We made it to the second month of the new year! Obviously, our world has not returned to what passes for “normal” yet.
We have a new president, an ongoing turmoil, a bitterly divided nation, and an absolute absence of love. Many may feel like our president is invalid. I remind us that our leaders serve at God’s pleasure. They are where they are because that is God’s will. To say anything else is to absolutely deny the sovereignty of God.
We may not understand God’s purpose. I would be shocked if I, a mere human, did somehow understand the totality of God’s purpose. If I had that ability, God would not be God for I would be as wise as He.
I call upon all of us to do what the Bible tells us to do, pray for our leaders. The New Testament tells us in several passages (Romans 13:1-10, Titus 3:1-2, 1 Peter 2:17, 1 Timothy 2:1) to honor, and pray for our leaders. It further tells us to do all things without grumbling (Philippians 2:14). What if all of us decided to become a part of the solution instead of digging in and refusing to show any love to those with whom we disagree? Radical stuff, I know.
I am a child of the 60’s. I grew up listening to music that was heavily influenced by the drug culture of that era, the “free love” ethos, and a mix of Eastern philosophy.
One of the most famous songs of that era was recorded by The Beatles: All You Need is Love. While I do not affirm their worldview, nor their lifestyle, what they had to say speaks to our time. The lyrics, in part, say:
There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done
Nothing you can sing that can’t be sung
Nothing you can say, but you can learn how to play the game
Nothing you can make that can’t be made
No one you can save that can’t be saved
Nothing you can do, but you can learn how to be you in time
All you need is love
Love is all you need
There’s nothing you can know that isn’t known
Nothing you can see that isn’t shown
There’s nowhere you can be that isn’t where you’re meant to be
We all know that it is not easy to love. However, if the love of Jesus is in us, He promises that we can do all things (Philippians 4:13).
February is a month we celebrate love. Most Christians know that the Greek language had a number of words to express love:
- Agápe means the love of God for humanity and of humanity for God. It is used by Christians to express the unconditional love of God for His children. The Catholic theologian Thomas Aquinas described it as “to will the good of another.”
- Éros refers to sexual passion.
- Philia means “affectionate regard, friendship,” usually “between equals.” It is a virtuous love. Aristotle in his Nicomachean Ethics, says this type of love is expressed variously as loyalty to friends (specifically, “brotherly love”), family, and community, and requires virtue, equality, and familiarity.
- Storge means “love, affection” and “especially of parents and children.” It is the common or natural empathy, like that felt by parents for offspring. It is rarely used in ancient works. It also refers to expressing mere acceptance or putting up with situations. This is also used when referencing the love for one’s country, or other non-living things.
- Philautia means “self-love.” To love oneself or “regard for one’s own happiness or advantage.” The Greeks saw this type of love as a double-edged sword. It was both a basic human necessity and a moral flaw when it became vanity and selfishness or egotism.
- Xenia is the ancient Greek concept of hospitality, the generosity and courtesy shown to those who are far from home and/or associates of the person bestowing guest-friendship.
Let’s be honest: our world, and our popular music, hold that Eros is the only type of love that really matters. Let’s get brutally honest: that type of love is not really love at all if it reduces one, or both, of the participants to an “object” that only exists to satisfy one’s cravings. Eros love can only be fully realized, and enjoyed, in the context of a Christian marriage between one man and one woman; freely, and totally committed to one another.
What if this February, each of us chose a different focus? What if we focused on the kind of love that Jesus has shown to us? What if we understood that because we are loved, we too must love?
The most famous passage in the Bible addressing this subject is 1 Corinthians 13:1-8. We frequently hear it read at weddings. When I use it at a wedding, I am communicating not just to the bride and groom, but to all of those present that love is at the center of the Christian life. I use it not just to talk about the eros aspect of the marriage. Christians gratefully recognize that sexual intimacy between a husband and wife is a gift from God that He gave us to enjoy. But if we elevate eros love to the pinnacle of our lives, we are missing out on so much God wants to give to us.
1 Corinthians 13:1-8 is written in the context of the church. It has no meaning for the non-Christian. In chapter 11, Paul has just laid out the Lord’s Supper. This is a passage that most of us almost have memorized because it is the passage that many pastors quote during the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. In chapter 12, Paul turns to the use of spiritual gifts and shows us that there are no inferior gifts in the body of Christ. In 1 Corinthians 12:7, he says “but to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (emphasis added). The gifts that are given to us by the Holy Spirit are for building up the kingdom of Jesus. But, we humans frequently turn them into measuring rods to show that we are somehow better Christians, or more spiritual, than our brothers and sisters.
Paul concludes chapter 12 by saying: “And I show you a still more excellent way” (1 Corinthians 12:31). What is the more excellent way? Love.
I am not going to offer a commentary on every verse of 1 Corinthians 13 here. I am just going to reprint it here and ask all of us to look at this chapter in its context. To restate: the context of this chapter is not a Christian marriage (though it certainly applies in that relationship). The context of this chapter is the church. It is how we are to relate to one another. It is the more excellent way that God has desired for His children from the beginning.
I am quoting The Message below. I believe Dr. Peterson has wonderfully captured the pathos of what Paul is saying.
If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate.
If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing.
If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.
Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.
Love never dies. Inspired speech will be over some day; praying in tongues will end; understanding will reach its limit. We know only a portion of the truth, and what we say about God is always incomplete. But when the Complete arrives, our incompletes will be canceled.
When I was an infant at my mother’s breast, I gurgled and cooed like any infant. When I grew up, I left those infant ways for good.
We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!
But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.
What if all of us just adopted what Dr. Peterson translated as: “Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly?” What would our world look like next February if those of us reading this post chose to do exactly that?
That, beloved is the excellence of love! During this month that we celebrate love, I pray that all of us will love extravagantly, that we are not calculating what is in it for us, but that we are loving everyone around us; no matter the color of their skin, no matter their country/state/region of birth, no matter the language they speak, no matter their political party or who they voted for, as someone (Genesis 1:27) who was created in the very image of God. What would happen if all of us unleashed that kind of love on the world? What would happen if we stopped using our social media to:
- Put people down
- To tell the world what they are doing wrong
- To share things in public that should have remained private
- To put other people “in their place”
and began using the amazing tools God has given to us to love extravagantly?
Here is our calling:
- Trust steadily in God
- Hope unswervingly
- Love extravagantly
That will change the world, beloved! Will you join with me in at least trying to show the excellence of love?
If you have never had a relationship with Jesus as your Lord and Savior, please contact our pastor via our contact page. He would love to talk to you about how you can find extravagant love in your life.