Love and Conduct
In a sophisticated civilization such as ours, here in the mid-twentieth century, we think of our conduct as a pretty highly polished way of life. We observe the rules for etiquette, congratulate our friends in their promotions, play it cool when we’re crossed so we don’t appear ruffled by all the idiots around us, and smooth over the weaknesses of our loved ones. We smile at people we dislike and exchange greetings with our enemies, invite the new neighbors in for coffee and give Thanksgiving baskets to the poor family on the other side of the tracks, and then pat ourselves on the back for being downright friendly folks!
The “charity” that the Apostle Paul is talking about in his discussion of human behavior is a considerably more difficult way of life.
Love…is [not] selfish or rude (1 Corinthians 13:5).
We know it is the polite thing for a man to stand when a woman enters the room; to say “thank you” for a gift. We know that a gentleman removes his hat upon entering a house, and that well-bred children hop up to offer their seats to adults coming into the room. But many of these things we do merely out of a feeling of social responsibility. And sometimes we wish we didn’t have to do them. They become a chore, a duty, and there is little joy in the gesture.
What a difference when we truly love someone! How we jump to do the little things that are signals of our loving attention! True courtesy is love in action in society. I have heard politeness defined as love in trifles. To do little things for others, in a way that is genuine, is to prove one’s love. Even the most uncultured person can go into a foreign situation and behave politely, if he is a person who has a reservoir of love in his heart. Love just does not behave in a discourteous manner. Greed does; selfishness does; fear does—but not love.
Analyze yourself the next time you get delayed in a traffic jam and lean on the horn. Check up on what’s wrong inside of you when you hurry past that woman with the overloaded shopping cart to get to the cash register first with your bread and milk and hamburger. What is pushing you? Courtesy does not push other people around; love expresses itself by making the way easier for someone. It kneels to serve another.
I once knew a husband who had entered into a new relationship with Christ, and wanted to share it with his wife. Years before he had decided that one chore he would not do around the house was carry out the garbage—he would do anything else gladly, but not that. Now, as he began asking the Lord how he could get through to his wife, there seemed to be no approach that was not prefaced by that garbage sack sitting by the back door. So finally he stooped down, picked the bag up and carried it out to the alley. His love for both God and his wife had grown past to the point where he had to prove his superiority. He was free to become a garbage carrier in love.
The one who allows the love of Christ to control him is not hard or harsh, crude or rude, rough or tough. He is gentle and courteous. While the word courteous originally came from court and suggested the manners which prevailed in the palaces of kings and queens, eventually it came to mean consideration for others. Paul suggests this rule: “…let each esteem other [or others] better than themselves” (Philippians 2:3, KJV). A.T. Williams translates it, “Stop acting from motives of selfish strife or petty ambition, but in humility practice treating one another as your superiors.” John Donne wrote, “No man is an island, entire of itself, every man is a piece of the continent.” One of the proofs of our love is the helping hand we hold out to a needy world—beginning under our very own roof.
Courtesy springs from love as the spring flowers from the fertile soil in the woods. Regardless of background, a Christian man will become a gentleman and a Christian woman, a lady. Why? Because when God’s love is planted in us we grow to be like Christ. Love transforms the commonest of mortals.
We live in a world that toots its own horn. We seem to be taught from the time we grab the blocks away from a playmate, that we can shove a little bit here, and pull a little bit there, and somehow come out on top. “One-up-manship” is the game of the day. “Get ahead,” the world says; “step on anybody you like as you climb to the top.” Whether we are heading for the presidency of the PTA, or the manager’s spot in our department, almost subconscious schemes form in our brains as we figure out how we can make ourselves look better than Sally or Joe. We tell ourselves that if we do not push ourselves forward and use others to further our own goals, we may be scoffed at as shiftless victims of inferiority complexes who just can’t make the grade. How completely different from God’s approach!
Manhattan Project Number Two is a story of a man who had to learn to be a servant for Christ’s sake. Red Cap 42 carried people’s bags for forty years. He was so disgusted with his role in life that whenever anyone asked him his occupation he would say he was “in the leather business.” He hated everybody because having to carry others’ baggage made him feel he was not as good as they were.
After Christ came into his life, Red Cap 42’s whole outlook changed, even though he stayed in the same business, he was carrying bags for God now, and he began talking with God all the time about his customers. Person after person sensed this elderly man’s attitude. Many came into a personal relationship with the Saviour through the witness of this Red Cap, Ralston Young. They began to meet together with him for prayer in an empty railroad coach parked on a siding.
Presently a group of these businessmen rented an office for Ralston Young on New York’s Madison Avenue, where they could have regular prayer meetings. They formed a board and since the atomic bomb had been Manhattan Project Number One, they named their prayer project, Manhattan Project Number Two. God had used Ralston Young greatly in his position as a bag carrier. Now he has an office of his own and even a secretary—his wife. As Ralston Young explained, “I have to have a secretary because I can’t read and write. But my wife can. She writes the letters for me.”
Love seeketh not her own (1 Corinthians 13:5, KJV).
Love does not push itself into the limelight. Love does not strive for a place or position. In God’s program, we stoop to conquer; we kneel to rise. The way up is the way down. The secret is the surrendering of our will to the will of God, so that His way becomes our way. Andrew Murray said, “Do you want to enter what people call ‘the higher life’? Then go a step down.”
Joseph of the Old Testament went down into the pit, down into the slavery, down into the dungeon for thirteen years; then, because he had done his work well and faithfully he was lifted up and eventually became ruler of all Egypt. We must go down before we go up; we must go deeper before we go farther. Love walks softly and seeks not her own way. The greatest happiness in life comes from giving, not from getting. “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2, KJV). The Bible indicates that one of the signs of the end times is selfishness. “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy” (2 Timothy 3:1-2, KJV).
Love is not irritable or touchy (1 Corinthians 13:5).
Irritability is one of the products of our nervous atomic space age. We rush here and there; we don’t know where we’re going, but we’re already ten minutes late. I am amused when I watch shoppers in a department store get excited because they’ve missed one section of a revolving door. The center of irritability is self. The test of your spirituality is not measured at the Sunday worship service, but at home when your son kicks his pajamas under the bed instead of placing them in the hamper, or when the coats are hung on the floor instead of in the closet. The validity of faith is not discovered at the Lord’s Table on Sunday, but at the breakfast table on Monday. We entertain the stranger with smiles, while our loved ones are hurt by neglect and familiarity. The toughest place for love is at home. Paul writes that love is not provoked. The word easily is often seized as an excuse for letting off steam but this word is not found in any of the original manuscripts. Probably some of the translators in 1611 thought Paul was going a bit too far, so they added the word easily to the King James Version!
There is a tradition that Jonathan Edwards, third president of Princeton and one of America’s great preachers, had a daughter with an ungovernable temper. But, as is often the case, this failing was not known to the outside world. A young man fell in love with this daughter and asked to marry her.
“You can’t have her,” was the abrupt answer of Jonathan Edwards.
“But I love her,” the young man replied.
“You can’t have her,” repeated Edwards.
“But she loves me,” replied the young man.
Again Edwards said, “You can’t have her.”
“Why?” asked the young man.
“Because she is not worthy of you.”
“But,” he asked, “she is a Christian, is she not?”
“Yes, she is a Christian, but the grace of God can live with some people with whom no one else could ever live!”
The secret of the temper is more than self-control; it is Christ-control. All of us have dynamite in the cellar, and whenever we walk without God and the power of His love, we must expect explosions.
Henry Drummond spoke about temper in his address, “The Greatest Thing in the World”: “It is the intermittent fever which bespeaks unintermittent disease within; the occasional bubble escaping to the surface which betrays some rottenness underneath; a sample of the most hidden products of the soul dropped involuntarily when off one’s guard; in a word, the lightning form of a hundred hideous and unchristian sins. A want of patience, a want of kindness, a want of generosity, a want of courtesy, a want of unselfishness, are all instantaneously symbolized in one flash of temper.
“Hence it is not enough to deal with the temper. We must go to the source and change the inmost nature…Souls are made sweet not by taking the acid fluids out but by putting something in—a great love, a new spirit, the Spirit of Christ…This can only eradicate what is wrong, work a chemical change, renovate…the inner man.”
It does not hold grudges and will hardly even notice when others do it wrong (1 Corinthians 13:5).
Love is optimistic; it looks at people in the best light. Love thinks constructively as it senses the grand possibilities in other people. What a delightful condition to live in! How warming and invigorating to step into the brightness of this kind of love, even for a few minutes! Everyone has an inner longing to feel important, to do something unique, to have an assurance of one’s own worth. Young people particularly have a terrible self-image. Their sense that they are not worth very much makes suicide rank in fifth place among the causes of adolescent death.
There’s a preacher in New Jersey who has turned in his pulpit for a lunch counter across from the high school. For seven years he had been concerned about the people who never came inside his church. The first seven months after he bought the luncheonette he made more contacts among teen-agers than in the seven previous years! He uses the interview technique at the counter, and carefully records each answer given him by a boy or girl. Then, during a conversation which arises around the significant questions he has asked, he hands his customer a little book. They usually read it and come back. They feel trusted. Bill Iverson says, “teen-agers want strong adult authority figures, and adults who will listen to them, as well as acceptance by their peer group. They are crying for adults whom they can respect and who will tell them what to do at the right time…teen-agers aren’t asking for perfection—just honesty and integrity—what any adult ought to be able to give.”
God has called us to be the expression of His love among the people of our own private world. If we can contain His kind of love that reaches out to others and holds no grudges, we will truly be light to brighten dark lives, for Christ’s sake.
Dr. George W. Crane, author and social psychologist, has written a pamphlet called “The Compliment Club” (available from The Hopkins Syndicate, Mellot, Indiana). To qualify for membership in this club, a person undertakes to pay three sincere compliments a day, one to each of three different persons, for a month. He is encouraged to pay these to even casual contacts or complete strangers. The doctor points out that love cannot replace dislike or indifference at a moment’s notice; it requires development of a definite technique, and of skill in approaching people.
Love grows through the showing of appreciation and dies without it. Christians ought to be the most skilled social detectives, ferreting out the good points in our associates. “You can sincerely compliment your worst enemy, for no human being is totally lacking in merits,” says Dr. Crane.
He tells many stories of how paying compliments changed people’s lives. One woman working in a millinery house thought that Laura, who worked across the room from her, was snobbish and aloof. One day, however, to fill her quote of compliments, she said, “Laura, do you know that every time I glance up I see your head silhouetted against the window? I think you have the prettiest profile and hair of anyone I know.”
Laura looked up startled, then began to cry. “That’s the first kind word anybody has said to me in all the seventeen years I have worked here.” All that time she had been hiding her loneliness from her co-workers behind a pseudo-sophistication.
“Friendship,” says Dr. Crane, “is a flower. To obtain a lovely flower, somebody must do the work of planting the seed, watering and cultivating it.”
Isn’t this what Christ did? When He stopped to ask water from the Samaritan woman, when He told Zacchaeus He was going home to dinner with him, He was implying a compliment. He did somewhat the same thing with the despised publicans and sinners, even when He accepted the invitations of the Pharisees. What an important part of Christian love this is—to look for the good in people and help them to recognize it; to let them know that you belive good of them, rather than evil.
Abraham Lincoln once said, “The best way to destroy your enemy is to make him your friend.”
On a very intimate level we can gain another truth from this phrase about love. “Think no evil” is the King James translation. Love casts out the evil thinking that spoils our daydreams and our quiet times. Thoughts are the seeds to future deeds. God can not only cleanse the soul and heal the body; He can also purify the mind. Believers who would never dream of doing evil sometimes in their thinking wander down sordid paths. You become what you think.
A young man, emerging from an evil place, accidentally met his pastor on the street. “I’m sorry,” said the young man, “I had no business being there.”
The wise pastor jolted the young man as he said, “When you came out and I saw you, you lost only your reputation. When you went in, and only God saw you, you lost your character.”
Thousands of people have good reputations but have lost their characters. All-knowing God knows our thoughts completely.
Paul begs Christians to bring “into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5, KJV). Yes, God cleanses the mind as He pours in His love. A university student approached me after a lecture and said, “I’m a Christian, but I’m up and down. My life is not consistent or constant.” I made arrangements to meet him and further discuss his dilemma. When we met, I suggest going to his room. His definite reluctance was so obvious that I was sure my visit to his room would reveal his problem. With his permission, we entered. I scanned the room with its pictures and books and immediately knew his trouble. Though upright in his conduct, the young man was filling his mind with stories from pulp magazines and suggestive pictures. No wonder he was up and down in his experience! I counseled with him about his problem, and I am happy to say that after graduating from the university he went on to seminary, and today has his own pastorate. The Scriptures can fill up the mind with life and hope. The love of Christ flows into the hungry places of our minds and souls and nourishes them abundantly. In this sense too, love thinks no evil.
It is interesting to notice that Paul tells the Philippians to think positively about wholesome virtues: “…whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things” (Philippians 4:8, KJV). The phrase, “think on these things,” means take an inventory of these things. Love notices and concentrates upon honesty, justice, purity, loveliness, and goodness, but not evil.
One man who began to allow love to come through in his daily contacts with people said, “I have found that the world is filled with interesting people. I just never realized it before.” When the love of God leads us to see new values in others, we lose ourselves. And when we lose ourselves, as the Bible so paradoxically tells us, we finally begin to find ourselves!
All of this wonderful new kind of life, of course, is impractical and impossible apart from the indwelling Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the One who loves spontaneously. With Him inside us, we begin to love as Christ loved. But He cannot work unless we allow Him to pour Himself through our thoughts and our actions. Start with the first person you meet in the day. Is it your wife? Your husband? The elevator operator? The bus driver? The paper boy? Maybe you are not in the habit of saying anything beyond a sort of unintelligible growl. Look at this person in a whole new way—here is someone God’s love can touch through you. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes a minute, and see what comment you can make, what question you can phrase, that will make him feel good, make him know someone really cares.
On the other hand, if you don’t really care, you can just go on using the same old recipe for a miserable life:
Think about yourself.
Talk about yourself.
Use I as often as possible.
Mirror yourself continually in the opinion of others.
Listen greedily to what people say about you.
Expect to be appreciated.
Be jealous and envious.
Be sensitive to slights.
Never forget a criticism.
Trust nobody but yourself.
Insist on consideration and respect.
Demand agreement with your own views on everything.
Sulk if people are not grateful to you for favors shown them.
Never forget a service you may have rendered.
Be on the lookout for a good time for yourself.
Shirk your duties if you can.
Do as little as possible for others.
Love yourself supremely.
I am assured that this recipe is guaranteed to make one miserable! Love, on the contrary, never acts in any of these ways. “Now you can have real love for everyone because your souls have been cleansed from selfishness and hatred when you trusted Christ to save you; so see to it that you really do love each other warmly, with all your hearts” (1 Peter 1:22).
Heavenly Father, this is our earnest prayer. May Thy love in us be felt by others. “…we lovingly follow the truth at all times—speaking truly, dealing truly, living truly—and so become more and more in every way like Christ who is the head of His body, the church. Under His direction the whole body is fitted together perfectly and each part in its own special way helps the other parts, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love” (Ephesians 4:15-16). Amen.