Study Guide: Love Does Not Insist on its Own Way

Sunday November 10, 2002 | Greg Boyd

Focus Scripture:

Brief Summary:

Greg continued his sermon series through I Corinthians 13 by focusing on verse 5: “love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful.” As a general principle, love does not seek to control others. However, controlling behavior typically characterizes human nature. Why is this?

Extended Summary:

Greg continued his sermon series through I Corinthians 13 by focusing on verse 5: “love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful.” As a general principle, love does not seek to control others. However, controlling behavior typically characterizes human nature. Why is this?

A faulty understanding of our knowledge of reality causes us to desire control. Greg called this tendency the “omniscience mechanism.” The basis for our belief that we know more than we actually do is rooted in Genesis 2 and 3. In Genesis 2, God provided the provision (“You may freely eat of every tree of the garden” v. 16.), and the prohibition (“but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat” v. 17.). In Genesis 3, Adam and Eve dismissed the prohibition in their attempt to provide for themselves. However, God exclusively holds the knowledge of good and evil. Therefore, when human beings attempt to demonstrate an ability that is only possible for God, the results prove disastrous. Not only are our judgments mistaken because of our finite perspective, but also our attempts fail to fill the emptiness caused by distorting God’s design. In this world, life is ambiguous. No other perspective on life is possible for sinful and finite people. Our attempts to impose clarity where there is none clogs the flow of God’s love through us to others. Instead of loving, we control situations, and insist on our own way. We see this in the book of Job. Job’s friends come to give him “insight” (4:7-8), but soon after he realizes that they have ulterior motives (6:18, 20-21). Later, he presumes accuracy in his pronouncements about God (24:12). Finally, God responds that God alone is able to understand the ambiguities of life (38:1-40:2). Jesus’ ministry also demonstrates life’s complexities. People were blaming the victims of tragedy as being the cause of the tragedy (Luke 13:1-5). Jesus responded that the reason for the tragedy was not because of their sin. Even in our interactions with each other, there is a lot of uncertainty. Greg shared that as an “outsider” to people’s lives we can only be sure about a few things: 1. That they are a sinner, and 2. That they have infinite worth before God. Much of everything else is unclear, unless we are invited into their life as an “insider.”

To differentiate between an “outsider” and an “insider”, Greg shared a universal organizational principle. Those farthest away from a decision or situation are the ones most critical and convinced of the cause. On the other hand, those closest to the situation are compassionate because they realize many factors affect the situation. For example, when a prostitute anointed Jesus while he was eating with Pharisees, the Pharisees responded with indignation over these actions of a “sinner.” In contrast, Jesus looked beyond the mere appearance of the situation to the woman’s heart. (Luke 7:36-50). We must stand against the temptation to impose clarity on ambiguity. As an “outsider,” appearances will not tell us the whole story. Only if we are invited to be an “insider” can we accurately and lovingly speak words of wisdom and admonition.

Greg exhorted the audience to be a community of love. We must spend less time trying to solve the ambiguities of life, and more time demonstrating the outrageous and nonjudgmental love of Christ. Of utmost importance is for people to find the fullness of life that comes from Jesus. To illustrate the need for compassionate love, Greg spoke about gluttony.

If there was ever a sin that lacked ambiguity, it would seem to be gluttony. The Bible speaks strongly against it (e.g. Philippians 3:19, Proverbs 28:7). Even the destruction of Sodom is caused by gluttonous behavior (Ezekiel 16:49). In the United States, sixty percent of the population is overweight and twenty percent is obese. More people die each year from complications due to being overweight than from smoking. In addition, our health care system shoulders tremendous costs associated with the effects of people being overweight. Clearly, this is an individual and systemic problem, and the people of the United States are woefully guilty.

If gluttony is unmistakably a sin, then why do Christians not call it that? Furthermore, why do we even allow people in the church who so blatantly sin in this way? The first reason Greg gave for why we do not judge so harshly is that our churches would be much smaller if overweight people were not welcome. Second, we realize that we all sin. What right do I have to judge someone when I have my own struggles? Third, we understand that being overweight can be a complex situation. A person might struggle with their weight because of a biological condition. On the other hand, perhaps overeating is symptomatic of a deeper issue. To illustrate this, Greg shared about “Betty.” Betty came to Greg for counseling during some particularly rocky times in her life. She felt completely worthless about herself. Eating was her escape from life’s pain. As Greg learned more about her situation, Betty asked him to help her lose weight. Although he knew that she needed to change her eating habits, Greg realized that something more foundational in her life needed attention. Betty needed to find her identity in Christ. This was most important. Did Greg’s method compromise the truth of the Bible? Not at all. However, it demonstrates that the person who is on the inside of the situation is best equipped to apply the principles of truth and love.

Betty not only struggled with overeating, but also with being gay. As with her overeating, Greg realized that Betty’s primary problem was not that she was gay, but that she lacked a proper identity in Christ. By being on the inside of her situation, Greg discerned what needed top priority, and what should be faced later. In reality, the church often immediately rejects gays. Homosexuality is seen as the worst sin, its complexities not worth understanding. Greg asked, “If homosexuality is sin just like gluttony is sin, then why are gluttons welcome at church, and not gays? What is the reason for the inconsistency? Don’t we all have a sin problem?”

Christians need to be characterized by the unity in love described in John 17:20-26. In fact, this wondrous expression of love is what should differentiate Christians from others. Only by participating in Christ’s fullness of life do we collapse our “omniscience mechanism.” By living in this fullness, we are empowered to walk alongside people in their pain and struggle and point them to the hope of Jesus Christ.

Reflection Questions:

  1. What does Greg mean by “omniscience mechanism”? Why is it dangerous?
  2. What was Greg’s point about the sin of gluttony?
  3. What is the value for being an “insider” in people’s lives? If you are not an insider to a person’s particular situation, what did Greg suggest should be your response to that person?