Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Love and Obey

As we make our way through the fruit of the Spirit, our first virtue is love. This should not surprise us.
Deut. 6:4   Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD:  5 And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.
1Cor. 13:13 But now abideth faith, hope, love, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
1John 4:16 And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.

We are told in these famous verses that the most important thing is to love God with our whole heart. We are told that of faith, hope and love, love is the greatest and we are also told that God is love.
            We tend to think that we immediately know what love is. We often talk about love. We tell our spouses that we love them. We say that we are loved by God and that we love God. We express love to our children. We even talk about loving certain things, food, works of art, a great film. We use the word often and we have such an inherent sense of what the word means that we mostly use it properly. But when we are asked to say what love is, our mouths go dry and it is really difficult to answer the question.
            Is love a feeling? I have strong emotions towards an object of desire. I love my wife means that I adore her, she brings about warm feelings in me, that I want her near me, that I desire to be close to her. Most of us would agree that this is all accurate and true.
            I love my children has a similar meaning but altered somewhat. I have warm feelings towards them but those feelings are expressed in an entirely different way. Instead of desiring to personally possess the object of my emotion (that is desire), instead, I protect, keep, train, admonish, and even serve them. I sacrifice for my children. That is love, too. But it is at least one step removed from the sort of love, the sort of feeling that one has for his spouse. But we do not doubt that it is love and that we know exactly what we mean when we say it.     
            Furthermore, when we love things, food, films, friends, in all of these we can express a sense of emotion and feeling that leads to a certain kind of behavior. For foods, a desire to eat them again and again. No doubt, one can do this in a sinful manner, gluttony or drunkenness, but partaking in an object of desire is a right usage of the word love and we do not have a big problem in sorting out the differences. We sometimes scold and say, "we love people, we use things" but we really do love ice cream, don’t we? Yes, we do and our waistlines prove it!
            So, what is love, then? An emotion? A desire? A commitment or promise?

I will offer a definition.
Biblical Love is a strong desire towards an object that leads to the proper response.
Let us test this out. If you love a woman in a biblical fashion, then you will desire to be with her, in every sense of the word. In order to be with her, you have to fulfill your desire in the right way. This means purity, yes, but it also means following all the other spiritual virtues, kindness, patience, gentleness, etc., until they lead to a marriage covenant where the object of desire can be lawfully enjoyed. Because you love her, you will act towards her in a way that is consistent with that love.
To the extent that you are not acting properly, you do not love her. Biblical Love always manifests itself in proper behavior. It is not right to say, for instance, that a man commits a crime of passion out of love. If a man truly loves the object of his desire, then he will not sin in order to obtain that object. And, he will not sin if he is unable to obtain his object.
Love always acts according to the best interests of the object of desire, the beloved. If your actions are not in the best interest of the beloved, then it is not love. I grant that we are finite creatures and sometimes do not know what is in the best interest of the beloved. We thought we were doing the right thing by the beloved but it turns out that we were not. That does not mean that you did not love them, at all, but it does mean that in that particular action, you were not manifesting love.
This gets to the second part of our definition of love. I would grant that what we often call love is mostly a feeling, an emotion. But if it is biblical love, it does not stand alone. You cannot be acting out love by feeling a certain way. Love always acts properly. This is to say that love acts. Love causes certain kinds of behaviors. It cannot stand alone as an emotion or feeling.
Even as we quoted the big three above, faith, hope and love, we know that these do not stand alone. Faith Works. Hope Walks. Love Acts.
 We see this clearly in Deuteronomy 30
Deut. 30:  5 And the LORD thy God will bring thee into the land which thy fathers possessed, and thou shalt possess it; and he will do thee good, and multiply thee above thy fathers.  6 And the LORD thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live.  7 And the LORD thy God will put all these curses upon thine enemies, and on them that hate thee, which persecuted thee.  8 And thou shalt return and obey the voice of the LORD, and do all his commandments which I command thee this day.
Look at the Lord’s definition of love. When you return to the Lord and circumcise your heart, that is, be forgiven and purified, made righteous from the inside, then you shall love the Lord your God with all thy heart and all thy soul (v. 6). And the result of this love is that you shall do all His commandments. (v.8)

Also in 1John 5:1
1John 5:1   Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and every one that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him.  2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments.  3 For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous.
Again, can you see the emphasis? He says that if you love God, you will keep His commandments.

Mark 12:28   And one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, and perceiving that he had answered them well, asked him, Which is the first commandment of all?  29 And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: 30 And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. 31 And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.
Jesus is picking up the passage from Deuteronomy 6, The Ten Commandment passage, and telling us that this applies in His day. We are to love God and our neighbor and we are to do so in the way that God has always proclaimed that we love Him, by obeying His commands.

No comments: