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.
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
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.
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
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.
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).
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).