Love and the Incarcerated

We had a short discussion on good love and bad love. The men in the study each had parents with chemical dependency issues. Being a child of an addict is not easy. Often love for the drug wins out over love for the child. But the men were able to think of good love when they thought about their grandmothers.

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We read I Corinthians 13 for our study. None of the men recalled having read or heard this before.

1 Corinthians 13 (NKJV)

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.

Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part. 10 But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.

11 When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. 12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.

13 And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

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Some recalled what it was like to be the recipient of unloving acts of charity:

And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, … but have not love

The “act of kindness” was done in a mechanical fashion. The focus was on the assembly line of distribution, not on the recipient.

There was some discussion about the list of attributes in verses 4 through 6. Some felt that this was a list that describes the attributes of God’s love towards us. They were encouraged that God’s love was long-suffering and patient since each of them had a history of repeatedly trying hard and then messing up. However, one man was adamant that this list of attributes, rather than describing God’s love, was to be used to examine our own love towards others. In particular, “does not seek its own” – how often had each of them used “love” to manipulate someone? For this man the list allowed him to do an examination of step 4 of his recovery program:

Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

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This search and moral inventory would be soul-crushing if it is done apart from God’s. Without God’s transforming love we have no hope.

A controversial topic was: “but rejoices in the truth”

Truth is a dangerous thing behind the walls. Knowing a true thing about someone can be used to manipulate them. “Anything you say can and will be used against you.”

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How do you love in a dangerous place among dangerous people? One man’s method of coping was to just withdraw from others. He felt he had nothing in common with them and it was just safer, easier, better, to have as little contact with them as possible.

Another man thought that love could have a transforming impact on the men in the unit. But he acknowledged that this was not without risk. There is no guarantee that love would be reciprocated. All agreed that the men in the unit are hard to love.

Love is risky. Years ago a friend asked God to help him love the unlovely. A month later he was asking God why all these weirdos were hanging around him.

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The reality of love is hard work. Love precedes response.

Romans 5:8 (NKJV)

But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

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