Love Doesn’t Keep Score

  • By Ben Hoerr

When my wife Tina and I were first engaged, we continued the tradition of playing games that we’d enjoyed in our respective families while growing up. On one of our first occasions to play Yahtzee together, she beat me by a huge margin. I became furious. You see, I was fiercely competitive and was unaccustomed to losing! I felt defeated and humiliated. Needless to say, she was startled by my reaction and off-put by its uncomeliness. By God’s grace, I realized my gross self-centeredness. I apologized. Fortunately, this incident did not derail our wedding . . . or the forty-two years of marriage and game-playing that were to follow.

Why did I do that? Why did I react that way? I suppose there were many reasons for my immature behavior. But one was that I did not unconditionally love her (yet).

We’ve been working our way through “Love is . . .” from 1 Corinthians 13. In today’s text, we read, “Keeps no record of being wronged.” (NLT) Perhaps the original sentiment penned by the Apostle Paul is captured in the Message: “[Love] doesn’t keep score of the sins of others.

We are taught from a young age to “keep score,” aren’t we? Every game we play—from hide-and-seek and Chutes-and-Ladders in our toddler years to Yahtzee and Monopoly as adults—teaches us there is one winner and the rest are losers. Every sport in which we compete has a score. Every science fair, debate, band competition has a scorecard by which the winners are determined. Every subject of every class has a grade scoring mechanism of some kind. Keeping score is so deeply embedded as normal into our everyday, ordinary life experiences that we seldom give it a thought.

Until the Holy Spirit re-defines God’s kind of unconditional love.

He turns the idea that “life is one big competition” upside down and calls us to love others with a love that doesn’t keep score. Real love refuses to keep a ledger of the ways that others disappoint us, fail to follow through, forget, overlook, or ignore us. Real love doesn’t keep track of the ways others offend, disrespect, or even lie to or intentionally hurt us.  

You might be asking, “Is this even possible?” God answers that it is possible, and even expects it of His children. But He’s not asking us to do something that He hasn’t already done in Christ. We read in Ephesians 4:32: “Be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” And in Colossians 3:13-14, we are encouraged to “Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony.”

In his unconditional love, Jesus has completely forgiven, once and forever, all of our sins, faults, and self-centeredness. And now, because of his willingness to not keep score, the Holy Spirit commands us to do the same by being kind, tenderhearted, and forgiving.

Loving others by not keeping a record of their wrongs can mean that we forgive others when we believe they have some debt to pay (because of a hurt or other offense). It can also mean that we surrender thoughts and feelings of superiority because we perceive ourselves better than them.

This invitation is equally compelling whether we’re upset because our spouse forgot to re-fuel the SUV, didn’t unload the dishwasher for the umpteenth time, or overspent our budget . . . or we’ve been betrayed or wounded by some action much more grievous. Certainly, some things are more consequential and the pain goes much deeper. But God’s love knows no limits in either capacity or time.

When the Holy Spirit instructs us to “clothe ourselves with love,” the metaphor harkens to the act of getting dressed in the morning. This is something that we do with deliberate thought and choice—going to the closet or dresser, selecting an outfit appropriate for the task of the day, sequentially putting those various pieces of clothing on, zipping or buttoning or tying or Velcro-ing until we are prepared for the day. So as God’s children, we must intentionally put on the new clothes of unconditional love every day. We must choose to release the perceived debts others owe us.

Perhaps we might find it helpful to pray at the beginning of each day something like this: Come, Holy Spirit, and enable us to surrender the right to keep score of the faults, offenses, or sins of others, and enter more fully into the joy and peace of the unconditional love in Your Kingdom.

Tina and I still regularly play board games of different kinds, especially through the winter months in front of the fireplace. I’m grateful to God to report that I don’t get angry anymore. And we hardly ever keep score.

Ben Hoerr

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