Love isn’t irritable

Love isn’t irritable (παροξύνω/paroxunō, 1 Cor 13:5). Another way of putting it is that love doesn’t fly off the handle. Notice that this doesn’t say “never angered.” Aristotle said, “Anybody can become angry—that is easy; but to be angry with the right person, and to the right degree, and at the right time, and for the right purpose, and in the right way—that isn’t within everybody’s power and is not easy.” So love doesn’t go down the road of misplaced or even unmeasured anger.

“A Man in a Rage” (1789)

The Bible gives examples of well-placed anger, such as the wrath of God, Jesus’s anger that provoked the temple cleansing, and Paul’s provocation on Mars Hill. But it just will not do to label every loss of our own temper as “righteous indignation”; that’s too easy—and sacrilegious. Proverbs tells us, “A man of quick temper acts foolishly” (Prov 14:7). And Jesus warned, “Everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment” (Matt 5:22). James concludes from all of this teaching that we ought to be “quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (Jas 1:19). The quick-tempered way is not the righteous, loving, or wise path; it’s vindictive, hateful, and foolish.

As Thiselton notes, love doesn’t “become exasperated into a pique, partly because patience delays exasperation and partly because lack of self-interest diverts a sense of self-importance away from reaction on the grounds of wounded pride: ‘it is not embittered by injuries, whether real or supposed’.”1Thiselton, 1 Corinthians, 1052; quoting Archibald Robertson and Alfred Plummer, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the First Epistles of St. Paul to the Corinthians, International Critical Commentary on the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments (New York: Scriber’s, 1911), 294.

“The peace that surpasses all understanding” (Phil 4:7) would certainly be an effective antidote to irritability.


Author: Dale A. Brueggemann

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