Christian love is a decisive love
Corrie Ten Boom was a Dutch Christian who helped many Jews avoid Nazi capture and imprisonment during World War II. Her story became well known when her book chronicling these events — The Hiding Place — was published.
At one point in time, Corrie was imprisoned, along with her two sisters Betsie and Nollie, her brother Willem, and her father for having hidden Jews in their home during the War. Her father died 10 days after the arrest, and Nollie and Willem were released from prison shortly after their arrest. Betsie, however, died much later, after she and Corrie had spent some time in a concentration camp. Corrie was finally released, due of all things, to a clerical error.
Two years after the war ended, Corrie had just finished speaking at a meeting in Munich when she saw one of the guards from the concentration camp where she and her sister had been held. Immediately, her mind was flooded with images of her sister Betsie walking past this man, stripped of her clothes and dignity. Now, that same guard was approaching Corrie.
“A fine message, Fraulein!” he said. “How good it is to know that, as you say, all our sins are at the bottom of the sea.”
Corrie had just spoken on the topic of forgiveness, but rather than taking the man’s hand, she fumbled with her pocketbook.
The guard informed her that he had been a guard at Ravensbrüc and added, “But since that time I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there. But I would like to hear it from your lips as well.”
Again, his hand came out, “Fraulein, will you forgive me?”
Corrie writes, “I stood there – I whose sins had every day to be forgiven – and I could not. Betsie had died in that place. Could he erase her slow terrible death simply for the asking?”
As Corrie stood there, she pondered a difficult choice. She knew in her heart that there was no question of not forgiving. For she understood that “the message that God forgives has a prior condition that we forgive those who have injured us.” In fact, she had just spoken on the necessity of forgiveness, the need to forgive as God has forgiven us in Christ.
And still, says Corrie, “I stood there with coldness clutching my heart.” Emotionally frozen, Corrie reasoned that “forgiveness is not an emotion.” Instead, she reminded herself that forgiveness “is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart.”
She prayed silently, “Jesus help me! I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling… And so woodenly, mechanically, I stretched my hand out to his stretched out hand to me.”
In that moment something amazing happened. “The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands, and then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.”
Corrie cried out, “I forgive you my brother, with all of my heart!”
“For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I have never known God’s love so intensely as I did then.”
It has been said, “Christian love is decisive love. And that often means loving when you don’t feel like doing so.”
This is what the famous “Love Chapter” of 1 Corinthians 13 is getting at – acting in love even when you don’t feel like doing so. While 1 Corinthians 13 is indeed about love, it is a very specific kind of love. No so much an emotive or romantic love, but a decisive love. It is a love that determines to love another, even when it is not easy, or not convenient, or reciprocal.
Here are those famous lines: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).
If you read this against the backdrop of what is going on in the entire letter of 1 Corinthians (it was originally a letter penned by the Apostle Paul to the church in the Roman city of Corinth around 55 AD, addressing specific issues going on in the church), you see there is a selfishness running through the interactions and practices of those in the church. So, Paul contrasts this self-interest with the above depiction of the essentially selfless nature of Christian love.
Immediately before this, he prefaces his comments on love by saying, “let me show you a more excellent way” (1 Corinthians 12:31). He then proceeds to show us what biblical love looks like in action. Here again, these descriptions are not simply what love is, but what love does. This rounds out for us what 1 Corinthians 13 love is: it is a decisive love that acts for the good of others.
As commentator John Stott aptly pens: “It [Christian Love] is not a slave of emotion, but is a servant of the will.”
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