We’ve been talking about how love has to flow. Another way of saying it is that love isn’t love until you give it away. God’s love goes beyond our worldly understanding of what love is. To become love as God is love, we have said that we have to go beyond personal possession to becoming a person of provision. We have to go beyond performance to presence and go beyond passion to perfection. Part of the problem with our understanding of love in Christian circles is that we reduce it to a principle.
In fact, I heard someone today say that very thing: “I don’t have to like you, but I have to love you.” We say this in a joking manner, but it communicates our understanding of love. Is love a principle? Sure. And principles are good. Principles are fundamental truths that serve as the foundation for our lives. But, when we reduce love to a principle, it can easily be reduced to an intellectual concept that bears no weight on who we are. It may affect our external behaviors but that doesn’t necessarily mean it has changed our internal motivations. Principles can easily become burdens when they are only intellectual concepts.
A virtue is something different. On the surface, it appears to be about behavior. But, when you dig a little deeper you can see that virtue is the quality that something possesses. When used of people, it speaks of the qualities of a person. It’s something that we notice about people. That person is kind. They are caring. They are loving. Etc. In other words, a virtue is something observable or experienced about who you are as a person. Virtues, like love, flow from God’s character. They are the observable characteristics of who we see God to be. The virtues of God are the visible evidence of who God is.
The following story was shared by “Today in the Word” in July of 1995:
Setting out from Hamburg, Germany, one day to give a concert in London, violinist Fritz Kreisler had an hour before his boat sailed. He wandered into a music shop, where the proprietor asked if he might look at the violin Kreisler was carrying. He then vanished and returned with two policemen, one of whom told the violinist, “You are under arrest.”
“What for?” asked Kreisler.
“You have Fritz Kreisler’s violin.”
“I am Fritz Kreisler,” protested the musician.
“You can’t pull that on us. Come along to the station.”
As Kreisler’s boat was sailing soon, there was no time for prolonged explanations. Kreisler asked for his violin and played a piece he was well known for. “Now are you satisfied?” he asked. The policemen let the musician go because he had done what only Fritz Kreisler could do.Today in the Word” in July of 1995
DC talk was on the right track when they said the love is a verb. Love is definitely something you do. But, it’s actually more than that. Love is who we are. Like Kreisler, the reason we can love one another sacrificially is because that’s who we are.
In John 14:6, we see Jesus say, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” Truth isn’t correct information. We reduce it to that in our minds. We think of truth as knowing that 2 + 2 = 4. And while that is a true statement, truth is more than that. Truth is reality. When Jesus said He was the truth, he wasn’t just saying that He is accurate or that he is right. He was saying that He is what reality is. Jesus is the reality of God’s Kingdom. Jesus was what we were supposed to be all along. His life perfectly corresponded with the order God created in the first place.
Jesus didn’t just practice truth as a principle, he didn’t just speak truth as correct information but He was the truth. We can observe what reality is by looking at the life of Jesus. By contrasting our lives and our world with the life of Jesus we can see the effects of the curse and all the ways we have walked away from God’s original design.
The same was true about Jesus when it comes to love. Jesus didn’t just love people as a behavior or an action. He did that, but it wasn’t just that. Jesus was love. Just like Jesus lived in the love of the Father, the result of which was Him laying down His life on the cross, we are supposed to live in that love and as a result lay down our lives for one another. Jesus didn’t die a cruel death on the cross because he was obligated to do so out of obedience. Jesus said in John 10:17-18 – “The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”
The Father was not taking Jesus’ life, Jesus chose to lay it down. Yes, he received the command from the Father, but he still chose to obey the command out of love. When He was being tempted in the garden to go a different way, begging the Father for another option, He ultimately chose to obey the Father’s will instead of His own. That’s why love isn’t about our physical desires.
Jesus clearly desired a way other than the cross. He begged the Father to the point of sweating drops of blood. His physical desire was to avoid the cross. But there was a deeper desire inside him that conquered his desire to disobey the Father. When Paul is telling Husbands how to love their wives he talks about Jesus: “Husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” (Eph 5:25) Jesus loved the church by giving his life for us on the cross. Hebrews 12 also tells that the Joy of what the cross would accomplish is why He endured the crucifixion.
Jesus sacrificed himself because that’s what love does. Because He was love, he gave his life. Just like faith without works is dead, love is not love without sacrifice. Love is a virtue. Love must be observable. Not only do we have to live by the principle of love, our lives should be marked by love.
We can’t just talk about being loving. Love has to be our song. Just like Kreisler proved he was the owner of the violin by playing a song only he could play, just like Jesus proved He loved us by sacrificing himself on the cross in our place, the virtue of love must be able to be seen by the people around us. 1 Jn 4:16 – “We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.”
James Boice said: “To believe in Christ and to love the brethren are not conditions by which we may dwell in God but rather are evidences of the fact that God has already taken possession of our lives to make this possible.”
Loving one another is the visible evidence of the transformation of our heart. Loving one another confirms the reality of our changed condition. As we become truth like Jesus was truth, as our lives conform more and more to the reality of a Christ-like life, sacrificial love will be observable by both those who receive it and by those who don’t yet believe in it.
Love goes beyond principle to personhood. And when love is who we are it changes how we view God’s commands. No, Jesus did not want to go to the cross. But, he was able to endure the cross. Why? For the joy set before Him.
The one command of the New Covenant to Love one another like Jesus loved us, when it’s done as a principle and out of obligation will feel like a burden. That’s because we’re not doing it out of who we are, we are doing it to try to prove who we are. Self-sacrificial love is not something we do to prove that we are true Christians. The motives in that are wrong.
Self-sacrificial love flows out of changed heart. That only happens when we have truly surrendered the motives, desires, ambitions, thoughts and identities of our hearts to Christ. Until we do that, God’s love doesn’t flow through us. Our struggle to maintain control of our hearts becomes the dam that blocks the flow of God’s love through us. As hard as we may try to prove that we are loving people, we labor in vain because God isn’t building the house, we are.
Becoming love means we have to die to whoever it is we think we are. We have to be a living sacrifice, lay our motives, desires, ambitions, thoughts and identity on the altar and let them die. Then and only then can God raise us to the new life of Christ. Then God’s virtues can start to flow through us, then love can flow through us, then we will be able to sacrificially love one another. Not because we are strong enough to do it, but because it isn’t our strength that is accomplishing it. It’s the strength of the resurrected Christ. “I can do all this through Christ who gives me strength.”
So, who’s song are you playing on the instrument of your life? Is it your song or God’s song?