As we continue to make our way through the description of love in 1 Corinthians 13, we come to a phrase that comes as close as any to summing up the entire chapter: “love is not self-seeking.” Once again, we see the way of Christ having a head on collision with the way the world normally operates. We live in a “me first” world. We are conditioned to look out for number one. My sinful nature bends me toward constantly obsessing over my needs, my wants, my dreams, my preferences. But if I am going to love Gayla with Christ-like, 1 Corinthians 13 love, I have to go another direction altogether. I have to put her first. God’s kind of love seeks the good of the other.
Let’s say it is dinner time, and you are craving Italian, and your spouse really wants some enchiladas. Your default setting would incline you to push for your preferences, but 1 Corinthians 13 might nudge you toward choosing a good Mexican place instead. Or imagine that you and your spouse are both exhausted at the end of a long day, and there is a big pile of dishes in the sink. Everything in you will seek to convince you that it is your right to sit on the couch and let your spouse deal with the kitchen. But 1 Corinthians 13 would call you to give your spouse a break and hit the sink. Our natural tendency is to seek our own way, to try to make sure that we get what we want at least 50% of the time. But real love compels us to see what the other wants instead.
Gayla put this instruction to practice in a series of major decisions early in our marriage. She is every bit as smart as I am, every bit as called to ministry as I am. But she chose to go to work so that I could continue with school and become “Dr. McKinney.” She chose to allow me to pursue my calling, knowing that for the rest of her life it would limit her opportunities – that my job would determine where we lived, and would set some boundaries on the ministry and career opportunities that would be open to her. It really isn’t fair at all. It was pure self-sacrifice on her part. And if I were the most selfless person in the world (which I am not) and I devoted the rest of my life to washing every dish in our house, setting the TV to Food Network instead of ESPN every night, handling every bit of Algebra II tutoring for our high schooler, and other heroic acts of submission, I could never catch up with what she has given up for me. But my calling as her husband is to ask myself every day not “how can I make sure I get what I want?” but rather, “what can I do for Gayla today?” My job is to seek to put her needs, dreams, and desires ahead of my own. My job is to seek her good above my own.
There’s an old story about a man who is visited by an angel. The angel gives him a vision of hell. In the vision, the man is surprised to see tables full of rich and delicious looking food. But the people seated around those tables are all emaciated and miserable. The man notices the problem – all of the utensils on the table are longer than the arms of the people at the table. They are unable to get the food into their mouths. Then the angel offers to give the man a vision of heaven. The man is surprised to see the same table filled with rich food, with the same extra long utensils. But the people around this table are well nourished and happy. The man expresses his confusion to the angel, and the angel explains the difference: “Here, the people at the table have learned to feed one another.”
It isn’t much of an exaggeration to say that a marriage composed of two people each looking out for themselves is hellish. A marriage with two people devoted to serving each other is heavenly.
We are all inclined to live as if “it’s all about me.” When we approach marriage with that attitude, conflict and pain are inevitable. The whole enterprise degenerates into a “him versus her” contest to see who can get their own way the most. God calls us to a better way. He encourages us to approach our spouses with an attitude that says “you come before me.” When we live with that mindset, marriage becomes a beautiful experience of shared sacrifice and shared joy.
Love is not self-seeking.