That pride generally takes two forms. The first is that of individual, selfish ambition. Concerning that, Christ tells us that he who strives to overtop others in the heavenly kingdom, by that very effort is automatically abased to the lowest place; while he who in genuine humility is willing to be the servant of all is honored above all.

The second form that pride may take is ambition for "my set, my party, my church." One of Jesus' disciples told the Lord that they had forbidden a man who was not a disciple (at least in their own group) to cast out demons in Christ's name. The selfishness of the disciples in this instance was from "party-spirit," which is only self, expanded and extended. Wherever this spirit exists, it can become a stumbling block to unbelievers and a bar to the progress of Christ's kingdom.

Whom do you put first in your everyday life? Is it God, your neighbor, your family, some pet project, or yourself? Some persons profess to love and serve God, yet their whole manner of life proves that profession is a lie.

"Everybody does it" is no excuse for pushing and shoving and trampling on others to get ahead in this world. "You've got to be practical" is no standard for the Christian when it means you have to set aside love in favor of selfishness. "I guess I told him a thing or two!" has a strangely inconsistent sound coming from the lips of one who professes to have the love of Christ dwelling in his heart. Sadly, there are many incongruities in our lives, when we who love the Lord are unloving to others.

How do you treat the people with whom you come in contact day by day-the salesmen who knock at your door, those who do business with you, those who work for you, or those for whom you work? Can you imagine the Lord growling out a surly "What do you want?" to a man trying to make a living? Even if we are pressed for time it costs no more to say a pleasant "No, thank you."

What lies at the root of such unloving behavior? It is selfishness-the desire that our own pursuits shall be uninterrupted by the necessities of others, that our demands for service shall be squeezed out of others at the cost of all decent regard for their feelings.

After each such encounter with the world, stop and ask yourself if you would find it easy or appropriate afterward to hand that person a tract and witness to him of the love of Christ. Would he not be justified in flinging your words or literature back at you with the retort, "What you are speaks so loudly I can't hear what you say"?

Our Lord and Master sought not His own. He sought not His own personal comfort when others needed Him. He sought not His own will but the Father's. He sought not His own advancement but the good of those to whom and for whom He ministered. "The Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister" (Matt. 20:28). "Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others" (Phil. 2:4). "Love . . . seeketh not her own."

Always keep Christ's work before you, guarding well your own motives and feelings and aims. Let self be put down and Jesus Christ be lifted up, and in the measure in which that is done your service will be effectual and you will be an acceptable servant to the best of Masters.

©From To Love Is to Live, an exegetical commentary on 1 Corinthians 13, 1967, revised 1998. Available from AMG Publishers