In the last couple of months I have been meditating on what Scriptural love is - what the difference is between serving out of love and duty, asking some questions, bouncing some thoughts off of other godly Christians - and realizing how far I really fall short in this area (though not as far short as I was as little as a couple of months ago BEFORE God started working on me!) - wanting to make sure I serve the Lord in a manner that is pleasing to Him, wanting to make sure that I have compassion and strive to make a difference in the lives of others because of love, and not just out of duty (ie. I know I am supposed to be a witness so I better be one...). It has been a learning process.
Some things that have leaped out at me:
1) One of the seven churches in the book of Revelation is the church of Ephesus. They had everything right - all the right doctrine, I would assume all the right standards, all the right criteria for judging those who taught in their midst and being discerning enough to know when someone was false and to refuse them. YET, Jesus rebuked them for leaving their first love. (See Revelation 2:1-7) Because of this one lapse they were in danger of losing their witness (their candlestick) in the city of Ephesus. This lack was serious to Christ - so serious this had to be addressed in the first century church.
The contrast to this is the church of Thyatira (Revelation 2:18-29) - so "loving" that they let in all sorts of false teachings and teachers, all sorts of idolatry and immorality (much like modern Christendom...) - and Jesus threatened them with death! So of course, I didn't want to be like those in Thyatira... I was more like Ephesus...
Yes, I have all the right doctrine, certainly strive to have all the right standards, very outspoken against error and compromise - and have always found it easier to cross my t's than to deal with the faults or the misunderstandings of people, than to have compassion - so much that I would risk losing myself to win them to Christ. Sure, it is one thing to be a witness when it is easy - but do I love Christ enough to love others when it is not? I love truth enough to earnestly contend for it, but do I love the person I am interacting enough to let something go when it is not a matter of doctrine, but of opinion? Sadly, too often I was prideful and did not let the matter go - I won the battle, but lost what was most important - I lost the love I needed to show Christ living in me to those I was debating with. As a brother in Christ pointed out - "I might be speaking 'the truth' - but it wasn't 'in love'! I wasn't following 'after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another'." (See Ephesians 4:15 and Romans 14:19)
Why am I being honest here, why mention this at all? Because being honest and truthful with myself is the first step in changing what is wrong. (See Psalm 51:6) Being humble enough to acknowledge my faults (and even my sin) in this area is the first requirement for getting God's grace to be more than a conqueror over this area of my life. (See James 4:6 and 1 Peter 5:5-6)
2) I have seen so many professing Christians run after feelings, that somewhere along the way I learned to just ignore feelings and stick with facts, doctrine, faith (ie. accepting what God says in His Word) - that I completely put feelings out of my Christianity. I didn't know what it meant to love. I thought it meant obey (based on John 14:15 and 1 John 5:1-3) - and I thought as long as I was obeying (even if begrudgingly at times) that I was serving out of "love." Though I have really striven to analyze my thinking in this area the last few months and see what I was overlooking. Yes, obeying was the proof of love (you cannot say you love God when you are walking contrary to His Word and His commands) - but obedience is not love in itself. Based on some interaction with others, I have concluded that "Love is the motivation for the obedience."
This was posted by me in a Message Board thread in March where I was trying to figure some of this out:
"I believe God called me to preach quite awhile back. I "submitted" to that call and went forward at the altar - even before this I knew He had called me - but there was always a fear and a reluctance. Then later I went through an internal struggle about actually doing it. Now I do it because I know it would please Him and He can use my preaching to touch the lives of others, rescue them from Hell, change them. Most of the time I willingly prepare for and go to my preaching - there is the odd time where I don't want to do it (perhaps a really stressful week), but I do it anyway because I have that responsibility (though I know there is a big difference in heart attitude towards these times). There have been a few times in the past (a couple of times in my first 6 months of preaching) where I was sick or really struggling with something and I called to cancel (made arrangements for someone else to do it instead) - and I thought it was a relief to skip the preaching that week. BUT there has been a total change in my since then (over 2 years of preaching weekly now). I missed out on Friday because the antibiotics (for an abscessed tooth) were really messing me up (extreme tiredness and nausea) and I knew I wouldn't be capable of preaching. I was so excited all week about being able to present the message that the Lord laid on my heart, and it was so disappointing not to be able to be there. It was suggested to me perhaps I could preach Saturday instead. I was so looking forward to the Lord using that message for His glory and wanted to see what He would do with it. I got up to get ready to head out the door and I was so lightheaded/nauseous that I literally had to just sit for the next 1/2 hour. When I realized I couldn't preach, it bothered me so much - not because of me. I don't do it to get attention - I do it because I know it may bring others to Jesus and they might get saved and their lives transformed for His glory - if I am not there, the Lord cannot use me in that capacity. Quite a difference between the attitudes."
Someone else posted this:
"I believe that Biblical love is putting someone else above yourself, genuinely believing in your heart that the person you love is more important than you are. If this is done genuinely, the results will be doing what is in that person's best interest, not taking your own interests into consideration. This is what Christ did for us, and He is our model."
I saw this definition of love put into practice a little over a month ago, at my Dad's funeral. I was asked by my Aunts and my sister Tammy to read two things at the funeral - I knew I could do so because of my preaching experience these last couple of years - I had the confidence, so I was willing to do it. Then the day before the funeral, when I showed my brother Alex what I was going to read, he found a poem in one of my poetry books and said he wanted to read that one (I've Gone Home), to offer comfort to the family. I wasn't totally sure if he would follow through with it - as he doesn't like being around crowds and had never spoken publicly in any capacity (that I am aware of). The next day, a few minutes before we were to go to the funeral service, he said he was getting a bit nervous and needed to sit down. I told him that if he had any problems reading the poem or was too nervous that I could read it for him. He turned to me and said, "I have to do this - this is not about us, it is about all those that are here, and they need to hear it. I said a prayer a few minutes ago, and I know God will give me the strength to do it." Then he got up determined to do it no matter what.
Now that I think about it, that was 1 John 4:18 in action ("There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear.") - being so filled with love that other's needs and concerns were more important than our own! How many times have I neglected witnessing because of my own lack of comfort - and here is my brother disregarding his own nervousness and fears and doing it anyway. (By the way, he did better than I did on the reading - I got choked up a few times and he was calm all the way through.)
Tonight as I am writing this and thinking about various aspects of love, 2 Timothy 1:7 comes to mind:
For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.
I often focus on the power to do the will of God and the sound mind (the temperance, self-control to do what is necessary), that I overlook the love in this passage. The motivation for serving the Lord, the motivation for reaching out to others.
So much more I could say - and Lord willing, I might be able to post more on this - but I will end this post now, and get back to work.