At this point in Paul’s exposition of love in 1 Corinthians 13, it should be obvious that love is profoundly other-centered. It endures wrongs and seeks actively to do good to others (v. 4). Love enables people to evaluate themselves and others rightly, and it does not seek acclaim or motivate us to place ourselves in affairs where we do not belong (vv. 4–5). In sum, love looks out for the good of others.
If this point were not clear enough already, Paul in today’s passage emphasizes the other-centered nature of love by telling us that love “does not insist on its own way” (v. 5). The Apostle means that selfishness directly opposes love. We have to be careful here, because Paul is not condemning all concern for one’s self-interest. Some Christians read texts like this and begin to think that all forms of self-care and self-concern are antithetical to the gospel. This cannot be, for Scripture does commend a proper care and concern for one’s own self. For example, Paul observes that people care for and nourish their own flesh, and he commends this truth by using it as a model for husbands to follow in caring for their wives (Eph. 5:25–33). He tells Timothy to take care of himself by taking some wine to settle his stomach (1 Tim. 5:23). We also see God’s command to keep the Sabbath and to rest (Ex. 20:8–11). Proverbs 13:11, 22 commends saving money and creating an inheritance to leave to one’s children. All these texts and many others indicate that there are godly forms of self-care and self-interest. Indeed, we must take care of ourselves, for if we do not maintain our own health and affairs, we will not be strong enough to help others. We will be ill-equipped to love them.
John Calvin explains in his commentary what the Apostle means when he says that love does not seek its own way: “Paul does not here reprove every kind of care or concern for ourselves, but the excess of it, which proceeds from an immoderate and blind attachment to ourselves. Now the excess lies in this—if we think of ourselves so as to neglect others, or if the desire of our own advantage calls us off from that concern, which God commands us to have as to our neighbors.” Selfishness is the problem, not legitimate self-interest. Caring for ourselves in ways that take advantage of others is condemned, not caring for ourselves in ways that enable us to do good to others. Indeed, we must do the latter.