by Rosie Adle
Scripture says that love “keeps no record of wrongs” (1 Cor. 13:5 NIV). But what happens when, instead of keeping a record of others’ wrongs, we keep a record of our own rights?
I do a nice thing and immediately tuck it away in my mental archives for later. “Wow,” I say to myself, “would you look at that!” And then I do. Often.
Before long, my personal Good Deeds file is delightfully thick.
Here are three problems I’ve identified related to my internal record of rights.
I’m counting myself more significant than others, usually from selfish ambition or conceit, which is exactly what I’m not supposed to be doing (Phil. 2:3). Like any awesome big fish story, my own greatness is ridiculously overstated when I scroll back through my souped-up version of all the good I’ve done. And when I love me for all I’m worth, other people look scruffier next to my shine. Exaggerated self-love is one of the quickest routes to getting off track when it comes to love of God and love of neighbor. Why would Jesus teach us to love our neighbors as ourselves? We are naturally inclined to love ourselves, so it provides us a relatable frame of reference. The problem lies in that we often take our self-love too far, and our love of others not far enough. We keep records of wrongs done by them and records of rights done by us. This is a doozy of a combo.
I’m tempted to use my record of rights as a get-out-of-more-good-works free card. When someone asks for help it’s like I have to explain to them that I’ve already done tons of good things in life and I really shouldn’t be troubled with extraneous requests. And even when someone isn’t directly asking for help, I may quietly excuse myself from the opportunities before me on the basis of my already-packed Good Deeds Resume. I conjure an image of all the good I’ve done and then I say to myself, “Let someone else do something good for once. I’ve done more than my share already.” If my record of rights weren’t in the forefront of my mind, I might be more likely to think in Christian love, “What a great time to do right!” rather than, “Didn’t I just do right yesterday?” We can engage in good works more joyfully when we stop thinking we’re too good already.
My record of rights robs the credit I would otherwise attribute to someone else’s work and puts it all in my own bank. Pride is a thief and a terrible sin. It makes me gaze at myself rather than at Christ, my Savior. If I have been a part of any good work, it shouldn’t serve as a platform for bragging, but rather an occasion for thankfulness to the One from whom all blessings flow. When I was young, I would stand and shake hands with my dad (a pastor) after the service. When someone said, “That was a great sermon,” he would reply, “Glory to God.” I never heard him say, “Glory to me.” Keeping a record of what God has done right is the better way.
If anyone is going to dwell on my good works, it shouldn’t be me. Maybe, it shouldn’t be anyone. Let the people on my path that I’ve served, loved and cared for in my better moments give all glory to God. And if someone is going to keep a record of right and wrongs, let it be the Lord alone, whose Spirit is shaping the goodness of Christ in His believers — grafting and growing us into the kind of fruit-bearing trees that only He can cultivate.
Deaconess Rosie Adle is an online instructor for the distance deaconess program of Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Ind. Here’s what she needs in life: large slices of humble pie and a mental paper shredder.