Chapter 8: Love
That ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fullness of God. Paul, the apostle
A character trait that is essential to life is love. Love is both a noun and a verb, and even though love could not technically be classified as a character trait, love is responsible for the development of our overall character. With that in mind, this analysis explores three scriptural areas of love: Sacrificial Love, Loving your Neighbor, and Loving your Enemies. These three areas overlap yet they can still be divided out as individual categories that help to present a more complete picture of the ‘essential’ nature of Love.
One of the most well known verses of the New Testament is found in the gospel of John in the 3rd chapter, where Jesus said: For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son: that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life (Jn.3:16). A similar thought is expressed by John in his first epistle, which coincidentally is also in the 3rd chapter and the 16th verse: Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren (I.Jn.3:16). These two references provide a starting point to the discussion of Sacrificial Love.
Sacrifice is understood as an act of giving up something of value in order to gain something else regarded as more important or worthy. In the context of the scripture the term generates the Old Testament idea of offering animal sacrifices to God, whereby the animal was slain, to atone for the sins of mankind. In the New Testament, Jesus Christ was the embodiment of sacrifice, a soul sacrificed, so that our souls might be redeemed. The New Testament hinges on the idea of sacrifice which allows for the cleansing of any person who chooses to accept the sacrifice that was made by Jesus on their behalf.
The sacrifice of Christ was made so that God would be able to have: 1. Children, 2. A Bride for his Son, and 3. A Holy Nation with whom he could dwell for all eternity.
The essence of sacrificial love is that the one who possesses this measure of love is willing to deny themselves for the benefit of others. To clarify that point, a sacrifice that is made for the purpose of obtaining something better for oneself is not, in the truest sense, sacrificial love. Sacrificial Love, is when a sacrifice is made that is costly with the understanding that there will be no restoration of what has been sacrificed.
In the context of the the life of Jesus, Paul explained this idea in his letter to the Philippians: Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross (Phil.2:5-8). What we are able to comprehend from Paul’s understanding is that Jesus, being in the form of God, sacrificed that place and became the Son of Man. By submitting to this role, Jesus forsook his place with his Father and became just as every other human. When Jesus forsook his place it was with the understanding that he would never have that place again.
The place that was then made available to Jesus was to stand at the right hand of God, but that came at the cost of: forsaking his Godly form, becoming human, subjecting himself to the frailty of the human form and the weakness of human nature, facing a spiritual enemy, being persecuted by those whom he came to help, and ultimately maintaining a sinless existence so that his final sacrifice (the offering of his life and soul on the cross) would be acceptable to God. This is the epitome of sacrifice. The only one who truly understood the magnitude of Jesus’ sacrifice was God.
We, the beneficiaries of this sacrifice, are still incapable of fully comprehending what Jesus forsook to become the sacrifice which was capable of redemption. Paul further explained in his letter to the Philippians: Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him(Jesus), and given him a name that is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in the earth, and things under the earth: and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Phil.2:9-11). The exaltation of Jesus was not his motivation for submitting to the life he chose. Jesus did what he did because he loved his Father. Jesus’ depth of love is manifested by his sacrifice.
John, in his first epistle wrote, In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins (I Jn.4:9-10). John’s explanation clarifies that the sacrifice was not only on the part of Jesus, but it was an equal sacrifice on the part of God to allow his Son to fulfill his plan. God understood that in order to achieve something better, something that was worthy of his love, the sacrifice of his Son would have to be the process by which that could be attained.
The manifestation of that love is evidenced by the death of Jesus on the cross. God allowed that to happen. The comparison story is found in the book of Genesis where we read of God testing Abraham. At the age of 100 a son was born to Abraham by Sarah, and they named him Isaac. Later, when Isaac was a young man God asked Abraham to take a Isaac and offer him as a sacrifice on an altar. And it came to pass after these things that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am. And God said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell the of (Gen.22:1-2). Abraham then prepared for the journey and went, taking with him two servants and Isaac. The next scene is Abraham and Isaac alone on the mount and Isaac asks his father a question, And Isaac spake unto Abraham his father and said, My father: and he said, Here am I my son. And Isaac said, Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering? And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together (Gen.22:7-8). Isaac’s willingness to continue on the journey with his father Abraham displayed his willingness and his understanding of the situation. There are several factors that we should keep in mind, the first being that Abraham is very old at this time, well into his 100’s, and Isaac is a strong young man. If it were a question of force on Abraham’s part Isaac would be physically capable of defending himself. Isaac also understood, having seen his father sacrifice to God on previous occasions, that a life would be offered. Isaac had noted the absence of that life, a lamb, and he had asked his father about it. It is difficult to say for sure how aware Isaac would have been in this situation, but given that this event is the parallel of God offering his son Jesus, we can assume that Isaac understood in part what was happening and he had submitted himself to it.
And they came to the place which God had told him of; and Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood. And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son. And the angel of the Lord called unto him out of heaven and said, Abraham, Abraham: and he said, Here am I. And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou anything unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou has not withheld thy son, thine only son from me (Gen.22:9-12). The image of Abraham binding his son and laying him on the altar is quite dramatic. Abraham was a good man, a godly man, a loving husband and father. There was nothing about the nature of Abraham that would have allowed him to do what he was doing. Every step in the process came at the cost of his character. Because of that, Abraham’s ability to go through with it manifested his deep love and trust in God. Isaac also was submitted to the sacrifice. We do not read of him fighting his father, or begging for his life to be spared. Isaac allowed himself to be bound and laid on the altar. This is the nature of the lamb overcoming self will.
God, seeing this, had an angel intervene. Abraham had proven his willingness. Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns: and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the stead of his son (Gen.22:13). God provided a lamb for Abraham to spare the offering of Isaac, but this offering was a foreshadowing of the offering that God would make with his Son. God, as a Father, made the ultimate sacrifice in offering his Son as a lamb. Jesus became the whole burnt offering which was the only acceptable sacrifice for the atonement of sin. Love that is manifested by sacrifice is born out of the depths of our soul. Sacrificing with conscious awareness demonstrates a true depth of love.
Love Your Neighbor
The parable commonly referred to as the Good Samaritan, defines who is a neighbor, and demonstrates how a love for your neighbor should be manifested. The story begins with a lawyer questioning Jesus about the commandments, wondering which commandment was the most important. Jesus reversed the question and had the lawyer answer it himself, the lawyer said: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself. And Jesus said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live (Lk.10:27-28). The lawyer understood that love was ‘essential’. Love of God with every aspect of our being, and the manifestation of that love towards our neighbor.
The question then became who is my neighbor? Jesus answering said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, and went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee. Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbor unto him that fell among thieves? And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go and do thou likewise (Lk.10:29-37). There are several themes within this parable that contribute to its message. The first element is the nationality of the one who chose to help.
A brief explanation of the Samaritans: When the children of Israel chose to have a king they were initially united as one nation and that kingdom existed for three generations. The first king was Saul, then David, then Solomon. At the beginning of the fourth reign, God divided the kingdoms into two parts, the Kingdom of Israel and the Kingdom of Judah. Several generations later the Kingdom’s of Israel and Judah were taken into captivity by foreign powers. The kingdom of Israel was overtaken first by the Assyrians and led away into captivity. The kingdom of Judah was later taken into captivity by the Babylonians under the reign of Nebuchadnezzar. The kingdom of Babylon eventually took control of all the land that used to pertain to the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. Nebuchadnezzar introduced other cultures into the land that formerly was the kingdom of Israel, and those people mixed with the Israelites and had children. Their descendants became what was later called by the Jews, Samaritans, which means “mixed”.
One other important factor which developed in the divided kingdoms was the kingdom of Israel established another form of worship. Jeroboam, who was the first king in the kingdom of Israel, feared that his people would abandon him if they returned to Jerusalem to worship at the temple, so he erected two golden calves at the borders of his kingdom. The golden calves became idols of worship in the kingdom of Israel which produced an even deeper divide between Judah and Israel. Years later the remnant of that divide was manifested by the cultural rule, that the Jews had no dealings with the Samaritans.
In order to fully appreciate the implication of Jesus parable, the setting and the characters involved must be understood in their full cultural context. First, is the man who fell among thieves. One inference that can be made about him is that he was heading in the wrong direction, he was journeying from Jerusalem to Jericho. One way to think about that is that he had left the city of God and was heading towards a city of the world. On that journey he fell amongst those who do not inhabit the city of God, he fell in among thieves. They behaved as thieves behave, taking every thing he had, then they beat him and left him for dead by the side of the road. This man, like many men before him, had been the beneficiary of living in a sheltered environment, but he lived there without any personal understanding of where he was. The desire to leave represented a journey into the world, marked by an ignorance of what he was leaving behind. The story does not imply an age of this man but rather infers the condition of his understanding. He represents an unenlightened soul.
After the thieves left him for dead the first man to pass by was a priest. The priest did not even come by for a closer look. He saw that the man was wounded, half dead, and went on his way. The fact that it was a priest implied that the ministry of Jesus era had no interest in helping the people. The role of the priesthood, according to Jewish law, was to make intercession for the people before God. That practice involved the offering of sacrifices on the people’s behalf. The priesthood amongst the Levites was a genealogical line which began with Aaron, the brother of Moses. The faith displayed by Aaron and the role he fulfilled with the children of Israel was the line that God chose to honor. The office of the High Priest had to be held by a descendant of Aaron. The priest in this parable did not have compassion for the injured man. The role of Intercessor was not represented in this man’s character. The priest did even draw near, but simply passed on by.
The next man who entered the scene was a Levite. The Levite’s were the tribe chosen by God to work in the service of the temple. This tribe was chosen because Moses and his siblings were of the tribe of Levi. The tribe of Levi was not given a physical inheritance when they came into the Promised Land, because their inheritance was to be the service of the temple. Their lives were to be dedicated to the service of the temple and the responsibilities that were tied to that. The first two characters that saw the wounded man were a Priest, who was also a Levite but a Levite that was a descendent of Aaron, and then a fellow Levite who would have worked in the service of the temple. Both of these men represented the religious authority of the day and neither of those men showed compassion on a soul that was in desperate need.
The Samaritan then enters the scene. The Samaritans represented false worship and impurity to the religious Jews of the day. This character, a man who was despised by the “righteous”, saw the wounded man and had compassion on him. He bound his wounds, he set him on his ass, he brought him to the inn, he cared for him, and then he made provision for his future care by leaving money with the inn keeper. Jesus chose to represent himself in this story through the Samaritan. Jesus also was a man despised by the “righteous”, and yet he was moved with compassion to help those in need. The Samaritan fulfilled a role that was not his responsibility in the social order, but it was his responsibility to his own conscience. The Samaritan helped the immediate problem, he bound the wounds; he then gave the man new direction by taking him to another location; then he comforted him by staying with him at the inn; and finally he made provision for his future care. After finishing this story Jesus asked the lawyer who had posed the question to him, which of these three was a neighbor? The lawyer answered, the one who showed mercy. The lawyer’s answer infers a definition of mercy which means: compassion to someone in need. The wounded man could not help himself, and we do not read of him even being able to ask for help, but his condition spoke to the one who was merciful of heart. The man was half-dead, and being found in that state, the merciful man did all that he could to help him. Jesus explained that a neighbor is not determined by proximity but by need. If we are to love our neighbor as ourself then mercy must be extended to those who cannot help themselves.
In the spiritual framework, with Jesus representing the Samaritan, he is the only one who can extend mercy to all who are half-dead in sin. In the natural setting, being a neighbor is the answer to the question, who is my neighbor? The Who is not important. The ‘essential’ responsibility is to be a neighbor. Be merciful.
Love your Enemies
This aspect of love is the most counterintuitive. It begs the question, why would I love my enemy? Loving an enemy is not something that would develop naturally, it requires the help of a power that can overcome our human nature. Jesus taught his disciples, I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be children of your Father which is in heaven; for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? Do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? Do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect (Mt.5:44-48). The love of an enemy is a love that must be cultivated.
As was discussed on the topic of sacrificial love, God manifested his love not because we loved him, but he manifested his love toward us when we were dead in trespasses and sin. Being dead in trespasses and sin manifests the spirit of an enemy of God. Being found dead in trespasses and sin is a result of ignorance of the correct Spirit of being, or the willful rejection of that Spirit. In either case the spirit of our existence is an enemy to the Spirit of God. However, the gospel teaches us that instead of condemnation, God provided a way for all to be redeemed. When Jesus said be ye perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect, he instructed us to manifest that same love. A love that is capable of loving a spirit that is in direct opposition to the Spirit, demonstrates a depth of love, or as Jesus called it, a perfect love.
The reference to the publicans implies that the natural man has no issue with being kind and loving towards someone who is kind and loving towards them. However, to love an enemy is a development of character that makes us complete. Being kind to someone who is kind does not require sacrifice nor the suppression of an instinctual reaction. Responding to an unkind person with kindness demonstrates that we are consciously controlling our interactions with others. Responding with kindness towards someone who is actively attacking you is even more difficult. If someone is unkind to you it is possible to categorize that action as the person’s nature; the underlying thought being: that person probably treats everyone the same way. If someone is actively attacking you then you are no longer able to generalize their action. Reactions are instinctual, and even more so when we feel personally threatened. The ability to respond with love in the face of hate demands a Spirit of love that exceeds personal control. The classic example within Christianity is Jesus on the cross, when he was at the point of death and he said, Father forgive them for they know not what they do (Lk.23:24). This would be the superlative example of loving your enemies.
There is the caveat that this type of love is both provisional and categorical. The love for an enemy would not be the same as the love of a neighbor, or the love of spouse, or family, or even a friend. The love of an enemy is provisional in the sense that we are clarifying that we do not want our enemy to be punished for our sake, especially if they come to a place of repentance. Love of an enemy gives that person space to change. It does not in any way imply that they are worthy of trust, nor does it require that we give them liberty to continually harm our person, whether it be physically or emotionally.
It is a categorical love, because we must categorize our enemy as a human with a soul. Their soul is eternal, therefore the love that is offered is given because we respect their soul. There is a thought shared by James in his epistle which states, For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgment (James 2:13). Mercy, when studied from this perspective, can be described as a love for our enemies. Extending this love demonstrates that we too understand that I also have been an enemy, that I too was the recipient of love that I did not deserve. In order to sincerely extend love toward an enemy we must be able to identify within ourselves the reality that I too have been an enemy to the Spirit of Truth.
Love is ‘essential’. Paul’s prayer for the church at Ephesus reflects the limitless depth of love. One section of that prayer states, that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fullness of God (Eph.3:17-19).
We have briefly explored love from three viewpoints, but as Paul alludes to in this prayer, there is a length, breadth, height, and depth of love that is beyond knowledge. The conclusion is that we must embody Truth to understand the depth of Love. Love is ‘essential’.
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