Courage, Boys! Tie It All Together with Love.
We round out our series with Paul’s call to “do everything in love”. Readers of Paul will not be surprised. Paul regularly talks about love as if it is both the soil out of which the Christian life grows (2 Cor. 5:14-14) and the shape that it grows into (1 Tim. 1:5). As a matter of fact, one of the ways Paul speaks about Christian growth is to describe it as a process where a believer’s understanding and expression of love continually increases (see Phil. 1:9; 1 Thess. 3:12). In the end Paul wants love to weave its way through every aspect of a Christian’s life so that it shapes the expression of every virtue (see Col. 3:14).
There is no doubt Paul sees love as something right at the center of God’s work in a believer’s life. At the same time, it is hard to find a more misunderstood and abused concept. Confusion is the order of the day whether you look at the world or the church. I don’t dispute that many would agree that to love someone is to promote what is in their best interest and to discourage what would harm them. That’s good as far as it goes, but who determines what’s best? Just what am I supposed to love people toward or away from? Just how does a believer think and live if love is in the driver’s seat? Similarly, how do we distinguish love from hate? And, more particularly, what does this mean for us as men?
So what does Paul mean by “do everything in love”? Thankfully, Paul doesn’t leave us hanging. He is not a cliché master who just throws out nice-sounding, pious platitudes. To begin to get our bearings we need to go back and look at what Paul said in 1 Cor. 10:31-11:1: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved. Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” This passage is key because it gives an account of what is in everyone’s “best” interest. It tells us what love attempts to commend and implies what it warns against. In addition it helps us see what a life like that would look like by giving us the ultimate example, Christ, along with a close replica in the person of Paul.
In short to love someone is to promote God’s saving purposes in their life, even if you have to take a hit to do it. For Paul this life is rooted in a transformation made possible by what God did in Christ’s death and resurrection. The transformation, this salvation, occurs when a person puts their trust in Christ and what he did on their behalf so that they are forgiven, adopted into God’s family and made a new creation in Christ (see 1 Cor. 15:1-7). Now they have become - and can increasingly be shaped into - a person who rightly sees and values God, someone who understands his love, goodness, power and worth and so desires to live to bring “glory to God”. In other words, they become someone who lives like Christ. Christ lived his life in full agreement with and in full submission to God’s saving work. He lived to promote in his life, death and resurrection God’s desires to rescue, reclaim, and restore his rebellious creatures (see Luke 19:10). And, as we well know, Christ lived to give glory to God even at a shocking, inestimable cost to himself (see Mark 10:45; Rom. 5:8).
So for us to love starts with us being transformed by trusting Christ so that we delight in who God is and what he has done in Christ. And, as an outworking of that delight, we yearn for others to know the delight we know in God through Christ (see 2 Cor. 5:11-21). We yearn for others to know the joy, freedom, belonging, purpose, security and satisfaction that God has created them for and now wants to redeem them to reclaim. We warn them about turning away from God or neglecting him. We become like Paul. We become someone who urges others to follow us as we follow Christ to the glory of God!
Now we turn to 1 Cor. 13 to fill out our understanding of what a God-centered love looks like. Since for Paul the embodiment of love is Christ, what we read in the famous love passage is not only a description of love but also a portrait of Jesus. Here is the key portion for our purposes:
“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Cor. 13:4-7)
This passage tells us how love goes about promoting its goals. It doesn’t coerce or manipulate. It doesn’t take an “ends justify the means” path. It doesn’t take any delight in words, choices or habits that stand over against what is true. It isn’t naïve about the difficulties and so is in it for the long haul and expects adversity. It is not driven by a need for it to be recognized so that it is not irritable or resentful when it is not appreciated. Rather, it is “pumped” when someone follows the truth centered in Christ. It weeps when Christ is rejected or ignored and steadfastly points back to Christ. It patiently, steadily stays on its knees asking for wisdom and strength to love generously and tenaciously. It fights its desire for control or recognition and longs for Christ to be put at the center and for his goals to be realized.
In short, love not only moves toward Christ’s goals but it moves toward those goals as Christ. His passions and priorities shape everything you are and do if you are someone who does “everything in love”. God wants you and I to be men who yearn for what he yearns for us. Then we will be someone who yearns and acts to commend to others, by life and word, what God yearns for them. We will long for others to taste the goodness of Christ—to know his power, love, guidance, mercy, forgiveness, etc.
How do we get there? First we need practices in our lives that promote our delight in what God has done for us in Christ by his Spirit. We need a regular habit of reading about and meditating on it in his word. We need to talk to him about it in prayers and songs of praise and thanksgiving. We need to testify of it to each other and listen to each other’s testimonies to it. We need to gather with fellow delighters for encouragement and accountability.
So what will this mean? It would mean many things but here are a few. It means that we teach, live before, and discipline our kids as Christ would with a longing for them to go where God wants to take our kids. We invest our time and money in resources - books, conferences, relationship building events, mentoring relationships - that will help us take our families, marriages and friends where God wants to take them. We use the power of our applause and praise to encourage our wife, children, and friends toward where God wants to take them. We laugh and cry with the heart of God. We watch over our family on our knees; we pray for their salvation, for their growth in Christ, for their desire to follow him. We lead with a sensitivity to our place as a husband, dad, brother and their place as a wife, child, brother, etc. We go after the heart and commend a way of life by life and word even if they are not seeking to be led. We serve those in our spheres of influence even if that means we sacrifice what is best for us for their best. We live with integrity; we don’t slink around to do what we feel is right or pout and become passive aggressive when we are kept from doing what we think is right. We say what we mean and are willing to take the consequences of the disapproval or rejection of others. We don’t live with our finger in the wind but rather with our ears open to Christ as we prayerfully try to lead those in our sphere of influence toward Christ.
As we conclude our series it might be good to go back through our commands and weave love through them. To do everything in love means that we guard our souls against voices that encourage us to turn from Christ or diminish his influence over our hearts and minds. It is to hold steadfastly to the truth as given to us by Christ through his prophets and apostles in the Scriptures. It is to fight on for the cause of Christ against the “fears within and without” because of a deep reverence for God and a real trust in his power and goodness. In the end it is to become men who influence the people in our lives by life and word toward what God created them to be and wants to redeem them to become!
Men, let’s lean in on Christ and keep pressing together so that we might “act like men”!