Paul believed love — love for Gentile and Jewish believers, love for Peter and Barnabas, love for the local Galatian church as well as the universal Christian church, and love for Christ and his gospel — required that he insist that Peter, who “though a Jew, live[d] like a Gentile and not like a Jew, [not] force the Gentiles to live like Jews” (Galatians 2:14). When the glory of God and the truth of the gospel and the joy of believers are at stake, there are times when love must insist on a particular way.
First Corinthians 13 is one of the most beautiful texts — morally and lyrically — not only in all of Scripture, but in all of literature, period. It is a peerless, if not exhaustive, description of what we all know in the depths of our being is the “more excellent way” (1 Corinthians 12:31). Even translated into English, it is a masterpiece.
But one example from this masterpiece illustrates the great difficulty in translation: trying to keep as close to a literal translation as possible, while accurately conveying the author’s intended meaning. The phrase I have in mind is “[Love] does not insist on its own way” (1 Corinthians 13:5). This quote comes from my preferred English translation, the English Standard Version (ESV), and is arguably an accurate translation of the Greek phrase. A more literal rendering might be simply “[Love] does not seek its own” with the context filling in the blank after own. And way is not a bad choice for the blank.
But the phrase “[Love] does not insist on its own way” can reasonably be understood by readers to mean that it is never loving for us to argue for or defend (insist on) the accuracy of our own perspective or conviction. And while we know that we should not insist on our own way in some situations, we also know that we should in others, to the degree that our way is not our own but God’s.
Paul didn’t mean love never insists on a particular way. If he did, the biblical record demonstrates that he didn’t live by this rule of love.
What Love Must Insist On
In Galatians 2, Paul recounts a time in Antioch when he publicly “opposed [the apostle Peter] to his face” (Galatians 2:11). Peter had come up from Jerusalem to observe the remarkable events taking place in the Antioch church, one of which was Jewish and Gentile Christians intermingling as equals. At that phase of the Christian movement, this was a new phenomenon.