February 4, 2014 by Chris French
Sometimes when defining a term it’s easier to tell you the opposite. For example, it’s kinda tough to define darkness, but when you turn the light you can say that darkness is the absence of light. We find ourselves in a similar situation today as we work thru what love means Biblically. We’ve got a lengthy definition from Paul in 1 Corinthians 13, but in this instance he chooses to show us what the opposite of love is. Love isn’t easily provoked (KJV) or irritable (ESV). The problem is that “easily” wasn’t written by Paul. It was included by the translators of the KJV to help us understand the Apostle’s meaning, but I think it’s actually detracted from it, which is probably the reason later translations such as the ESV use a different term and leave out “easily”.
Love isn’t irritable. Kind of sounds like an infant, right? They’re often irritable because their needs haven’t been met. Love doesn’t act like that. It’s not focused on meeting my needs. That action has a name. It’s called selfishness and it too is the opposite of love.
Luke actually records that Paul and Barnabas were “irritable” with each other in Acts 15.39. He uses the term “sharp disagreement” to describe their feelings toward one another. Barnabas wants to give his cousin John Mark another chance to prove himself worthy of the Gospel by accompanying them on their 2nd missionary journey. Remember he deserted them on the 1st trip and went back home. Apparently they had this conversation several times and neither man was moving from his position (Jackson, 191). We can discern from the word Luke uses to describe this contention, paroxysm, that this was probably quite the heated argument. There were raised voices and probably words said both men wished they could take back (Roper, 26). We have this word in English, taken from the Greek. It means “a sudden attack or violent expression of a particular emotion or activity”. This is probably too strong of a word to describe their arguments, but it gives you an idea how vocal both men were (McGarvey, 191).
Love doesn’t act like that! It’s not touchy. An off-hand remark that would hurt someone else would roll right off the shoulders of the man who has love. A perceived slight or even a purposefully offensive action could not provoke the one who has love. Love doesn’t act like that.
You may be thinking that this is an impossible thing. You could never love like that! Paul struggled to love like this and he failed on at least one occasion. I’m going out on a limb and say that you and I will fail to love like this too, but that’s the standard we are called to. And when you think about it we do this, at least with certain people. Remember when you were dating? That person could have been as mean to you and everyone around you as possible, but you made excuses for them and let them off the hook (at least for a little while). I would much rather make excuses for people and let them off the hook than not match up to the standard God sets for love. You’ll be taken advantage of and probably have your heart-broken and everyone around you will wonder why you take up for that person that’s obviously bad news. I guess you could tell them that in this case love isn’t about the other person, but about you. You’ve chosen to love like God says to, no matter what they do.
I don’t usually cite my sources, but when you point out a flaw in one of the Apostle’s lives you better be able to rely on some pretty hefty sources to back you up!
Jackson, Wayne. The Acts of the Apostles: From Jerusalem to Rome. Stockton, CA: Courier Publications, 2000.
McGarvey, J.W. Original Commentary on Acts. Bowling Green, KY. 9th edition.
Roper, David L. Truth for Today Commentary: An Exegesis & Application of the Holy Scriptures: Acts 15-28. Searcy, AR. Resource Publications, 2001.