Love Keeps No Record of Rights

We’ve heard it at both weddings and funerals, as both aspiration for a life lived together and as commemoration of a life lived well. In these two contexts and so many others we’ve heard the “love passage,” the Bible’s beautiful description of love enacted in the life of the Christian: “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude.” And so on.

Become a Patron

One of the descriptions can be rendered in a couple of different ways, but most translations understand it as a term related to accounting: “Love keeps no record of wrongs.” Here we have the image of a person opening an accounting book to carefully record every wrong that has been done against him. He writes a date, he writes a name, he writes a description of the hurt or harm, the insult or injury. And he does this not only to chronicle it all but to justify future retaliation.

To keep such a close accounting, a person must first be observant. He must look for every wrong that has been done to him, he must make a careful study of it, and he must write out a precise record. He has to be more than a casual observer of wrongs, but a scrupulous student of them.

In contrast to this, the Bible admonishes us toward something like a self-controlled modesty in which, just as we might avert our eyes from another person’s nakedness, we avert our eyes from another person’s sinfulness. Just as we do our best not to dishonor loved ones by allowing our eyes to linger on their exposed immodesty, we do not allow our minds to linger on their exposed depravity. And, because we haven’t permitted ourselves to see it, we do not permit ourselves to make a record of it.

And so the Christian is to keep no record of wrongs. Yet I find it every bit as important to keep no record of rights—of the right and good things we have done to others. And that’s because the accounting we are always tempted to keep is not merely of other people’s bad deeds but our own good deeds. Our ledger doesn’t only have a column of their debits, but also of our credits. And when we become convinced there is a disparity between the two, we can become despondent and entitled—despondent that we are not being loved as well as we are loving and entitled to be loved more and better.

Yet this is not the way of the Christian, for love rejects all basis of comparison to simply love according to the second great commandment: “love your neighbor as yourself.” And, indeed, this is how we are to love because this is how we have been loved—loved by Christ himself. Jesus loved us without keeping an accounting, without ensuring that he was being loved to the same degree that he was loving. Jesus loved us without maintaining an exhaustive record of all the ways he had succeeded and we had failed. The heavenly books are not storing up a record of misdeeds for which he will someday retaliate against us. But neither are the heavenly books storing up a record of all the right deeds he did so he can condemn us in the comparison.

Love simply loves—it loves humbly and joyfully, it loves purely and sweetly, it loves freely and completely. Love loves without analyzing, without comparing, without accounting. Love keeps no record of wrongs and love keeps no record of rights.