One day, during a PE class, the students were playing a basketball game to 21 points. After a short break, the two teams came back, switched sides, and started another game. In the first or second possession of the game, one of the blue players got the ball and started running towards the hoop. There was no one else in front of them and they had a a clear layup. Their entire team was yelling at them, cheering them on — wait! They were shouting, “WRONG WAY!”
Direction is important. You may be the most skilled basketball player in the world, but if you are aiming at the wrong basket, it will be for nothing. There are objectively good works, but if they are not done out of love, they are as a clanging cymbal or clashing gong. They are just noise, but they are not truly virtuous.
The previous two virtues we have considered are faith and hope, and now we come to what Paul describes as the greatest of the three theological virtues. Remember that these three virtues all come from God, are practiced through God’s Spirit, and are directed towards God. From Him, through Him, and to Him are all things. Who do you have faith in? Who do you hope in? God. Now, whom do you love?
There are many different ideas of love. We could talk about loving your dog, or pizza, or fishing, or your spouse, or your kids, or your country, and all of those would be different meanings of love, but let us clearly specify what kind of love we are discussing with the theological virtue of love. What is love? Love is obedience to the greatest commandment. In our catechism this year, we have been reminded of the greatest commandment and its connection to how we can glorify God. We glorify God when we love Him as the most supremely desirable object of our affection. If God is not the highest object of our love, we are saying something else is more worthy of our love than God, and we dishonor Him.
When we are talking about this virtue of love then, we don’t mean love of pizza, or love of your dog, or your family, although they are related. This virtue of love is directed towards God. It is for this reason that those who are not Christians cannot practice this virtue. It’s no use trying to practice more faith, or hope, or love if you have not been born of the Spirit.
Do unbelievers love their families? pets? favorite foods, movies, and books? Yes. Of course they do. But they cannot love them for God’s sake. And because their lesser loves don’t find their direction in the ultimate love for God, they are disordered, or going in the wrong direction. It is not enough just to love things, but we must love them for God’s sake.
Have you ever tried to shoot a bow with a bent arrow? The arrow is twisted and bent so that it no longer works exactly like it should. Is it still an arrow? Yes, but it’s twisted. It’s the same way with disordered loves. Love as a human capacity is a gift from God that we are allowed to express towards other beings. All human beings, as made in the image of God, can and do express love in countless ways towards others, but we also must recognize that humans are fallen creatures. We do not love as we ought. We fall short because we break the greatest commandment.
How can you practice this virtue of love? First of all, recognize the primary and main object of love – God. This is the greatest commandment: Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Extend all of your being towards loving God. Do you know Him? Do you love Him? You cannot love your neighbor fully or virtuously, unless you love him for God’s sake.
Second, love all of the good things that God has created and given to you, for His sake. This involves loving them with the right amount of love that they deserve. You are ordering your loves. Do you love pizza? Do you love your mom? Which one do you love more? Loving rightly let’s you choose rightly. We will suffer the loss of one of these things to gain the other.
Third, remember what the Bible says about love. It is not in mere words, but in actions. What do your actions say about what you love? Do you say you love God, but disrespect those in authority over you? If you cannot obey them, how could you obey God? Do you say you love your friends, but you talk about them and make fun of them when they can’t hear you? Do you love the things that God loves?
Fourth, Let every lesser love and delight lead you to God. Delight in them fully, but in their place. Beautiful, true, and good things are training you for eternal happiness in God. Don’t waste them by being bored by splendor. Love them.
Finally, share your love with others. What we love, we love to share. We say, “Come look at this! Isn’t this awesome!” If God is your highest love and delight, share that with others. Whenever you see a new truth or something beautiful, share it with someone else.