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/
As I wrote in the fall of 2020, when Paul spells out the definition of Godly/agape love, he starts by telling us what do to (e.g., be patient, be kind), but in the middle of his definition he lists what not to do (don’t envy, don’t boast, don’t be proud, etc.).
My question is always, “If we’re not supposed to do something, what else should we do instead?” For example, when Paul says, “don’t envy,” alternatives include being celebratory and thankful for what we – and others – have.
An alternative for “does not boast” could be to “be humble.” Being “not proud” could mean being a realist, with no need to puff up our accomplishments.
This installment focuses on how love is not or does not aschēmoneō (pronounced as-kay-mon-eh’-o). The word means unseemly, inelegant, and uncomely.
Aschēmoneō is translated multiple ways:
- KJV: Love does notbehave itself unseemly
- NLT, RSV, and ESV: Love is notrude
- NIV: Love does notdishonor others
- NASB20: Love does notact disgracefully
- NASB95: Love does notact unbecomingly
Let’s explore the concept of “love does not aschēmoneō” in light of the greatest command – to love the LORD our God with all our heart, soul, and mind, and to love our neighbors (in the same) as (we love) ourselves.
Scripture tells us God is love, and that means the bedrock and best example of agape love is Jesus, so we should start there.
When looking at the various English translations, Jesus does not behave unseemly, he’s never rude, and he doesn’t dishonor others. Also, he never acts disgracefully or unbecomingly.
Some will disagree, claiming that when Jesus turned over the tables of the money changers at the temple, he was not acting in accordance with accepted standards of decency or morality. I would beg to differ. There are times when those who’ve become blind to their sin need a vigorous wake-up call, and it’s not disgraceful to shake them up if that is the last option for getting their attention. Remaining forever polite while someone continues down a path of sin that leads to eternal death is not loving.
As we read through the Gospels, we see that no matter how Jesus was treated, he wasn’t unseemly, rude, or dishonoring toward others. When the Pharisees and teachers of the law brought to him a woman caught in the act of adultery, notice that Jesus didn’t sarcastically ask, “Where’s the man who was with her?” We also know that Jesus did not condemn the woman. In the spirit of agape love (not aschēmoneō), he wasn’t dishonoring. He extended grace.
With Jesus’s behavior as our example, our primary command is to “Love the Lord.” Applying Paul’s definition, that means we shouldn’t be rude or dishonor him. God is, after all, the epitome of perfection in all things good. If we’re looking for viable “do’s” in place of “don’t aschēmoneō,” the words “respectful” and “polite” work well.
Then comes the command to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” As is my custom, I like to examine the “self” part first, because if I become intimately aware of how God loves me and I receive and own what He is giving me, then it’s easier to give those things to others.
Before I continue, allow me to explore the fears that are part of human nature. I believe many people miss out on much joy in life because they act with a fear of criticism. People use many techniques to deflect the pain that accompanies criticism, and one of those techniques is being harsh on oneself. The subconscious thought is that if one is critical toward oneself, then it won’t hurt quite so badly when someone else criticizes. Consider this all-too-common example:
Chris shows you a project he’s been working on, and the first words out of his mouth are everything that’s not right about it. He points out all the flaws and offers reasons why he wasn’t able to correct those imperfections.
What’s really going on is Chris is trying to avoid the emotional pain he would feel if someone pointed out flaws in his work. By pointing out the imperfections, Chris is, in essence, saying, “Yes, I already know what’s not right here, and by letting you know I already know, your words about the imperfections won’t sting as much.”
This fear inhibits agape relationships, but I believe this fear can be alleviated by receiving (and owning) God’s love for us. In other words, accepting and truly embracing the love God is freely giving us. Since (a) God is not rude nor dishonoring toward us, and (b) we are not better than God, we don’t have the right to dishonor or discredit ourselves. Instead, we can find great peace resting in how polite God is toward us and how much grace He extends us.
Detractors might say God is no “respecter of persons,” but in response I say God is not one to wag His finger in our face. God talks to us as a loving Father, and that is what we need to own. For when we do, it’s much easier to talk with others with honor and dignity, too.
And yes, as Jesus instructed, that includes our enemies. That doesn’t mean be all warm and fuzzy and hug them as they plot and scheme to harm us. Practicing Godly (agape) love with not aschēmoneō means we can be respectful toward those who despise us. We don’t have to agree with people to act with decency toward them.
I pray everyone reading this receives God’s love, accepts it, owns it, and then acts toward others the same way. We are, after all, His ambassadors.
Daniel Bobinski, M.Ed. is an award-winning and best-selling author and a popular speaker at conferences and retreats. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (208) 375-7606.