Having fallen in Adam, seeking to sit on the heavenly throne in place of our holy Creator, human beings have a bent toward selfishness (Gen. 3; Rom. 1:18–32). Before we knew Christ, we thought and acted as if we were the center of the universe, and after coming to faith we are still tempted to go back to our selfish ways. We often forget that love “does not insist on its own way” (1 Cor. 13:5). Love is not selfish.
True love is characterized by generosity, which seeks to give and not take for oneself, making it the very opposite of selfishness. Love means that we are willing to give our lives for the sake of others. This is how God has loved us, offering up His only begotten Son to die a shameful death under His wrath in order to save us (John 3:16).
Courtesy is one way that selflessness displays itself, as courteous people do not demand to be first in all things. Love is not rude (1 Cor. 13:5). It respects the rights and privileges of others, moving us to be polite and respectful to those around us. Whether we love others can be measured by how willing we are to be courteous to them, even if we must bend over backward to show respect. If we respect other people with our thoughts and language, and if we honor their time by keeping our appointments, we are showing a courteous love.
Besides evidencing generosity and courtesy, Paul also explains in 1 Corinthians 13:5 that Christian love “is not irritable or resentful.” This cannot mean that loving people never get angry, for Scripture assumes that there are occasions on which we can be angry and yet not sin (Eph. 4:26). God Himself is perfect love, and yet He gets angry at sin. When Paul says love is not irritable or resentful, he is talking about a love that keeps us from flying off the handle for any provocation.
Self-control, a fruit of the Spirit, is the antithesis to irritability (Gal. 5:22–23). Those who control their emotions instead of letting their emotions control them will not be irritable. This entails striving not to get angry over petty things or at situations over which we have little control. A love that is not irritable refuses to make everything a big deal. It encourages us to know our own weaknesses so that we can rightly assess our situation, maintain self-control, and respond appropriately to the circumstances we face. Love does not blow up in anger whenever things goes awry.