Love Keeps No Record of Wrongs

So, this week is Valentine’s Day. Honestly, I’ve never been a huge fan of the holiday, and neither has my wife (thankfully). I could give the jaded response that it’s a made-up holiday created to  benefit marketers and sellers of all things pink and red. But…I really don’t hate the idea overall. I mean, shouldn’t I be glad to have an excuse (or reminder) to tell my wife that I love her? Hopefully, that’s not something that I forget on a regular basis, but if it was, wouldn’t an annual holiday for that purpose be a good thing? 

Since I’m a minister of the gospel, when I think of Valentine’s Day, a national day of love, I can’t help but think of 1 Corinthians 13. After all, it is the LOVE chapter. I specifically think of verses 4-7. I grew up on the NIV, so here is what most often comes to mind.

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.

These words are a good reminder for us all, whether it’s Valentine’s Day or not. But one particular phrase in the middle of those verses caught my attention a few years ago…in a strange context.

I’ve had the honor of serving on the staff at multiple churches over the years. And I’ve been around long enough to have seen my share of people come and go. A few years back, I had a friend whose wife was struggling with things in the church. You know how it goes. They had been members of the church for years and deeply involved in multiple areas of service. But as things changed (as you know they do), the wife became more and more disgruntled with many aspects of the changes.

So the husband, who was a friend of mine and was a teacher in my area of service, met me for lunch one day. I could tell his mood was heavy and that he was nervous about talking to me. We sat across from each other, finished our lunch, and eventually ran out of small-talk. That’s when he said it. He stumbled over his words as he shared with me that he and his wife were going to start visiting other churches. He was sad. He was embarrassed. I asked him why, though I could easily have predicted the answer. With another recent change, his wife had finally had enough. She was done. She couldn’t bring herself to continue to be a part of our church family. He described to me one offense after another and how he felt that now, in order to love his wife well, he was going to need to go with her to visit another church. In his words, “she just can’t get over it.”

As I listened to his list of all that had offended her, my mind drifted to the 1 Corinthians passage I mentioned before. It was as if the Lord was speaking to me directly. As I drove away that day, I kept repeating the words over and over in my head. Love…”keeps no record of wrongs.” 

I realized that day that my friend’s wife had done what so many of us are guilty of doing. She probably didn’t do it intentionally and probably can’t even remember when she began. But at some point, she started keeping a record of wrongs. And once she did, she couldn’t stop. The longer the list got, the easier it was to add something else to the list. 

The truth of the matter is, once any of us start keeping a record of wrongs, we’re toast. Paul knew what he was talking about. God knew exactly the right words to inspire Paul to write. Because God knows that if we start keeping a record of wrongs, it won’t be long before we become bitter. Each item we add to the list just burrows the bitterness more deeply into our hearts.

So what does this little story have to do with marriage or Valentine’s Day? Well, my point is to help you see the principle that I discovered that day, a principle that the Lord has brought to my mind often since then.

Marriage is full of offenses. Put two people living together in super close proximity, sharing a bathroom, sharing a bed,  jockeying over chores and household responsibilities. Throw in a kid or two with minds of their own, a couple of demanding jobs, bosses, or in-laws…and you have the perfect opportunity for a long list of offenses. I know couples who have fallen into this trap. Somewhere along the way, being offended became a way of life for them. And they wear their offenses like an old worn-out sweatshirt that is just too comfortable to get rid of even though it’s stained and torn.

Perhaps you have fallen into this trap too. Have you let yourself start keeping a record of wrongs about your spouse? 

Let me encourage you, strongly encourage you, warn you, scream at you…don’t do it. Don’t start keeping a list. And if you have one, throw it away. If you don’t get rid of it now, well, it will just become easier and easier to add to the list. Before you know it, your list will have grown too long to address easily. Now it’s a “thing” that will keep getting in the way. It will pop into mind with every strained conversation, every disappointment, every argument.The list will become a monster in your marriage. It will get so big that one day there will be no way to avoid it, no way to walk around it, no way to pretend it’s not there.

So what’s the alternative? Throw away the list. Daily. Get rid of it. I know this won’t be easy, but I believe the key to throwing away the list is forgiveness. Jesus set the standard for forgiveness. Not only did He famously forgive the guys who crucified Him (Lk 23:34), He forgave us…even before we sinned (Rom 5:8). Since Jesus is God, He’s omniscient. He’s all-knowing. He knew my sins…and how many times I would ask forgiveness of Him only to repeat my sin and then come back begging for forgiveness. And yet He still did it. He still chose and continues to choose to forgive me. He embodies the love Paul described in 1 Corinthians 13. He keeps no record of wrongs. He moves them as far away as the east is from the west (Ps 103:12).

You want to have a good marriage? Be like Jesus. Forgive. He provided for my forgiveness even before I asked Him. I should be prepared to forgive my wife even before she asks me. Marriage isn’t easy. No long-term relationship is easy. We all make mistakes. We all fail one another. And in these relationships, God calls us to forgive others as He has forgiven us (Mt 6:12).

So this Valentine’s Day, let’s choose to throw away our list of wrongs. And let’s commit to not start a new one tomorrow. Let us instead be known as givers of grace. 

*The author realizes that this does not apply if you are in an abusive relationship. I would encourage anyone who is in an abusive relationship to seek help immediately. 

Author: Jerry Welch is the Family Discipleship Pastor at Colonial Heights Baptist Church and the Executive Director of The Timothy Project.