April 13, 2016

Love & the Hurt-Feelings Bookkeeper

by Eric Davis
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Insurance companies amaze me sometimes. Something like one little speeding ticket or a minor fender-bender, and everything changes. Your monthly payment sky-rockets. They no longer trust you. Simply for doing the human thing of making a mistake, you henceforth are placed on insurance detention. They not only record the minor mishap, but your previously good relationship with them goes sour from merely one mistake. One little blunder results in a tarnished relationship.

Too often we can be the same way in our relationships with one another. Someone commits a few small sins against us and look out; like the graceless insurance company, the relationship gutters. We place them on our spiritual detention list for relational prosecution. We are no longer trusting, but suspecting. We are no longer caring, but gossiping. We are no longer inviting, but ignoring. We are no longer loving, but judging. And we are sinning.

“Love…does not take into account a wrong suffered” (1 Cor. 13:5).

In the Greek, there is one word which is translated, “take into account.” It describes someone who keeps a mental record of events for the sake of some future action (Louw & Nida, 1:345). The word also was used in ancient Greek as an accounting term; the act of keeping track of debts and expenses. The idea, then, is that love does not act like a meticulous accountant who precisely records and holds onto every wrong-doing of others.

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Now, with things such as grievous sins and criminal acts, this can be an excruciating pain and life-long battle. We may never forget the actual event. Things may need to be revisited to bring about criminal justice. And by God’s grace, he promises that we certainly can think rightly about him, ourselves, sins endured, and not be identified by them. But what we are looking at here pertains more to those lesser, everyday sins and offenses in the mundanity of life.

What God calls us to here are things like repenting of nursing our hurt feelings into resentment, refusing to revisit wrongs in our minds so as to prosecute others, and denying ourselves the sinister pleasure of renarrating wrongs endured in a gossipy manner.

For us humans, this is hard. It goes against our natural, self-exalting inclinations. In some sense, it’s the American way to keep track of others’ wrongs. Millions of tabloid dollars are made in both keeping account and broadcasting (and exaggerating) the sins of others. We all have done it in one way or another. And it is a violation of love.

The Hurt-Feelings Ledger

Record-Keeping

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It’s remarkable to me how good my credit card company is at remembering transactions. They forget nothing, big or small. Creditors like Visa keep such good track because they have things like complex super-computers recording everything. Consequently, each month (often to my dissatisfaction) every transaction is spelled out in detail for my reflection. Too often we can be like a spiritual Visa account towards others and their sins. Without having to exert effort, we keep scrupulous account of others’ wrongdoings. Including the small ones. We’re like the Visa super-computers.

Someone sins against us and it goes straight to our mental ledger. Or, they might not even sin, but, perhaps our fragile feelings were hurt, and we mark it down in the books, never to forget it. Our demeanor sometimes becomes, “I am done with them. Sure, I’ll maybe be cordial when I see them, but I will maintain that disdain for them in my heart. If they want relationship with me, they are going to have to really work their way back into my graces.” Like a creditor demanding that dues be paid, I carry around that mental ledger with me, will never forget, and I’m out to collect my dues. We act as if we are the innocent, Almighty Supreme, who gets to raise the premium on the relationship. Getting their name removed from my hurt-feelings ledger is going to take some earning on their part. Our thoughts snowball into things like, “We’ll see how good they do.” In the meantime, they are getting the cold shoulder, whether in our family, at church, work, or the neighborhood. Yes, they may be a soul made in the image of God and for whom Christ died, but they have some spiritual bills to pay because my feelings are hurt.

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And undiscerning “friends” can exacerbate the problem. I might go to them to open up my hurt-feelings ledger behind closed doors. I will carefully choose the person who appears to be my friend, but who is not loving or mature enough to confront my sin. Perhaps I sanctify it by referring to them as a “good listener.” They are actually a sin-enabler. So, I will slander and gossip as I broadcast my wrongs-taken-into-account.

“Well,” we might say, “I don’t tell others about it. I just keep my hurt-feelings records to myself.” Whether we open up those records to others or ourselves, we have still violated love by keeping the record in the first place. It’s unloving, immature, and sinful. Love does not take into account a wrong suffered.

Typically, in one sin of nursing our hurt-feelings ledger, it’s possible to commit several sins. First, we sin by failing to love God by obedience to the command itself. Second, we sin by failing to maintain a heart of forgiveness towards the individual. Third, we fail to maintain a loving heart towards the person whose wrongs we record. Fourth, if we gossip or slander, in that act, we sin against God, the person to whom we gossiped, and about whom we gossiped. Fifth, we sin by acting as a superior sovereign over the person, as if we are the ultimate moral judge to whom they are accountable.

Jay Adams tells of a counseling situation where a woman had developed an ulcer. Her physician found no explanation for it so it was recommended that she see a counselor. When she and her husband came to him, she set a stack of paper down on the table, one-inch thick, with typing on both sides. It was a 13-year record of wrongs which she thought her husband had committed against her. The wrongs bookkeeping, nursing of hurt feelings, and consequent bitterness had stressed her to the point of sickness.

Love does not take into account a wrong suffered.

Fallen, Photographic Memories

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It’s extraordinary how we will forget where we put our keys five minutes ago or how we struggle to remember Bible verses. We’ll say things like, “I just don’t have a good memory.” However, it’s interesting, because often we can remember others’ mishaps like we have a photographic memory. If our intellect were to get rated solely on our ability to remember others’ wrongs against us, we would be rated as geniuses. And, perhaps, we would get rated highly for our creativity; creativity in embellishing the details of what really happened to us; how it was a relatively small incident, but our pride fertilized our memory by adding all sorts of fictitious details. In this case, we have become the anti-1 Corinthians 13:5: “Hate recruits incredible mental capacity to remember minor mishaps and keep that hurt-feelings ledger growing.” We have become the sinning, hurt-feelings record-keeper.

In this sense, we need to become absent-minded. Holiness means forgetfulness. Sanctification here will look like intentional pursuit of spiritual Alzheimer’s; forgetting the wrongs of others. Perhaps those neurons which file and nurse others’ mishaps need to be blown up.

Now, how does “not taking into account a wrong” jive with verses like Matthew 18:15-17, Hebrews 3:12-14, and Proverbs 27:5-6, which command us to confront each other’s sin? Won’t that involve remembering their sin and going and telling the person about it? Yes. And we need not forsake those commands. Instead, it means that when it is necessary to confront someone; when the sin is not overlookable; when it is a pattern; when it is harming Christ’s witness, then we make sure to go in love, having removed the log from our own eye (cf. Matt. 7:3-5). We may need to seek mature accountability to help us, especially if we are hating someone in our heart (in a future post, we will discuss when, and when not, to overlook sins).

The Solution for the Hurt-Feelings Bookkeeper

If you have struggled with this sin at times like I have, it must not be ignored. We must confess it to the Lord, ask his forgiveness, and thank him for providing Christ’s death on the cross for it. Our solution to this is not a psychological approach such as radical acceptance, but trusting in the righteousness provided as a gift from God through the Person and work of Jesus Christ.

Further, every time we open up our hurt-feelings ledger in an unhelpful way to others, we need to go back to that person, confess our sin, and ask their forgiveness for self-righteously broadcasting others’ wrongs.

If we cannot do this, we are going to be unnecessarily difficult people, difficult spouses, difficult parents, difficult neighbors, difficult employees and employers, and worst of all, difficult Christians. Plus, we can potentially be a poor witness to a lost world.

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Once again, especially with more grievous sins, the act of not taking into account a wrong suffered can be extremely difficult. We come under things like severe betrayal, slander, abuse, persecution, and worse. Haunting thoughts come effortlessly. Suffering can be deep, dark, and perplexing. There is nothing easy about it. Even so, in the difficulty of it all—whether larger or smaller wrongs endured—an unrushed look at the cross of Christ becomes a soothing balm.

We might consider the magnitude of wrongs we have committed against God. Consider the example of a 40-year-old believer who has, throughout his life, failed to love God or people perfectly in thought, word, and deed, a conservative ten times per day. Since all sin is against God, he has sinned against God an average of ten times per day for 40 years. Doing the math, if God were taking into account a wrong suffered, he could bring up 146,000 different wrongs to that individual. “Remember this one? And that one? I hope you’re not in a rush, because we have 145,998 more to go. Oh, remember this one? Heh, that was bad…” Aren’t we glad that Christ does not do that to us?

“If You, Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” (Ps. 130:3).

Incredibly, God offers to not take into account our wrongs suffered. But, to do so, a great suffering had to occur. For all who bow the knee in faith to Christ, he counts all of our wrongs as sufficiently suffered in the death of Christ on the cross.

“As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him” (Ps. 103:12-13).

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Dear Christian, Christ-crucified for us needs to change things as far as how we approach relationships and the inevitable enduring of wrongs. By God’s grace, it ought to mean we put on the humility of slowness in getting offended. It means effort given to chuck our hurt-feelings ledger into the trash. Love does not take into account a wrong suffered.

“A saint in this life is like gold in the ore, much dross of infirmity cleaves to him, yet we love him for the grace that is in him. A saint is like a fair face with a scar: we love the beautiful face of holiness, though there be a scar in it. The best emerald has its blemishes, the brightest stars their twinklings, and the best of the saints have their failings. You that cannot love another because of his infirmities, how would you have God love you?” (Thomas Watson).

Eric Davis

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Eric is the pastor of Cornerstone Church in Jackson Hole, WY. He and his team planted the church in 2008. Leslie is his wife of 14 years and mother of their 3 children.
  • Jason

    So, did you get in a fender bender or just get a large credit card bill?

    I kid. Very good stuff!

  • Jane Hildebrand

    I find that personalities also come into play when it comes to how we deal with offences. For example, my husband is thick skinned and rarely offended about anything. He was always been like that, even before conversion. I, on the other hand have always been overly sensitive and easily hurt.

    So what I had to learn early on as a Christian was that my forgiveness would have to based not on my feelings, but in my trust in God. His sovereignty and His judgement. And somewhere in that I developed a comfort that He was watching and had my back.

    It is not always easy, but understanding that my record keeping of others’ wrongs is evidence of my mistrust in Him is a bitter pill I force myself to swallow to maintain a sweet fellowship with Him. And that is never worth jeopardizing.

    “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.” (1 Peter 2:23)

    • Eric Davis

      Thanks for sharing that, Jane. I think most of us can relate!

  • calebkolstad

    Helpful and practical as always. Your article is also quite balanced. I appreciate that you mention briefly the other side of this relationship coin- “Now, how does “not taking into account a wrong” jive with verses like Matthew 18:15-17; Hebrews 3:12-14; and Proverbs 27:5-6 which command us to confront each other’s sin? Won’t that involve remembering their sin and going and telling the person about it? Yes. And we need not forsake those commands. Instead, it means that when it is necessary to confront someone; when the sin is not overlookable; when it is a pattern; when it is harming Christ’s witness, then we make sure to go in love, having removed the log from our own eye (cf. Matt. 7:3-5)

    Jesus said if you are sinned against- lovingly rebuke the one who sinned against you- and be prepared and ready to forgive your offender when they make things right (rebuke-repent-forgive-repeat). Luke 17:3-4. Eph. 4:32. Gal 6:1-4.

    I also think of all the times Paul names names- and identifies sin publicly in his letters- For example, whatever Alexander the Coppersmith did/said must have greatly hurt/hindered the ministry of Paul (2 Tim. 4:14; Titus 3:10). So much so that Paul calls him out publicly- writing, “He has done ME great harm. The Lord will repay him for what he has done.” This seems to be the fleshing out of Romans 12:19. Yet in 2 Cor 1:23-2:11 the same leader calls on the church to forgive the repentant believer who had brought the loving apostle so much pastoral pain and heartache (see esp. vv 10-11).

    In Phil. 4:2 Paul lovingly called out two unrepentant, infighting (Christian) ladies. Apparently these gals had been confronted but were still at each other’s throats. I can’t imagine having my name read aloud when Paul’s letter arrived that Sunday. I imagine it prompted repentance-forgiveness- and biblical reconciliation rather quickly.

    Knowing how/when to confront sin appropriately and when to overlook a transgression in love requires great wisdom from above. I look forward to future articles where you no doubt will unpack the many biblical layers.

    In marriage I have learned how important it is to apply what you spoke of today (even though I married a godly saint). I also have come to appreciate why Scripture says to work hard to resolve unresolved conflicts as quickly as you can (“don’t let the sun go down on your anger- don’t give the Devil a foothold”). Blessings to you-

    • Eric Davis

      Thanks for adding that, Caleb. Good word.

      • calebkolstad

        I find when we sin against someone we want to minimize it- “So and so should be able to cover this in love.” When someone else sins against us we often have the opposite reaction. The H.S. has to grant us humility to repent and to forgive. Look fwd. to future posts Eric.

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