The Don: Loving More by Loving Less

annie-spratt-eAZEAMhn1Y0-unsplash.jpg“We find thus by experience that there is no good applying to Heaven for earthly comfort. Heaven can give heavenly comfort; no other kind. And earth cannot give earthly comfort either. There is no earthly comfort in the long run.

For the dream of finding our end, the thing we were made for, in a Heaven of purely human love could not be true unless our whole Faith were wrong. We were made for God. Only by being in some respect like Him, only by being a manifestation of His beauty, lovingkindness, wisdom or goodness, has any earthly Beloved excited our love. It is not that we have loved them too much, but that we did not quite understand what we were loving. It is not that we shall be asked to turn from them, so dearly familiar, to a Stranger. When we see the face of God we shall know that we have always known it. He has been a party to, has made, sustained and moved moment by moment within, all our earthly experiences of innocent love. All that was true love in them was, even on earth, far more his than ours, and ours only because His. In Heaven there will be no anguish and no duty of turning away from our earthly Beloveds. First, because we shall have turned already; from the portraits to the Original, from the rivulets to the Fountain, from the creatures He made lovable to Love Himself. But secondly, because we shall find them all in Him. By loving Him more than them we shall love them more than we now do.” —C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves, (Harcourt, 1988) p. 131

Why Fruit is Superior to Vegetables (Galatians 5:26–6:5)

“For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.

Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.” —Galatians 5:13, 26

onion-1460638-1280x960.jpg

In contrast to the commended humility of 5:13, we have the forbidden pride of 5:26. Pride is a failure to keep in step with the Spirit. The fruit of the Spirit includes love, kindness, patience, and gentleness. Pride grows the opposite direction. Pride is a rotten onion. We’re after the sweet fruit of the Spirit, not the rotten vegetables of the flesh.

Pride is never private; it always goes public. Personal pride is social. You cannot sin the sin of pride unto yourself. We are limbs, which when bent in on self, lash out at others. John Stott rightly deduces that “our conduct toward others is determined by our opinion of ourselves.” If you are big on self you will be small on others.

There are two possibilities, two ways our pride could be expressed: provoking one another or envying one another. This is most illuminating and a needed corrective as to what we normally think of as pride. Biblically, there is strong pride, and then there is what John Piper calls “weak pride.” Pride can provoke with an upturned nose, or it can envy with downcast eyes. When pride feels superior, it provokes others. When pride feels inferior, it envies. As a wounded horse is still a horse, so wounded pride is still pride. It takes more than felt shame to turn pride into humility.

It isn’t wounded pride that leads to serving one another through love. Wounded pride will lead to envy. So then, the opposite of conceit isn’t self-contempt, but a contrite-confidence. We’re aiming at a service born out of freedom. Humility means that we bow our head before our Creator, but then we lift it before man, though not with upturned noses. We were once slaves bound in sin and under the law. By sovereign effectual grace we’ve been made sons. In our freedom, we now walk in the Spirit, seeking to love our brothers and neighbors.

Our confidence isn’t in ourselves, but an assurance of who we are in Christ.
 If we are finding our identity in Christ, this is what it will look like.

“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves [the idea isn’t to loath self, but esteem others]. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” 
(Philippians 2:1–8).

It is from the position of freedom and assurance and comfort, not self-loathing, that humble service of our brothers grows. And if Jesus washed His disciples’ dirty feet, how can we not serve our brother through love?

Not Stumbling on Keeping in Step (Galatians 5:17–25)

“For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.” —Galatians 5:17–25

What does it mean to walk by the Spirit, to be led by the Spirit, and to keep in step with the Spirit? Evangelicals have fumbled the answer by trying to privatize spirituality.

walk-light-1471866-640x480

When the worship leader works up the emotions, with the room is dark and isolating, and you’re told to close your eyes so that it is just you and God—this is thought spiritual. But as C.S. Lewis warns, “let us beware of the ambiguity in the word spiritual. …There is spiritual evil as well as spiritual good. The worst sins of men are spiritual.”

What I have just described has more in common with pagan spirituality than it does Christianity. The Scriptures commend us to address “one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart” (Ephesians 5:19). Spiritual songs are to be sung to God and to one another.

Reflecting on 1 Corinthians 11–14 Mark Ashton comments, “It is clear from these chapters that Paul’s main concern was how the Corinthian Christians were treating one another and outsiders when they met, not how they were treating God—because how they were treating one another was how they were treating God! To concentrate on getting so absorbed with God that we cease to notice those around us during a church service is not perhaps as spiritual as it might seem. This was the very thing against which Paul warned the Corinthians. The more truly they focused on God, the more aware they would actually become of one another.”

So, again, what does it mean to walk by the Spirit? It is not some mystical thing in which we become Christian wizards, wowing others with our advanced use of the force. The Spirit is first focused on Christ, and because this is so, anyone who is in step with the Spirit will love Christ, and in loving Christ, they will love what He loves, the church.

You know you’ve met a spiritual person, spiritual in the good sense, when you walk away, not simply impressed with their personal piety, but also with their selfless love for the saints.

 

From the Head to the Heart (Galatians 4:12–20)

“Brothers, I entreat you, become as I am, for I also have become as you are.” —Galatians 4:12

Paul now turns from the head to the heart. He has presented arguments to the Galatian’s mind, now he pleas with their hearts. In appealing to their heart, he pours out his own.

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, perhaps the greatest expositor of the 19th century wrote, 

“We must always realize, when we talk to others, that the heart is never to be approached directly. I go further, the will is never to be approached directly either. This is a most important principle to bear in mind both in personal dealings and in preaching. The heart is always to be influenced through the understanding—the mind, then the heart, then the will.”

To lean on the emotions without any appeal to the mind is to manipulate. Watch the news, a commercial, or a political debate and you will recognize this tactic. The last thing many want you to do is think.

Is Paul now trying to manipulate their feelings, albeit for a good purpose? No, what Lloyd-Jones said was one shouldn’t appeal to the heart directly. This is not the same as saying that one shouldn’t appeal to the heart at all. Lloyd-Jones admired Jonathan Edwards. Lloyd-Jone’s preaching echoed the sentiment of Edwards, 

“I should think myself in the way of my duty to raise the affections of my hearers as high as possibly I can, provided they are affected with nothing but truth, and with affections that are not disagreeable to the nature of what they are affected with.”

This is the apostle who commands us to rejoice always, but he also always gives us something to rejoice about. When Paul makes this appeal to their heart, the appeal is built on the arguments he’s laid down up to this point.

Don’t mistake Paul’s appeal to be completely personal. This personal appeal isn’t personal. As Paul argued for his apostleship for the sake of the gospel in chapter 2, now he appeals to them concerning their esteem for him in relation to the gospel. Previously they had received Paul as an angel, as Christ himself. This is because he was a messenger, an apostle of Christ. They esteemed him upon the basis of truth. Paul sought for Christ to be formed in them through the truth.

The false teachers however seem to be unselfish. They make much of the Galatians. But they only do so because they want to be made much of. We have all met the person who liberally gives out compliments, but only because they want them back. Their generosity is an expression of greed. In false teachers this is often hidden behind a veil of talk of God, others, and religion. They lay the icing on thick trying to hide their bad cake.

Paul may seem self-centered whereas the false teachers dote on the Galatians, but the opposite is true. Paul longs for Christ to be formed in them. The false teachers only want to boast in their flesh (Galatians 6:12–13). Paul’s labors, arguments, and pleas are centered on the gospel, and this is why they are truly loving. It is the false teachers who wish to manipulate by their flattery.

The August Theologian: Love Isn’t a Virtue in Itself

“The right will is, therefore, well-directed love, and the wrong will is ill-directed love. Love, then, yearning to have what is loved, is desire; and having and enjoying it, is joy; fleeing what is opposed to it, is fear; and feeling what is opposed to it, when it has befallen it, it is sadness. Now these motions are evil if the love is evil; good if the love is good.” —Augustine, The City of God

The Futility of Pelagian Love (1 Peter 1:22–2:3)

holding-hands-2-1309232-1278x463

“Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart.” —1 Peter 1:22

This is no simple command. Love is given lip-service world-round. Nearly anyone can sing, “What the world needs now, is love sweet love.” Most nod the noggin to “All You Need Is Love.” Those songs are classics. They are hits. I enjoy them, but let the listener understand. That such songs are so popular while malice, deceit, hypocrisy, and envy flourish, speaks louder than any lip service given to “love, love, love.”

That pure and simple love would bring world peace, is a Pelagian lie. Pelagius was that heretic who opposed Augustine saying that man wasn’t born fatally depraved, but righteous, and thus could will to live righteously of himself. Man cannot simply fix the world by choosing to love. Man, left to himself, hates the One who is love. All this talk of love is both a dim reflection of the Creator in whose image we are made and a mask for covering our hatred of him.

But how many churches have the same vain focus on love? They might speak of Jesus’ death as love, but the emphasis is on the sacrifice of Christ as an example for us to follow. If we are to love, we need something to stand on, and too often the church, like the world, is attempting to build a castle in the air. There’s no foundation. Try to build love on this world that is fading, this world of sand, and you’ll find it’s too weak to support something as massive as love. You cannot build love on hatred.

All the world’s talk of love is in the imperative. It is a command. It’s sheer law. But we first need a declaration—a transforming declaration. Before we are told to love, we must be told that we are loved. We need a love that transforms us.

Peter’s command to love is buried in this sentence. It’s buried deep in gospel truth. Peter gives reasons why we are to love. Not reasons that lie out in front like “love is good,” but reasons that lie behind pushing love forward and out. Peter tells us not simply that we should love, but establishes why it is that we can love. From one angle we might say that the command to love is buried in this sentence, from another, we can say that Peter lays a foundation for the command to rest on, v. 22.

The Apologist: God Isn’t a Romantic Shouting “You Complete Me”

If this were not so, we would have had a God who needed to create in order to love and communicate. In such a case, God would have needed the universe as much as the universe needed God. But God did not need to create; God does not need the universe as the universe needs him. Why? Because we have a full and true Trinity. The Persons of the Trinity communicated with each other, and loved each other, before the creation of the world. —Francis Schaeffer, He is There and He Is Not Silent

The Apologist: The Only Answer to the Mystery of Love

Nevertheless, he [modern man] faces a very real problem as to the meaning of love. Though modern man tries to hang everything on the word love, love can easily degenerate into something very much less because he really does not understand it. He has no adequate universal for love.
On the other hand. the Christian does have the adequate universal he needs in order to be able to discuss the meaning of love. Among the things we know about the Trinity is that the Trinity was before the creation of everything else and that love existed between the persons of the Trinity before the foundation of the world. This being so, the existence of love as we know it in our makeup does not have an origin in chance, but from that which has always been.  —Francis Schaeffer, The God Who is There

The Sheep’s Wool (Matthew 25:31-46)

When Jesus separates the sheep and the goats pronouncing judgment upon them, neither one is shocked by the destination, but the reasoning given. The sheep are blessed for the ministered to Jesus in His need, whereas the goats are cursed because they failed. But we shouldn’t mistake this for saying the sheep merited their destination.

The decisive grounds upon which the sheep and goats are divided is that one is comprised of sheep and the other of goats. The deeds of mercy act as an outer mark that identifies the sheep. They are the evidence, not the grounds. Some similar language about those who eat sheep may help.

Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits. —Matthew 7:15-20 (ESV)

The eating of sheep does not make one a wolf; the being a wolf means an appetite for sheep. The bearing of good fruit does not make one a good tree; the being a good tree means bearing good fruit.

The King/Shepherd says, “All sheep may enter,” and then He turns to you and says, “Come, for you are covered with wool.” The wool didn’t make you a sheep. The last thing any sheep will say on that day is, “I got in by the wool on my baaack, baaack, baaack. Yes this wool, I did it.” If so, an interrogation would commence. “Were you always a sheep? Who then transformed you into a sheep? Who gave you the only food, and water (the Spirit and the Word) that then can cause such wool to grow? Who gave you health and life so that the wool could grow? Who protected you and led you beside still waters so that the wool could grow?” The Shepherd gets all the credit. When He says, “Come for you are full of wool,” He is saying, “Look at what I did. See. This one is mine.”

What is the distinctive wool specifically mentioned here are a mark of those who are the Good Shpeherd’s? Love for the church. Shouldn’t we as Christians love all who are destitute? Certainly. Is that the point of this text. By no means. “The least of these,” are “my [Jesus’] brothers.” This language echoes Matthew 10:40-42 and Matthew 18 where the “little ones,” are Jesus’ little ones, His disciples.

One evangelical pastor wrote a popular book titled They Love Jesus but Not the Church. He had some legitimate criticisms of the church, but he missed it with his title. You cannot love Jesus and not love the church. If you fail to love the church, you do not love Jesus. You are a goat.

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. …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 4:7-8, 20-21

Get Drunk and Love (Matthew 22:34-40)

When it comes to gods, deep down everyone is a monotheist. There can be only one. Either God is God, or the individual. All of life is love. Love is constantly being expressed. Man cannot not love. Every bit of existence we have is spent loving, worshipping, something. Yet, fallen men cannot love. In loving themselves, they hate love (John 3:19-20). Men hate light because they love darkness, which is another way of saying that they hate love.

By God’s common grace, and because man is made in God’s image, there is a muted echo of love that the unbeliever may hear and that may resound off and through the unbeliever, but it is always second-hand, always an echo and never the original tune. It is always muted, never amplified. It is always a first-grade crush on your married teacher, never marriage consummated and well aged like a vintage wine. It is like saying that you have tasted wine when a drop, a single drop, fell into your full glass of water. The world’s concept of love is diluted. You could never get intoxicated on it.

Jesus extends the cup of the new covenant, the intoxicating, behavior altering wine of His blood, that we might know love and love. If fallen man loves to hate love, how can he ever love love? Let me give you two answers, which are two ways of saying the same thing: covenant and a heart transplant. Listen carefully to the command, “love the Lord your God.” The context for this command is Deuteronomy, redemption, salvation. God, not because of anything Israel has done, calls a people unto Himself. He enters into covenant with them. And His covenant love gives His people a new heart (Deuteronomy 30:6; Jeremiah 31:31, 33; Ezekiel 36:26-27). A heart that loves Him, that loves His Son, that loves His law, that loves others, that loves His creation—that loves, really loves.