As I listen to people recount the hurts they carry with them, many ask me, "Is it sinful to keep a record of how others have hurt me?" They are thinking about 1 Corinthians 13:5, which says, “[Love] keeps no record of wrongs.” I find this question central for abuse victims. They wonder how to both acknowledge what happened to them and obey God. This can be challenging to sort through. The answer to this question is not a simple yes or no because it depends on the record you are keeping. Are the wrongs routine conflicts between equals that were settled in the past but the issue is brought up again and again? Or are the wrongs reflective of abuse where one person is unwilling to repent and their acts are too grievous for the victim to overlook?
When I counsel someone in a potential domestic abuse situation, I ask them to keep a record of wrongs—quite literally. I suggest they keep a journal to record the specifics of their conflicts (what is said and done, verbally and physically, etc.). My aim is to help the embattled person sort through the ongoing patterns in their home, and to do so, we must spend time recounting what is happening.
But 1 Corinthians 13:5 is not just used by victims. An abuser will often say, "I am not going to talk about what happened anymore. That is in the past, and the Bible says not to keep a record of wrongs. You are sinning against me by doing so."
This is used as a line of defense to dismiss the victim's concerns and add guilt to the mix.
I have heard this same idea used as a rebuke from leaders in the church when a victim brings a complaint. A leader might say, "Isn't it time to forgive and move on? Why are you bringing up the past?" So, this is an important question to wrestle with.
Let's look at four ways to gain some clarity on this question.
First, we can try to discern what Paul means by the phrase "keep no record of wrongs." This can be tricky, however, since biblical commentators do not agree on what it means. Even the translations for this phrase are varied.1
One of the most prevalent interpretations is that love does not cling to past hurts. But this would not apply to ongoing abuse because God tells us to expose evil deeds (Eph 5:11). We will address how to think about abuses or wrongdoings in the past in a minute.
Another likely interpretation is that love calls you to not attribute evil motives to another. But when a person’s behavior demonstrates a lust for power and control, their actions reveal their heart, and God tells us to be alert to evil (Prov 2:9–15)
Second, we look for related Scripture that clearly speaks to the situation the person is facing. For example, an abuser's behavior is addressed by other Scriptures, such as the following:
If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them. (Luke 17:3)
For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. (John 3:20)
These verses make it clear that abusers need to be confronted, and this requires some recounting of events.
Third, there are examples of godly people in Scripture who recount the sins of others, even from the past. Consider Paul, who wrote this to Timothy:
Alexander the metalworker did me a great deal of harm. The Lord will repay him for what he has done. You too should be on your guard against him. (2 Tim 4:14–15a)
Here Paul remembers and recounts the harm that this man did to him at some point in the past. He is so concerned with this man's history that he must warn others. And yet, at the same time, Paul trusts God for justice. He doesn't forget what happened but states the facts and does not repay evil for evil.
And who better to look at as an example than Jesus? In his rebuke of the Pharisees in Matthew 23, he presents them with seven woes, a list of how they have sinned against God and the people they are called to care for. His list of wrongs spans thirty-six verses!
Fourth, we can look at how Scripture calls us to remember our suffering. God does not ask us to forget the evils we have suffered. God himself often recounts how his people have suffered at the hands of others.
"I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt so that you would no longer be slaves to the Egyptians; I broke the bars of your yoke and enabled you to walk with heads held high." (Lev 26:13)
Notice in this example that the Israelites are not being called to forget the past but rather to remember it in light of God being their rescuer.
Similarly, the Scriptures invite us to cry out to God about ongoing injustices.
They slandered me without ceasing.
Like the ungodly they maliciously mocked;
they gnashed their teeth at me.
How long, LORD, will you look on?
Rescue me from their ravages,
my precious life from these lions. (Ps 35:15b–17)
Cries like this are found throughout the Psalms, where God's people lament the wrongs done to them.
In short, keeping a record of wrongs cannot, across the board, be labeled as ungodly. So when I hear how this one small phrase is used incorrectly, as with abuse, I am struck with how it is dislocated from its broader context in 1 Corinthians 13, which is the famous "love chapter." This passage describes a positive, mutually loving relationship, and its words indict abusers:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. (1 Cor 13:4–6)
An abuser exhibits behaviors opposite to love: impatience, cruelty, jealousy, boasting, pride, dishonor, selfishness, volatility, and vengefulness. They rarely show remorse for doing evil and regularly tell lies. Victims are right to cry out for help from the Lord and others when what they are enduring is opposed to the gospel.
It is easy to misapply this verse, and we should always seek to understand God's teaching by interpreting Scripture with Scripture. Diving deeper, we learn that it is always good to humbly and lovingly label and address sin in the context of habitual, destructive sin patterns. Jesus came to restore sight to the spiritually blind and free the oppressed (Luke 4:18). When you speak about and ask for help with the harmful sin of others, you join Jesus on this mission.
- A note about translations: Only the NIV, CSB, and NLT translate this phrase along the lines of “does not keep a record of wrongs.” The ESV translates it as “is not irritable or resentful” and the KJV reads, “is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil,” while the NASB says, “does not take into account a wrong suffered.”