In recent essays we have been dealing with four virtues that demonstrate the character of our DOC (Christian) lifestyle.  Thus far we have covered humility, truthfulness, and purity.  In this essay we take up the last virtue offered by Dr. Day in his “manual” for the DOC, Discipline and Discovery, the virtue of love.  Day used the King James translation of the term, “charity,” rather than “love,” because he believed that the modern English word “love” has been so corrupted that it no longer carries its original meaning.  And we certainly have misused the term in our culture.  We use it to describe casual and sinful sexual relations, calling it “making love.”  We use the word for infatuations, parental possessiveness, and torments of jealousy, among other things.  The word “love” has indeed been corrupted (D&D, p. 116). 
 
            On the other hand, the meaning of the word “charity” in English has changed so radically (now used almost exclusively for charitable giving) that the problems with that term are greater than those associated with the word “love.”  So I will use “love” rather than “charity.” 
 
            Dr. Day decided to deal with love as the last in the series.  And that is appropriate.  It seems to me that in a list of Christian virtues, love must stand either first, as the virtue that encompasses all others; or last, as the virtue that consummates all others.  The apostle Paul in Galatians five chose to list it as first among the fruit of the Spirit.  Dr. Day chose to place it last as the consummation of all spiritual disciplines.  Both are right!  Love is the all-encompassing Christian virtue. 
 
            When we seek to define love, we realize that it consists of several attributes.  First, love is selfless.  As Paul expressed in 1 Cor. 13:
 
            Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude.  Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never ends (vv. 4-8a).
 
Isn’t that beautiful?  We become so familiar with a passage like this that we tend to forget to smell its roses, so to speak.  Love in us seeks nothing for itself, not even from God. 
 
            Some televangelists today misrepresent the way we are to relate to God’s material blessings with their so-called “prosperity gospel.”  They suggest that we are to expect God to prosper us in a material way.  This idea certainly is not new.  Meister Eckhart, the great 14th century mystic, put the negative side of the principle this way:
 
            Some people want to see God with their eyes as they see their cow, and to love him as they love their cow—for the milk and cheese and profit it brings them.  This is how it is with people who love God for the sake of outward wealth and comfort.  They do not rightly love God, when they love him for their own advantage (cited by Day, D&D, p. 117).
 
            To put it another way, many people treat God the way they treat their auto mechanic.  They want something fixed.  They want help.  And they are willing to pay for it by going to church or something.  But they don’t actually want to have fellowship with God anymore than they want to have fellowship with their mechanic.  As soon as their trouble is fixed they forget about God just as quickly as they forget about their auto mechanic once their car is repaired.  Not all would be that crass.  Some want God around, but as their chauffeur.  They would prefer not to drive their lives alone.  But “beyond the role of servant to their needs, they have no use for God” (D&D, p.118).
 
            Of course genuine love is the opposite of that.  Love wants nothing from God, except his fellowship.  And love would even sacrifice that, if God would be glorified by it (D&D, p. 118).  Yes, love is selfless.
 
            Second. Love is a relationship.  We already have established that love is an abused concept in our culture.  All one has to do is watch a couple of hours of a soap opera to see the term corrupted beyond belief.  A related problem is the fact that many people (including many Christians) now define love as an emotion, as a tender feeling; and that is a fundamental error. 
 
            If love consisted of feelings, we would be forced into despair.  We cannot have warm, tender feelings all of the time.  As Dr. Day says, “emotions are not to be commanded in that fashion” (D&D, p. 120).  Our feelings, even our feelings about God, fluctuate with our emotional ups and downs.  Sometimes, when the harsh realities of life catch up with us; and loved ones are killed or incapacitated, warm fuzzy feelings not only are not there; but negative emotions can push into our consciousness.  Love is a relationship.
 
            Love is not a feeling.  Love is a relationship.  And for the Christian, the primary love relationship is with God.  Our other love relationships meet their potential only when they are “in Christ.”  Tillie and I discovered the wonder of this truth when we both committed ourselves totally to Christ, who then gave us to one another in a way we never knew possible. 
 
            Many times over the years, usually in response to a genuine move of God’s Spirit, I have seen Christians seeking a feeling through worship and praise.  The unfortunate result is that they end up focusing on themselves instead of on God.  Christians whose seek via worship some sort of feeling, even a feeling of love, are immature at best and self-serving at worst.  We must seek to grow our relationship with God in whatever way glorifies him. 
 
            To put it another way, love’s outward expressions are based on the internal relationship.  Therefore all outward expressions of love are based on one’s inner intentions or motives.  But the key to how love functions lies in the will.  In other words love is making choices. 
 
            Thus, third, love is an act of the will.  It is choosing the will of God in every situation.  It is choosing to serve God’s interests in the world instead of our own; it is choosing what is best for others in a given situation instead of for us; it is choosing to keep our relationship with God first and foremost, regardless of our feelings.
 
            And so in those really rough circumstances, love practiced as a daily discipline of decision becomes a way to cope.  We cannot dictate our emotions, but we can determine our motivations.  We cannot force warm fuzzy, feelings toward a drunk driver who kills; but we can, by the grace of God, choose before such tragedies occur to let God’s love flow through us, and love as God loves.  Yes, humility, truthfulness, purity, and love represent the character of the D.O.C. lifestyle. 
 
            I want to close the essay by illustrating with the life of our Lord Jesus himself, because as John tells us in John 13:16, “the servant is not greater than his Lord.”  The scene was the Upper Room.  Jesus and the twelve were gathered for what we call the Last Supper.  John tells us that Jesus was aware that his hour had come to depart from the world (v. 1); and “that the Father had given all things into his hands” (v. 3).  He knew that he was the Son of God; he knew that God had given him all authority; and he knew he was on his way to heaven.  He had every reason to be proud.  But he was supremely humble.  He took the role of a servant, and washed the disciple’s feet in order to show them what it means to be humble.
 
            Jesus also was truthful.  He didn’t soft-pedal the future.  Judas was about to betray him, and Jesus forthrightly prophesied that fact in a last ditch effort to save Judas.  In addition Peter was about to deny Jesus.  So Jesus openly confronted Peter, in order that Peter would have no excuse when the time came. 
 
            And Jesus was pure in heart.  Only persons pure in heart can empty themselves of self, as Jesus did,.  And only the Son of God, by nature pure, could empty himself of his divine powers and leave heaven to become a human being in order to save us from our sins.  Jesus’ motive was love, and only love.  That is purity of heart.
 
            Jesus also was love.  As John tells us in his first epistle, God is love (1 John 4:8, 16).  And so is the Son of God.  Jesus was love manifest in the flesh (John 1:14).  Indeed Jesus’ love was greater than his desire for personal honor and glory.  His love was greater than his desire for continuing direct fellowship with the heavenly Father.  And once he became flesh, his love was greater than his desire for wealth and power.  It was greater than his concern for his own feelings, greater even than his concern for continued life.  Jesus was the perfect model of perfect love.  As Rufus Mosely said of Jesus, he is “perfect everything.”
 
            In this series of essays thus far, we have set forth the D.O.C. lifestyle, which is simply the Christian lifestyle as seen in the New Testament, especially in the life of Jesus.  We have seen its cause, its calling, and its character through eight spiritual disciplines: obedience, simplicity, frugality, generosity, humility, truthfulness, purity and love.  May we seek the kind of relationship with God in Christ that enables us to live in this way for his glory. 

Advertisements