Substance (4) - Self-Sacrificial Love
Last week I wrote about how we need to “say goodbye” to worldliness. To use Christ’s words, “no man can serve two masters.” We cannot both seek Christ’s approval and the approval of men; we cannot simultaneously grow in Christ-like character and mange our image. Yet one of the challenges of growing in worldliness is that it is hard to recognize how and where we are worldly. A great example of this is our conception of love. There are many things we believe are loving that are not. How does happen?
When we are captured by worldliness, we make Jesus look like us while saying we are becoming more like Him. God has given us not only the Gospels, but twenty-four other books in the New Testament and 1,500 years of divine revelation before Christ. God went to great lengths to keep us from misunderstanding Jesus. We must not only read the Gospels, but all of scripture.
However, in desiring to become more like Jesus we must not confuse this pursuit with the free gift of salvation—becoming like Jesus does not make God love us and it does not make us worthy of His salvation. God has already defeated sin, death, and with them guilt, shame, and punishment. That is God’s free gift. God has saved us from these things. If we are in Christ, we must ask: what is he saving us for? What does God desire to transform us into?
Paul says that love fulfills the law, which implies that the content of love is a summary of the law. In other words, contrary to contemporary opinion love is not an open category for us to define as we feel or like. There are certain words and actions that are unloving that we must refrain from, no matter how we feel and there are certain things that love requires of us, even when we don’t feel loving. This may seem harsh, but only strong things can ground people in the midst of their weakness, anger, pride, bitterness, fear, and pain.
True love requires much of us. In order to love us God sacrifices much. For example, He forbears against our constant and countless insults against His divine Majesty. In the same way to love others we must sacrifice our dignity, our “rights”, our time, energy, and resources.
Ultimately it is only in God that we can understand what love is. God’s commands are always examples of love and their reverse is always unloving. If someone calls something love that violates a commandment, then we know that something is distorted; it is not truly love.
But what is love? Love is a virtue, a habit embedded in our character grounded in something far better and higher than us. Love is not mere feeling. Rather love produces feelings and motivates good and noble actions. Love consistently chooses what is best for others—not what we or even they want. To truly love therefore we must know what is good and pursue it consistently. None of us does this perfectly, but God’s Spirit empowers us to truly grow in true love.