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“Love Is Not Selfish and Is Not Provoked”

A Short Commentary On 1 Corinthians 13:5[b-c]

by Dr. Eitan Bar
3 minutes read

This directive challenges the natural human inclination towards selfishness, self-preservation, and self-promotion, urging a shift towards altruism and collective well-being. Jesus reminded us to “seek first his kingdom” (Matthew 6:33), suggesting a hierarchy of priorities. Just as our bodies urgently signal hunger or thirst, we should feel an intense spiritual need to establish God’s kingdom—seeking the interests of others. Our main concern shouldn’t be our physical sustenance but rather pursuing righteousness and bringing about God’s kingdom.

By stating that love does not seek its own interests, Paul is directly countering the behaviors that had caused discord among the Corinthians, such as competition, envy, and strife. He emphasizes that love prioritizes the welfare of others and seeks to build community rather than divide it into many small disconnected units.

This principle of selfless love has far-reaching implications for personal behavior and communal life. It calls for a departure from self-centeredness, urging individuals to look beyond their immediate desires and consider the impact of their actions on others. In practice, this means making choices that may not necessarily benefit one’s self the most but will contribute to the happiness and well-being of others.

For example, in interpersonal relationships, this might look like stepping back to allow someone else to shine, sharing resources even when it means having less for oneself, or offering time and energy to help others without expecting anything in return. At a community or societal level, seeking the interests of others over one’s own can lead to advocacy for justice, the creation of equitable systems, and active participation in efforts that aim to improve the community’s collective life.

Embodying this principle of love is not merely about avoiding overtly selfish acts but actively pursuing the good of others. It is a love that mirrors the example of Jesus, who lived for the sake of blessing others and embodied ultimate selflessness. His life serves as the highest model for Christians, illustrating that true love is marked not by what it claims for itself but by what it gives away. In this light, not seeking one’s own interests is about fostering a spirit of generosity and kindness. It is a commitment to living in a way that enriches others’ lives, recognizing that in the flourishing of others, one finds a deeper, more meaningful kind of fulfillment. This way of living love transforms not only individual lives but also the fabric of entire communities, making the world a more compassionate and harmonious place.

Love is not provoked

This aspect of love is particularly potent in its ability to resist being stirred to anger or irritation by the actions or words of others. In essence, it speaks to love’s profound patience and deep-seated resilience in the face of provocations. A form of love that is marked by calm and restraint. In the broader scriptural context, especially in the letters of Paul, there is a recurrent emphasis on maintaining peace and forbearance within the community. The Corinthians, to whom the letter was originally addressed, were known for their contentiousness and internal disputes. Being not easily provoked implies a maturity of character that allows one to absorb minor grievances or misunderstandings without escalating them into larger conflicts. This quality of love is essential for sustaining long-term relationships, whether familial, romantic, communal, or friendships. It requires a level of self-control and empathy that seeks to understand and forgive rather than retaliate. It demands a certain level of maturity.

Practically, this means pausing to reflect before responding in anger, choosing to address uncomfortable issues with calmness, and aiming for reconciliation rather than victory in disputes. It involves a conscious decision to set aside one’s immediate emotional response in favor of a more thoughtful and inclusive approach. This not only prevents the deterioration of relationships but also promotes a peaceful coexistence that honors the dignity of all involved.

Moreover, Christ’s example, who faced intense provocation from both the political and religious leaders of his time without succumbing to anger, provides a foundational model for Christians. His interactions were characterized by a poignant blend of truth-telling and grace, and he managed to challenge injustice and hypocrisy without personal animosity.

Even in the face of death, Jesus remained unprovoked, displaying a profound level of composure and tranquility that transcends human understanding. His response to such extreme adversity was not one of anger or retaliation but rather a demonstration of immense strength and steadfastness, teaching us the power of maintaining peace and dignity under the most dire circumstances.

In contemporary life, embodying this “provocation immunity” means navigating the stresses and many challenges of daily life without losing our temper or compromising our values. It calls for a heart that is anchored in love so deeply that it remains steady even when storms of provocation come. This is not about suppressing our emotions but about controlling them and cultivating a sense of inner peace and perspective that transcends the immediate provocations of life, always remembering that “the ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of convenience and comfort, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” (Dr. Martin Luther King)

This article is from my book, “The Theology of Love: Christianity’s Most Underrated Doctrine.

The Theology of Love

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Dr. Eitan Bar
Author, Theologian, Activist