By Daniel Bobinski
Note: In March of 2020 I decided to use this space to focus on God’s greatest command. If you’re connecting with this series for the first time and would like to read the earlier columns on this topic, I encourage you to visit Christian Living’s website to read the whole series. Visit https://www.christianlivingmag.com/columns/
When I sat down to study agape love 30 years ago, I didn’t have the internet. My main tools were my Word Study New Testament by Spiros Zodhiates and his corresponding Word Study Dictionary, which I viewed as a concordance on steroids. Zodhiates was a Greek-American Bible scholar, and his work opened my eyes to the depth of the original language. (This is why www.BlueLetterBible.org is one of my favorite websites today.)
I have been eagerly awaiting the chance to discuss this month’s phrase, “Love thinks no evil” (NKJV), because it’s only when one digs into the original language that one finds the true meaning of this phrase. As you will see, if we rely only on English translations, this phrase is easily misunderstood. Sadly, as a result, it has been mistaught at thousands upon thousands of pulpits, causing much unnecessary grief in people’s lives.
To explain, let me share the various ways this phrase is translated:
- KJV/NKJV: Thinks no evil
- NIV: Keeps no recordof wrongs
- NLT: Keeps no record of being wronged
- NASB: Keeps no account of a wrongsuffered
- Amplified: Does not take into account a wrongendured
Remember that when one sees an italicized word in a translation, it’s a supposition by the translators to try to add clarity. Sometimes they help, but in these cases, the translators missed the boat. In fact, three of the translations shown above are not accurate. Let me explain.
Often from the pulpit we hear that we are supposed to not keep a record of how people have wronged us, that we should “forgive and forget.”
By all means, we are to forgive others. Scripture is abundantly clear about that, and I can give you personal testimony after personal testimony on the amazing benefits and blessings that pour into our lives when we forgive those who sin against us.
But forgetting how people have wronged us? Other than what is found (and misinterpreted) from this verse, I don’t see this teaching in Scripture. I definitely see where God says HE will forget our sins (see Psalm 103:11-12, Isaiah 43:25, Jeremiah 31:34, Acts 3:19, and Hebrews 8:12), but I don’t see in Scripture where God tells US to forget how people sin against us. To forget opens the door for us to be abused and turned into doormats. I’ll guarantee you that Jesus, being the perfect embodiment of agape love, was NOT a doormat.
Where I do see a mention of “forgetting” is in Philippians 3:13, where Paul is talking about pressing on to what God has in store for him. He says, “But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead…” First, notice that Paul is not saying he’s forgetting how people have wronged him. Second, an examination of the Greek shows that the word, as used, means, “no longer cares for.” Paul is not saying he’s wiped his memory of what’s behind him – he’s saying he no longer cares for it.
Synthesizing the KJV and NIV
The KJV and NKJV translate our agape phrase in question as “Thinks no evil,” and the NIV says, “Keeps no record of wrongs.” Both of these are close, they just need a little help.
The key to successfully understanding this amazing – and freeing – phrase of Scripture comes from realizing that the verb (logizomai – which is translated “Thinks” and “Keeps no record”) is being used with a future connotation. In other words, it’s not about forgetting of wrongs done to us by others in the past, it’s about us choosing to NOT do evil to others in the future.
Consider the KJV this way: I will not think of how I intend to do evil to you.
Consider the NIV this way: I will not keep a record (a list) of how I intend to do you wrong.
You’ve heard the phrase, “I don’t get mad, I get even”? It’s not scriptural in the least! Plotting a way to get even with someone for doing you wrong is NOT living a life of agape love.
This perspective totally aligns with Romans 12:19, which says, “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.
Allow me also to point to Christ’s teaching in Matthew 5:44, which ways, “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
And yes, the word for love used by Jesus in that verse is agapao.
By stepping back and looking at this phrase with its future connotation, everything lines up. I am free to forgive someone and trust that God will exact whatever revenge He sees fit, whenever He sees fit, and to the extent that He sees fit – if He sees fit to do it at all. Conversely, if I start plotting and scheming a way to “get even” with someone, that is NOT living a life of agape love.
Let me take a moment here to say that forgiveness and forgetting are two completely different things. With that, it is quite healthy to create boundaries when someone wrongs us – otherwise we leave ourselves open to let the person hurt us again.
We can and should completely forgive people who wrong us, because we’re instructed throughout Scripture to do just that. Recall the Lord’s Prayer, which says for God to forgive us in the same way that we forgive others. But we must also remember to draw boundaries when someone wrongs us. It’s part of being a mature adult.
I encourage everyone to incorporate this aspect of agape love into their lives. It is truly freeing.
Daniel Bobinski, M.Ed. is an award-winning and best-selling author and a popular speaker at conferences and retreats. Reach him at [email protected] or (208) 375-7606.