I’ve been thinking more about love. I preached on 1 Cor 13 two weekends ago. You can hear, read, or watch that message by clicking here.
Love is the beginning, middle, and end of our Christian lives. Without it, the Bible describes us as spiritual noisemakers: a clanging gong or noisy cymbal. So, consider this blog an appeal for a more loving Christianity. But what is that love? And how is it different from the love the world can give?
Let me start by acknowledging that all humans are capable of giving and receiving love on some level. We are created in the image of a God who is love; and though we have fallen, and though God’s image within us is tarnished, nevertheless we can still–faintly at least–reflect some of his love.
Having said that, as Christians we believe that it is only through Christ that we reach our highest potential, including our potential related to love.
That’s why Paul states: “…the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” Ro 5:5. When Scripture urges God’s people to a life of love, it is talking about a God-created, Spirit-induced love. This is something more than our natural love, something in addition to our natural capabilities.
And it is exactly here that the church runs into so much trouble.
Because, in my estimation, there aren’t 1 in 10 Christians who sees their love lives as a supernatural production of God within them. The overwhelming majority views the Great Commandment (love God, love your neighbor) as simply one more “duty” in a laundry list of duties. Perhaps the biggest, most important one, but still just another duty, obligation, and job from God. And, like all obligations, we dutifully perform the obligation of love, to the best of our abilities, with the same strength with which we clean the house, fix the car, care for the kids, and mow the lawn.
But isn’t love to be something different? Shouldn’t its fuel be the high-powered Holy Spirit rather than our putzy little tricycle of the flesh?
The main power of love is the Holy Spirit, who pours forth the love of God in our hearts. Do you see your love life that way? Your love for your spouse? your kids? your obnoxious neighbor? your in-laws? your pastor? Do you see your love as a function of the work of God in your heart?
Okay… confession time. A show of hands. Raise your hand if you consciously view your love life as a supernatural production of God within you via the indwelling Christ and the Holy Spirit. Class? Anyone? Anyone?
In all honesty, my hand isn’t up either.
Most of us act as if we can produce, on our own, that which pleases God. INCLUDING LOVE. And therein lies the seeds of Pelagianism.
Pelagius, a British monk of the 5th century A.D., taught that unaided human nature could produce that which pleases God, all the way up to and including salvation. He denied our inherent fallenness and sin; and he denied our need of God’s grace to live up to God’s standards. The church rightly recognized his teachings as contrary to Scripture. Because we are fallen and we do need God’s grace, and we can’t lift a finger correctly unless it is by his gracious power.
But don’t we hear the echoes of Pelagius every time our preachers and teachers send us forth to “love the world,” without reminding us of that love’s wellspring? Without teaching us that we are to love by the power of Christ or else it isn’t love? Don’t we need constant reminders that it must be God’s love flowing through us? And that all else is “wood, hay, and stubble” (1 Cor. 3:12)?
Worldly love does not please God. Would you agree?
Yet, in the church of today, how many Christians are taught this? How many Christians are taught to love by God’s power; to let the love of God flow through them by the Holy Spirit? And absent this teaching, how much of our supposedly Christian love comes across as self-serving, immature, agenda-driven, and fragile? How much of it actually turns off seekers of Christ, and sends them running away from the church?
And how much of our love is spasmodic… not the steady stream which God supplies, but the fits and spurts that our fallen human nature supplies.
Love is the first fruit of the Spirit. It is also the first work of the flesh. As the fruit of the Spirit, it will adorn the gospel. It will draw people to Christ. As the work of the flesh it will make us self-congratulatory. It will distract people from Christ. It will not endure all things; it will not believe all things; it will not hope all things. And it will most surely fail.
But there is one more all-important factor we need to consider if our love is going to emit the fragrant aroma of Christ. I’ll save that for the next entry.