Love Is Not Irritable

1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. 

4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 

8 Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. 

13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13)

This is sermon number eleven on the topic of love. I understand the concept of beating a dead horse. I’ve done that on some topics with great passion. I know that at times I have gone beyond what was really necessary in order to try and prove a point. I know in fact, that I have, at times, gone so far as to harm my ability to sway someone over to my side. My kids can testify to that. “Oh dad, not again,” or, “I know what you are going to say.” How do they know? Because I may have beaten a dead horse on the matter!

But I really believe, you may disagree, but I really believe that we are not doing that here. The biblical idea of love is so important to our faith, to our lives, and it is so important to those that God chooses to bring into our lives. If we love, we show ourselves to be in the faith to those around us. If we understand that we are loved , by God, then we have the courage to do anything He asks. If we love, we know we belong to Him, if we know we are loved we are assured we belong to Him. “God is love,” we read. If we love, biblically, then we are God’s people.

We have to be God’s people if we love as God describes love to us. Human effort alone cannot compel anyone to love biblically, at least not for any length of time. We must, it is imperative that we understand what true biblical love is, what it looks like and exactly how we implement it into our lives. It is also of the utmost important for us to know that if we really love biblically, it is God in us and not ourselves.

If smiling and saying a kind word or two was all that love was, then maybe we could do that. But there is so much more than that to love, as we are learning together. And just as importantly, we must understand that our motive to love comes from, is rooted in, our love for Christ Himself.

I have, over the last fourteen years or so, counseled many hundreds of hours, people, individuals, couples, families, myself, and I can tell you something that you may find to be profound. Most of their problems, most of my problems, result from a failure to understand what it means to really love people. Or, if the understanding is there, then the problems become a failure to implement biblical love toward other people.

Some may say, “So you’re telling me that if I really love others, God’s way, that all my problems are gone!” Well, yes and no. If you mean that all circumstances change and no one sins against me, no more difficulties, everyone is now nice to me and compliant with my will, well, those things may never change. But what changes is how we handle those challenges. If we love, we can handle things God’s way, doing what is pleasing to Him, relying by faith in Him, at peace in His graceful loving hands, trusting in His wisdom, and not complaining or attributing fault to God. 

Our problems can look like divine appointments with others, opportunities to trust God, we see problems as new ways to implement God’s Word in our lives, like, love our enemies, do good to those who hate us. How do we love our enemies if we never have any? Or, how do we do good to those who hate us if no one ever hates us? Our worldview changes, our faith grows, and love becomes a way of life in all things. Problems are not hopeless, they are opportunities for us to trust and love God more.

Love is so key, so important, and if we don’t have it, if we are living not for God but for ourselves, then we are missing the mark. If our goal with other people is ever to win a debate, then we have probably failed to love. If our aim is to get our way, then where is love? If our desire is to be loved, then have we really loved? For us, as we live, Paul says there is a more excellent way, and that way is that we love as we have been loved.

So we are to be loving people as Christians, conduits of Christ’s love to others. Love as we share the gospel story, as we prepare dinner, as we talk with others, as we make important decisions, as we drive on the highway, as we talk on the phone, as we teach our children, as we go through the food line in about an hour or so, as we drift off to sleep, even how we use our minds in those quiet moments. To be loving as we must deliver bad news that we know may be hard for someone to take, love as we speak the truth. “The more excellent way,” Paul says, “is the way of love.”

Today we are in verse five of 1 Corinthians 13 where we read, “it is not irritable.” Love is not irritable. And yes, it is in there, the Bible says love is not irritable!

Here is a fun thing to do. Take the first three verses of 1 Corinthians 13 and substitute irritable or irritated in every time you see the word love, and see how that works for you. You could do this with any of these descriptions of love. Here is what it sounds like: “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but am [irritable], I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but [irritable], I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but am [irritable], I gain nothing.”

In other words, being irritable or irritated is not just a small, minor, really inconsequential thing that just happens from time to time. No, being irritable is something that totally hijacks who we are to be as Christians. In fact, being irritable obliterates any “so called” good that we may do. It off-sets it, destroys it, makes it of no account. It brings our acts and our witness to nothing. That is what Paul says. We become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal, brings things to nothing, makes it so that we gain nothing.

Have you ever taken a meal to a friend in need, someone going through a hard time, and you were just irritated that someone asked you to? Have you ever been irritated about giving a offering to the church? Have you been irritable about preparing or teaching a Sunday school class? If so, in any of these cases, maybe you just should’t have done it. Maybe you didn’t really help anyone. That is kind of hard, isn’t it? God wants our hearts, as we serve, in all that we do, He wants our hearts to sing in praise, to sing in service to Him, to sing in all our works done in His name, to sing in love for Him in what we do.

Okay, now, don’t do this – don’t think, “Well okay, I’m irritated a lot, so I guess I’ll just quit serving, helping others, doing ministry, since it’s not helping anyway according to 1 Corinthians 13.” No, no, no, that is not the answer! The solution is to glory in the wonder of God, in your salvation, be awed by God’s work for you, in you, His love for you, His kindness and faithfulness, and let that, let that chase away irritation, chase it far away from our hearts so that it is gone! Okay, I’m kind of getting ahead of myself…

We’ve gone far enough without defining this word translated “irritable.” Other translations such as the NASB says, “love is not provoked.” So think provoked or irritated. But what does it really mean? It means literally, “to have a fit of some kind, some kind of attack or convulsion in which a person loses control of himself.”

Maybe you have heard someone say, “That guy just flew off the handle.” That phrase to fly off the handle comes from what refers to an axe head, that is attached to a handle, coming loose and flying through the air. The axe head flies off the handle of the axe. Now you can imagine the potential danger of that. No one wants to be around when an axe head is flying through the air out of control. If it is still attached to the handle, it is relatively safe, but off the handle…look out for your life, right?

When that happens, someone is going to get hurt. In similar fashion, when a person flies off the handle in difficult situations, someone is harmed. When emotions are out of control someone often times gets hurt physically or emotionally. Love does not have fits, is not out of control does not fly off the handle.

The Bible is full of warnings and examples for us regarding staying in control of ourselves. There are illustrations of the kind of damage that is done when we don’t.

The vexation of a fool is known at once, but the prudent ignores an insult. (Proverbs 12:16)

The word “vexation” characterizes a person who gets really excited in a negative way, a person who displays anger under certain circumstances. It is the same world used in Proverbs 21:19 to describe a wife who is contentious. There it says it is better to live out in the desert where you don’t have any water or any comforts of life than to live with and share a home with a contentious person.

But in Proverbs 12:16 it says that the fool’s vexation is “known at once”. This means that the person is quickly and easily upset, annoyed, or irritated. Though how it looks can take on many forms, the point is he gets angry very quickly and easily. He is easily offended, has a short fuse, maybe you could say he is picky, so particular about things that he cannot stand things not being how he wants them. Instead of being slow to anger, he is quick to anger. His vexation is known. He is ticked off and you know it by his words, his facial expressions, his tone of voice, the rigidity in his voice, his put downs, his withdrawal, his distance, or whatever. 

A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back. (Proverbs 29:11)

“Full vent to his spirit.” A wise man holds his temper back and quiets it, brings it under control, but not the fool. He is one who speaks with full vent, heated, harmful words, demeaning words, reckless, hurtful.

Emotions are a part of our God-given make up. Emotions are good things. I’m glad to have emotions, and it can be really enjoyable to see emotions in others. We are emotional beings, no question about it. But emotions are not to drive us, to rule us, but we are to be in control of them.

Let’s go to the New Testament. Again, this is an attempt for us to better understand what it means that love is not irritable.

1 Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, 2 to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. (Titus 3:1-2)

This passage is helpful. Paul shows us or gives us four phrases about how we should function as Christians. And we should want to know this, hang on his words if we love God and want to live for Him. The phrases help us to paint a picture of what it means to have a love that is not provoked. Wayne Mack points to this passage and helps us to understand it regarding Christian living and not being provoked or irritated in how we live.

The first phrase describes what we often will do when we are provoked or irritated. When irritated or provoked we tend to speak evil of another person. If we are not controlled, we may do this. God says to speak evil of no one.

Think about the last time you were irritated or provoked to anger. Did you go after someone with your words, assign blame, accuse, jump to conclusions, only focus on their wrong, hone in on every weakness that they possess with your words?

When Jesus was about to be crucified and even while being crucified, where we think He may be most likely provoked or irritated, He was not. Talk about provocation, He was mocked, blindfolded, beaten, taunted, teased saying, “Who struck you?” They misrepresented Him, hurled abuses, and twisted His words. But in it all He was not provoked. 

When Titus says “speak evil of no one,” that must include those who disagree with us, and even includes the worst sinners. So those who don’t cooperate with us, yes, even those, we should not speak evil of them. 

The next phrase in the Titus passage says that we are to avoid quarreling. We are not to be contentious with others. People who are easily provoked usually are those who become argumentative, or quarrelsome. Verbal brawlers. Everything is a debate, a contest to be won. Masterful with words in order to win the battle. 

However, a person with real love will seek to be peaceful, not quarreling with anyone. This person will put Romans 12:18 into practice – “If possible, as far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all men.” We are to be pursuers of peace for mutual building up according to Romans 14:19. We will desire to be peacemakers, not quarrelers. Going the extra mile, turning the other cheek, doing anything short of abandoning the truth to make peace with all. That is part of having a love that is not irritable, not easily provoked.

Thirdly, from Titus 3, our lives should be characterized by gentleness. Ah gentleness, a fruit of the Spirit. Many think that gentleness is just something you have or you don’t have, like a personality trait. But all Christians are to possess it, pray for it, practice it, live according to it.

A person who is not provoked who is not irritable is one who is gentle. He is a submissive person, unselfish, one who does not demand his own way, is not an authoritarian or dictatorial. A person who is able to handle opposition to his own will or disagreements without being provoked.

The last phrase from Titus 3 shows the opposite of being provoked, it says that we are to “show perfect courtesy toward all people.” To show consideration for all. Perfect courtesy. Perfect. Not just a little, but perfectly to all people, even those who are sinning against us. 

William Hendrickson comments on Paul’s words here saying that Paul was encouraging Titus, “to show all mildness to all people, even to the people on the island of Crete, who were, as one of the Cretans had said, liars, evil brutes and lazy gluttons.” And he recognized that this “was an assignment impossible of fulfillment apart from God’s special grace.”

It may be easy at times for us to say, “You know what? I can’t live that way. I am provoked, I do become irritated with people, family, friends, co-workers, politicians, liberals, conservatives, mean people, arrogant people, with people who try to tell me what to do, with people who confront me or correct me. I become easily irritated with people who sin against me again and again and again, whoever. I can’t hold it all together as I should, I do fly off the handle.” If that is where you are, if that is where we are – and we are all there at one time or another – if that is where you are, then here is the hope.

Here is where we must focus, here is where we get practical help, we get it in the gospel message, our help comes from the gospel of Jesus Christ, here is our motivation, our strength, what takes us where we need to be. Do you want to see it? Stay in Titus and let’s read on. Paul doesn’t leave us hopeless in this. You have to love this as a believer in Christ, you’ve got to love these words! Just feast on these words of hope with me! Here is what he says:

3 For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. 4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. 8 The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people. (Titus 3:3-8)

Did you get that, do we really get that? What has God done for us? Everything! Our rescue is in Him, our future joy is in Him, our stability in this life is from Him, is secure in Him. He has loved us with loving kindness, with mercy, renewed us, given us His Spirit through Christ, justified us, though we don’t deserve it by His grace, He has made us heirs of His kingdom. He has given us everything, and so here we are as those who in Him can live radically, live a radical love for Him and others, devoted to Him!

Our love can be without irritation without throwing fits, without flying off the handle, we can love radically as those who have been radically loved! How will you do that this week or even today? A focus on all that you are and have in the Gospel will help. It is hard to be irritated while immersed in Christ. Love is not irritable.