Monday, October 19, 2009

Charity and Its Fruits - Why study love?


(This week we begin our reading together of the Jonathan Edwards classic, Charity and Its Fruits. This is the second of two introductory posts. The first was focused on what led Edwards to undertake his study. Today my focus is on what has led me to undertake this study.)

I began this year with a recognition of my need to grow in love and a New Year's resolution to study Scripture to that end. I made a lot of other resolutions which have fallen by the wayside, but my study thus far has shown me that this is one resolution that must be kept. Love, for the Christian, is not optional.

Most of you know that I was raised a Lutheran, went to Lutheran schools, but later spent several years attending various Pentecostal and charismatic churches, even attending an Assemblies of God college for two years. (All this was prior my abandoning church altogether and prior to my conversion, years later, at the age of forty.) Throughout those years I heard quite a bit of discussion of “love” in church circles. The dominant theme I came away with is that Christian love is not what I generally think of as “real” love, at least not like the love you have for your husband, children, or best friends – you know – the kind you really feel. After all, I'd been taught, “we can't control how we feel, but we can control what we do. So God doesn't command our feelings, but our actions.” Love, then, is a “choice”, it's something you “do”. “Love is a verb,” I've heard said on many occasions. I found this convenient. My mind translated it this way, “It doesn't matter how you really feel, just behave as if you love people.” Well I can do that. My husband calls that “the fake it 'til you feel it” philosophy. Now I understand that this is good advice, on a purely practical and social level, when an absence of real feeling exists, meaning - it's better to be kind to someone, when you really feel like being rude, than to go right ahead and be rude. (I also recognize this can sometimes be an expression of a deeper love, that carries through when feelings ebb.) I know, however, from personal experience, that it can often be nothing more than hypocrisy. So often I would end up, rather than faking it till I felt it, just plain old “faking it.” The truth was, often, that I didn't even want to feel it. And, furthermore, the statement that God doesn't command our feelings just isn't true. God commands us to feel things all the time. He commands us to love, to hate, to weep, to mourn, to rejoice, to be sympathetic, to have compassion. These are all feelings, and if we pretend to do them while without genuine emotion, well, that's pretty much the textbook definition of hypocrisy. Others may be fooled, maybe, but God, who sees the heart will not; and so we must not fool ourselves.

Since my conversion, I'm no longer comfortable with the idea of loving merely by appearances, or , for that matter, with loving in words only (which I'm good at), but without accompanying action. I've become uneasy with the common explanations of Christian love – agape – “the love that's something you do, not something you feel.” Certainly God's love for us is not unfeeling. Christ's time on the cross is not known as his “cold calculating decision”. No, it's known as His Passion. “...but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8 I don't care what anyone says, no one will die for someone they do not genuinely love. And, conversely, any love that is not willing to sacrifice, as Christ did for us, is not Christian love.

As I said earlier, “Love, for the Christian, is not optional.” According to Scripture there are several compelling reasons why love for God and others should be first priority in our lives. The simplest and most obvious reason is this:
God commands that we love.
If we love Him we will want to obey his commands; and God has commanded that we love one another, meaning not only our brothers and sisters in Christ, but also our enemies.

And he answered,"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself." Luke 10:27

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” John 13:34

"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” Mt.5:42-44

"But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” Luke 6:27-28

“Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word that you have heard. At the same time, it is a new commandment that I am writing to you, which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.” 1 John 2:7-11

“Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.” 1 John 5:1-3

Secondly, Love is the only trustworthy evidence that we are the children of God. Only by love can we have any assurance of our salvation.

By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.
“For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you. We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.
“By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.
By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he commanded us. Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.” 1 John 3:10-24
“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.
By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.1 John 4:7-21 
 
This passage also leads us to the next point:

Thirdly, Love casts out fear.

It accomplishes this on at least two levels:
  1. Perfect love enables us to speak the truth in love. Love cares enough to speak the truth. When we truly love someone, we will set aside the fear of confrontation to speak the truth to them.
  2. When we operate in love, our conscience will be clear before God, because we know we have behaved as He did in this world. This gives us confidence for the day of judgment.
Fourth, Love is the only appropriate response to the love God has shown us.

“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Eph. 5:1-2

“ Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,” Eph. 5:25

Fifth, It is only through love that we can grow to maturity in Christ.


For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” Col. 2:1-3

“...so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” Eph. 3:17-19

“Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,” Eph. 4:15

“And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” Phil 1:9-11

“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” 2 Peter 1:3-11

And, finally love covers sin.

“Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.” 1 Peter 4:8
And certainly we all know, that it was God's love for the world that led Him to cover the multitude of our sins through the sacrifice of His only begotten Son.

So, we have the commands to love. We see all the benefits to love. We see the example of love. We sense the urgency that we love – that it is the testimony to the world that we are God's people – that it is the testimony to OURSELVES that we are God's people. And furthermore, Romans 12: 9 commands us: “Let love be genuine.” So all this leads me to the question that our study will seek to answer, what does this love look like? And beyond that, what does this love think like and feel like. What are the characteristics of genuine Christian love?

And for the answer, Edwards will lead us through an exposition of 1 Corinthians, Chapter 13:

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

I hope this will motivate you in your reading and in your application of what you learn from the esteemed Jonathan Edwards. For those of you reading along, we will be reading the doctrinal portion of Lecture One this week. I will post an entry on the reading on Tuesday, and welcome your comments. The following week we will read the "application" portion of Lecture One, with comments on the following Tuesday. If you have any questions between now and then, feel free to contact me via e-mail, or in the comments here. May the Lord bless your study, and your life as you commit to growth in love!

4 comments:

Simple Mann said...

Laurie,

I just want to say thank you for taking the time to post these things as you go through your study. My copy of this book is on its way, along with a copy of the Letters of John Newton - both were half off at Westminster in their Clearance section if you or anyone you know are interested! I am really looking forward to reading through this book as well as the fruits of your own labors over the next several weeks. As you've said before, I think this is an area that we can all stand to grow, and God has been taking me on my own journey through both His word and my own insufficient and pitiable heart this past year or so. I will continue to pray for your ministry and this study, that those you meet with in person and enjoy fellowship would be especially blessed and grow through what is shared, but that we also who only know you through this strange little window would share in that blessing, too. May the Lord bless us all richly in His mercy and His grace, to the glory of His name, enlarging and enriching our hearts with His own love, that we might love and serve others sacrificially as Christ Himself loves and serves His beloved.

Peace & Blessings,
Simple Mann

Laurie M. said...

Thank you Simple Mann. I'll look forward to your input, and am thankful for your prayers.

Anonymous said...

Dear Laurie
Sorry for the reply in English as second language (love covers a multitude of grammatical sins!)
I can only say: thank you very much for your reading, preparations and first two bog entries and …. Yes, I want to learn and grow in love with you and others via the Living Word and via your blog on Jonathan Edwards’ book on Charity. Thanks for sharing so expertly and personally both the Edwards and Mathers contexts.

Love and Emotions/as a verb
It’s a long time since I read CS Lewis’ little book on the Four Loves and sadly had to leave it behind in SA when we moved to the UK. I recall Lewis sayng something about eros/romantic love: that we could do with more of that eagerness in our love, that “nothing is too much trouble” – etc. First love….and loving the Lord our God with all our heart etc etc– wholehearted, enthusiastic, glad love!
The supreme example of love as a verb – The Father gave His Son and Jesus laid down His life for His sheep.

In regard to both emotions and love and love as a verb, these words come to mind: Love is a Many-Splendored Thing – and there are , like a beautifully cut diamond, so many facets to Christian love!!

Looking forward to joining you on as much of the journey as possible to see what the multi-faceted Christian love looks like – and, by the grace of our God who is love, walk in that love – etcetera!

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you as you meet face to face and all of us as we meet on your blog!
Estelle

Laurie M. said...

Yes, there are many facets, Estelle. That's a good way to put it.

I have many of Lewis' books, but The Four Loves isn't one of them, and I have not read it. I can say, though, that Edwards will not really be addressing the others, phileo, eros, and the third slips my mind. Agape seems to be on his mind because it seems to be the overarching one. I think he would say, if he knew what ice cream was, that agape was the ice cream, the others were merely different flavors. In 1 John we are told not to "love" the world and the things that are in the world. That word is agape. It is not just "the God kind of love" as I've heard it called. We can, and, do agape the world and the things in it.

Ultimately it all comes back to agape, from which should stream the other types to the appropriate receptacles.