Sunday, November 2, 2014

And then there was Love

2 Peter 1:5–9 (NKJV)
5 But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, 6 to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, 7 to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. 8 For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins.

As we have made our way through Peter’s exhortation here in his second epistle, we have learned of the necessity of personal virtue and the way in which that virtue is to manifest itself in our treatment of others. Last week we considered Peter’s words to add to godliness brotherly kindness. Today we consider his command to add to brotherly kindness love.

Love is the culmination of Christian virtue. Unfortunately, as a result of Romanticism, it is often misunderstood. Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary, for example, defines love as “a feeling of strong or constant affection for a person.” But biblically love is not at bottom a feeling – that is not its proper genus. While love often shapes, governs, and informs our feelings, it is not itself a feeling. Far better the simple declaration of Hartley Coleridge, Is love a fancy or a feeling? No. No, love is not a fancy or a feeling; for feelings come and go but love remains constant, like immaculate Truth. It is a fixed reality, a covenant oath. As Shakespeare would have it, love is not love which alters when it alteration finds, or bends with the remover to remove: O no; it is an ever-fixed mark, That looks on tempests, and is never shaken…

Paul gives the most compelling description of love in the thirteenth chapter of his letter to the Corinthians:
Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil;

Love, in other words, is not self-centered but other-centered, not primarily a feeling but a heart-centered commitment, longing to give joy and delight to another. Paul goes on:
[Love] does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails…

Away with the absurd notion that love is merely a feeling. Today we are told to countenance all kinds of wickedness in the name of Merriam-Webster’s definition of love: we should embrace homosexual unions because they “love” one another; we should turn a blind eye to fornication because they “love” one another; we should sanction no-fault divorce because they just don’t “love” one another any more. But Merriam-Webster is wrong: love is not a fancy or a feeling.

So what of you: how have you been defining love? Do you truly love the brethren? Are you truly loving your spouse? Have you loved your children? For we are to add to brotherly kindness love.

Reminded of our calling to practice true love, to be committed to the true good of others and to labor unceasingly for that good, let us kneel and confess our sin to the Lord.