Sunday, December 20, 2009

Love: Selflessness

"Love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude." - 1 Cor 13:4-5

This is a heavy verse. There's quite a lot to chew and reflect on in it. One of the things that leaves me in awe of the Love described to us in 1 Cor. 13 is that it is inexhaustible, not only in its description, but in its real-life application. Such Love searches our hearts and minds - a depth that we cannot reach (being unable to save and purify ourselves) - and sets us into a Higher Love - a fullness that we can never use up and are always growing deeper into (the wonder of having an Eternal God).
Matthew Henry and John Piper do well to point out the evils of the human heart (and what we often try to pass around as "love" in our lives) in contrast to the selfless Love of Christ.

III. Charity suppresses envy: It envieth not; it is not grieved at the good of others; neither at their gifts nor at their good qualities, their honours not their estates. If we love our neighbour we shall be so far from envying his welfare, or being displeased with it, that we shall share in it and rejoice at it. His bliss and sanctification will be an addition to ours, instead of impairing or lessening it. This is the proper effect of kindness and benevolence: envy is the effect of ill-will. The prosperity of those to whom we wish well can never grieve us; and the mind which is bent on doing good to all can never with ill to any.

IV. Charity subdues pride and vain-glory; It vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, is not bloated with self-conceit, does not swell upon its acquisitions, nor arrogate to itself that honour, or power, or respect, which does not belong to it. It is not insolent, apt to despise others, or trample on them, or treat them with contempt and scorn. Those who are animated with a principle of true brotherly love will in honour prefer one another, Rom. xii. 10. They will do nothing out of a spirit of contention or vain-glory, but in lowliness of mind will esteem others better than themselves, Phil. ii. 3. True love will give us an esteem of our brethren, and raise our value for them; and this will limit our esteem of ourselves, and prevent the tumours of self-conceit and arrogance. These ill qualities can never grow out of tender affection for the brethren, nor a diffusive benevolence. The word rendered in our translation vaunteth itself bears other significations; nor is the proper meaning, as I can find, settled; but in every sense and meaning true charity stands in opposition to it. The Syriac renders it, non tumultuatur--does not raise tumults and disturbances. Charity calms the angry passions, instead of raising them. Others render it, Non perperàm et perversè agit--It does not act insidiously with any, seek to ensnare them, nor tease them with needless importunities and addresses. It is not forward, nor stubborn and untractable, nor apt to be cross and contradictory. Some understand it of dissembling and flattery, when a fair face is put on, and fine words are said, without any regard to truth, or intention of good. Charity abhors such falsehood and flattery. Nothing is commonly more pernicious, nor more apt to cross the purposes of true love and good will.

V. Charity is careful not to pass the bounds of decency; ouk aschemonei--it behaveth not unseemly; it does nothing indecorous, nothing that in the common account of men is base or vile. It does nothing out of place or time; but behaves towards all men as becomes their rank and ours, with reverence and respect to superiors, with kindness and condescension to inferiors, with courtesy and good-will towards all men. It is not for breaking order, confounding ranks bringing all men on a level; but for keeping up the distinction God has made between men, and acting decently in its own station, and minding its own business, without taking upon it to mend, or censure, or despise, the conduct of others. Charity will do nothing that misbecomes it.
- Matthew Henry

"...we have developed strategies for minimizing our failures and maximizing our successes. We tend to draw attention to the one and cover over the other. There are crude ways of doing this like overt bragging and boasting and developing a certain cocky swagger or talking with a kind of devil-may-care conceit or an in-your-face kind of arrogance.

In fact, in America we have turned the vice of bragging into a virtue of entertainment.

But there are also more subtle, refined, acceptable ways of expressing our pride—like bringing the conversation back again and again to ourselves and what we've done, or even more subtly by constantly talking about our woundedness or our sadness, and about how badly things have gone for us. Self-pity and boasting are both forms of pride: one is pride in the heart of the weak, and the other is pride in the heart of the strong.

Now Paul says, "Love does not brag and is not arrogant." That is, it does not speak much about itself and is not puffed up with its achievements or too concerned about its hurts.
Love is other-directed, not self-consumed.
Which means that a massive craving in our hearts must die, if we are going to love. We're not puffed up because we decide to be. We are puffed up by fallen sinful human nature. This comes from deep within who we are as corrupt human beings. If love is humble and other-directed, love is death.
The glory-loving, self-exalting, attention-seeking, whining, pouting, self-pitying me has to die.

This is why Jesus said, "Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and die it remains alone"—alone in its self-absorbed, self-asserting, self-enhancing prison—"but if it dies, it bears much fruit"—the fruit of love and all the people that will see Christ in that love."
- John Piper

I will leave the last words to Amy Carmichael....

If I myself dominate myself, if my thoughts revolve round myself, if I am so occupied with myself I rarely have “a heart at leisure from itself,” then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If, when I am able to discover something which has baffled others, I forget Him who revealeth the deep and secret things, and knoweth what is in the darkness and showeth it to us; if I forget that it was He who granted that ray of light to His most unworthy servant, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If I want to be known as the doer of something that has proved the right thing, or as the one who suggested that it should be done, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If the praise of man elates me and his blame depresses me; if I cannot rest under misunderstanding without defending myself; if I love to be loved more than to love, to be served more than to serve, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

Oh Father, save us from empty, self-filled loving. Fill us with Your Divine Love that rises above and beyond us.

Matthew Henry's Commentary on 1 Corinthians 13

Dying as a Means of Loving, Part 2 - John Piper

If - Amy Carmichael

Friday, December 18, 2009

Crushing Grief

I shall return to my study on Love soon enough. I am preparing my next post, but, in the meantime, I have only this to offer...a little bit of my heart....

Does anything hurt or grieve a heart more than to know that a dearly loved one has returned to Egypt, following after the lusts of their own flesh, and unwilling to receive correction and wisdom? But greater is the grief in one's self for causing that dear one to stumble in such a way.
One recalls that much-awaited day when, after many agonizing prayers, a dear friend received the life of Christ. All was joy. All was joy. New life and hope burst forth!
But the shadow of self came and disrupted the growth of that new life. Through the indulging of self-interests and desires, the one who had prayed (one who had supposedly been further along in growth of wisdom), turned the other from continuing its reach to the Son. Like one, who after much waiting and watering over a seed, becomes impatient after seeing the flower in its first stage of budding and selfishly plucks it before it had the chance to truly blossom.
One is burdened to think that nothing could redeem this sin of turning a brother away from the Lord, which in turn led the brother to sin horribly, cruelly betraying the trust of many, and thrusting a dagger into the very heart of the one who had, in the past, watered it and loved it so.

Such grief is crushing to the human heart.

It is a weight that refuses to be lifted until it can be known that the lost soul will not utterly forsake the Lord, that the lost soul will be redeemed for the sake of His holy name.

In truth, I would give anything to return to a time when that soul was in my life...before sin separated us from each other...when that soul was listening to my words, regarding them with great interest. What I would give to have only spoken of the grace found walking daily in repentance and the life of Christ. What I would give to have only spoken truths of the Gospel to that soul. What I would give to have only spoken Biblical truths about dying to self and living to Christ. What I would give to have continued watering that soul with Scripture and gracious words filled with our Father's wisdom. What I would give to have never turned that soul from God to look upon me as their Greatest Good.
If I could have seen then as I see now...if I could have known then as I know now...I would have never dared to entertain that soul with such fleshly things...I would never have been so selfish. That bud was not for me. It was not mine. How could I have ever tread upon the glory of the Lord?

"...there are some among us who heart-break is that they have no sure and certain hope about their dearest, who have passed beyond reach of human love and influence. May I offer this which comes to me in the form of a question: Does to be out of reach of our love and influence mean to be out of reach of His who said, "I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Me?" ?"
- Amy Carmichael

Here I am, resting in the hope that He who began a good work in that soul will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ (Phil 1:6).

Forgive me, Father.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Love: Long-Suffering

Love is patient and kind… – 1 Cor 13:4

I. It is long suffering--makrothymei. It can endure evil, injury, and provocation, without being filled with resentment, indignation, or revenge. It makes the mind firm, gives it power over the angry passions, and furnishes it with a persevering patience, that shall rather wait and wish for the reformation of a brother than fly out in resentment of his conduct. It will put up with many slights and neglects from the person it loves, and wait long to see the kindly effects of such patience on him.

II. It is kind--chresteuetai. It is benign, bountiful; it is courteous and obliging. The law of kindness is in her lips; her heart is large, and her hand open. She is ready to show favours and to do good. She seeks to be useful; and not only seizes on opportunities of doing good, but searches for them. This is her general character. She is patient under injuries, and apt and inclined to do all the good offices in her power. And under these two generals all the particulars of the character may be reduced.

Those paragraphs are taken from Matthew Henry's commentary.
There is a great deal of weight in these words; they hang heavily upon my heart. How many times in the day are we given the opportunity to love like that? I mean, to truly love like that with all our heart, mind, and soul? There are days that come with such opportunities - moment by moment. We call them "bad days." We call them "stressful." We call them "exhausting," "taxing," "awful," and the list goes on. Oh that we would bless the struggles, the annoyances, the frustrations, and those difficult souls that prick our hearts, reminding us that we must bear! If there is one thing I have most been learning in these past few months it is this:

"It makes the mind firm, gives it power over the angry passions, and furnishes it with a persevering patience, that shall rather wait and wish for the reformation of a brother than fly out in resentment of his conduct."

All my days seems marked with this reminder from Love. It presses me to repentance. My heart would ache from the hurt of past lovers and, in that pain, become weak and listless. But the Spirit of Him who is in me is greater than the one in the world (1 John 4:4) - it pushes me forward, it silences my flesh and urges me forward to gird my soul with His kind of stronger love for my fellow brethren, to pray in earnest over their souls!

Lord, let such love permeate all that I am!

"...wherever there is love there is pain—love suffers long (makrothumei) . . . endures all things, bears all things.” This is realism and therefore comforting. If two people, or two thousand people, are in a relationship of love, all will be hurt. And all will need to “suffer long” and endure and bear. It struck us as amazing that this was so prominent in Paul’s treatment of love. So we prayed hard that we would be good lovers in this way (giving less and taking less offense)."
- John Piper

If I have not the patience of my Saviour with souls who grow slowly; if I know little of travail (a sharp and painful thing) till Christ be fully formed in them, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If I have not compassion on my fellow servant even as my Lord had pity on me, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If, in dealing with one who does not respond, I weary of the strain, and slip from under the burden, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If my attitude be one of fear, not faith, about one who has disappointed me; if I say, “Just what I expected,” if a fall occurs, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If I take offence easily, if I am content to continue in a cool unfriendliness, though friendship be possible, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If a sudden jar can cause me to speak an impatient, unloving word, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If I feel I injured when another lays to my charge things that I know not, forgetting that my Sinless Saviour trod this path to the end, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If I say, “Yes, I forgive, but I cannot forget,” as though the God, who twice a day washes all the sands on all the shores of all the world, could not wash such memories from my mind, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If monotony tries me, and I cannot stand drudgery; if stupid people fret me and the little ruffles set me on edge; if I make much of the trifles of life, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If the love that “alone maketh light of every heavy thing, and beareth evenly every uneven thing” is not my heart’s desire, then I know nothing of Calvary love.
- Amy Carmichael

Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible

What Love Does and Does Not Do - John Piper

If - Amy Carmichael