|Previous Chapter||Next Chapter|
According to the Word of God, to love is to seek the good of others in the same manner and to the same degree you want others to seek your good (Mark 12:31; Matthew 7:12). Love does no wrong to anyone, including your enemies, those who persecute you, and those who mistreat you (Romans 13:10; Luke 6:35; Romans 12:14,17,19-21). Love has its own observable characteristics (1Corinthians 13:4-8). Husbands are to love their wives (Ephesians 5:25). Older women are to teach and encourage the younger women to love their husbands (Titus 2:3-4). And finally, love comes from God (1 John 4:7).
Though these scriptures say it well, we often need more information and further explanation before we comprehend the far-reaching implications of love. Therefore, to enlarge our understanding and make these simple truths as practical as possible, love will be defined and explained.
To love is to voluntarily, intentionally, eagerly, faithfully, and heartily promote and protect the interests and well-being of another person – which includes everyone who is in any way effected by your choices and behavior. To gain a fuller understanding of this definition, consider the dictionary explanation of each descriptive word it contains.
To love is to voluntarily (of our own free-will), intentionally (following a preplanned course of action to accomplish a desired end), eagerly (acting from a heart-felt sense of zeal), faithfully (remaining conscientiously and unwaveringly steadfast in a chosen course of action), and heartily (genuine feelings of warm regard for the recipient of our actions and feelings of happiness at being able to seek his good) promote (advance, champion, encourage) and protect (guard, maintain, preserve) the interests (concerns) and well-being (welfare, needs) of another person – which includes everyone who is in any way effected by our choices and behavior.
This means that love is no accident. It is not, by nature, spontaneous. It is not instinctive. It is not involuntary – as if it were something over which we have little or no control. However, attraction and feelings of endearment can be spontaneous or involuntary, but they are not love even though many call them or mistake them for love.
Love begins, and is either sustained or brought to an end, by an act of our will. We love because we voluntarily and intentionally make the choice to love. Therefore, free-will and deliberate choice are inherent and essential ingredients of love.
Without freedom of choice, love is nothing more than a theory or an ideal or a noble idea. It is the freedom to not love which makes the choice to (voluntarily, cheerfully, and deliberately) love so significant and meaningful. However, freedom of choice not only gives life to love, it gives life to selfishness.
By nature, we are self-centered. Our natural or first choice is to seek the good of self without equal regard for the good of others, or without regard for how our self-seeking affects the good of others. Therefore, the choice to love inherently includes the choice to reject self-centeredness and its child – selfishness.
Deciding what value or importance we will place on our own good when deciding the value or importance we will place on the good of another is a necessary part of the decision to love. Jesus confirmed this when he said, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” In other words, when making the decision to follow Christ we must also make the life-altering decision to deny self and take up our cross. In a similar way, when deciding the extent to which we will seek the good of others, we must also decide the extent to which we will seek the good of ourselves.
Therefore, promoting and protecting the good of others requires an act of the will whereby we thoughtfully and deliberately (1) choose to forsake selfishness and (2) choose to do what we know is in the best interest of those who are in some way affected by our choices and behavior (Note: Matthew 16:24).
This pattern of deciding about ourselves when deciding about loving others is vital to protecting the reality and the inherent standards of love (1 Corinthians 13:4-8).
Our choice to selflessly love others when we could as easily choose to selfishly love ourselves communicates that we care about the good of those effected by our choices and behavior as much or even more than we care about ourselves. This in turn helps others feel wanted, valued, and respected. Therefore, people feel loved, wanted, valued, and respected when they are convinced we willingly care as much about their well-being, happiness, safety, and health as we care about their own.
The freedom to love or not love ensures that where genuine love exists genuine love is experienced. For this reason, God forces no one to act on behalf of the good of others – He instructs and invites. He instructs and invites everyone to repent of their self-centeredness, to change their mind about God and themselves, and to live a life of love – for that is the way to fulfill the two great commandments.
Now it’s true, the two great commandments are commandments to love. It is also true that God rewards those who obey His commandments and He disciplines, punishes, and ultimately banishes to hell those who don’t. This makes it seem as if God is forcing us to live according to His dictates – that He is forcing us to love. Yet He is not.
In relation to love, God’s commandments, rewards, and punishments have two important purposes. First, His commandments and rewards are intended to call our attention to the importance of love so that we will choose to live a life of love. He, more than anyone, knows that deeds of love done grudgingly or out of necessity is fruit born out of selfishness, not love. To force us to live according to the rule of love through fear of punishment, or to motivate us into a life of love through the promise of reward would be to promote self-interest over a selfless regard for the good of others. So, He invites us and calls us and woos us into a life of love. Second, God’s commandments and punishments are intended to deter our self-centeredness and protect those who are adversely and unjustly affected by our selfishness. If the one in authority provides no negative consequences for bad behavior than he is, in effect, giving license to bad behavior. And if the authority does not punish those who repeatedly do what they know is wrong there will be no relief for the victims and no reason for the victims to put their trust in the authority (place their well-being in the hands of God). Therefore, God judiciously protects our freedom to choose love while protecting the victims of our choices when we choose to act selfishly.
Jesus said there is no greater love than to lay down your life for your friends. In other words, there will be times when we see a need that requires sacrificing our interests and well-being in order to seek the good and promote or protect the needs of someone else. But this is not beyond love, it is simply a greater or more personally costly expression of what love commonly does.
Self-sacrifice is not unique. Yet the personal sacrifice of love is a unique form of self-sacrifice. In the ebb and flow of most relationships the participants make personal sacrifices in order to increase the return on their investment in the relationship, or in something whose outcome is directly affected by the relationship. In other words, at greater cost to themselves they give more in order to get more for themselves. It works like this. At our own expense we give something of importance to enrich the life of another in hopes of receiving what we want from them in return. This is not the self-sacrifice of love, but rather the self-sacrifice of give-to-get.
In contrast, the self-sacrifice of love is made to increase the return on the investment we are making in the well-being of the one we love. This means making a personal sacrifice with the sole hope that it will improve the situation or condition of the one being benefitted by our love. Now it isn’t as if we don’t feel the cost or pain of such a sacrifice. We do, but our suffering is overshadowed by our desire to do good for the one we love and by our joy when what we have done accomplishes its intended purpose.
At the end of the Viet Nam war, Vietnamese parents put their young children on U.S. planes and helicopters in hopes their children would be taken to the United States and raised in a better place than their own war-torn, Communist controlled country. I can’t imagine the pain of saying goodbye to my children knowing that I probably would never see them again. But, I can imagine wanting good for my children to such a degree that I would choose to endure such pain for their benefit.
And so it is with all who love. They place more value on the good of others than on the good of self to the point of willingly and deliberately making personal sacrifices to ensure or enhance the good of those they love.
The apostle Paul wrote that love is to be without hypocrisy. Therefore, love wisely and reasonably promotes and protects an individual’s or group’s good without compromising the good of any one affected by what is done for the individual or group. This means that we must give careful consideration to how the love we show one person or one group affects those beyond the person or group to whom we are showing love.
Too many misjudge love. They think it is synonymous with making others happy. Thus they lean toward leniency, permissiveness, and indulgence while neglecting impartiality, sound judgment, and the well-being of others affected in some way by what they do for the one(s) they are trying to love. Such behavior has little to do with love and its manifestations.
Love does no harm to anyone (Romans 13:10). To ensure this, love seeks the good of an individual or group within the context of promoting and protecting the good of all. In other words, love never does anything for an individual or group (be it family, friends, co-workers, community, or nation) that in any way results in unnecessary harm being done to others.
This facet of love establishes clear boundaries for the giver. For example, love does not spoil a child. Spoiling children harms them by ruining their character through overindulgence. But the harm does not stop with the child. Spoiled children become self-centered teenagers and adults who make other people’s lives unnecessarily miserable. In the same way, love does not look the other way when a child deliberately does what he knows is wrong. Undue leniency and permissiveness sends the message that it is alright to do wrong. When a child gets this message he begins to believe he’s justified in using or abusing others to ensure his own happiness and well-being. He may learn to control his selfishness enough to make reasonable progress in growing up, but he won’t control it enough to stop using and abusing others to get his own way.
For the same reasons, love is not unduly lenient, permissive, or overindulgent with adults. Love will not give an adult the impression it is acceptable to continue doing what is wrong. When an adult pursues his own interests or the interests of his friends or some special interest group at the expense of others, love takes a stand and corrective action in an effort to protect the good of all.
Therefore, love does not look the other way when an adult family member or friend sins. To look the other way is to allow this loved one to jeopardize the good of everyone affected by his sinful behavior. Love will not support a co-worker or boss who chooses to do what is obviously wrong. Nor will love support any of its nation’s policies which benefit or protect some at the wrongful (unlovingly harmful) expense of others.
But there is another way in which we are prone to misjudge love. Many think that the intention to do good for one or some frees them from the obligation to do good for all. Therefore, they feel justified in ignoring the consequences of their actions beyond the scope of their immediate intentions.
A number of years ago, a man who said he believed in the right-to-life shot and killed an abortion doctor and wounded two of his co-workers in front of their abortion clinic. Though done in the name of love for the unborn children whose lives are being sacrificed so parents can go on with their lives unencumbered by an unwanted child, it was not an act of love. Instead, it was an act of self-determined vengeance, of returning evil for evil, of serving one’s own interests at the expense of others. Why? Here are four reasons.
First, the man chose murder as his means of dealing with the problem. He alone decided that the doctor’s life was expendable in his effort to promote the right-to-life of unborn children. I am certain the killer does not want other people unilaterally deciding that his life is expendable in accomplishing their goals. Therefore, he did to the doctor what he does not want done to himself.
Second, in murdering the doctor he ended the doctor’s opportunity to repent and be eternally reconciled to God. Whatever patience God was extending to this doctor in hopes he would repent and be converted was abruptly halted – and not by God’s choosing. I am certain this grieved God, for it unnecessarily and unjustly denied Him the possible privilege of having this doctor become a beloved child. Therefore, in murdering the doctor the murderer unjustly harmed God.
Third, in murdering the doctor he needlessly hurt the doctor’s family. The doctor’s wife unjustly lost her husband. The doctor’s children unjustly lost their father. They all are now denied the pleasure of his presence and the provision of his income. Therefore, in murdering the doctor he wrongfully took a loved one away from those who loved him and a needed one away from those who needed him.
Finally, the murderer publicly reinforced the idea that it is best to take matters into our own hands and use power tactics (some form of verbal or physical violence) when people continue to act contrary to what we want. This influence may not affect the mature, but what about the immature and the unthinking? This man’s example becomes an influence for evil in the lives of everyone who thinks taking matters into their own hands and abusing power is an accepted means of righting wrongs. Therefore, should just one immature, thoughtless person follow this man’s example it will mean more victims and more unjust suffering.
Love does no harm to anyone. Love is committed to seeking the good of others in the same manner and to the same degree it wants others to seek its good. Love voluntarily, intentionally, eagerly, faithfully, and heartily promotes and protects the interests and well-being of others. Love willingly and joyfully sacrifices its own interests in order to increase its effectiveness in promoting and protecting the good of others. Love wisely and reasonably promotes and protects an individual’s or group’s good without compromising anyone else’s good – be they an individual or a group or a nation.
Therefore, love is the great end, the ultimate purpose, and the grand goal of all God wants for us, does for us, and says to us. Love is God’s way. It is the right way. Indeed, it is so important, so vital to all that matters in life that in writing to Timothy, Paul said, “The goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Timothy 1:5).
There is nothing more important, more precious, more satisfying, more mentally and emotionally healthy, more ethical, more equitable, or more beneficial to the security and well-being of everyone everywhere than love. It is the only basis for meaningful, lasting relationships. It is a pure and lasting motivation for each party in a relationship to willingly and consistently make the good of the other more important than the good of self. We cannot do anything greater or more noble than to love God above all else and love our neighbor as ourselves. We cannot fulfill the will of God more completely than when we make love the ruling principle over all we say and do. We cannot find greater happiness and security than when we abide in love. (Note: Matthew 7:12; 22:36-40; Galatians 5:14; John 13:15,21,23)
And finally, living according to God’s love is indisputable proof that we know God. God, himself, is love, and we come to know perfect love when we repent and are reconciled to Him. Because God is always rational and sane, we experience the reasonableness and faithfulness of love when we experience God’s love for us. Because God is just toward all people everywhere, we get a clear picture of love’s determination to seek the good of one or some in a manner which protects the good of all. Because God sacrificed His most precious son to save us from the penalty of sin, we know the extent of personal sacrifice to which love will go in seeking the good of those loved. Because God is patient and kind to all who trust in Him, we enjoy a kind of acceptance, a level of security, and a depth of belonging rarely experienced between husbands and wives or best friends. Therefore, to know God personally is to know love.
On the other hand, knowingly and willingly remaining self-centered is equally indisputable proof that we do not know God. We may know about God, but we cannot know God personally and remain committed to a life, or even a partial life of deliberate self-centeredness. The scriptures make this clear by saying that whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love (I John 4:7-8).
For the Christian, love is first and foremost directed toward God – at least that is the way it is supposed to be.
In a perfect world with perfect people, loving God first and foremost would be as natural as breathing and eating. In our imperfect world, where pride, selfishness, and sin of every kind abounds, loving self first and foremost is so common that loving God first and foremost has to be required of us for most of us to give it any serious consideration at all.
Therefore, God commands us to love Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. What this means is that we are to love God more than anyone or anything else – which includes loving Him more than ourselves. He is to be our supreme love in all things and in all ways. (Deuteronomy 6:4-5; Mark 12:29-31)
According to the American Heritage Dictionary, supreme refers to that which is greatest in power, authority, or rank; that which is paramount or dominant; that which is greatest in importance, degree, significance, character, or achievement; that which is ultimate; final. In other words, there can be only one supreme love in your life at a time.
And herein lies the challenge, because from early on in life our strongest inclination is to love ourselves supremely. And when we do, all other relationships become subordinate to self-love. All other interests are subject to self-interest. All other good is evaluated in light of self-good. We are committed to promoting and protecting our well-being, first and foremost, even when it feeds unjustified distrust of others, damages relationships, and sabotages love. Therefore, the hardest part of fulfilling God’s command to love Him supremely is making love of yourself subordinate to love of God in all things and in every way.
To make all other loves, including self-love, subordinate to our love for God requires self-denial. To make our interests subject to or less than God’s interests requires self-denial. To evaluate self-good in light of God’s good requires self-denial. In essence, we must die to self-importance to make God all-important, and to unreservedly and unconditionally seek His good. Therefore, we must deny self to love God supremely.
In relation to love, the denial of self is first of all a deliberate decision to place the importance of another above the importance of self. Then, this decision is followed by choices and behaviors that faithfully promote and protect the good of the other.
Many think they can love God without denying self in this way. But they can’t. We must deny self if we are to free ourselves from enough self-interest to be able to love God more than ourselves. We must subordinate self-interest to God’s interests if we are to consistently seek His good above what we think to be our own good. We must change our allegiance from self to God if we are to whole-heartedly commit ourselves to thoughtfully, diligently, and faithfully doing His will – not just where it is convenient, exciting, or self-fulfilling, but in all areas of life. Therefore, without the denial of self – as fully as God intends us to deny self – we will not and cannot love God supremely.
However, denying self to love God supremely is no easy matter. Self-denial of this magnitude puts us in numerous positions of being vulnerable to the earthly, physical, economic, social, political, and temporal costs of doing God’s will. And because such costs often pose a threat to our sense of security and well-being, very few are willing to deny self in this way.
Therefore, many of us in the Christian community try to love God while holding on to at least some self-rule, some self-centeredness, some fleshly desires, and some earthly ways. It isn’t that we don’t want to love God, we just don’t want to love Him supremely in case the cost becomes greater than we want to pay or think we should have to pay. So we end up loving God as far as our supreme love of self will allow.
However, when we don’t love God supremely, we are cheating Him out of the love He deserves and disobeying His command to love Him with all of our heart, all of our soul, all of our mind, and all of our strength. But when we do make a sincere, whole-hearted, whole-life effort to love God supremely, we’re faced with having to endure situations and people that – from an earthly, self-serving perspective – make life more difficult, more miserable, and more painful. It can seem as if these two options present us with a no-win situation.
But God, knowing our human frailties and inclinations, provides a reasonable, workable, dependable solution! The solution is to have someone greater than ourselves look out for our well-being while we focus on promoting and protecting God’s interests. And of course, the only trustworthy “someone greater” is God, because He has the power, ability, will, and love to do so. In fact, God wants us to trust in Him as our first and foremost source of security just as He wants us to trust Him for our provision, protection, comfort, peace, joy, empowerment for godly living, and eternal life.
Do you see the seeming paradox in this? God commands us to love Him more than ourselves, which requires becoming vulnerable in order to do His will by loving Him in this way. And yet if we will do His will, He will keep us safe. If we will place complete trust in His goodness (His integrity, honesty, morality, decency, sincerity, justice, strength, knowledge, wisdom, and rationality), He will surround us with all the provision and protection we need to freely and cheerfully love Him with all our being.
However, very few believe God is completely trustworthy. Somewhat trustworthy or mostly trustworthy – yes, but not completely trustworthy. Therefore, it is far more common for Christians to distrust God and love God a little than to trust Him completely and love Him supremely.
Many think that at least a few of God’s commands are irrational or excessive. They may not admit this, but their choices and behavior confirm it. When you observe Christians like this in action, you will soon see that some of their repetitive choices and behaviors prove they believe it is unsafe to do everything God says. Others are convinced God is occasionally disinterested or indifferent to their needs. They especially feel this way in times of trouble. This feeds their unwillingness to take the risks necessary to do what is required to love Him supremely. Some conclude God won’t do what is necessary because He doesn’t do what they want Him to do. So they keep self-centeredness alive for those times when they believe they must make up for God’s failures by acting on their own behalf.
Yet God is worthy of our trust. He is flawlessly good. He is the quintessence of love. He is the faithful, gentle, gracious, compassionate Father, who in all ways and at all times promotes and protects our good. When we trust in His goodness enough to place our well-being in His hands, we soon realize we couldn’t be safer, for He lovingly turns our vulnerability into unchallengeable, unshakable security – a security which inspires us to willingly and eagerly die to self-interest so it cannot obstruct our devotion to doing His will.
Therefore, don’t miss this truth. Complete trust in God’s goodness, that is trusting Him in every area and in every way that you know you ought to trust Him, is essential to loving Him supremely. As has been said already, we can trust God in certain areas and in specific ways without trusting Him completely – or as much as we know we ought to trust Him. Yet without complete trust we will never love Him more than (or even as much as) ourselves. Any amount of known and tolerated distrust of God compels us to love self the most and focus on promoting and protecting our well-being as if it is our most important concern. To love God supremely, to love Him more than ourselves, we must trust Him completely.
We can know we are trusting God completely when we willingly and eagerly place our life and the lives of those dearest to us (parents, siblings, spouse, children) in His hands and depend on Him to do what is best for all of us in every situation. In other words, we can know we have placed our life and the lives of those dearest to us in His hands when we cheerfully and intentionally live according to His Word, in spite of the obvious risks and possible costs to our own well-being. This is the level of trust required to love God supremely.
The outward manifestation of loving God supremely is predominantly found in how we treat people – those affected in some way by our choices and behavior. It becomes evident we love God supremely when we treat the people around us with the same kindness, consideration, and respect as we want to receive from them. If we neglect or choose something other than to promote and protect the good of those we can see, or can help, or in some way can affect by what we do, it shows we do not love God supremely.
If you question the truth of what has just been stated, think about this. God loves everyone. And, every one of God’s commands are intended to keep us on the path of love. They set boundaries which protect the good of everyone. Can we, then, intentionally disobey or carelessly disregard any of God’s commands without knowingly, willingly, and unjustly hurting someone He loves? Can we deliberately and repeatedly hurt someone He loves and love Him at the same time?
We cannot love God and intentionally or even carelessly continue to hurt anyone He loves. We may act foolishly and selfishly on occasion. But when God is our supreme love, we will confess our sin and make things right with whomever we’ve wronged as soon as we see the wrong we have done. In addition, when God is our supreme love, we will look for thought patterns and behavior patterns in our life which promote the practice of sin (hurt others unnecessarily) so we can break those patterns and establish righteous ones in their place. Do not let anyone deceive you in this matter. No one who knowingly and deliberately practices sin loves God. (Note: John 14:15, 21, 23; I John 2:3-6; 4:7-8, 19-21; 5:3)
Though God commands us to love Him, He does not make us love Him. We are free to love Him, like Him, dislike Him, or even hate Him. The decision is totally ours. We are free to do as we please – though this doesn’t mean we are free to do as we please without consequences appropriate to our choices.
Nevertheless, we are free to choose, and such freedom is essential to genuine love. Only when we are free not to love can God feel justifiably confident that our choice to love Him means we want to love Him. Only when we are free not to love can He know He is precious and trustworthy in our eyes. And, only when we are free to love ourselves supremely can the act of self-denial validate His supremacy in our lives.
Though God’s command to love Him only addresses our love for Him, He is not looking for one-sided love. He wants a relationship with us. He wants a mutually reciprocal relationship where each side seeks the good of the other, feels cherished by the other, trusts the other, and is confidently secure in the love of the other.
Take serious note of this. The creator of the universe, the supreme God who is over all that has been, is, and will be, wants an intimate, never-ending, mutually satisfying relationship with us. He wants this so much that He has already sacrificed the life of His son to make it possible. He wants this so much that He patiently waits for us to come to our senses, repent of our sin, and be reconciled to Him – even though such waiting often means the continued practice of sin on our part. He wants this so much that He has given His Spirit the task of convicting us of sin, righteousness, and the coming judgment so we will be even more inclined to accept His invitation to a reconciled relationship of mutual love and trust. The point is, choosing to love God supremely brings us into an unequaled, intimate, meaningful, serious, mutual, and eternal relationship of love and trust with Him.
When we love God supremely our lives are enriched in many ways. Yet when we love God supremely, personal enrichment is never our motive or goal. If it is, we are yet self-focused and committed to self-love. When our focus is on God, His enrichment is our supreme interest. And yet, love for God results in many blessings from His hands which He intends for us to enjoy. While that is the reward of love, it is never the goal of the one who loves.
Loving God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength is the most complete expression of trust in God. It is the only reasonable response of awe and adoration for God. It is only possible through the denial of self and complete trust in His goodness. And only when God is your supreme love are you free enough of self-love to manifest your unremitting passion to please this One whom you love so much.
Love has many characteristics. There are many ways in which it can and ought to promote and protect the good of others. Therefore, to love in a godly, practical, rational manner we must understand the different characteristics of love and learn how to integrate them into our beliefs, values, choices, and behavior.
Love and feelings are so strongly associated in our culture that most of us look to our feelings to see if we love someone. Many assume they do not and cannot love unless they have feelings of love. When we ask others why they no longer love someone, they often respond with an explanation that says their feelings have changed. However, when we believe love is the result of feelings, we are confusing love with endearment.
Love is a quality, a belief system, a way of life whose existence is not dependent on how we feel about someone, or what we think about them, or the condition of their relationship with us. Therefore, we step into love, take on its qualities, and live its way when we voluntarily and deliberately choose to live by the standard of love which, in its essence, promotes and protects the good of everyone affected by whatever we do and say. In contrast, endearment grows within us when we feel an attraction or fondness or adoration or infatuation for another person.
Love is outward focused. Endearment is inward focused. Love finds its greatest fulfillment in giving – especially when the giving is within a shared, intimate relationship built on mutual love and trust. Endearment finds fulfillment in receiving – especially when receiving the kind of attention and treatment that assures us we are desirable to and wanted by someone we want to love us.
Love values meaningful, intimate, equally shared, mutually trusting, long lasting relationships. Endearment values the immediate feelings of being wanted, adored, valued, and respected.
However, because love is a quality or a system of belief that is built on an unchangeable standard, it is possible for love to begin and remain one sided. In other words, it is possible to give love even though love is not returned. Endearment – whether it is you trying to endear yourself to someone or someone trying to endear themselves to you – often begins one sided. But if its efforts do not achieve the desired response, the one making the effort will stop.
Love’s joy is seeking the good of others, pleasing others, and gaining meaningful relationship with others. Endearment’s joy is the feelings which occur when others behave in a manner that assures you they value you.
When we love ourselves supremely, the good of self is our primary concern. We can camouflage our self-centeredness by talking as if others matter to us and by doing deeds of kindness now and then, but we cannot hide it from those closest to us. We can tell ourselves we are loving, but we cannot keep those who know us from seeing through our facade. Why? Because they see us in action – day after day after day. And as the old proverb says, our repetitive actions speak so loud that those nearest no longer believe what we say.
So, don’t be deceived. When you love self the most almost everything you do is decided on the basis of what is best for you. Therefore, over the course of time you will expose your self-centeredness no matter how hard you try to hide it.
Conversely, when you love God more than yourself and love others as you love yourself, their good (God, others) becomes your primary concern. Instead of being self-centered, you become others-centered. Instead of thinking, speaking, and acting selfishly, you think, say, and do what is in the best interests or to the greater good others. Instead of treasuring the good of self, you treasure the happiness of God and the good of those affected by your choices and behavior. Instead of cherishing selfishness as an expedient and wise method of navigating life’s paths, you cherish selflessness. And, instead of cheerfully and deliberately seeking your own good apart from an equal concern for the good of others, you cheerfully and thoughtfully seek the good of others along with seeking your good.
Truly, when we love God supremely and others as ourselves, almost everything we do is decided on the basis of what is best for all involved. Therefore, we cannot help but show ourselves to be selfless in spite of immature efforts or occasional detours into sin.
When those who are others-centered fail to love because of a foolish or sinful choice, they repent of their wrong, make things right with whomever they’ve wronged, and return to the way of love as soon as they see the wrong they’ve done. In this way their unselfish concern for the well-being of others remains obvious to those who know them in spite of their occasional failures along the way.
Jesus Christ is the foremost example of selflessness. Although He was in the form of God and enjoying all the power and privileges of God, He did not consider His perfect circumstances to be the most important thing in life. His primary concern was the happiness of God and the well-being of those whom God loved. So Jesus gave up His power and privileges, and in so doing became as vulnerable to the demands, whims, cruelties, and injustices of others as the weakest, poorest, and lowliest among us. He cheerfully chose to become like a slave in order to selflessly serve and love sinners in a way that would meet their need. And He proved His love through His service. He submitted to rejection, ridicule, hatred, injustice, cruelty, and a horrible death to seek the good of every sinner who has ever lived or will ever live on this earth. He sacrificed his reputation, popularity, control over His environment, comfort, His right to justice, and His wish for a reasonably pleasant death to pay a debt we owed, but could not pay. His concern for our good coupled with His desire to please His Father motivated Him, at great cost to Himself, to serve and love us selflessly. (Note: Philippians 2:5-8)
The reality is, selflessness is costly to self. And though willingly paying the cost of selflessness makes for exciting stories about noble-minded people laying down their lives for the good of others, and though willingly paying the costs of selflessness seems to work well when courting the one we want to marry, when it comes to how we live day in and day out, the cost of selflessness to self is the major reason we choose selfishness over love. In fact, the cost of selflessness to self is the leading reason so many of us view selflessness as a noble ideal that is too impractical to be useful in the real world.
Yet nothing could be farther from the truth. In spite of its cost to self, selflessness is realistic and rational when God is our primary source of security. When we place our well-being in God’s hands and refuse to go outside God’s boundaries of right and wrong, selflessness not only makes sense, it works.
Consider this great truth. God loves us in the same way He asks us to love others. Therefore, we can trust Him to seek our good in all things and in all ways. We can trust Him to promote and protect our well-being while we focus on seeking and securing the good of others. In other words, when God is our primary source of security, He makes sure His love for us always exceeds our love for others. In other words, we cannot do for others more than God has done, is doing, and will do for us. We cannot risk anything that God will not restore many times over – if not in this life, then in the next.
Jesus spoke about the security we have in God when we seek their good in the same way He seeks our good. For example, we read in Matthew 6:31-33, “Do not worry then, saying, 'What will we eat?' or 'What will we drink?' or 'What will we wear for clothing?' For the [unbelievers] eagerly seek all these things; [but] your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. [Therefore,] seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
As for allowing the fear of giving away too much to stop us from giving, Jesus said, “Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure – pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure [that you give] it will be measured to you in return” (Luke 6:38).
This does not mean, however, that we are to foolishly ignore or neglect our needs as if it is wrong to have a sensible and practical interest in our own well-being. Godly love includes self-interest, but it is a self-interest which never compromises or minimizes selflessness. Therefore, love is selfless but not brainless. It is self-denial but not self-hatred. It is self-sacrificial but not self-destructive. Consider the following examples.
Reducing your use of personal income and possessions to the barest minimum so you can increase what you have to share with those in need is selfless. Giving everything away so you are on the street, empty handed, and needy yourself, is stupid.
To risk the security of your family or your future, to risk loss of employment, to risk your health or life itself, to evangelize the lost, defend the weak, and champion the cause of those who have no advocate is selfless. To risk family, future, health, or life to remain in a setting where everyone resists your efforts and wants to harm you is unwise, especially if you can move to a setting where you can love in this way without being persecuted.
To purposefully seek out unbelievers, passionately proclaim the gospel of salvation to them, and zealously disciple those who respond is selfless. To pursue evangelism and discipleship to the neglect of your family so that your spouse and children turn against God and you, is stupid.
Because love is a choice, love is selfless by choice. Because love is a choice, we must choose to deny self as part of our choice to make the good of others a primary concern. Because love is a choice, we are free to decide when, where, for whom, and how extensively we will selflessly seek the good of others. Because love is a choice, it is our prerogative to decide what we will risk to promote and protect God’s interests and the good of others.
It is more blessed to give than to receive. It is also more work, and therefore more fatiguing both physically and mentally. A life devoted to promoting and protecting the good of others and helping people in their time of trouble needs time for rest and relaxation. It needs times of refreshment. Yet to get the rest and refreshment we need we must, for a time, neglect the needs of people. We must act, for a time, as if we are thinking mostly of ourselves. This may seem contrary to love, but it isn’t.
To put this in proper perspective, consider God and His Sabbath rest. For six days He worked. On the seventh, He rested. He took time off from His labors and spent a day relaxing and focusing His attention on something other than work. Now we understand that God did not need to rest as we humans need to rest. Yet in taking His day off He set an example for us. We need to rest and focus our attention on something other than work in order to be refreshed for another week of work. In fact, He commanded this pattern of six days work and one day rest as a practice for all humanity to follow. (Note: Genesis 2:2-3; Exodus 20:8-1, 23:12)
Consider Jesus. He had the power to heal, the power to cast out demons, the power to raise the dead, and the power to do other great miracles. And since Jesus was devoted to serving the needs of others and committed to seeking the good of everyone, He healed the sick, cast out demons, raised the dead, performed other miracles, and taught all who would listen. Yet He also got tired. So occasionally He would go off with His disciples to some quiet place where He could rest. After being refreshed, He would return to His calling – loving others as God loves, giving as God gives, and going about doing all the good He could to as many people as He could.
This practical side of love does not diminish our commitment to promoting and protecting the good of others. Instead, it sensibly faces the frailty of our humanity and wisely deals with it within the boundaries of love. We must be practical about rest and rejuvenation if we are to remain sane and sensible in bringing love to a world desperate with need. Should we fail to be practical in this matter, we will get so tired that we will lose our joy and purpose in serving. We may even get tired to the point of burning out so that we simply want out of God’s service. Such things do not have to happen. Well-chosen times of relaxation and rest will keep freshness in our love and energy in our action.
The world is full of opportunities to love. With a little perceptiveness and a few aptly asked questions we can become aware of numerous needs in our extended family, city, workplace, church, and neighborhood. Because of global communication we can learn about severe needs in far-away places. What does love do when made aware of an overwhelming number of needs?
When faced with more cries for help than we can respond to, it is best to use several criterion for deciding who to help and how much to do. The use of these criterion can help you love in ways which do not jeopardize the community good, which promote changed lives rather than patched problems, and which help you decide how, when, and where you can do the greatest amount of good with what you have.
The first criterion deals with the nature of the need in relation to the community good. This criterion looks at the cause of the need. It considers how acting on behalf of the needy person or group of people will affect the greater good of the community.
In many of our cities, homeless alcoholics work the street corners asking for money. Drug addicts go to churches with touching stories of human need in the hopes of getting money. In both cases, money given is most often used to further their addiction. Therefore, in giving money we end up supporting their addiction which further enslaves them to their alcohol or drugs. This is not love, for it fails to seek their good just as doing nothing fails to seek their good.
But beyond doing further harm to the alcoholic or drug addict by giving them money, we violate the good of the community. Any help which further entrenches the alcoholic or drug addict in his life-style further burdens the community with his addiction-related problems.
Finally, when we give money to those who misuse it, we diminish the amount of money available for those caught in dire situations who would use the money to overcome their situation or gain some measure of immediate relief.
To discern what love would do we must look beyond the moment and consider the cause of the need, what good our help will do for the one in need, and how helping the needy person will affect the rest of the community. Many are in dire need, but not everyone who asks for money will use the money for their own good or the good of the community. Therefore, we must blend intelligence and compassion to ensure our love does not compromise the good of the one in need or jeopardize the good of the community.
For example, buying a meal for an alcoholic asking for money is far better than giving him money. Buying necessary items for a drug addict's family – be it food or otherwise, and taking them to the drug addict's home – is better than giving cash. Giving money to legitimate para-church or community organizations that work directly with the poor, the needy, and the addicted is better than giving cash to someone asking for help on a street corner or at the entrance of a grocery store.
The second criterion to consider is proximity. How close are we to the need? What is the distance (feet, miles) between us and the person or people in need? This criterion promotes personal contact, when possible.
Love is best expressed and best experienced through personal contact. Personal involvement builds new relationships and strengthens established ones. It provides the kind of interaction that supports the needy person’s emotional and mental well-being in addition to caring for their physical needs. It feeds their sense of importance as a person and helps satisfy their desire to belong to a caring community. It opens doors of opportunity for evangelism and discipleship. It motivates observers to see God as good and worthy of their allegiance. Therefore, personal involvement with the person or people in need is to be preferred.
Consider the example of the alcoholic and drug addict. Far more than money, they need someone to come along side of them and help them make wiser decisions and live a better life. Going with them to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings to ensure they attend would do them far more good than giving them twenty dollars. Getting involved with a family living in poverty to help them learn how to make the best use of the resources they have and where to go to begin improving their situation would do far more good than only giving them food money for a week. Teaching an illiterate bread-winner how to read so he could get a better job would do more good for his family and the community than only giving him a bag of groceries each month. Truly, when we can get personally involved in meeting the needs of people in need, we should, for this is the way God loves us.
The third criterion to consider is time. If we are close enough to get personally involved, or if we are willing to travel to the site of need, we then must determine how much time we can devote to the need.
Many of us already have full schedules, and our list of things to do is more than time permits. What we don’t have is a daily reserve of free time. So where do we find extra time to get personally involved in helping people? We find it in the hours already committed to specific things, like employment, sleeping, being attentive to family members, food preparation, eating and clean-up, personal hygiene, general household chores, exercise, entertainment, volunteer service in a church or civic group, Bible study, prayer, and other such things.
Love does not ask us to pretend we are not busy. Neither does it judge the importance of our current commitments. It simply asks us to love others as we love ourselves. For example, what do we do when we are in need? Do we ignore the need for lack of time? No. We evaluate our commitments to see which ones can be rescheduled, neglected for a time, or deleted altogether so as to find enough time to take care of the need. If we love ourselves this way, ought we not – to some reasonable degree – love those around us who are in need of our help?
The fourth criterion to consider is available resources. Why? Because money and possessions are often key ingredients when giving help in a time of need. Therefore, this criterion identifies the extent of help we can give to needs of a monetary or commodities nature – be they next door or in a far-away land.
Money and possessions can be sent to those in need whether they are overseas, across the country, on the other side of the city, or across the street. This kind of help enables us to participate in world-missions and in hunger or other needed relief efforts in far-away places. One caution, however, is needed. It is important that we do not use money or possessions to insulate ourselves from the inconvenience or uncomfortableness of personal contact when personal contact is possible.
Given the extent of need in our world, how do we decide how much money and which possessions we will use in giving help? Here again, love does not tell us how much money we need for our own care or how much to give. Nor does love tell us which possessions are important and which are frivolous. Love simply asks us to care about others in the same manner and to the same degree that we care about ourselves.
With this as our foundational principle, we can examine how we care for ourselves in time of great or pressing need. If we are sensible, it is most likely we will make sacrifices in one or several areas of common need in order to gather the resources necessary to bring relief to a pressing need in another area. Why? Because our primary concern is meeting the pressing need of the moment, not what we will have to do without or how we will manage thereafter. Therefore, without neglecting the practical and sensible sides of love, we can follow Christ’s example, who though He was rich, yet for our sakes He became poor so that we, through His poverty, might become rich. (Note: 2 Corinthians 8:9)
However, there are far more needs in our world than we, by ourselves, can care for. Therefore, the final criterion to consider is where and how we can do the most good. In other words, because there are more needs than we can care for, we should concentrate our efforts where we can do the greatest good.
Reason confirms we cannot help everyone at the same time, or even in one lifetime. But we can examine the need in light of the first four criterion and then make a decision as to where we think we can do the most good. This is a judgment call, and asking God for wisdom in making the call is wise. It is probable we will not always make the right decision, but we ought to try and keep trying.However, we need to be forewarned that loving in these ways has a negative side. When we make a decision to help where we believe it will do the most good, we are simultaneously making a decision to ignore other legitimate needs. This is offensive to those whose pet project or personal need we have chosen to disregard because we believe we can do more good somewhere else. Offended people and perceptive observers can be very critical. So be prepared. Don’t ignore the criticism. It may have elements of truth which can improve your decision making regarding who and how much to help. But don’t get crushed by it either. If your decision is based on love, you haven’t excluded anyone because you love them less or simply don’t care, but rather because you’ve chosen to do the greatest possible good with what you have.
Many are destroying themselves, their families, their co-workers, and their communities by living in the darkness of sin. Few are seriously committed to bringing the light of God into this darkness. Therefore, those who love see their personal needs to be of lesser importance when compared to the far greater need of bringing light into an ever-darkening, self-destructing world.
Those who willfully go on doing what they know is wrong are destined for eternal banishment from God and all who love as God loves. Yet the loss of even one sinner to hell is agonizingly heartbreaking to God and to anyone who has repented and received God’s great salvation from the penalty of sin. Therefore, the Christian’s priorities have little to do with one’s own needs and a lot to do with evangelizing the lost — which is a radically different focus from those who are self-serving.
The ability and privilege of promoting and protecting the good of others is like water to the parched and food to the starving for the Christian. Therefore, the promotion and protection of his own needs becomes secondary to doing what he can to evangelize unbelievers and care for the needs (food, clothing, shelter, medical attention, justice) of others. This seems idealistic, unrealistic, excessive, and even incomprehensible to the self-centered.
the self-centered, personal or family needs directly related to
happiness, security, health, protection, and acceptance are the needs
which get the greatest amount of attention. To the Christian, needs
directly related to loving God supremely and loving others as himself
are the needs which get the greatest amount of attention. Therefore, he
willingly picks up the cross of love whenever necessary to fulfill the
motive of love. This is demonstrated in the story about Shadrach,
Meshach, and Abed-nego, three young, captive, Jewish men living in
Babylon. (Note: Daniel 1-3)
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego were Israelites who were taken captive to Babylon, along with Daniel, for the purpose of serving in King Nebuchadnezzar’s court. After they had been in Babylon for a time, King Nebuchadnezzar made a golden image of himself and decreed that everyone had to bow down and worship it. Those who would not bow and worship were to be thrown into a fiery furnace.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego were faced with a dilemma. It was a needs-based crisis — their needs verses the needs of God and the Babylonians. They had to make a decision as to the most important need of the moment.
If they obeyed the king they would go on living. But if they obeyed the king, they would dishonor God and cheapen God’s image in the eyes of the Babylonians. This would give the Babylonians even greater cause to blaspheme Jehovah and go on in their sin — keeping themselves and setting future generations on the path of eternal destruction. So they had to decide how the Babylonians’ need to rightly see God, repent, and submit to the lordship of God compared to their need to live — thus avoiding a horribly painful fiery death.
So what was the greatest need at this moment of crisis? Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego decided the most vital need was for the Babylonians to get the clear message that Jehovah was worthy of their reverence and obedience. To get this message across these three men had to bear the cross of love. They had to defy King Nebuchadnezzar and face a horrifying death by fire.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego bore the cross of love because they lived by the principle of love. It was love which gave them eyes to see that the greatest need of the moment was the honor of God. It was love which helped them see that their need to live was secondary to their need to protect God’s reputation. It was love which gave them more concern for the Babylonians’ eternal life than for their own present life. And it was love which motivated them to voluntarily bear the cross of love — to seek the good of others over the good of self.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego lived by more than the principle of
love. They lived by faith in God — a faith which
convinced them they could never do more for God than God would do for
them. They could never lose more in the name of love than God would
restore — if not in this life, then certainly in the
Many read this story in awe that three men could make such a choice knowing it would result in certain death. Yet these three men did not choose death. They chose love. They chose the greater good over the lesser good. They did not hate themselves, or lack a good self-image. They loved themselves. But they loved God and the Babylonians, too. Therefore, they picked up the cross of love so they could meet the greatest need of the moment — a need which could not be met without great personal sacrifice.
This kind of reasoning is not unique to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego. It is the common way of thinking. It is the normal way of looking at life by all who love God supremely and their neighbor as themselves. It does not always result in the loss of our lives, but it always results in the loss of something personal.
Think about this. When someone’s need is in conflict with what we need, we cannot fully satisfy both needs at the same time. Something must be sacrificed if one or both needs are to be attended to. Love’s cross is choosing to bear the brunt of the sacrifice ourselves to secure the good of others. Jesus did this for us, on the cross. The apostle Paul did this to take the message of salvation to those who had never heard it. And the list can go on and on — which means you can do it too.
Those who love are frugal (financially prudent and thrifty). Why? For the sole purpose of using their financial resources for the good of as many people as possible beyond themselves and their immediate family. Love motivates us to choose simplicity in things like food, clothes, housing, cars, recreation, entertainment, insurance, savings, and investments for only one reason - to increase what we can do with what we have in serving God and advancing His purposes in our world.
Extravagance, hoarding, and waste are enemies of love. They promote self-interest, self-indulgence, wasteful luxury, licentiousness, gluttony, and miserliness - undermining our ability to promote and protect the good of others. They squander what finances we have available for doing good, leaving us empty-handed when others need our help - help we could give if we had used our finances and resources with the good of others in mind. But they go farther. They focus our attention on ourselves so that we think more about our needs and wants than the good of others. They feed the fear of anything that jeopardizes our own good so that we do not want to do good for others at our expense.
To combat extravagance, hoarding, waste, and the mindset which accompanies them, God directs us to set aside a portion of our finances for charity (helping the needy, supporting missions and our local Church, being prepared for crisis needs) before spending anything on ourselves. This is wise advice, especially for those who want to love but lack sufficient self-control and for those who want to use what they have for the good of others but fear for their own well-being. Here is why.
1. When we designate a portion of what we earn for charity and set that money aside before spending anything on ourselves, we are ensuring that that amount of money will be used for charity. Personal expenditures can easily exceed intentions so that very little or even nothing is left for charity if it is not taken out first.
2. Setting aside a portion of our income before spending anything on ourselves requires careful planning as to how we will use the rest. We must thoughtfully consider how to spend what is left so our expenditures do not exceed the money we have available for personal needs. This level of thoughtfulness will at first identify waste and extravagance so we can free up even more for charity. Then, it will enable us to keep the lid on waste and extravagance so we can love as we want to be loved.
3. Finally, when love rules our lives, we will want to set aside as much as we can - sacrificially - for the benefit of others. We cannot sacrificially set aside money for the good of others without realizing we need God’s help to make do with what is left for personal use. This kind of giving forces us to trust in God as our provider and protector - not ourselves or our saving account or our secure job or anything human. And we can trust God. Jesus told his disciples to pour their efforts and resources into building God’s kingdom and promoting God’s righteousness and God would make sure they had what they needed to live that day. In addition, it is spiritually healthy to trust God. Trusting God to stretch what we have so that we have enough frees us to focus our attention on loving Him supremely and others as ourselves.
Jesus was with His disciples in the temple. They were standing near the offering box observing the people as they put in their offerings. Many were rich, and the amounts they put in were large. Then a poor widow came and put in two pennies. Jesus said she put in more than all the rest.
The disciples needed an explanation because they thought the widow's two pennies were insignificant compared to what the others had put in. Jesus said the amount was not the issue. He pointed out that the widow put in all she had left - her security against tomorrow’s needs. So it was not the amount that made her gift the largest but the fact she loved so much she was willing to think of the needs of others as equal to her own. Though poor and socially unprotected, she made sure she had money enough for charity. Though needy, she had enough for that day and she wanted others to have what they needed, too. And because God was her provider and protector, she was willing to trust in God rather than her two pennies to care for her needs tomorrow. Therefore, she gave the most.
The others had given out of their surplus. They gave a portion of what was left after making sure their needs and wants were cared for. They loved themselves, first and foremost. They were willing to consider the plight of others, but only after they had satisfactorily taken care of their own needs and desires. They gave only as much as they believed they could give without jeopardizing their current, luxurious life-style. Therefore, they gave very little in comparison to the widow. (Note: Mark 12:41-44; Luke 21:1-4)
Frugality and simplicity are not unique to Christian love. Many put these principles into practice for the good of their own families. Is it not true that many families have sacrificed luxuries, and even needs, to send their children through college. Many have limited what they spent on themselves before retirement so they could set aside money for their retirement years. If we know how to be frugal for the love of self, we know how to be frugal for the love of others.
Selfishness can never be mistaken for love. Love, practiced over a period of time will never be mistaken for self-centeredness. Love is frugal for the sake of increasing what can be done to promote and protect the good of others. How you work out being frugal is not always easy. It may not be the same way others do it. But if you make love the deciding factor and ask God for wisdom, you will work it out. If you still do not agree that love takes you in this direction, consider Jesus. Although He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich. (Note: II Corinthians 8:9)
If you weep at the sight of a homeless person - disheveled, hungry, cold, lonely - but do nothing to improve his situation when you could do something, what good are your tears? Compassion is an action, not a feeling. It works for the good of people in crisis by doing what needs to be done to relieve or at least contribute to the reduction of their misery.
Yet, it is often thought that compassion is primarily feelings of empathy for people in distress or in desperate need. This simply is not true. No matter how deeply we feel the desperation of other people’s problems, if we do nothing when we could do something, we have no love-based compassion for them.
Because the need for compassion is primarily crisis driven, compassion itself often seems like a spontaneous response to the current crisis. In fact, it often is a spontaneous response on the part of the thoughtless and self-centered. But when we love as we want to be loved, compassion is the result of many choices merging together at the time of crisis which enable us to act on behalf of the one or ones in need.
The choices which most significantly affect our acts of compassion are made long before an opportunity for compassion arises. These first compassion-affecting choices center around our regular use of time, energy, and personal resources (money, possessions).
If we examine our use of these three things on any particular day, it becomes clear that each of them is significantly affected by a number of prior choices. Previous commitments, established patterns of behavior, and long-standing habits are all the result of prior choices which affect our current use of time, energy, and personal resources.
Think about this. The amount of time set aside for work, sleeping, eating, personal hygiene, marriage relationship, parenting, exercise, home care (dishes, laundry, house cleaning), recreation, television, hobbies, Bible reading, prayer, Church attendance, and the like is most often the result of decisions made days, months, and years in advance of today. Our choice of career affects at least a third of our time and energy use for years to come. Our choice to marry and have children does the same. This means we determined before today how most of our time and energy will be used today. In other words, our prior choices significantly affect the time and energy either available for or flexible enough to accommodate acts of compassion today.
Added to these kinds of choices are our choices concerning the use of resources. What we choose to do with our money determines what is left for helping people in distress. Every dollar spent on food, clothing, a place to live, and transportation; every dollar used to repay borrowed money; every dollar saved for our children’s education or our retirement; and every dollar spent on insuring our future against possible loss decreases our current financial resources for helping people in distress. We have the power to make these choices in a way which either prohibits or enables us to respond to many crisis type needs as they arise. But we must make these kinds of choices prior to today if we are to have the financial resources available to help today.
In the same way, our choices concerning how we will use our possessions affects their availability for acts of compassion. If we choose luxury, if we stockpile, or if we guard what we have as if to ensure having it in perfect condition for years to come, we will not want to use our possessions to help those who might consume or soil what we have. The choice to use personal property for the benefit of others must be made before the opportunity to help arises.
These three areas are the foundational choices, the first choices, the beginning choices which most significantly affect our availability for acting compassionately in time of need. These are the choices which make it possible for us to have the time, energy, and resources to be compassionate, today. Spontaneity has no place in making these choices. Serious thinking, counting the cost, and planning ahead are the stuff which these kinds of choices are made of.
If these choices are not made on the basis of love before crisis strikes, we will be far less likely to act compassionately in time of need. We will not think or say that we do not want to help when the need arises. Rather, we will think and say that we cannot help because of our current limitations. But we must answer whether our limitations are the consequence of having nothing left after loving as we want to be loved or the consequence of having nothing left because we’ve loved ourselves too dearly.
This does not mean we must ease other people's burdens to our own harm. God never asks us to starve so others can eat. What He does ask is that we love others as we want to be loved. So if after meeting our needs we use too much of what is left to gratify our whims and desires, we are selfishly reducing what could be available to help those who are caught off guard by hardship and misfortune.
Second, compassion is an act of reason and common sense. Some catastrophes are the result of people refusing to love their neighbor as themselves. We see this in countries torn by war between ethnic groups. Many fall victim to the war machine. Yet most of the adult victims are not true victims. They are losers in a war of hatred and vindictiveness. If their side was winning, they’d have the upper hand and the other side would be experiencing the deprivations of war. Therefore, the losers plight is not a tragedy. It is the result of wanting their own way but not having the power to accomplish their selfish goals.
The reasonable, sensible choice of compassion when faced with catastrophe of people’s own making is to place conditions on the help given. We see this principle demonstrated in God’s dealings with us.
While we were still in deliberate and willful rebellion against God, choosing to sin as if there were no accountability, Christ died for us. He died in our place to rescue us from the power and penalty of sin. Though Christ’s action of compassion is available to everyone, only those who repent and place their faith in God receive its benefits. God wisely placed the conditions of repentance and faith on receiving the benefits of His compassionate action because our deplorable circumstances were of our own foolish making.
Should God show compassion without conditions, He would rescue us from the dire consequences of our sin but never from our interest in and therefore continued practice of sin. Thus, we would be left in the condition (treasuring certain sins so that we would return to their practice when we deemed necessary) that got us into our crisis problem in the first place. Being saved from the consequences of our sin - only - frees us to fearlessly go on in the practice of our sin. In other words, conditionless compassion extended to a willful sinner who is in crisis because of willfully doing what he knows is wrong does only enough good to make it safe for him to continue in sin. This much good does more harm than good.
As an attribute of love, compassion will not become a means of making the practice of sin easier or safer. Therefore, compassion uses reason and common sense in examining the plight of people overwhelmed by misfortune. Compassion looks at the immediate need in light of the true need. Then, it chooses a loving response.
Finally, compassion often includes deep feelings and emotions when it sees or hears about human suffering. Great human tragedy should stir deep feelings of pity. Acts of inhumanity should stir deep feelings of grief and righteous indignation. This is a good sign. It indicates we have touched the heart, the trauma, and the misery of those in need as if experiencing it ourselves. However, do not determine the reality of your compassion by the depth of your feelings. The reality of compassion is determined by the reality of action taken to alleviate misfortune and suffering.
True compassion comes from choosing to live according to the principle of love. It is made possible by the choices we make every day concerning use of time, energy, and resources. It is made applicable by doing what we can to seek the good of those caught in the undertow of misfortune. It is rational and most helpful when given according to true need, not felt need or immediate need. Therefore, true compassion is a way of life whereby we not only feel human need when misfortune strikes but are prepared as a result of prior and wise choices to do something about it.
As an attribute of love, justice compels us to deal with each individual in a manner which is fair to both the individual and the community.
When a father sends his child to her room for pestering other family members, he is taking away her freedom and the privilege of participating in what the family is doing. He is forcing her to experience the discomfort of loneliness. Often the child believes this to be unfair because she thinks she is being punished more severely than she deserves. Yet the family feels fairness would have sent her to her room thirty minutes earlier. They believe it is unfair that they should have to endure her aggravating behavior for more than a few seconds. So what is fair in this situation?
It is fair for the family to be protected from the obnoxious and frustrating behavior of one of its members. But it is unfair to expect a child to act like a responsible, thoughtful, caring adult. Children need to be taught how to behave. Therefore, punishment which protects the family but neglects the training of the wayward child is unfair to the child. In like manner, any response (from silent tolerance or unsupported threats) which allows the child to continue misbehaving is unfair to the family. Love searches for a way to discipline the child in a manner which provides training while protecting the family, as much as possible, from the child’s misbehavior.
Therefore, a fair response might begin with a warning to the child that if the behavior persists she will be sent to her room. If she persists, she is sent to her room until she decides she can return to the family and behave in a proper manner. At this point she is the one deciding how long she will be in her room. If she rejoins the family but continues misbehaving, she is sent to her room for five or more minutes. If she persists after that, she is sent to her room for twenty to thirty minutes. If she persists after that, she is sent to her room for the rest of the evening.
This response teaches the child the difference between acceptable and unacceptable behavior. It teaches the child the importance of doing her part to make family time quality time for everyone. It gives the child the opportunity to work on controlling her own behavior. It teaches that child that she must want to work at controlling her behavior if she is to take working on it seriously. It teaches the child that failure, when not fatal, can be met with renewed efforts to do better. And it teaches the child that discipline can be fair to the one being disciplined as well as those being protected from the one needing to be disciplined.
This response also teaches the family a few things. First, it teaches the family that when the misbehavior of one negatively effects the rest of the family, it is best for all involved for the family to bear some discomfort in order to patiently, yet persistently work with the misbehaving child. Second, it teaches the family that those in authority have a responsibility to promote and protect the good of the family even as they work for the good of each individual member. Third, it teaches each family member that the good of the community is more important than the immediate happiness of the individual, especially when the individual is misbehaving.
Truly, freedom to do as one pleases is not necessarily fair. In fact, when selfishly exercised it leads to license which directly results in injustice. Yet in the same way, protection from what one does not like is not necessarily fair. When selfishly exercised, it enslaves others to our likes and dislikes, which is just another form of injustice.
Therefore, love determines what is fair for the individual in light of what is fair for the community. In like manner, love determines what is fair for the community in light of what is fair for the individual.
Love is just toward the individual and the community in a manner which promotes and protects the good of both. For example, love does not make the community suffer just so a criminal can have his freedom. Love does not make non-drinkers suffer just so people can drink and drive. Love does not make one ethnic group suffer just so another ethnic group can keep the best for themselves. No race of people should be treated as inferior just so another race can maintain a position of superiority. Love does not make divorce easy when its victims are primarily defenseless children. The government should not allow the careless disposal of garbage (burning, burying in the ground, dumping in the ocean) for the sake of financial expediency. Those who need work should not be put out of work or asked to work for wages that cannot support them just so the public can buy more goods and services at lower prices.
Love is just. Many people do not understand this aspect of love. Some don’t understand it because they care more about themselves, their family, and their special interest groups than the good of the community. Others don’t understand it because they care more about keeping people happy (possibly to gain acceptance or avoid conflict) than holding themselves and others to love’s standard of justice. In either case, what is sought is favoritism under the pretense of love and justice. True justice is always exercised within the boundaries of true love. It promotes and protects the good of the individual while at the same time promoting and protecting the good of all.
Love shows no partiality. It seeks everyone's highest good. Love looks out for the well-being of family members as well as the good of strangers. It seeks the good of friends and the good of enemies. It promotes and protects the welfare of those who hate and hurt us as well as those who like us and help us. Love is good to those who make us feel comfortable and safe and to those we would rather avoid. Love seeks the good of all by keeping the interests of self, family, friends, enemies, neighbors, co-workers, local community members, the nation, and foreign nations in harmony so no one is benefitted at another’s expense.
Love shows no partiality. Why? Things like favoritism and prejudice are extensions of self-centeredness and the enemies of community-mindedness. They work on the same principle as selfishness – promoting or protecting the good of one or some at the expense of others. They draw their power from inequity and injustice. And they are built on the belief that I, we, or our group are more important than you and your group; our happiness is more important than your happiness; our well-being is more important than your well-being; and therefore it is justifiable to fulfill and even gratify our interests at your expense.
This is not the way of love. Love is committed to promoting and protecting the good of everyone affected in any way by whatever it says or does. Therefore, love knows no color, no creed, no nationality, and no gender. It cannot favor the good of one person over the good of another. It will not do for one if it requires the deliberate neglect of another. It always seeks what is best for the individual within the context of what is best for all. Love is unbiased. (Note: Luke 6:27-36)
Sin (selfishness fed by distrust of God and pride) is the ultimate evil. Love is the ultimate good. Sin is the only enemy of love. Love – exampled and empowered by God – is the ultimate enemy of selfishness and the ultimate weapon for overcoming evil with good. (Note: Romans 10:13)
There is nothing in all creation more heinous, and which brutalizes more people, damages more relationships, ruins more families, causes more suffering, does more harm, brings more sadness, and wrecks more lives than sin. There is nothing in all creation which is more noble, promotes and protects the good of more people, builds more lasting relationships, repairs more damaged relationships, stabilizes more families, makes life and relationships more secure, brings more joy, and satisfies more completely than love.
Only where love is the ruling principle, the supreme motive, and the constant practice are those within its sphere of influence assured that they are loved, and that they will be cared for and protected as far as is humanly possible given the circumstances at that time. Truly, love is God’s rich, rational, eternally perfect answer to Satan’s cheap, delusionary, incrementally disastrous, and self-destructive life of self-centeredness.
Therefore, love deliberately and zealously takes a courageous and uncompromising stand in its opposition to sin and all that sin wishes to do. Love thoughtfully, respectfully, straightforwardly, and zealously opposes government policies, high court decisions, social customs, popular practices, business practices, buying habits, ideas about marriage and divorce, beliefs about homosexuality and adultery, educational practices, religious rituals, radio and television shows, government officials, religious leaders, businessmen, union workers, co-workers, neighbors, friends, fellow church members, family members, and anything or anyone else who promotes or practices self-centeredness in any of its sinful forms. Love opposes such things and people because they are a threat to all that is good, which in turn is a threat to the good of all.
When lovingly oppose sin and the sinner our purpose is not to put the sinner in his place, or flaunt our rightness, or control other peoples’ behavior according to our beliefs. The purpose of such action is to promote and protect the well-being of everyone affected in any way by the sin and the sinner we are opposing. Our goal is to convince the sinner he cannot continue in his sin without compounding his own problems and causing others to suffer unnecessarily. Our goal is to call the sinner to repentance, to a healthy sense of community, and to the practice of love. Should the sinner continue, our goal is to stand in the way and act as a defender of the people who are being unjustly and unnecessarily harmed.
Generally speaking, opposing sin and sinners is not the kind of activity which endears you to sinners. Indeed, more often than not you will be told it is none of your business, shunned, rejected, despised, hated, treated with hostility, and if that is not enough to stop you, persecuted. Sinners, in or out of the church, are not bothered by love’s convictions as long as you do not confront or expose their selfishness. Their resistance begins when they see you are undeniably aware of their wrong behavior and are asking them to do what is right. Rather than repenting, many will resort to almost anything in an effort to persuade you to leave them alone.
When children are younger it is not uncommon for them to act irritated and abused or mutter angry words under their breath when a parent or another authority is resisting their effort to sin. They chose such a response in an effort to get their way. They are trying to convince the authority to back off so they can do what they want even though what they want to do is wrong and hurtful to others.
Too often, adults are no different than children in their desire to continue unhindered in their sin. The difference is adults can do more damage in their efforts to stop you from exposing and resisting their sinfulness. Any book about Christian martyrs verifies this.
As long as a person wants to continue unhindered in his sin, he will be angry at you and in some way retaliate against you should you expose his selfishness and ask him to put an end to his sinfulness. So don’t be surprised when you are on the receiving end of anger and retaliation when acting in love to protect the victims of sin by opposing the one practicing the sin. But don’t let this deter you either. There can be no lasting happiness, no enduring peace, no true security, no mutual trust, no abundant life, and no fulfilling relationships in the home or in the community or in the church or in the nation or in the world when sin is allowed to be practiced freely.
Christian love is committed to bringing light into the darkness so the well-being of others can be promoted and protected. To close your eyes to sin is to abandon the family, the community, the church, the nation, and the world. It is like setting them adrift in the sea of heartache, suffering, and destruction. Therefore, for the Christian, opposition to sin and sinners begins within the home, includes the Church, and moves from there into the world. We must courageously and uncompromisingly deal with sin and sinners in the home and in the church if we are to credibly and ethically deal with sin and sinners in the world. If you love as you want to be loved, you will oppose sin and sinner wherever they are found. (Note: I Corinthians 5:9-13)
Discipline is as much an expression of love as is mercy and kindness and forgiveness. In promoting and protecting the good of all, discipline has three primary goals.
First, discipline strives to educate and train for the purpose of godly living. Young people need to be taught what is right and what is wrong. And, they need to be taught why right is right and wrong is wrong. This kind of instruction is the educational part of discipline. As we grow older, life becomes more complicated and we encounter situations where it is hard to discern what is right or wrong. In the Church, those who are older and wiser are to instruct those who need to know about the more subtle distinctions between good and evil. This is the discipleship part of discipline. Sometimes adults know what is right but need to be taught the practical side of applying what they know to their situation. They need the “how to” part of discipline. Then there are those who know what is right but are being strongly tempted to do what is wrong. They need to be reminded, encouraged, challenged, and helped to do what they know is right. This is the “bear one another’s burdens” part of discipline.
Second, discipline applies correction and then punishment to those who know what is right but deliberately, flagrantly, and repeatedly do what is wrong. Correction goes beyond instruction by including an unwanted, uncomfortable, personally costly consequence intended to get the attention of the wrongdoer. Its purpose is to convince the wrongdoer that his sinful behavior is unacceptable and must be stopped. Correction is why parents take away a disobedient child’s television privileges for a time, why loan agencies attach late charges to overdue bills, and why judges fine first-time misdemeanor offenders instead of sending them to jail.
When correction does not bring about the necessary change of behavior, the final step is punishment. Punishment can help the learning process, but its primary function is to protect. Sinners who know what is right, who have been sufficiently warned to do what is right, yet who willfully persist in doing what they know is wrong must be removed from their social group for the protection of anyone who might be victimized by their sin. Parents do this when they send a stubbornly disobedient child to his room so the rest of the family can enjoy a time of peace. Judges do this when they put hardened criminals in prison for life. God will do this when He sends unrepentant sinners to hell. Punishment’s intention is not to teach good behavior to the determined sinner, but to protect everyone else from further suffering and destruction at the sinner’s hands.
Third, discipline uses correction and punishment of willfully persistent sinners to convince others in the community not to practice sin. When the Israelites first entered the Promised Land, they defeated the huge walled city of Jericho. The next city that stood in their way was Ai. It was a small town with small walls and little else to worry about in comparison to Jericho. Yet at the battle of Ai, the Israelites were soundly defeated. Their soldiers were routed in full retreat and some were killed as they ran back to the security of the Israelite camp. When the Israelites asked God why, He said this defeat was the result of one man's sin.
One Israelite soldier had taken booty from Jericho in deliberate disobedience of God, who had said to take nothing. The man was Achan. He took a robe, silver coins, and a gold bar. Now we may think that what Achan did was not so bad since we see people all around us doing things which are far worse. Yet Achan deliberately disobeyed God – his king and the one whom all Israel needed to obey if they were to be empowered by Him to safely and victoriously settle the Promised Land. Therefore, Achan’s sin was a great sin in light of all affected by it. And so, in response to Achan's willing disobedience, God had him, his family, and all he possessed destroyed in the presence of all Israel. This is the “deter others from sinning” part of discipline and punishment.
Many think God was cruel and unloving when He demanded the destruction of Achan, his family, and all his possessions. They wonder how a loving God could do such an unloving deed.
If Achan’s good and his family’s good were the only or most important good, then God could be considered cruel. If the good of everyone affected by Achan’s actions was just as important as Achan’s good, then God’s response was love’s response.
Indeed, Achan was not the most important person in Israel. His family was not the only important family. Their good did not transcend the good of the others. The well-being of every Israelite was of equal concern to God – as it should be.
God knew the Israelites would face many temptations to sin. He knew each person’s sin would cause others to suffer unjustly and unnecessarily. He knew that sinners influenced others to sin, and the compound effect of many sinners deliberately sinning would be the ruination of the Israelite people and their nation. Therefore, it was important that God send a clear message to every Israelite concerning disobedience and sin. Their well-being depended on them knowing and believing that unbelief and selfishness were the most foolish and destructive choices they could make. The good of every Israelite depended on each one being convinced sin was in all cases the worst choice.
Consider, if God took Achan’s sin lightly, so would the rest of Israel. If Israel took Achan’s sin lightly it wouldn’t be long before most Israelites would disregard what God said and do as they pleased when they pleased. If they believed the cost of disobedience was of little consequence, many would choose to act selfishly whenever it served their purposes. If there was nothing to deter them, their sinfulness would grow until it devoured their nation and ruined their own lives. When viewed from this perspective, what God did was not only just, it was exceedingly loving toward all of those involved.
When we love others as we want to be loved, we discipline sinners for their sake and the sake of all who are unnecessarily affected by their sin – be it in the home, the Church, the school, the workplace, the community, the nation, or the world. Therefore, the general intention of discipline is to instruct, correct, punish, and convince others to flee every temptation to sin. Instruction and correction show the unlearned and first offenders the right way. Punishment protects the victims of sinners from further suffering at the hands of sinners. And correction and punishment encourage the impressionable and teachable to remain faithful to doing what they know is right. All in all, discipline lovingly promotes and protects the good of all.
We see this when families on small, fixed incomes spend money on what they want instead of what they need. Then when they haven’t enough money to pay their utility bills (natural gas, electricity, water), something they need gets shut off. When one or more of their utilities gets shut off they are in dire need. Yet their need has been created by their own foolish choices. If someone steps up and pays the bills so shut-off utilities can be restored, it is love doing good when good is not deserved.
If a businessman misuses credit in an effort to build his business, he may end up owing more than he can pay. To repay his debts his creditors may take what he owns. If they take so much he cannot adequately provide for his family, he and his family will be in a condition of great need. Yet their need is not the result of misfortune but of his own foolishness. Should someone help them by providing food, clothing, and shelter, it is love doing good when good is not deserved.
If one allows oneself to become deeply bitter over some personal loss, her bitterness may turn into bouts of depression. She may lose sleep, weight, and friends. Such a person has a great need for wise counsel and friendship, yet her need is the consequence of her own sinful choices. Love sees the need and tries to find a way to do what it can, at its own expense, to give the help required to alleviate the need.
God is the first and foremost giver of grace to needy sinners whose need is of their own making. Indeed, we are those needy sinners. We are under the penalty of sin and enslaved to the practice of sin because we have rejected God's truth for Satan's lies. Being dead in our sin we are separated from God and doomed to eternal banishment in Hell, all as a result of our own doing. But if we repent of sin and trust in God for salvation from the power and penalty of sin, we will experience God’s loving grace in paying the penalty for sin on our behalf. We don’t deserve this kind of help. It is a terrible thing that we have put the One who loves perfectly in the place of having to pay such a high price to give us the help we need. Yet He has, and willingly so. To accept such grace and not be gracious is sad proof we know nothing about love.
However, we must be careful not to take grace beyond the motive and goal of love. When exercised within the boundaries of love, grace always includes conditions. To pay a family's utility bills once without being concerned as to why they had gone unpaid is a reasonable expression of love to a family in need. If it happens again and we discover the reason for the unpaid bills is their own foolish and selfish spending habits, we could be gracious and pay them again. Yet to continue paying them without bringing conditions into the picture is to move outside the boundaries of love. Unconditional kindness masquerading as grace allows the family to continue living foolishly and selfishly to their own hurt and the hurt of those whose legitimate needs go unmet because of what is being given to this family.
Grace is never to be a means for covering up sin or making it safe to continue in sin. To fit into the broader context of love, grace helps those who do not deserve help while making certain it is not a means for sin to continue unchecked. Therefore, conditions or limits placed on grace make grace no less grace, just grace being exercised within the boundaries of love.
Love is so driven to promote and protect the good of others it exhausts all available means before admitting it has gone as far as it can.
Most often there is more than one means or option available for dealing with a particular situation. We may not know the best means of promoting or protecting the good of others in a particular situation, but we can pick the one which gets us as close as possible to what we think is best. The available options will not always take us to our goal or allow us to complete the task we want to accomplish. Yet we can use what is available to bring us closer to what we want while looking for more options along the way. When we come to the end of what we see as available means to seek the good of another but still believe there is more that could be done, we can pray for more wisdom and ask someone wiser and more experienced to show us options we have overlooked or do not know exist.
It has been said, “Where there is a will, there is a way.” It can also be said, “Where there is love, love will find a way.” God has so created us that we are able to find means for getting to a desired end if the desired end is possible and we genuinely want to get there. But if we lack the ‘want’ to love we won’t put much effort into finding the ‘means’ to love.
Thankfully, we are not left to human ability alone when it comes to finding good options and making right choices for love. God said that if we lack wisdom we only need ask Him for it and He will give it. By His gracious giving of wisdom, we can overcome the perceived limitations on love and find new and better ways to care about others. So, keep asking, keep seeking, and keep knocking on God’s door. He will give you all the wisdom you need to love as He loves in every situation and with every individual.
Love never fails because love never ceases to be love. It has only one goal, one intention, one purpose, one great end toward which it is working – the greatest good of God and the well-being of all mankind. If there is a failure because selfishness transcends love, it is not the fault of love. It is our fault. It is our fault for choosing the good of self over the good of everyone affected by our self-seeking.
In helping church people settle their conflicts I have found that all of them begin the process professing their commitment to pursue Biblically-based reconciliation with the other party. They willingly agree to a process that not only resolves their differences, but seeks to restore and even improve their relationship. Yet when it comes to actually doing the work of resolving the dispute and reconciling the relationship, too many only want to settle the dispute. They don’t want to restore the relationship. They’ll agree to forgive and forget but they don’t want to be friends. They don’t even want to socialize. They just want to settle their differences and go their separate ways. Has love failed? No! What has failed are the two people in conflict. They tried to play the game of love only to expose the fact that they haven’t got the heart for it.
Those who live in all white communities often believe they are doing what is best for their families and the community by keeping minorities out. Yet to keep minorities out, they must oppose what is best for those being intentionally excluded. What these whites call love is not love at all because it serves the interests of some at the expense and harm of others. Has love failed? No! What has failed are the people who selfishly pursue happiness and security at the expense of others.
U.S. congressmen are entrusted with promoting and protecting the good of the citizens in their state while seeking the good of the entire nation. If they secure financial support from the U.S. government for some project in their state which provides good jobs for a few people but nothing of true value for the state or the nation, they are not acting in love. They may be doing something good for a select few, but they are also taking money which could be used for the good of many and squandering on a select few. Has love failed? No! In this case, it is most likely the self-centered congressman who failed in that he was willing to do whatever it takes to get re-elected, including benefitting voters in his state at the expense of taxpayers in other states.
Profit is a motivating and rewarding part of doing business. It is important for businesses to make enough profit to remain in business and compensate owners for their efforts. But when profit becomes more important than the welfare of the employees and/or the customers, something is wrong. Yet many businesses are willing to protect and increase profits at the expense of people’s jobs or fair compensation for work rendered or quality of products. It is all to common for businessmen to put fellow citizens out of work in order to hire cheaper labor in other countries – paying the cheaper help what they themselves would not work for and could not live on. It is also common for businesses to cheapen the quality of products while increasing the cost. Has love failed? No! The problem is greed.
Fair pay for good work is as right as reasonable profit for good investment. Yet labor unions often demand higher pay and better benefits without increasing the quality and quantity of their work. In fact, they not only make it difficult for business to fire irresponsible and slothful workers, they demand equal pay for good and bad workers alike. Such behavior shows no concern for the owner’s right to profit and the purchaser’s right to a quality product at a fair price. Has love failed? No! The problem is greed.
As Americans, we want to accumulate material goods to the point of compelling businesses to cut every cost possible so we can buy more things with the money we have. This motivates businesses to resort to the kind of cost cutting which includes the loss of jobs, unsafe working conditions, temporary help in full-time positions, and low pay scales. It compels businesses to turn to job markets in poorer countries where the pay scale is a tenth or less of what it is here. And whose good are we seeking when we, the consumer, push businesses to these measures? Our own! We want the American dream to be a reality for ourselves without caring about the living conditions in the rest of the world.
We Christians need only take a thoughtful look at our society to see this kind of selfishness at work each day in many more areas than just mentioned. If we do not speak against it and resist being party to it, we know nothing about love. Love, in all ways and in all things seeks the good of everyone affected by what it does.
Self-centeredness cannot act any other way than selfishly. If it tries to seek the good of others it does so only as long as its interests are assured. In the same way, love cannot act any other way than lovingly. It seeks the good of others because it wants the good of others – at least as much as it wants the good of self.
What is the great goal, the driving motive, the most compelling purpose of your life? What is the ultimate intention of your choices and behavior? An honest examination of the short-term and long-term results of your behavior will give you the answer. If loving God supremely and your neighbor as yourself is not your primary goal, then your goal is to love yourself, first and only. If love is your great goal, driving motive, and most compelling purpose, you may make mistakes along the way but you will be numbered among those who love as God loves. And this love will never fail because it is always and only love.
Love is the fullest, most complete expression of Christianity. Love is the sum total of all our obligations to God, our families, co-workers, friends, neighbors, community, and the world. It is the only means by which we can rationally and sensibly promote and protect the good of everyone, including God’s purposes and reputation. Love is the sum of all and fulfills all God asks of us because love does no harm to anyone. (Note: Romans 13:10)
Is your heart set on love? Christian love? Love which seeks the good of everyone affected in any way by your choices and behavior? If it is not, go to God and ask Him to so work in you that love will be your motive and goal in all things.
If you love, but know there could be significant improvement concerning this matter of love, go to God and ask Him to teach you more about love and how to practice love in the daily affairs of life.
If you simply want to continue growing and maturing in this area of love, make this too an issue of fervent prayer. Pray, giving God no rest until you are certain your heart is full of love and the wisdom necessary to apply love to all the circumstances of your life. Pray without ceasing, until all your thoughts and desires and choices are ruled by love. Pray fervently, until all your words and deeds are vehicles of love. But be sure to support your prayers with decisions that remove all distractions and involve you in those things that build, encourage, and support Christian love.
Love is such a valuable treasure that it is worth selling all to have. Pursue it today with all your heart. You will never be disappointed or regret you did.
|Previous Chapter||Next Chapter|