Love is not Rude

Many years ago, the Irish play writer, George Bernard Shaw, wrote that “Christianity might be a good thing if anyone ever tried it.” Now, Bernard Shaw’s sarcastic criticism of Christians may disturb some of us, but in being cynical he actually makes a valid point, and that is that our faith in Christ is to be lived out and practiced; that the truths of Christianity that we profess to believe are to be applied and observed and followed on a daily basis.  Nowhere is this more challenging than in our response to Christ’s command to love others.  On the night that Jesus was arrested, He told His disciples that they were to love others as He loved them.

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.  By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35, NASB)

Jesus said that love for one another was the universal mark of a Christian, and that the world had every right to judge us as to whether or not we were true followers of His based on how we treated one another.  Interestingly though, in every one of Paul’s letters to the various first century churches, there are statements from him urging each congregation to be more loving.  The reason for this is because these early Christians had trouble loving each other (just as we do), and needed an exhortation from the Apostle to be obedient in this most important issue of life.

But no church gave Paul more trouble when it came to loving each other than the Church at Corinth.  This particular church was filled with the most self-centered, arrogant, loveless Christians of that day, and thus the reason Paul devoted an entire chapter to addressing their problem with love, by telling them how love behaves.

In 1 Corinthians 13 Paul gives a number of very practical descriptions of how love behaves, as he seeks to correct the Corinthian on their negligence in showing love.  One of the descriptions of love that he mentions is an area of behavior not usually associated with love.

Writing at the beginning of verse 5, Paul says that “love does not act unbecoming” (NASB).  The thought behind this Greek word that is translated “unbecomingly” is “indecent,” and the way that Paul is using it is here is to say that love doesn’t behave in an inappropriate, rude manner.  In other words, love is not ill-mannered.  Simply put, the Apostle means that love is not rude.  The reason for this is because someone who is rude has no regard for others.  They do and say whatever they want, no matter how it affects others, regardless of the pain their words may bring.

Those who are rude are tactless, discourteous, thoughtless, and generally unconcerned about how their actions or their words affect others.  The only one a rude person thinks about is himself!  To understand the true nature of rudeness, it is helpful to know that the literal meaning of this Greek word is “shapeless, unformed,” which tells us that those who are rude are undisciplined in their behavior; they are just out of control in their comments and conduct.  They do and say whatever they feel like doing and saying, without using any self-discipline or self-control.

As one reads through 1 Corinthians it becomes apparent why Paul addressed the issue of rudeness in this chapter on love.  It is because the Corinthians had a serious problem in this area.  They were a congregation of undisciplined, rude, ill-mannered people.  We see this very clearly in a couple of places in 1 Corinthians.

First of all, they were certainly rude in the way they treated each other when they observed the Lord’s Supper, which included a common pot-luck type meal known as “the love feast.”  According to what Paul wrote in 11:20-22, instead of waiting for others to arrive at the common dinner prior to the Lord’s Supper, those who got their first quickly gobbled up their food and drank so much wine that they became drunk, while others went hungry, because by the time they arrived later, there was nothing left for them to eat or drink.  There was absolutely no consideration for others.

We see this same kind of rude disregard for others in the church in the way they carried on their Sunday services.  Writing in 1 Cor. 14:26 Paul said, “What is the outcome then, brethren?  When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation.  Let all things be done for edification.” Paul says that when they assemble for church on Sundays, everyone feels free to shout out what they believe is a word from God, so that one person shouts, “I have a psalm I would like to sing,” and they just start singing.  Another yells, “I have out a Bible lesson I’d like to give,” and they just start giving it.  Still another says, “I have a new revelation from God,” and they give it.  Then another starts speaking in tongues, and someone says, “I have an interpretation for that tongue.” Their behavior was nothing more than complete chaos, and it was rude because no one cared about what anyone else was saying; they just wanted to be heard.  So they spoke up anytime they wanted to, even if someone else was speaking at the time.  These people were just competing for who got the most attention, and it didn’t matter if they interrupted anyone else.  They were determined to be heard.  That’s rudeness, and it was unloving.

While it’s certainly true that the Corinthians were an extreme case of a congregation that acted rudely, it’s also true that rudeness among Christians did not die out with them.  Many of us can still be terribly rude without even being aware of it.

One way we can be rude is by telling each other exactly what we think about them, regardless of how it will make the other person feel.  Over the years I have observed that many Christians—especially senior saints—think that they have a license to give their opinion about someone else in the name of honesty.  They have convinced themselves that it’s ok to do this because, after all, the Bible commands us to speak the truth.  But the Bible tells us to speak the truth in love, not to be brutal in our honesty.  You don’t have the right to tell people anything on your mind about them, with the attitude of “I just speak my mind, and if somebody doesn’t like it, well, that’s just too bad.” Well, there is someone who doesn’t like it—God! He says that “love is not rude”!

Another way we can be rude is by not being on time to an appointment or to meet someone.  Certainly there are times when we can’t help being late because it’s out of our control.  So often though, it is in our control, and by being late we show no regard for the other’s person’s valuable time.  That’s nothing but ill-mannered rudeness.  And I am personally aware of this expression of rudeness, because I was once habitually guilty of being late to meet my fiancé (now my wife) for dinner when we were students at college.  I would consistently keep her waiting for me every day, simply because I had no regard for her time.  My constant lateness was rude, and it was sinful, because it was selfish.

This is why love doesn’t behave in a rude manner.  Love isn’t selfish.  It isn’t thoughtless and insensitive towards others.  It considers their feelings, it doesn’t run roughshod over others in the name of honesty.  It is attentive to, and understanding of, the plans, interests, and time constraints of others.  Love listens and pays attention to others when they are speaking.  Love doesn’t rudely interrupt others, or ignore their ideas and suggestions.  Love is not ill mannered.

So how do we overcome the sin of rudeness?  First of all, if you are aware that you have been rude to someone, then you need to ask God to forgive you, and then you need to ask forgiveness of the person to whom you have been rude.  Secondly, you have to recognize that the root cause of rudeness is an inflated sense of your own importance.  It is being puffed up with pride that makes you feel as if you are more important that anyone else, and therefore have a right to say or do whatever you want to say or do.  But the sooner you realize that you are aren’t more important than anyone else, the sooner you will learn to love others by being sensitive, tactful, and polite, both in your speech and your actions.

Of course, the greatest example of someone who wasn’t rude was Jesus.  He treated all people with respect.  How thoughtful He was in speaking kindly to those who were condemned and scorned in His society; namely, the prostitutes and tax collectors.  He was known as a friend of sinners.  He showed respect to women and children.  In speaking the truth to people about themselves, He always spoke in love.  May we follow His example.

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