In this message, we look at the very last phrase of I Corinthians 13:5, “Thinketh no evil,” speaking concerning love or charity.
If you look at the original Greek, there are three different ways that this phrase could be understood or interpreted. That is reflected in the different English translations of the New Testament. “Thinketh no evil” could be understood, in the first place, this way, that it does not plan or plot evil against others. That, of course, is an attractive translation or understanding, because certainly love does not do that. The worst expressions of hatred are premeditated. Love does not premeditate, it does not plan evil against others.
Another way that these words could be understood is that love is not suspicious of others, thinketh no evil of other people. It does not judge their motives or question their activity and behavior. Again, that is certainly an attractive way to understand this phrase. That is love. Love does not think the worst, and love is not suspicious. It believes the best of others.
But there is a third way to understand this phrase. Love keeps no record of evil. And that is the correct way to understand it. I will give you two reasons for that. The first is the Greek words used here. The word “thinketh” is a term that refers to calculating or imputing or keeping a record or accounting something. It is an accounting term. So love keeps no record or keeps no account of evil. It does not count evil that is committed against me as a debt. I do not hold others indebted to me. Positively that means this: I forgive them. So love is forgiving.
Now we need to say some more things about this word “thinketh no evil,” or “keeps no record.” This word is most commonly used in the Bible as an explanation of the gospel truth of justification. That is what this is about. And it is important for us to see that up front, because this really helps us to understand what the text is saying about love. In this section in which Paul describes the characteristics of love, he is not just being moralistic and laying before us moralisms: you must do this, you must not do that. But he is talking about the gospel. We have said before that we could put Jesus’ name in here and we could say that Jesus Christ thinketh no evil, or Jesus Christ keeps no record of wrongs. That is important because, in the Christian life, the gospel is central. When it comes to behavior, and now, particularly, when it comes to the behavior of love, we do not move on from the gospel, but it is the gospel itself that makes love and the activity of love so important.
Here are examples of how this word is used in the New Testament to explain the gospel. The first is in Romans 4. It is here in many different places. Verse 3 says this: “Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.” That word “counted” is the same word. Counteth no evil. Verse 4: “Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned [or counted] of grace, but of debt.” What are you seeing here? Are you seeing that in justification God does not count what we do towards us, but He counts something else towards us? Not our works, but grace. He counts or accounts of us by His grace. Verse 8: “Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.” That is the same word again: “impute,” or count, or reckon. So we see the word used here in Romans 4 and translated three different ways in just a short section: counted, reckoned, and imputed.
That is the idea of the word: Love thinketh no evil, or love counts no evil. So in the gospel of Mark, chapter 15, and in the gospel of Matthew as well, this word is used in reference to Jesus Christ, that He was reckoned with the transgressors, that He was counted with the sinners. Now you understand the truth of justification, do you not? God reckons Jesus with the sinners because what God is doing is counting or reckoning or imputing our sins to the Savior. And Jesus is taking them to the cross. Because the Savior has them all on His account, God does not account them against us. He does not impute them to us. Instead He imputes and counts to us the righteousness of Jesus Christ. So, you see, the word is more than just “thinking” no evil, but accounting or keeping record.
That helps us to understand this word here as being really an illustration. Illustrations are given to us in Scripture to make the truth more vivid. Think of the parables of Jesus. They are told to make the truth very clear and vivid and living. That is what you have here: thinketh no evil, or keeps no record of evil. And you have the idea there of a ledger book in which you would write things down. In a ledger book for accounting, we would have two columns. There would be a column with income and a column with expenses, or a column with assets and a column with debt. The purpose of entering things into those different columns is not just to see where you are at or to see what your balance is at the end, but it is so that you can have a permanent record that you can go back to and you can consult when necessary. In the world of business and accounting, that is of course absolutely necessary.
But now, what the apostle is saying here is that in the world of love and relationships, that is not only a bad practice, but that is a harmful practice. Love keeps no record of wrongs. Do you have a ledger book of what others have done against you? Maybe not written down, but in your mind? Do you have ledger book? How many of these books do you have? If everything that is written down in these books was written down on paper, how many volumes would it be? How many shelves would it fill? Of whom are you keeping these accounts? Are they family members? Is it your husband or your wife that you have one of these books for? A brother, a parent, a neighbor, someone you work with, maybe a fellow church member? And you have this list: he did this, she did that. How often do you put entries into these books? How far back do these records that you have go? That is interesting, is it not? In the world of finances, financial records beyond seven years are kind of defunct. Now, these books that you should not even have, do they go back beyond seven years? How far back do they go? How often do you take these books down from your mantel shelf and reread them? Is it every time you see this person, every time you are reminded of this person? The name comes into your head or you hear it and you take that record down and go over it again. What are your favorite parts in these records that you have and that you like to go back to and read again and again? Perhaps a cruel sin that someone has committed against you, a nasty word, a rumor that someone started? Maybe you do not even have to pull this book off the shelf because you are so familiar with it that it has been memorized. You understand the figure, do you not? Thinketh no evil, keeps no record. Love keeps no record of wrong.
This figure helps us to understand the behaviors. And we can talk about these behaviors both negatively and positively because the text talks about them negatively. But it wants us to think about love in the positive, as I have stated in the theme: love is forgiving.
Negatively, love keeps no record of wrong. We can think of specific instances and relationships in which we might do this. And, as we go through the Scriptures and study them, we see that most often this record of wrong happens again in the closest relationships, family relationships. Let me give you some examples. The first family, Adam and Eve, the first confrontation of sin, when God came to them in the garden and Adam already had a record started of what Eve had done. He said, I’m not responsible for this; the woman that Thou gavest me. And he puts the blame on Eve and he puts the blame on God. Adam had started that list. Genesis 27:49, you see this between Esau and Jacob. It is very interesting to look at that verse, because it describes this keeping records as hatred. “And Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing wherewith his father had blessed him. And Esau said in his heart, the days of mourning for my father are at hand. Then will I slay my brother Jacob.” So he has this permanent record and he is gong to keep it for future use. There will come an opportunity. And the Bible says that is hatred: He hated his brother. You see it in the wives of Jacob, Rachel and Leah, and their envy for each other. They kept a record. You see it in the sons of Jacob. They hated their brother Joseph. When he came to them to find them and bring a report to their father, they said, “Oh, here comes that dreamer.” They had a record. You have it in the family of David. Absalom for two years remembered what Amnon his brother had done to his sister and he murdered him. Love keeps no record of wrong.
But you can see the opposite in the Scriptures as well. In families. Think of Joseph when his brothers sold him into slavery and did so much more. Think of all the evils that Joseph could have recorded that his brothers had done against him. After Jacob dies (recorded in Genesis 50), we read that the brothers were afraid and they sent a messenger to Joseph to beg for mercy. And Joseph weeps. He is a model of charity. He says, “Ye meant it for evil, but God meant it for good, to save much people alive.” He is able to do this because he says that God is the One who requites. “Am I in the place of God?” he asks. He kept no record of wrong.
You think about those examples in the family and you realize this can and does happen very easily in our closest relationships, in marriage for example. When there is conflict—he did this and he said that, and she did this. And a man or a woman will remember things from decades ago, things that have been confessed and forgiven. You say, “I’ll forgive it, but I will store it up for later on.” You want to protect yourself, so you store these wrongs up like ammunition. You keep this mental record. If you have seen marriage, you have seen that. But love keeps no record of wrongs.
Speaking of families, it can happen between parents and children. No child is without sin and no parent is without sin. So a child, a teenager, in rebellion turns from his parents and he says, “Well, I’ve got a list here of all the things that they have done wrong to me and all the wrong things that they did as they raised me and I can’t love and I can’t be with them and I can’t forgive them. In fact, I don’t care about them at all. I don’t want them in my life.” Parents can do the same with their children. “How many times do I have to tell you?” Have you ever heard that? Ever said that? It is not that parents cannot correct repeated sin in their children, but it needs to be confronted with the gospel. And more often when a parent says, “How many times do I have to tell you?” it has nothing to do with bringing them to the cross and the gospel again, and bringing them to repentance. Too often a parent is just keeping a mental record that can be used as an excuse for angry and unreasonable behavior. And it happens in the church too. Quite easily believers are not talking to one another. They are in church, they are sitting in church, but they can barely look at each other. They barely shake a hand because “You did this, and I remember it.” And, instead of going and talking to them in the way of Matthew 18, you store it up, you keep a record, you tell others. That is why Jesus talks about this in Matthew 18. I will come back to that in just a little bit.
Looking at this positively, I am really taking what the text says and seeing what it means positively. It is the theme, is it not, love is forgiving. That is what we should be practicing in our marriages and in our homes and in the church. You understand that when I Corinthians 13 speaks of love it concerns especially behavior between believers. Love is forgiving.
The first thing that we should say about forgiveness is this, that forgiving and forgetting are not the same thing. When the Bible speaks of forgetting in its description of forgiveness, it is really using a figure of speech. That God will no more remember our sins does not mean that they are erased from the mind of God. If that were true, then God would not be omniscient. We cannot erase sometimes the sins of others and the hurts that others have committed against us. In fact, sometimes we have to make decisions in light of, and take precautions in light of, the sins of others, especially when what that person has done presents a danger. You think of violent crimes. Then we have to be wise and we remember them. But we can remember them and make decisions and still forgive. That is because forgiveness is an act of the will. It is something that you decide to do. It is love overpowering, love having the victory over the will to hate. That is forgiveness. I remember it, but I choose to forgive it.
There are three main characteristics that I want to call attention to about forgiveness. There is more that can be said about forgiveness than what I will say now, but these three, I think, fit with what the text says here: Love keeps no record of evil, with this illustration of accounting.
The first is this. That if we keep no record of evil, we are quick to forgive others. Because, if you keep no record of evil, you are not letting a list accumulate. And you are not letting that list accumulate because you want to forgive, you want to deal with the sin, you want to talk to the brother, you want to talk to the sister, you want to talk to the husband, you want to talk to the wife, because love wants to forgive and wants to forgive quickly. You could, of course, keep the record. Why would you do that? Because you want to have an excuse, you want ammunition. But love does not do that. In our last message we talked about the one who is “touchy.” Love is not easily provoked. If you are quick to anger, perhaps it could be this, that you are keeping a list and it is all there and now, this one, slight, tiny, little addition is the straw that breaks the camel’s back. We must be quick.
Second. The love that keeps no record of wrong or evil is a love that forgives often. It forgives repeatedly—for the same offense, the same hurt, from the same person. That is what Jesus is talking about in Matthew 18 when Peter asks Him, “How often should I forgive my brother, till seven times?” And Jesus says, “Not seven times, but seventy times seven.” Of course, Jesus does not mean that you can limit it at 490. But He means that you just keep on doing it. You do it repeatedly. And, really, He is talking about exactly the same thing, is He not? If you keep no record of wrong, then the one who commits a sin against you, but you have forgiven him for that sin, comes to you with a clean slate. And you should not think of this as “I’ve done this seventy times. I’ve done this 490,” because you are not keeping that record. Love forgives often, repeatedly.
Third. And this is the way Jesus concludes that section in Matthew 18: from your hearts. And that is the third thing I want to say about forgiveness. That we forgive from the heart. What does that mean? It means that we forgive sincerely, we forgive fully. We love the person, we have a compassion for him. We are seeking the well-being of the offender. That is why Jesus says, If your brother has done something against you, you go to him, you seek his well-being. Anything else is not love. When you say, for example, “Well, I can forgive, but I need time,” or when you say, “I’ve forgiven enough times,” or when you say, “I can’t let this go,” that is not love. You still have a record. Love truly, sincerely, from the heart, forgives.
Now, as I said, there is more that can be said about forgiveness, but these are things that we draw out of this illustration. Love forgives quickly, love forgives often, love forgives sincerely.
The reasons that love behaves this way. First, forgiveness is an essential part of developing loving relationships with one another in the home and in the church with fellow believers. We talked about this a little in our last message, but love is reciprocal, relationships are developed. And when someone forgives you, there is a certain comfort that you have with him or her. You committed a wrong against them, you are nervous about how they are going to receive you now because of what you said or because of what you did. And what do they do? They say you are forgiven. They put their arm around you. They receive you. And what does that do? You love them, do you not? And you look for ways to show grace to them.
Now, that does not work when you are holding grudges against your husband or your wife, does it? You hold a grudge, you are building up this ammunition, and you are waiting for that opportunity for there to be a blow-up. Or maybe you are not waiting for it, but because you have accumulated this list, that is the result. There is a blow-up, and the relationship does not grow at all. Love forgives quickly, often, sincerely. And when it does it helps to develop the same response in the other. That is the beautiful part of reciprocal relationships. That is beautiful in marriage—you forgive, you are forgiven. You learn to trust, and you learn to know that you are trusted. Forgiveness is essential to developing relationships.
In the second place, if you do not forgive, you are hurting yourself more than anyone else. Oftentimes, when you do not forgive someone, you are bitter against them, and what happens? Well, they sort of walk away from your life. Perhaps they go on to something else, they put the past behind them. But you have not. You are holding on to the past and you have this book that you pull off the shelf. You have it memorized. The Bible calls that bitterness. And bitterness is aptly described this way, as a poison that you drink, hoping that the other person will die. Whom is it hurting?
Then, third, the primary reason that love keeps no record of wrong is this. the gospel truth of justification, that God in justifying me does not keep a record of my sins. He has forgiven them. He has blotted them out. He has put them on the account of His Son, Jesus Christ. And that is the heart of the gospel, that God covers our sins, that God blots them out, that He says, “I will remember them no more.”
Love that keeps no record of wrong understands that important gospel truth, understands it with regard to oneself. God does not record my wrongs. One understands it in terms of “I’m a debtor who has been forgiven!” So, it is quick, and frequent, and sincere in forgiveness. You do not have to keep a ledger. I do not need to keep a ledger. Why do I need to keep a ledger, because if I start keeping a ledger of all the offenses that the others do, what about all the ones that I’ve done?
I challenge you. If you are keeping a ledger, start one for yourself and start reading those and start memorizing those. That is humility under the gospel, is it not? I am forgiven. And if only the others knew who is the greatest offender? If there was a ledger that God kept, “If Thou, Lord, shouldst mark iniquity, who then could stand?” But with Him there is forgiveness.
But I also do not need a ledger because, as it says of Joseph or of Jesus and Peter, “I commit myself to Him who is faithful.” God says, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay.” Then we are willing to suffer wrong and we are willing to do that even in close relationships. God will work this out. I do not need to keep a record. Love thinketh no evil, keeps no record of wrong.