February 27, 2009 by

Love…thinketh no evil


Categories: "Love Is...", food for thought, love

(Continuing the “Love Is…” series–previous links are below.)

This phrase in 1 Cor. 13:5 reads “[love] thinketh no evil” in the KJV, but other translations read things like “keeps no record of wrongs”, “does not take into account a wrong suffered”, and a few other variations.

Looking at the Strong’s definition for “thinketh” or “take into account”, it reads, “to take an inventory”. So I think probably the closest translation to the original meaning of the Greek phrase comes from the Young’s literal translation: “[love] doth not impute evil.” This reminds me of other passages of Scripture that tell us that God does not “impute” our sins against us. In other words, He does not store them up as some sort of grudge.

I have to admit that this is a difficult post for me to write, because I still grapple with the issue of forgiveness myself, and so I cannot consider my own opinion to be authoritative on this topic (and neither should you). Not that I don’t absolutely believe in forgiveness, or that the Scriptures command it of us, because I do. And to the best of my understanding, I practice forgiveness. Rather, my questions are more about what forgiveness is, and what it looks like–because I tend to believe that religious Christianity has given us a rather warped view of it.

Here’s what I mean. I have a hard time believing that when Jesus said things like “turn the other cheek” or “walk the extra mile”, He was asking people to become doormats to be walked upon by those who would prey upon the weakness of others. And in the context of the whole counsel of Scripture, I don’t believe that “love doth not impute evil” means we never hold people to account for their actions. I think theologically, most Christians would agree with these statements; but when it comes to practice, it seems these waters get muddied a bit. For example, when the church pressures wives to quietly endure emotional and even physical abuse from their husbands rather than hold their husbands to account; when people are urged to reconcile with toxic, unhealthy relationships when more is at stake than mere disagreement on a few issues; that sort of thing doesn’t look like love to me. It looks more like codependency. And quite often it happens because the bystanders are uncomfortable with conflict, and want to make themselves feel better by making it go away.

So if this is not the Biblical view of forgiveness, then what is? What does this phrase, “love does not impute evil” really mean? Does it have anything to do with forgiveness?

I think perhaps at least part of the answer is in going back to the basic meaning of this phrase: love “does not take an inventory of evil”. In the light of the rest of Scripture, I surmise that this is talking more about why someone keeps a record of wrongs–that perhaps this is talking more about building up a grudge, forming a case against someone for personal retribution. Revenge, in other words.

Here’s where I’m going with this. To forgive means to cancel a debt. When someone hurts us, crosses our boundary, does us harm…it creates an in-equity, an injustice, a debt. The books no longer balance. We then can choose to reconcile the books by requiring it of that person (i.e., revenge), or we can willfully choose to cancel the debt, absorb the loss, and adjust the books so that they balance again. When we cancel the debt so that we no longer require anything of the other person–that is forgiveness, and that is a powerful expression of love.

On the other hand, when we quietly file the transgression away along with the other times that person wounded us–in other words, when we keep an inventory of these offenses–we are still holding a soul-debt against that person in the hope that one day the debt will be repaid. That is unforgiveness, and that is not what love does.

All that said…when Paul says, “Love does not take inventory of evil”, I don’t think he’s talking about letting all bad behavior go unanswered. I do think he is talking about letting go of personal offenses, of showing grace in the face of injustice, and not seeking our own retribution. And when this happens, it is life-changing–both for the person wronged, and often for the person who did the wronging.

Again, if God is love…let us look to Him for our example. There are definitely times when He will discipline us, holding us to account and confronting us to effect change in us. And there will come a time when the Bible says He will judge the world and make all the books balance. The Bible does say, after all, that vengeance belongs to Him. But while we live this life, while God may sometimes discipline us, there is never a time when forgiveness is not offered to us. Thank God that He does not make us pay for what we have done in order to settle the score. Thank God that He does not impute our sins against us. The Bible says that it is His kindness that leads us to repentance. And I happen believe that this kindness expressed in forgiveness also goes a long way toward bringing one another to repentance as well.

One last thing about this “not imputing” of evil. Jesus made a similar statement toward the end of John’s gospel: “What sins you forgive, they are forgiven; and what sins you retain, they are retained.” I think both Scripture and experience make it clear that when we retain sins by imputing evil, we are actually doing ourselves more harm than we are to those who have hurt us. Not only is this forgiveness an expression of love; the Scripture tells us that our own forgiveness is contingent on our willingness to forgive. Again, I don’t think forgiveness automatically means we walk willfully back into toxic situations; but I do understand the importance of releasing the debt. And this is a necessary, healthy way to love.

Because love does not impute evil.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Musician. Composer. Recovering perfectionist. Minister-in-transition. Lover of puns. Hijacker of rock song references. Questioner of the status quo. I'm not really a rebel. Just a sincere Christ-follower with a thirst for significance that gets me into trouble. My quest has taken me over the fence of institutional Christianity. Here are some of my random thoughts along the way. Read along, join in the conversation. Just be nice.

9 Responses to Love…thinketh no evil

  1. Amy

    Ah…excellent. I agree whole-heartedly to your definition of, message and thoughts about “Love…thinks no evil,” of our soul/spirit putting away/behind those wrongs against us, yet maintaining a sense of wisdom to those who wrong us in how much “trust” to allow them until it can “grow back” (and if so) and if we are to continue to walk in a “toxic relationship.”

    Good stuff here!

    ~Amy 🙂

  2. Kansas Bob

    “I think both Scripture and experience make it clear that when we retain sins by imputing evil, we are actually doing ourselves more harm than we are to those who have hurt us.”

    Great thought Jeff. Unforgiveness is an unlocked jail cell that we confine ourselves to while the offending party walks free.

    My personal philosophy is that not every offense has to be communicated.. if love cannot cover the offense then I need to address it.. not that I am an expert 🙂

  3. Milly

    Not an easy thing to do, forgive. I’ve seen an amazing man forgive those who murdered his wife and child first hand but I’m not ready to forgive the almost ex and his mistress. If I were the only player in the game I think I could but I have children. I made a mistake and married an abusive man I think that in time I’ll read His words and forgive.

    Thank you for a post to remind me that I can forgive in time.

  4. Ruth

    Hi jeff

    what u have wrote expresses great wisdom. God wants us to have healthy relationships not toxic ones. It’s so warped the way religion thinks these days. I have seen it over and over again, people who are being abused, counselled by the ‘church’ to stay in these abusive manipulative and controlling relationships. they are so harmful, the person being abused continues to be violently abused and sadly they never recover. they are lifelong crippled. the sad thing is that is not Jesus Christ’s will, he wants to restore but the problem IMO is that church religion doesn’t know Christ; they don’t know that he wants to truly set them free. i have just spent the last few days thinking of a situation. not only that, the scriptures they use to justify abuse of another is wild. it’s wild how they pull out scriptures and negate the flow, meaning and message often being conveyed. all to justify the abuse of another. i am ticked about this at the moment sorry a rant here GBU
    thanks for saying this :))

  5. Angela

    Hi Jeff,

    This was really good. It resonated with me.

    For most of my life forgiveness and keeping no record of wrongs didn’t seem like such a hard thing to do. But when my husband had an affair with a friend and left me, then I was confronted with all this pain, anger and injustice. It felt like if I forgave them, they would get away with it and I would have to absorb or “eat” the wrong that was done me. I just couldn’t do it. It felt like my children and I would have to pay for their sin for the rest of our lives.

    As I wrestled with God on this, He showed me an amazing thing about the cross. He showed me that Jesus paid for their sin on the cross and if I was willing, He would be the one to pay for it for me. In other words, I wouldn’t have to absorb the wrong, He would do it. I’m not sure how to explain it very well but when I agreed to let Him pay for their sin against me, something huge happened inside my heart. I was finally free of the weight of their sin. I realized that the cross took care of a lot of things, including other people’s sins against me.

    There was tremendous freedom in letting Jesus be the one to pay. That opened up the door for me to begin forgiving my husband and former friend. I believe forgiveness is something that God works out in us over time once we make that initial decision to forgive. Not much has changed on my husband’s side, but I’m discovering I have more compassion in my heart towards him than ever before, and that’s just the Lord accomplishing that.

  6. Sam

    Forgiving is: giving up my right to get even. Forgiving is: giving up my desire to play God and “balance the books”.

    Forgiving is not: allowing you to continue to hurt or abuse me or anyone else. Forgiving is not: helping you cover or hide or continue in your sin.

    Forgiving may include: revealing what you have done. It may include: calling the police. It may include: getting professional help for you.

    Forgiving may include rebuilding our relationship, if there was one. On the other hand, it may mean that because I care about myself and/or others that I can never rebuild a relationship with you.

    Should others tell us to forgive, and then return to an abusive situation, recognize that they have joined ranks with the abuser.

  7. Jeff McQ

    Thanks for your constant voice of encouragement. What a blessing.

    I tend to agree with your philosophy about confronting, at least for personal offenses. For more serious things, sometimes it’s important to confront in order to stop it from happening to others.

    On several occasions in my life, I’ve been in a situation where I had to choose between confronting a person publicly and walking away peacefully. I chose to walk away. Ironically, that point was when bystanders would accuse me of unforgiveness, when they didn’t realize my motive was simply that I didn’t feel at the time it was my place to uncover another.

    I can totally understand the anger and hurt that you still feel…and believe it or not, so does God. In those times, we may want to obey the command of God, but it can run so contrary to what we feel. I pray that God will reconcile this for you and bring you to a place where you can forgive.

    I actually struggled for days in writing this post, so I’m very glad to know it has resonated. It is so true that people wrongly use the Scriptures on forgiveness, quite often to perpetuate their own bad behavior and manipulate others to accept it. I don’t believe for one minute that this is what Jesus intended. 🙂

    Thanks for your remarks here, and for adding some of your story to the conversation. It is great to hear how God brought you to that place of healing.

    Good thoughts here; thanks for including them.

  8. Gary Delaney

    Forgiveness is definitely necessary, because God requires it of us. But, also because it will effect a person’s health in a very bad way if we do not forgive.

    But, like you said Jeff, it does not mean the lack of accountability. And, it does not mean allowing ones self to become a doormat to abuse or control, which is really the same thing I think.


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