These were some thoughts I had while riding on the train in response to a sermon by John Piper talking about marriage. At one point he gave a scenario of him giving a rose to his wife on their anniversary, and if in response to her thanks he said, “Don’t mention it, I was only doing my duty,” it would drastically take away from the gesture of “love”. I think his premise was that love isn’t really love if it’s merely done out of duty. Personally, if someone is showing me love I want them to because they want to, not because they feel like they have to. It reminds me of Proverbs 23:6-7, “Do not eat the bread of a man who is stingy; do not desire his delicacies, for he is like one who is inwardly calculating. “Eat and drink!” he says to you, but his heart is not with you.” Love may be an action, but it still includes the heart. So how do we love when the loving gets hard without merely gritting our teeth and doing our duty? I believe the answer is in beholding and putting our faith completely in Jesus Christ.
“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly…God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:6,8 ESV
“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” Gal. 5:6 (NIV)
(I Don’t Want to Love You for Who You are Being)
The glory of the love of God in our lives is that it is a love that does not stop with those who receive it, but generates a response in the hearts that are shown such grace to pour it out on those who are around us, whether they are lovable or unlovable, near or far, deserving or undeserving. The conditions for this love to rise are not in me or the other person, they are in Christ. I am unsteady, the other is unsteady, but Christ is a rock! The love we feel and observe in Christ is not one of cold calculated ‘sacrificial’ duty, it is one of overflowing affection and grace that endures the unbearable for the joy set before it! It’s full of hope, not depressed acceptance of terrible circumstances as if there’s no promise of freedom. It believes in the power of God to raise the dead! Christ went to the cross for me, not because I deserved it. In fact the realized reality of my undeserving state stirs my heart to tears and overflowing gratitude and joy in view of the magnitude of Christ’s outpouring love. His sacrifice was not a response to my love for Him. “While we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” It was an initiative “for the praise of His glory”, and that fact does not turn me away, but it draws me all the more, because that initiative will never end, and His loved ones don’t experience anything less by it – but only more. Those that are drawing their love from this overflowing fountain don’t love out of cold duty, but with warm affection, grace and joy, that is as steady as the Rock it flows from – Jesus Christ. This kind of love isn’t waiting for you to meet certain conditions before it’s given, so don’t ever be disappointed when someone doesn’t love you for who you are being, when they are loving you because of who Christ is, because that kind of love has the potential to last whether you are being charming or despicable, faithful or wavering, loveable or unbearable. It’s faith working through love, it’s Christ loving you through their surrendered person. Yet, perhaps like Christ’s great gift of salvation, it won’t be as richly enjoyed unless it’s thankfully received, and lovingly reciprocated. Being a child of God is not a one time decision, it’s a daily reality that continually takes an appropriate response in order to be enjoyed. Likewise, a friendship, a marriage, or the relationship to your kids, may start at a certain point, but it will always require love freely given, as well as the thankful reciprocation of love, if there is to be any Christlike growth and God-centered joy experienced with them.