Been thinking lately about love, caring, and what it truly is. We all know some of the distinctions. I love hot dogs, my dogs, my kids, and my wife. Yet each "love" mentioned is a very different concept than the other "love" mentioned in that sentence. Thankfully. :)
However, I am going to go ahead and assume that these differences are already grasped by the vast majority of my audience and will thus move on to some other thoughts.
Would you say that true love is sacrifice? Would you say that true love gives? Me too....but....,
I have recently come across some scripture that has challenged me even in this. Sort of.
First Corinthians 13 is often referred to as the love chapter in the Bible. Paul transitions into this chapter at the end of chapter 12 by saying, "...And I will show you a still more excellent way." Jesus uses the concepts of "loving God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength," and "loving your neighbour as yourself" as ways to encapsulate "all the law and the prophets" or that there thing we call the entire Old Testament basically! We had better be sure we seek to clearly understand what was being spoken of if this idea can carry that kind of all encompassing expression.
What got the most recent bout of deeper thinking about this is found in verse 3 of I Corinthians 13.
"If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing."
The love in the Bible is not a love that is ever accurately represented by a single act. This may indeed be a final act that expresses with amazing force the love that captured the heart of the one who gave it all away, but love is about living "a more excellent way." I have struggled with trying to teach my kids what a short definition of the word repentance is, but I finally settled on "turning from living a self-centered life to a life that is Jesus centered." This is connected to this strange verse within first Corinthians also. We are being called to LIVE more excellently.
I think that what Paul is referring to in verse 3 is that even something like giving away all your possessions or your life can represent an act that is at its core devoid of love because it can represent an act that was sort of a method to "buy your way into heaven." If this sound improbable or extreme, that is only because you have been hanging out with us Western softies for far too long. If you will look carefully around the world, you will see within Islam, Hinduism, and other various religious cultures, people engaging in horrific acts either toward themselves or those around them for the very reason of attaining entrance into heaven/paradise/moksha or whatever. In other words, it is still at its core still very much works based salvation which is not salvation at all.
OK, so what is love according to the Bible...the kind that Paul speaks of and that Jesus points to as representation of the entire law and prophets?
Here are some thoughts, but I confess they are almost certainly not exhaustive about the topic.
Love is a transforming power within us that is transforming us from the inside out.
Love has at its core an awareness of being loved in a way that breaks us and sets us free to cry out in joy and thankfulness.
Love pushes us to care about others. (this is a major point I will come back to)
Love is pretty much the kryptonite to self-centered living. The two will not live indefinitely within the same heart. Eventually, one will win out over the other.
Love is patient, kind, not arrogant, rude, does not envy, is not resentful.
Love is a way of recognizing both where your walk with God is, and where it needs to go.
Now to come full circle back to the title of this here rambling little post, I will toss out a couple of thoughts. Love is never, ever, ever to be a means by which we seek to GAIN the love and salvation from our Father. However, if we truly place our faith in the salvation accomplished by Jesus for us on the cross, love(as described above) should be an expected outflow of that faith. I got four simple steps to finish out.
1. If you have not already repented(see above definition) and trusted in Jesus to save you, pray now and do so.
2. Read and study the Bible prayerfully for yourself to see if I am representing this correctly.
3. If you find yourself either now or in the future not possessing the fruit of love I have described within this post, simply admit that to God and cry out to Him to change your heart and your life. DO NOT seek to pretend to be something that you are not.....but also....DO NOT think that just because you have fallen short of the goal, you are somehow alone. I can assure you, if no one else will acknowledge such failings, I most certainly will.
4. As you continue to learn and be taught. LIVE AND BE TRAINED. The difference between teaching and training is simple. Teaching is head knowledge. Training is hands on learning. One simple example of taking the head knowledge and allowing God to morph it into a part of who you are is caring more.
Self-centered Dennis-- cannot take even one more burden onto himself. He's got his hands full. You got your problems. I got mine, and good luck with that.
Jesus-centered Dennis--still doesn't always get the warm fuzzies about caring about you and your troubles but I start taking your burdens onto myself by trying to pray for you. I feel the emotional weight of your problems and I cry out to God for you. Perhaps I am even able to give you some material support or help in some other way. Caring more = carrying more!
Was I wrong to think that I cannot take even one more burden onto myself? Nope. But when I choose to do it anyway, God gives me the capacity to carry it. Think of what this accomplishes!
It pushes me away from self-centeredness, it forces me to be dependant on God, it improves my relationships with people whom I pray for because they become much more three dimensional to me, it helps the person I prayed for and possibly helped in some other way and points them to Christ. This is just one example of how we can be transformed as we allow ourselves to be TRAINED and not just TAUGHT by the scriptures and the Holy Spirit.
And always feel free to revisit #3, I know I do. :)