Love is…practical

Love is easier to understand once it is worked out.

When we think of love, it seems like this distant, abstract term.

Our perception of love is often lofty and mystical, as portrayed by love stories told on television, film and in many novels. Standing on the ground and reaching for the clouds—in no doubt an effort to find “cloud nine”—is synonymous with the act of defining love.

Why is it so hard?

Well, it is likely that many of our definitions are not based on the standard authority on love: God’s Word! What better place to turn than to the advice of the one who literally is love (1 John 4:8)?

I do not mean that God is an expert on love, though he is that. Or that God received a PhD in “Love-ology,” though he probably has one of those. God, literally, is love! Love is able to exist solely because it is God’s nature.

So, with God being the author of the Bible (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20-21), we would be remiss not to look “intently into the perfect law that gives freedom” (James 1:25) to understand this term.

From observing the Word of God, one will quickly discover that love is not abstract at all. On the contrary, the love that God requires is very “practical.”

In a humorous twist of irony, the God who we have never seen tells us that love is to be visible, and very much so.

The apostle Paul, in his second letter to the church at Corinth, was well aware of this truth. He writes, “Therefore show these men the proof of your love and the reason for our pride in you, so that the churches can see it” (2 Corinthians 8:24).

Here, Paul is encouraging the Corinthian believers to provide the evidence of their love. We know, then, from this text that love is something to be displayed, but how do we display it?

John’ first epistle, appropriately, gives us a three-fold answer to this question.

The book of 1 John is one that is overwhelmed with the notion of love, with the word itself appearing 33 times! In the third chapter, John focuses on how to express this love in our interpersonal relationships. First John 3:16-18 reads:

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.

SELF-SACRIFICING

The first thing that we are told from this passage is that love is self-sacrificing (v. 16). Of course, our illustration is the ultimate example of selflessness: Jesus Christ our Lord.

Not only is he the illustration, but also the basis of love, as to recognize Jesus’ act of redemption is to have true knowledge of what love is. Romans 5:8 tells us, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Because of this act, we have been given a gift—the Holy Spirit (John 7:38-39). The Spirit’s indwelling presence allows us to live the Christian life, at the root of which is love. Romans 5:5b says, “God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.”

Now that God has given us the ability to love, we are to follow Christ’s example in demonstration. Jesus makes it no secret that he requires this commitment, saying, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:12-13).

John’s readers, to be understood, were faced with immensely more threatening circumstances than what we can comprehend today. Being a Christian was condemnable to death, and Rome was known to use torture as a ploy to attain information on other Christians.

In the Western world, this is not our reality (though there are those, today, who are still persecuted for his namesake). We still, though, can follow Christ’s example in being self-sacrificing.

Jesus says of his own mission, “the Son of man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28).

The Lord’s example of self-sacrifice is not just giving his life in death, but in yielding his life while living! As followers of Christ, we should seek to love as Jesus did.

He would often do things that he most likely did not feel like doing, but was glad to do. This certainly included healing all the sick and demon-possessed of Capernaum at nightfall, after teaching in the synagogue during the day, while staying as a guest at Simon and Andrew’s house (Mark 1:29-34).

We have to ask ourselves, “Are we really serving the one’s that we say we love?” Are we truly sacrificing of ourselves to those we care about the most?

GENEROUS

Most times, we can answer these questions by our willingness to give from our sustenance. To reiterate, 1 John 3:17 reads, “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?

The looseness of our purse strings is a telling indicator of our love. Jesus, to this effect, says, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21).

This brings us back to the Corinthian church. Paul, while trying to raise a collection for the believers in Jerusalem, encourages the Corinthians to express the same zeal they had for giving previously (2 Corinthians 8:10). He writes:

But just as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us—see that you also excel in this grace of giving. I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. (2 Corinthians 8:7-8)

The Corinthians, as a church, had a lot going for them. They obviously were a church of significant means (2 Cor. 8:14), flowing in the spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12), full of faith and knowledge. What Paul was offering them was a chance to put their love on display.

Their willingness to give would, in turn, test the “sincerity” of their love, in which Paul said the church excelled. This is why he says that he was not issuing a command. Giving under compulsion is not an act of generosity, but duty, and is not prompted by love.

Second Corinthians 9:7 states, “Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”

Our motivation for giving should always be our heart. It is not so much about the amount as it is the desire to give. Second Corinthians 8:12 says, “For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have.”

EXPRESSIVE

Our desire to do something should never remain as such, but should manifest itself into an expression of that desire. First John 3:18 reminds us, “Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.”

Simply saying “I love you” or offering someone flattering words may seem nice, but true love expresses itself. James gives his commentary on loving with mere words:

Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? (James 2:15-16)

Love is something we are supposed to approach with the attitude of, “I can show you better than I can tell you.” What kind of sense does it make to constantly tell someone that you love him or her and never do anything to show it? If the only thing that they have to go by is your words, that testimony will not hold any weight.

Even Jesus, though he proclaimed the words of God (John 3:34), still produced actions that confirmed what he was saying (John 14:10-11). We, even more so, should be eager to affirm what we say by the things that we do!

These things do not have to be grand either. A simple gesture can sometimes be the evidence of great love.

After having just moved into my first apartment, and not having much of anything, a good friend of mine surprised me by buying me an air mattress! It is quite possibly one of the best gifts I have ever been given, though it was not super-expensive. I could go on and on with similar stories, but I am sure the picture is painted.

Love is not too difficult to understand. It is, however, difficult for us to truly express the love that God requires us to give. After all, love, in essence, is not about self, but is about the object of one’s affection.

In the case of God, our love relationship with him means that it is not about us, but it is all about him. Loving God require that we obey his commands, which are not burdensome (1 John 5:3).

After creating me, saving me and providing for me, how could I not love a God like him?

I am sure you share my sentiments. After all, “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

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~ by christianballenger on March 1, 2012.

2 Responses to “Love is…practical”

  1. I make it first! LOL……this AWESOME! We are teaching the kids this on Sunday………to bad you can’t do it:-)

  2. Beautiful! Thank you for this post. Most excellent!

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