Our next “Love is” statement from 1 Corinthians 13 is a bit of a puzzler. Paul wrote, (Love) “does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth;” (1 Corinthians 13:6, NASB95) Our focus today is on the first clause in the statement.
Paul didn’t give us much to go on. It’s like saying “let’s sing a song” but without any defined tempo, rhythm, or melody. I have to wonder if that open-endedness is an intentional invitation towards something deeper. In order to find the tempo, rhythm, and melody we’ll lean on three different English translations.
The NASB is perhaps the most straight-line translation providing a less varnished look at Paul’s Greek. I quoted it above. The picture could be that of a parent rejoicing when a child does something naughty or even downright evil. We could perhaps put it this way – Love doesn’t rejoice when others are bad.
Sometimes we’re tempted to rejoice at the evil acts of others because their deeds expose the true intention of their heart – or so we think. We’re tempted to celebrate if someone is proved a liar and all our assumptions are proved right. As in, “I knew it all along.” But love as defined in 1st Corinthians doesn’t rejoice when others prove themselves to be unrighteous or evil.
The New Living Translation puts Paul’s phrase this way, Love “does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out.” (1 Corinthians 13:6, NLT) While similar to the NASB, this translation invites us to look beyond whether the acts are righteous or unrighteous but whether they are also just or unjust. Fair or unfair.
One example is that is found in Mark 7:9-13. In those verses, Jesus is pointing out the hypocrisy of the religious leaders. Basically, it worked this way. The “righteous” of Jesus’ day would fail to help their mother or father in their old age because they had dedicated their money to God. Using their funds to help the family would violate their oath. But in making that oath they created injustice and violated God’s law.
Perhaps the lynchpin which brings this together is the way The Message presents this verse. Love “doesn’t revel when others grovel, Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,” (1 Corinthians 13:6, The Message) Love doesn’t rejoice when those acting unrighteous receive their “just desserts” or the “wages for their sins.” Love doesn’t justify injustice by “they must have done something wrong.” Neither does love celebrate at the death of someone evil.
Consider, “’As I live!’ declares the Lord God, ‘I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways!’” (Ezekiel 33:11b, NASB95) And “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9, NASB95)
Living this is not always easy. We’re geared to cheer when our side wins and the other side loses. There is joy when our truth is vindicated. But love sees beyond our joy to the suffering on the other side of the equation. Whenever we celebrate someone’s suffering as comeuppance, as their just desserts, we are not acting in love.