But Paul does something helpful in this passage: he contrasts two overarching lifestyles, one of which is always ruling your heart and shaping your talk. The first lifestyle he characterizes with the phrase "indulge the sinful nature" (v. 13). It's a life driven by self-indulgent desire. It's a life that runs on the track of my wants, my needs, and my feelings; therefore, my words go wherever my desires take me. I may not know it, but I am living under the lordship of my desires. This, then, becomes the thing that structures my relationships with the people God has placed around me. What I really want from them is that they be the deliverers of my self-focused desires.

Reflect again on what 2 Corinthians 5:15 says about what sin does to us. If sin turns me in on myself so that all I live for is me, then sin in its essence is antisocial. Living for yself and the satisfaction of my selfish desires dehumanizes the people in my life. No longer are they people to me. No longer are they objects of my affection and service. No, my loved ones and friends are reduced either to vehicles to help me get what I want or to obstacles in the way of what I want. When they deliver what I want, I speak kindly to them, not actually because I love them but because I love myself and the fact that they have satisfied my desires. When they get in the way of what I want, I speak unkindly to them because I love myself, and they have made the mistake of getting in the way of what I crave.

Paul wants us to understand that God has bestowed us with his grace for something better. It is vital for each of us to understand that God didn't give us his grace to make our claustrophobic little kingdom function well. God gave us his grace to call us to the transforming glory of a better kingdom.

I would ask you again to be humbly honest with yourself. If I sat with you and listened to a recording of your words over the past month, whose kingdom, what kingdom, would I conclude those words were spoken to serve? Would it be the kingdom of self with its self-focused demands, expectancy, and entitlement? Would I hear someone quick to criticize, to judge, to slam, and to condemn because people are always violating the laws of your kingdom? Is the greatest moral offense in your life an offense that someone makes against the laws of your kingdom? When this happens, do you use words as a punishment or as a weapon? Do you use words to rein this person back into loyal service of the purposes of your kingdom of one?

Or would I hear you using words of love, honesty, encouragement, and service because your heart is taken up with the big-sky purposes of the kingdom of God? Paul writes, "The entire law is summed up in a single command" (v. 14a). If you had written that, what would you have written next? I probably would have written, "Love God above all else." But that is clearly not what Paul writes. He writes, "Love your neighbor as yourself" (v. 14b). That is an adequate summary of all that God calls us to.

It is important to get this truth, because it is only when I love God above all else that I will love my neighbor as myself. It's only when God is in the rightful place in my life that I will treat you with the love that I have received from him. Brothers and sisters, hear this: you don't first fix language problems, communication problems, and word problems horizontally; you first fix them vertically.

A Kingdom of Love 

What kind of kingdom is the kingdom of God? It's a kingdom of boundless, glorious, powerful, and transforming love. What is the center event of the kingdom of God? It's a shocking sacrifice of redeeming love. You know nothing about the kingdom of God unless you understand that it is a kingdom of love. When you are filled with the glory of that love, when your heart is taken up by the mystery of that love, when what daily fills your heart is deep and worshipful gratitude for the miracle of divine love, then your words begin to be words of love, words of service, words of grace, words of encouragement, words of peace, and words that heal. When you wake up in the morning, no matter what's going on in your family, no matter what difficulty you are facing, and you can say, "How could it be that God would love me so much?" you will be free from the bondage to self-love.