Love is Not Irritable
About the Guest
Who, or what irritates you the most? Phil Ryken, President of Wheaton College, opens the Bible to 1 Corinthians 13 to explore the profound statement found there that, "Love is not irritable."
Who, or what irritates you the most?
Love is Not Irritable
Bob: Would people describe you as cranky? Philip Ryken, the President of Wheaton College, says that when you look at First Corinthians 13, the characteristics of biblical love—cranky is not on that list.
Phil: Just observing what happens in older men, particularly, I think either you become of sweeter disposition and more gentle-spirited or you become crankier and more irritable. So, to me, then, this is an area where I want to grow, and pray about—and become an older person, that’s an attractive testimony of what a Christian should live like and love like.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, August 13th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. We’ll talk to Dr. Philip Ryken today about how we can cultivate, in our lives, the characteristics of godly love. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I think we should probably let our guest get a little recruiting out of the way before we go too much farther; don’t you?
Dennis: Are you really going to let him do this? There are a lot of people listening.
Dennis: They already have to turn away students to their school. [Laughter]
Bob: That’s why I was thinking he probably doesn’t need to recruit. Tell us who shouldn’t apply to make the process a little easier for your admissions staff; okay?
Phil: We love to have people visit Wheaton College and apply to Wheaton College. I tell high school students, all the time, just to relax about their college decision process because God has a good plan for a godly young person that’s seeking His will. There are lots of great places to get a college or university education. We love to have people visit Wheaton College and see if God may be calling them to be with us for four years.
Bob: We do have to remind folks that there is only one college Billy Graham went to, though; right? I mean, let’s—
Phil: Billy Graham—you could hardly find a bigger enthusiast for his or her college than Billy Graham. It’s partly because he met Ruth at Wheaton. So, that has a lot to do with it; but he just loves Wheaton College. In fact, a member of the Wheaton community was just with him, just the other day, and came back with the message: “You know, Billy Graham would like to hear a little bit about what’s going on at Wheaton College. Could you send him a little note and give him an update?”
Let me just tell you a story. I love this story! I don’t have a close personal relationship with Billy Graham, but I have had an opportunity to be with him. He wanted to meet me because of Wheaton College. He was very quickly waxing nostalgic about his Wheaton days. He told me about his first date with Ruth. They went to a performance of Handel’s Messiah. It was kind of exciting for them because George Beverly Shea was sitting in the row in front of them. He was already a celebrity—a superstar, musically. They were kind of excited to see him there. Twice, on that date, he tried to take her hand; and she pushed him away both times. I could tell, even from the way he told the story that, he kind of liked the challenge. Here was a woman who was independent—had her own mind—and that was just the woman for him.
Bob: She was that woman, too. I guarantee you.
Dennis: Well, you are the President of Wheaton College. Let me introduce you to our listeners. Dr. Phil Ryken joins us, again, on FamilyLife Today. He and his wife Lisa have been married for 25 years. They have five children, and he is the eighth President of Wheaton College.
Before we move off the topic of college—that Bob has set this up on here—what is the one thing you would want a parent to know, who is preparing a young person to go away to college? Maybe they have a high school junior / a senior. They’re listening to this broadcast—they’re looking out on the horizon. They may not be sending their children to Wheaton. What’s one takeaway you’d give every parent listening?
Phil: Let me give two, if I may. One is, this season of family life, when you are sending a child out into the world—maybe, for the first time—like every other season of family life—is really a season for prayer and for asking for God’s grace and His work in the life of your son and daughter. I can’t think of anything that has been a greater stimulus to prayer, in my own life, than parenting, which is a very humbling thing to be involved in. This is a great season of life for you to entrust a young person to the Lord and really ask for His gracious work.
The other thing I would say, just in a practical way, is the students that your young person will study with, and live with, and be involved in other campus activities with—those peers have a huge influence on the life of your young person. I think students that choose college wisely are really thinking about: “Who are the people I want to be with during my college experience? Who are the people that I want to invest in—for relationships—that may become lifelong friendships?”Choosing the community of people that you will be with during those college years is a very important decision. It should be taken very seriously and wisely.
Bob: I hate to make this a binary choice; but it’s almost like you’re saying, “If you had to pick between a great peer group, and a mediocre faculty versus a great faculty, and a—
Dennis: [Laughter] You are asking a President of a college, Bob—but he’s also a daddy!
Bob: I know! I know! If you had to pick, which would you pick?
Phil: You know, I think the reality is—that if you’ve got a great student body, you will also have a great faculty because that faculty wants to teach those students. I think that’s one of the strengths of Wheaton College—is the strength of our students, as it relates to the strength of our faculty.
But you heard me say, right at the beginning, there are lots of places to get a good college and university education. Students are different, and schools are different. It’s a matter of God’s purpose and plan for your life.
Dennis: You’ve written a book called Loving the Way Jesus Loves. I found it interesting that, throughout the book, you’ve got all of these illustrations. They’re tied all the way back to Lovetown, Pennsylvania?
Phil: Yes, you know, this book really started with my preaching at Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. As a congregation, we wanted to grow in our love for Jesus and grow in seeing His love worked out in our lives. So, I took 13 weeks or so; and we worked through First Corinthians 13. While we were doing this, the artist, Gene Schmidt, came to Philadelphia with a really unusually art project. He had taken the whole text of First Corinthians 13, in the King James Version, and he had put it character by character into stencil form—one-foot by one-foot pieces of wood—all different colors. The thing weighed half a ton.
He drove it down from Manhattan, where he lives and worships—came to Philadelphia because, you know, Philadelphia is the “City of Brotherly Love.” So, what better city to see the text of First Corinthians 13? He went through, mile after mile, of neighborhoods in Philadelphia. He would put up sections of this biblical text. He would do it in front of abandoned buildings, and he’d do it in city parks. He put it in front of beautiful storefronts downtown. People would walk by, and they would see this portion or that portion of the biblical text of First Corinthians 13.
I just feel a huge sense of privilege, as an author, to have a book that actually has beautiful illustrations in it because Gene’s artwork was photographed. You have these pictures, of parts of this biblical text, in all these neighborhoods in Philadelphia; and they’re part of this book, Loving the Way Jesus Loves.
Dennis: And of course your teaching comes out of First Corinthians 13. One of the passages that is most convicting, I might add, that you mention, is “Love is not irritable.” Are you—?
Bob: Why is that convicting for you, Dennis? Before you ask any question of Dr. Ryken, why—
Dennis: Well now, Bob. Bob. Bob!
Bob: Why would you find that convicting?
Dennis: I find, when I am fully-rested, and I’m not under stress—
Bob: Yes; well-fed. [Laughter]
Dennis: —I’m a good guy!
Dennis: But you cause me to lose a little sleep, have a little stress in my life—I don’t like myself sometimes—at how irritable and how quickly I can become that way.
Phil: That was good, Bob, because he was going to ask me if irritability is something that I struggle with—
Dennis: I was; I was!
Phil: —but by the time he got to the end of that, he didn’t actually ask that question.
Dennis: I just did. So, tell us.
Phil: Well, let me just back up a second and say—people, sometimes, assume that I write about things that I’m really good at or know a lot about; but actually, usually the things that I’m teaching from the Bible are things that I want to work on, and things that I’m not so good at, and want to grow in, at least. So, this book is like that. If you want to know if I struggle with irritability, just ask my children. They’d be happy to tell you that the answer to that is, “Yes.”
I think one of the helpful things, to me, about working on—“Okay, what does it really mean to be irritable? Why is the issue of irritability a love issue? Where, in the life of Christ, can I see Him loving with a non-irritable love?” because one of the things I wanted to do, in this book, was take each of these aspects of love, that’s in First Corinthians 13, and show how that aspect of love comes to life in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
So, all of these things are things that I really wanted to work on. I think we tend to minimize irritability as not a very big issue; but I think, if irritability is in the love chapter as something that love isn’t, you can almost say that being irritable is a way of hating. It’s on the hate-side of things, not on the love-side of things—that’s for sure.
Dennis: There are probably some listeners, wondering, “Now, where is that in the Bible?” It’s First Corinthians 13. It comes right after verse 4—that says, “Love is patient and kind, love does not envy or boast, it is not arrogant or rude, it does not insist on its own way, it is not irritable or resentful.”
I like what you just said. I want you to kind of unpack it a bit. Why do we minimize this because I think you’re right—I think we kind of push it off to say, “Ah, I’m just being a little short with the kids,” or, “I was just a little irritable with Barbara.”
Bob: It’s what Jerry Bridges likes to call “respectable,”—
Dennis: Christian sins.
Bob: --a “respectable sin”. It’s one of those respectable sins that we can kind of dismiss and say, “It’s not that big a deal.”
Phil: Yes. I agree that it falls into that category. I think, in First Corinthians 13, when you’ve got this long list of things that love is and love isn’t, it might even be one that you kind of read over or read past pretty quickly, which is why it’s worth thinking about: “Okay, what really is irritability or getting exasperated with people? What is it?” Once we’ve thought about that: “Why is it here? And why is the Apostle Paul saying this is really a crucial part of the life of love?”
There are a couple reasons, I can think of, why we minimize it. One is it’s a very common sin—so, I think that’s one reason. The other is—we tend to think that, when we are irritated, it’s the other person that’s the problem, not us. You know, “That person really irritates me,” or, “You really irritate me when you do that.” We very quickly push off the responsibility for that onto the other person. Then, we don’t think of it as being our issue at all.
Bob: I’m thinking of what provokes irritability in me.
Dennis: Yes; what does, Bob? [Laughter]
Bob: Often, it’ll be somebody who is not driving at an appropriate standard—you know, the person in the car ahead of me—who is in the left lane and is not passing the other car.
Dennis: You’re talking to someone from Chicago.
Phil: Yes, Dennis; and I have no idea what you’re talking about, Bob. [Laughter]
Bob: You can’t relate to this at all?
Phil: No. We’re really sweet-spirited motorists.
Dennis: We immediately made eye contact over there.
Bob: Irritability is the person, in the checkout line, who waits until the cashier says, “Here’s the total,” before they even start looking for their checkbook. They knew that the time was coming to get the checkbook; and they wait until the cashier says, “$78.42”. Then, they go to their purse. I’m thinking: “You were standing there for four minutes. You could have been getting the checkbook out. You could have pre-written everything but the amount, and I’m waiting here an extra FOUR MINUTES.
Dennis: Phil and I just made eye contact—[Laughter]
Phil: It’s good that you’ve had a chance on this program, Bob, to really get this whole thing off your chest.
Dennis: Do you feel better?
Bob: I do feel better. Thank you! [Laughter]
Phil: I think one of the reasons—I’ll just speak personally—I tend to want to control a lot of things in my life and, maybe, in the lives of other people, as well. The things that are irritating, then, are the things where that control is threatened, where your schedule—you can’t keep the schedule that you want to keep, and you have your plan for things.
So whatever the sin issue is—there is always an idolatry, at the heart of it. I think this can be a very helpful area for self-examination, not just to say: “What is the situation that irritates me?” but, “What is that really telling about me, and about what I love and desire, that I should be a kind of person where four minutes is that big an issue to me?” I think it can really help us get to the bottom of our sin issues in a deeper way, just by looking at the triggers that we have for irritability.
Dennis: How have you demonstrated irritability with your kids, and how did you handle it when you were convicted that you’d done that?
Phil: Yes. Let me just try to think of, “When was the last time that I was irritated with them?” That might be a pretty good indicator for it. I think, just to start with, the last thing that you said there—I just think it is absolutely crucial—that in our parent-child relationships, that we have the giving and receiving of forgiveness as a mutual exchange.
There have been occasions where—for example, in preaching ministry, where we were getting ready for a public worship service—not a lot of occasions, thankfully, but some—where, just under conviction, I realized: “You know what? Before this worship service begins, I need to go down and talk to a member of my family and ask for forgiveness about an exchange we had this morning or last night.”
I think there are just lots of triggers for irritability in family life—children not following through on responsibilities that they’ve been given, or children who are having trouble getting along. It’s a lot easier, as a parent, just to give a sort of irritated response, separate them, but not really work through the issues and have the patience to take the time to go through that. It’s just a day-to-day, moment-by-moment issue in family life.
Bob: I’ll tell you what—and I think I can speak freely for my wife here because I think she’d offer this if she was here. As a mom, the repeated nature of parenting—the fact that you would teach the same lesson multiple times—about the dozenth time, you’re teaching the same lesson—there is a naturally-occurring irritability that goes: “Why don’t they get this? This is not the first time they’ve heard this! Human beings should be able to process this information, and change their behavior, a little more quickly than is happening with my four-year-old or my fourteen-year-old. It seems like a stubborn resistance.”
Dennis: I’m hearing your voice get higher- and higher-pitched.
Bob: Okay, maybe, it wasn’t just my wife who felt that way. Okay? [Laughter]
Phil: I think, as parents, we all have pet peeves. One of mine is suddenly discovering—virtually, at bedtime—that there is a significant homework assignment that hasn’t been begun or, maybe, a major project that’s been put off and it is due two days later. Now, there’s hardly time to get it done—that sort of not-planning-ahead thing. I’m a huge planner, and I have everything lined up. I don’t know why you wouldn’t plan ahead and really do things when you had time to do them.
But I’ll just go back to saying, “I think it’s important for us to take responsibility for the emotional response that we give to the things that we find annoying or irritating in daily relationships.”
Bob: Okay; so, other than getting more sleep, are there things we can do so that we can fight against our own tendency to be irritable?
Phil: I think the deepest thing is being aware of the deep love that God has for us in Christ. That gives us a fundamental orientation to all of our interactions in life. Even as we’re talking about some of these parenting things and what’s irritating in the life of the home, what really stands out, to me, is these are the kinds of things that I do to my Heavenly Father.
You were talking about telling a kid the same thing for the 12th time—as if we had never committed the same sin more than once. That’s the patience of the love of God, for us, in Christ. I think the deeper the sense that we have of that—that puts our own struggles, at an interpersonal level, into a kind of context.
I think there are certainly practical things that you can do—particularly, in a marriage relationship, where you can talk about things that are recurrent irritations. Really talk about them and strategize about them. Or you can say: “You know, I realize the tone of our interactions, as a family, has not been healthy. I need to take responsibility, as a father,—or, perhaps, a mother—for the tone of those interactions.”
Now, what do we need to do about that? We may need to pray, as a couple. We may need to have a family meeting. In our family, we have “family meetings”. It’s kind of exciting for the kids. They feel like they’re doing something really important; but sometimes, the family meeting needs to be on: “You know what? This is not right. This is not pleasing to the Lord. What ideas do you have about how we can do a better job in this area?”
Kids have great ideas! They may, actually, have more stringent requirements and rules than you had put into place if you give them an opportunity to say what would really help in the situation. “Let’s minister to one another and work on this together, as kind of a community project.”
Dennis: And what I might encourage a family to do—is get this passage from First Corinthians 13. This is not a long verse to memorize: “Love is not irritable.” Just as a family, “Repeat after me—”
Bob: Just four words; right?
Dennis: — Love is not irritable,” and begin to call one another to fulfill that passage and not have your personal expectations—back to idolatry—I think that’s where we all get had because we have these expectations that go unmet—whether they’re little things or big things—
In fact, I remember, a number of years ago, reading this statement: “We are worn down less by the mountain we climb than by the grain of sand in our shoe.” A family has lots of grains of sand that collect in our shoes.
Bob: Mary Ann and I have been talking about this, recently, because I have noticed in myself, as I am getting older, that I am getting a little grumpier about certain things.
Dennis: [Laughter] I’ve noticed it, too—same thing!
Bob: Have you? Thanks for sharing! But you were talking about your predecessor, at Tenth Presbyterian Church, who was making a similar observation; wasn’t he?
Phil: Yes. I had the privilege of working with and then succeeding James Montgomery Boyce at Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. One of the conversations we had was just observing what happens in older men, particularly. I think either you become of sweeter disposition and more gentle-spirited or you become crankier and more irritable. Personally, I think the possibility that I would become a crankier person, as I get older, is not at all unlikely, so—[Laughter]
Bob: And not very attractive, either.
Phil: No, not at all. So, to me, then, this is an area where I want to grow, and pray about—and from time to time, “Lord, help me, as I become an older person, that I would really be a sweet person that is an attractive testimony of what a Christian should live like and love like.”
Dennis: Barbara and I—we don’t talk about this all the time; but occasionally, it will be one of those family meetings—that is just the two of us. We just had one the other night. I said, “You know, I do not want to spend the rest of our lives, over dinner, grousing and griping about something that didn’t go right during our day.” That’s another way I think of expressing irritability.
Bob: Then I’d suggest you retire—just a thought! [Laughter]
Dennis: There, you heard it first, on FamilyLife Today. Phil, do you need a job? Do you need a day job? [Laughter]
Phil: No, I’m plenty busy with what I have every day.
Bob: Not you in particular.
Bob: I’m just thinking, “If you don’t want to grouse over what happened, then stay home.” Although, you’ll probably just grouse over what happens at home; right?
Dennis: Yes, exactly. But we’ve had that same conversation you were talking about Dr. Boyce having—where I don’t want to grow old and be a grumpy, gripey, bitter old person. You know what? If these things don’t have a spiritual wheel alignment in our lives, it will happen because we become what we are today. I think that’s why we need to do a better job of loving the way Jesus loves—
Bob: Understanding how He has loved us and understanding how we can love one another. I think you’re right. I think, as we meditate on the grace and love of God in our lives, that has a softening effect in every area of our lives. So, reading through a book like this can be a way that God helps to break up some of the hard soil in us and keep us from getting cranky as we get older.
Go to FamilyLifeToday.com. Request a copy of Dr. Phil Ryken’s book, Loving the Way Jesus Loves. Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com; or call, toll-free, 1-800-FL-TODAY; 1-800-358-6329; that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY”. The title of the book again: Loving the Way Jesus Loves. We’ll let you know how we can get a copy out to you when you get in touch with us.
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