The Apostle Paul said that love is not irritable (1 Cor 13:5). That is quite a statement. How many of us could say that we love without being irritated at those we live with every day? Most likely, most of us would come up short. All of us know something about irritability. It’s what we do when we are frustrated, and it is mostly in response to little things. It might be the way someone talks or doesn’t talk to us or the way they eat or a hundred other things. I want to suggest that our irritability is our inability to control our emotions. Most tend to blame others for their irritability, saying things like, “He knows just how to push my buttons” or “She makes me so frustrated.” The primary issue, according to Paul, is not how irritating the other is but how willing I am to be responsible for my own attitude.
Often when we find ourselves very irritated by another’s actions, we have allowed our emotions to run rampant. Instead of thinking through what is happening to us and asking God to help us, we often do not give in to the irritation. When our emotions are controlling us, we aren’t doing too much thinking. That is a dangerous place because when we are irritated, we are vulnerable to outbursts of anger. Of course, when we are angry, we say things we really don’t mean, which can harm those around us. Augustine wrote, “We are irritable, O Lord until we make our peace with you.”[i]
I think Augustine was right. The key to controlling our emotions is to trust God with our inabilities and allow him to teach us how to handle life’s frustrations. When our relationship with God is connected and alive, we have the inner strength to control our emotions. We are more in control because we are anchored to the One who gives us peace.
Philip Ryken shares a great story:
A simple but marvelous illustration of nonirritable love took place during a baseball game between the Philadelphia Phillies and the Washington Nationals during the 2009 pennant race. Phillies fan Steve Montforto was sitting with his three-year-old daughter Emily when a foul ball curled back into the upper deck. Montforto leaned over the railing to catch his first and only foul ball-every fan’s dream. But when he handed the ball to little Emily, immediately she threw it back over the railing and down into the lower deck. Everyone gasped. Montforto himself was as surprised as anyone to see her throw the ball away. But rather than getting irritated with his little girl, he did what a loving father should do: he wrapped his daughter up in a tender embrace.
This is the way God loves us. He puts gifts into our hands that we could never catch for ourselves. Without realizing what we are doing, sometimes, we throw them away. Yet rather than getting irritated with us, he loves us again. Then he gives us the freedom to go love someone else with the same kind of love. He even gives us the grace to go back to people who throw our love away and love them all over again. Who are the loveless people that God is calling you to love? Will you love them the way that Jesus loves?[ii]
[i] Lewis Smedes, Love Within Limits: A Realist’s View of 1 Corinthians 13 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1978, P. 58.
[ii] Phillip Ryken, Loving The Way Jesus Loves, Crossway, Wheaton, IL 2012, PP. 52-58.