1. The Problem of Christian Love
Just as justification and sanctification are inseparable yet distinct, so too are faith and love. Faith and love are not the same, but there is no love without faith and no faith without love in any of our acts as Christians.
Christian love, or agape, is distinct from all other forms of love in that it regards others as ends in themselves and not as means to its own ends. This other love, or eros, in all its forms is finally only a self-serving love which reveals itself sooner or later as such. We can never harmonize these two types of love. They move in opposite directions. If we as Christians love in both ways, it can only be as we move in conversion from one to the other, from eros as our only past to agape as our only future in Christ. As long as we continue to experience the tension between the two, the movement of conversion and Christian love continue. As soon as we attempt a synthesis, we abandon Christian love.
God freely created human beings to be free for him. Acts of agape affirm this freedom and therefore are truly human acts. Acts of eros deny this freedom and therefore are truly inhuman acts. Agape means being wholly for God solely because he is God. Eros means being wholly for oneself and so for God only as God nurtures and protects oneself. God not only created humans to be with him but also to be with one another. Agape means being free for fellowship on the basis of our freedom for God. Like agape, eros is fellowship, but self-serving fellowship. Both agape and eros, then, are forms of love for God and for others. But agape is self-giving love while eros is self-serving love. Finally, agape has its basis in the quickening power of the Holy Spirit whereas eros is a determination of sin.
2. The Basis of Love
God is the basis of Christian love. God loves every human being all the time. As Christians, God loved us first and always and revealed that love to us. We love because God’s living Word incessantly calls and irresistibly frees us to join with him in the movement of his love and, when we do, our love reflects or is analogous to his love. God’s love in freedom for us is grace. Our love in freedom for God, our reflection of God’s grace, is gratitude.
God loves us freely and frees us to love because, in the freedom of his being as God, God is love. As Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, God is love in himself and so loves us. God reveals his active love and loving action to us by establishing his covenant with us and by fulfilling that covenant in his kingdom. God freely promised that he would be our God and all people would be his people. God fulfilled this promise by humbling himself and exalting us in Jesus Christ. In this self-giving he revealed his self-giving nature as love.
This love of God is always gracious. God’s love for us is wholly unmerited. God loves us solely because he freely elects to do so. Furthermore, God’s love is always liberating. God does not love us because we are worthy but despite our worthlessness. God loves us by victoriously delivering us from sin and by irresistibly calling us to himself. He frees us from sin and moves us to be free for him in obedience. But God does this by being painfully gracious and by graciously judging us. God threatens judgment and promises grace. He punishes and blesses. We may be thankful for both demonstrations of his love. Finally, God’s love is always creative. God’s love is his loving Word which creates new creatures free for love where before there were only old sinners incapable of love. God’s creative love is his self-giving determination of our lives that enables us to respond wholly to him as his children. This gracious, liberating, and creative love of God is the basis of our love by the power of the Holy Spirit.
3. The Act of Love
We may first characterize the act of love as something completely unexpected. If the act of love happens at all, it does so through the always surprising activity of the Holy Spirit. Yet even as it reflects this divine act, the act of love is an act in which we give ourselves wholly, both inwardly and outwardly. Having graciously received the Holy Spirit, we become grateful givers from the heart. Lastly, the act of love is formally characterized by joy. We cannot love as a means of feeling happy or it wouldn’t be love. But love is joyful. Those who love truly are blessed because liberated from the anxiety of taking in favor of the holy irresponsibility of giving. The genuinely loving person is joyful and the genuinely joyful person is loving.
The meaning and content of this wholly divine, wholly human, whole-hearted and joyful act of love are found, not in the act itself, but in its object. So first of all, the act of love means that, as Christians, we actually can and do love God. In the New Testament, loving God means putting Jesus Christ first. Hearing his voice and serving his cause are what really matter to us now. Our joy now is following his irrepressible self-giving by likewise giving ourselves to him. And we do give ourselves wholly to him when we freely and joyfully know his Word and obey it when he speaks it.
Second, because we may love God, we may also love our neighbor. Love of neighbor is not an abstract affection for people in general. It is a specific act taken in relation to a specific person standing in proximity to us. This proximity is established by the history of salvation centered in Jesus Christ. In this history, those liberated by God to be a people for God are then immediately liberated by God to be for one another. So our specific acts of love for Jesus Christ lead immediately to specific acts of love limited provisionally to other Christians. This does not mean we despise those outside the community. The New Testament commands us to regard them with hope-filled openness. As Christians we love one another when, in all we are and do, we share and affirm Christ’s loving lordship and liberating love with one another. Insofar as we mutually witness to God’s love for us and to our love for God, then as a community we may serve God as a sign of his love to the world.
4. The Manner of Love
Love is what determines human life in the Church to be Christian. Therefore in the Christian community only love matters (1 Corinthians 13:1-3). Because it is the Holy Spirit who quickens the Christian community as a whole as well as each member of it, and because Jesus Christ gives so lavishly, his community should expect to witness many wondrous activities. But even so the community may lack a genuine relationship with Jesus Christ. Although the Church may manifest the gifts of the Holy Spirit, it does so through human actions. Consequently the Christian community may be manifesting these gifts in the name of Jesus Christ but not in obedience to Jesus Christ.
Second, because love is what makes Church life Christian, only love conquers (1 Corinthians 13:4-7). The unassailable victory of love recalls Jesus Christ’s resurrection and anticipates his coming in judgment. It reveals the superiority of God’s grace over our sin. Our acts as Christians are acts of victorious self-giving to God and neighbor only when they prove themselves as such against contrary powerful forces. Our love proves itself by being patient and kind in relation to others. Our love proves itself by overcoming our own envy, boasting, arrogance, rudeness, and insistence on everyone doing things our way. Our love proves itself against a whole host of sinister threats ruling out irritation toward others, tracking their wrongs, or reveling in their defeat. Instead love rejoices in the truth that God’s grace is strong enough to liberate others and especially ourselves from all these things. Jesus Christ has overcome the world. Love is our active participation in his victory as we bear, believe, hope, endure and, in doing so, continue to give ourselves to God and neighbor.
Finally, only love lasts (1 Corinthians 13:8-13). The resurrection of Jesus Christ was the first revelation that he is Lord. His coming again in judgment will be the definitive revelation of his lordship. The Holy Spirit blesses us with his gifts for our journey between those two revelations. Then they will end. But when we love, we actually participate in the eternal life of God. As such love is indestructible, the presence of our eternal future even now and the one form of our ministry that will never end.
Copyright © 2019 by Steven Farsaci.All rights reserved. Fair use encouraged.