I suspect the word, if not the very idea of “love” is one of the most used and perhaps misunderstood word in the English language. We usually equate love with our emotions/feelings toward something or someone we truly enjoy. We say, “I love hot dogs”. “I love fireworks”. “I love my car”. Then we use the same word to say, “I love you” or “I love God”. And, I’m okay with some of that usage. I mean, while I do believe we should be careful about how we use our words, if we stopped to parse out every word we used before we spoke them, there would be very little conversation or communication. We’d all be paralyzed. But I digress! So, in today’s blog, I’d like to talk about walking in love. What does this mean to walk in love? As we look at the fruit of the Spirit as a way of keeping in step (i.e. walking) with the Spirit (Gal. 5:25), loving God and one another is a key way we do this. So, then, what is love? Many definitions could be given, but one of my favorites is supplied by Pastor John Piper when he says, “Love is the overflow of our joy in God which gladly meets the needs of others.” (Piper: Desiring God, p.119) SO MUCH could be said here, but let me suggest a few thoughts that might encourage us all to walk in the Way of Love.
– Love is an overflow of our joy in God. I think one way to understand this idea is to remember that God Himself is love, and (I John 4:8), when we are being loved by Him, truly receiving Who He Is, we will (super)naturally grow in our ability to love. We love, because He first loved us (I John 4:19). So, when we are walking with God, receiving His love, we will in turn love others. This is where we could go on in many directions, mainly because of our casual understanding of love. For example, love does not always equate to being “nice” to someone else. I was talking to a young Dad the other day who told me his son said, “You’re the meanest Dad in the whole world!” Now, what did this Dad do to earn this title of meanest Dad? He withheld a snack his son wanted until his son cleaned up his room. The Dad was simply trying to instill a sense of discipline and responsibility into his son. And, knowing this Dad, I’m sure he was doing this out of love. Parents who love their children discipline them. If a child receives no discipline, it is not a sign of love, but a lack of love (Hebrews 12:5-11). So, with that all said, when we “love” someone, we are prayerfully and humbly trying to give our loved ones what they most need, not what they most want. And, we do it with a gladness/willingness. So, go to God, let Him love you. And, perhaps even more important, ask Him to help you to trust Him. God always loves His people, but for whatever reason, if we are not trusting His good heart, it’s hard to receive love from someone you don’t trust. Going back to the example of the young Dad above. Knowing this Dad, I have great confidence his son will learn to trust his Dad’s heart, that the kind of discipline above is for the child’s own good. This willingness to trust God has been a key area of growth for me in the last few years. One simply cannot walk in love (walk with God) unless trust is there. Repeatedly, He demonstrates to me, He can be trusted, even when I don’t understand what He’s doing or not doing in my life!
– I would simply close my thoughts here, by gently asking you, “Do you ever catch yourself trying to earn the love of God?” Most of us would say, “Oh, I know I can’t earn His love. His love is a gift of grace.” And I would agree. Yet how often does our sense of feeling loved by God rise or fall with the level of our obedience? Yes, some of that is expected. If we are not actively walking with God, doubts about our relationship do creep in. Yet, coming back to Him in obedience is always a thing of grace. In love, He draws us. He woos us back. We can never, by reaching some level of consistent obedience “obligate” God to love us. We, simply, by the obedience of faith, receive it. While perhaps the subject of a whole other blog, the line in the hymn says it all: “Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe”. Receiving the love of God is “free” but will cost of everything. The Gospel reminds us we should exert as much energy and effort as we can in serving God, in growing in faithfulness and maturity, but we can never ever earn His love. He loves the unworthy. Soaking this truth into your heart is what actually changes us. It helps us to actually walk in love. A few weeks ago, we had a dear lady in our church pass away. She now sees Jesus face to face! I’m not even sure I can wrap my mind around what all that entails. At her service, I was able to share the following poem written by George Herbert (1593-633). And so, Evelyn (“Evie”!), we love you and will miss you till we see you again. Here is one last tribute of Jesus in you, a poem which illustrates well what I’ve been trying to say. I close with it:
Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lacked anything.
“A guest,” I answered, “worthy to be here”:
Love said, “You shall be he.”
“I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,
I cannot look on thee.”
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
“Who made the eyes but I?”
“Truth, Lord; but I have marred them; let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.”
“And know you not,” says Love, “who bore the blame?”
“My dear, then I will serve.”
“You must sit down,” says Love, “and taste my meat.”
So I did sit and eat.
A natural impulse of “religious” people is to serve. After all, God has done so much for us. But prior to, and while we are serving, we must learn to sit and eat at Love’s table. And, we don’t stop “sitting” and eating when we begin to serve. Instead, we come to Jesus as our ongoing feast, walking and working in this world. May our Good God enable us to trust Him enough, that is, to know Him well enough, Who is Love, to sit down and eat at Love’s Table.