There’s A Kind of Love

Bible Pages in Shape of Heart Love.jpg

By Steven Barto, B.S. Psych.

LOVE. IT’S MORE THAN A four-letter word. At its basic, love is a noun meaning “strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties,” such as a mother’s love for her child. Of course, it also means “attraction based on sexual desire: affection and tenderness felt by lovers.” It can mean admiration, benevolence, warm attachment, devotion, a term of endearment. However, love is not merely a noun.

Love is also an action verb. In other words, it’s not about something, it’s about doing something. Something selfless at the very least. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary indicates it is a transitive verb that means “to hold dear: cherish.” It can also implicate a lover’s passion, tenderness, amorous caress, copulation. Its etymology is from the Old English word lufu, which includes, “feeling of love; romantic sexual attraction; affection; friendliness; the love of God.” The Germanic word is from the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) root leubh, meaning “to care, desire, love.” It is “the love of God” I wish to talk about here.

There are seven types of love in Greek:

  • Eros—sexual or passionate love; the type most akin to our modern construct of romantic love.
  • Phileo—brotherly love; friendship; shared good will.
  • Storge—familial love; natural or instinctual affection, such as the love of a parent for his or her child.
  • Agape—a Greco-Christian term referring to “the highest form of love; charity; the unconditional love of God for man.”
  • Ludus—this form of love includes game-playing, manipulation, lying; the purveyor of ludic love has “conquests” but no commitments.
  • Pragmaalso known as “pragmatic” love, it is the most practical type; convenient love that involves “being of service” to another out a sense of duty.
  • Philautia—this type of love is within oneself; essential for any relationship because we can only love others if we truly love ourselves. One of the key lessons on a spiritual journey is learning to love unconditionally. In many ways, this type of love is a stepping stone to grasping agape love.

WHAT OF THIS THING CALLED “UNCONDITIONAL LOVE?”

I’ve heard it said that unconditional love is easy. You probably find that hard to believe. I did. There would be no boundaries to loving someone unconditionally. No matter what they’ve done or not done. One blogger posted an article titled “Unconditional Love: Is it Real or Just a Romantic Illusion?” The post analyzes relationship love. It notes that when love is unconditional nothing can tear it asunder. This is the “we are one in our new relationship” love that is ageless, timeless, and infallible. The writer states, “But here’s what you have to know: unconditional love is a romantic illusion, and one that reflects love that is immature.”

In the introduction to his book, Real Love, Greg Baer, M.D. describes his struggle with emotional problems and addiction to tranquilizers and other narcotics. One evening he took a handgun and went into the woods intending to end his life. He put the barrel against his head, ready to die. Instead, he realized something had to change. He sought treatment at a rehab, but said when he returned home clean and sober he was still at the same place that took him down the dark path of addiction: alone and empty. He was missing the profound happiness he’d been longing for his entire life. Reading Baer’s introduction, I saw myself on the pages.

Life for me has always been an emotional roller coaster. I was a little hellion who could not behave no matter what my father tried. His go-to answer seemed to be corporal punishment. This made me hate him and despise myself. I came to fear his very presence; to feel unloved and unlovable. In my heart, I wanted to please him and make him proud. But in my flesh, I wanted nothing but numbness and escape. As each year passed, I became increasingly sullen and doubted I’d ever amount to anything. Why couldn’t I stop lying, stealing, cursing, trashing my room, getting sent to the principal’s office? As my anger grew, I started hating everything and everyone. I got good at deception. After all, who wants to be in trouble all the time? This was the perfect breeding-ground for alcohol and drug abuse. Finally, I could feel euphoric, happy, invincible. I could escape.

As you can imagine, this was not a very sound solution. I ended up right back at the same place every time. Clean and sober for a short time, but lost and alone. Empty. Without friends. Estranged from my family. So I went back out there, drinking and drugging. Numbing the pain and hiding from the world. Withdrawing behind drawn curtains. I was convinced that I was one of those that Jesus couldn’t save. I drifted further from my Christian roots. My high school friends all left for college. I stayed home and hung out with the party crowd. Out until three, sleeping until noon. Just like the shampoo bottle says, “lather, rinse repeat.” I no longer believed God cared about me. It wasn’t long before I doubted the existence of God.

After four decades of active addiction and numerous relapses in my forties and fifties, I found my way back to the church. I started teaching Bible study at two local prisons and did a lot of studying and writing. You’d think my life improved, right? That I finally reached my happy ending. That there was nothing left but to love and be loved; to be clean and sober and help others find their path to sobriety. Sadly, that was not the case. Chronic and ever-increasing pain from a back injury, degenerative disc disease, severe arthritis, and fibromyalgia taunted me and drove me to opiate addiction. I knew better. I just couldn’t decide better. I was letting my physical pain dictate my behavior.

Even after returning to the church of my youth where I accepted Jesus as my savior; despite attending a Christian university and graduating with a bachelor’s degree in Psychology; regardless of years of research, writing, and blogging about addiction and spirituality, I continued to mess up and kept helping myself to narcotic painkillers of family members. Again, I was shunned. They were back to believing I will never change. I’d work my way back into their lives to only repeat my selfish and deceptive behavior.

So what is this all about?

It might sound too simple, but I’m wrestling not against flesh and blood, but against powers and principalities, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places (Ephesians 6:12). But it’s true. This is exactly what Paul means in Romans 7 when he says, “For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it” (verses 18-20, NIV). Although this is instrumental in helping me learn to crucify my flesh and walk instead in the Spirit, it does not alleviate the hurt, disappointment, and anger my family feels toward me. Their utter disgust and inability to trust me.

THE KIND OF LOVE ONLY GOD KNOWS

I recently discovered an incredible song by the Christian group For King and Country, called “God Only Knows.” Although the entire song cuts me to the core, several lines really stand out. Wide awake while the world is sound asleepin’, too afraid of what might show up while you’re dreamin’… Every day you try to pick up all the pieces, all the memories, they somehow never leave you. God only knows what you’ve been through, God only knows what they say about you… You keep a cover over every single secret, So afraid if someone saw them they would leave. God only knows where to find you, God only knows how to break through, God only knows the real you…

LOVE FROM GOD’S PERSPECTIVE

What happens when we look at love from God’s perspective?

The love of God is central to His relationship to the world. We cannot grasp His kind of love through our own intellect. Certainly, there are many paradigms, worldviews, and theological interpretations for God’s kind of love. Theologians consider divine love to be an overriding component of God’s character, if not the very essence of God. Conceptions of divine love vary widely. This is due, in part, because man has a tendency to split hairs over metaphysical matters. The result is theories and definitions which are often cemented in denominational, doctrinal, or other theological differences.

But here are some basic features of God’s love:

  • We can trust in God’s love. First Corinthians 13:4-8 provides an excellent description of God’s (agape) love. It is patient, kind, does not envy, does not boast, is not proud, does not dishonor others, is not self-seeking, is not easily angered, keeps no record of wrongs, does not delight in evil (but rejoices with the truth), always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. Clearly, there is a powerful and unrelenting component to God’s love. We see evidence of this in His covenant relationship with His people. Even in our sinfulness, He demonstrates patience, showering us with unmerited grace and mercy.
  • Our salvation is an expression of God’s love. God loves us enough to have established a plan for our redemption before the foundation of the world; before man’s first sin of disobedience. He provides access to that redemption through His Son, Jesus Christ, who died in our place (see John 3:16). God did not send Christ as a reward for those of us who can keep the Law; rather, He provided Jesus as a solution to the sin problem by making Jesus a ransom for our disobedience. Although we were bought (redeemed) with a price, redemption is much more than being set free from the wages of sin. The crucifixion of Christ restores our fallen status by making peace between us and God. It takes away our shame. It provides for our physical healing. It provides for our spiritual rebirth and restoration.
  • God’s love serves as an exemplar for us. Truly, God has restored us to Him through Jesus Christ. It is up to us to work at restoring our relationships with others. We can only do this by being rooted in God’s love—striving to understand its depth and implications. God asks us to emulate this behavior.
  • The Holy Spirit produces love in us for others. The link between Christ’s love for us and our love for each other is found through the Holy Spirit. We see Christ’s love for us to the point of obedience unto death.

Paul writes, “…that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height—to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:17-19, NKJV). By accepting the full measure of God’s love, we are able to begin practicing unconditional love toward others. We will by no means measure up to this divine attribute. This “no limits” love cannot be achieved through human endeavor. We become able to love this way only through yielding to the Holy Spirit. We can only accomplish it because God first loved us. What connects us with Jesus is faith—trusting His forgiveness; banking on His promises; cherishing His fellowship; desiring to fulfill His Greatest Commandment: to  love the Lord God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our mind; and to love our neighbor as ourselves (see Matthew 22:36-40).

LOVE—PART OF THE FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT

Galatians 5:22-23 reminds us of what is achieved in us through the Fruit of the Spirit. Eugene Peterson translates it like this: “But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely” (MSG).

The late Billy Graham said, “This cluster of fruit should characterize the life of every Christ-born child of God. We’re to be filled with love, we’re to have joy, we’re to have peace, we’re to have patience, we’re to be gentle and kind, we’re to be filled with goodness, we’re to have faith, we’re to have meekness, and we’re to have temperance. But what do we find? In the average so-called Christian today we find the opposite.”

True love—the unconditional agape love of God—always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres (1 Corinthians 13:7). Jesus tells us in John 15:12, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you” (NIV). Paul reminds us in Romans 12:9-10, “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves” (NIV). When we expect this kind of undying love from our friends or family, we set ourselves up for disappointment. Further, as in my case, we’re at risk of living in the sin of offense because we become unforgiving of their unforgiveness. Rather, we must look to God for this kind of love. A love that culminated in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

CONCLUDING REMARKS

Each of us, before coming to Christ, is dominated by one nature—the “old man.” We’re controlled by our ego, our self. We are selfish at best; deceitful at worst. No one likes to be wrong. That’s human nature. Repeated mistakes—especially the ones that continue to break the hearts and spirits of those we love—are the hardest for us to let go. I loath myself when I cannot seem to do that which I want to do, and keep doing that which I wish not to do. I have to remember I am in good company, as the apostle Paul wrote of this very struggle in his life. 

The moment we receive Christ as our Savior, self is put down. We identify with His death, burial, and resurrection through backward-looking faith. Accordingly, we are to crucify our flesh daily. No amount of human power can relieve us of our habits, hangups, or addictions. But when we walk in the Spirit and not in the flesh, we put Christ on the throne in our lives. We dethrone ourselves. The Spirit of God is in control. It is only through realizing this and living it every day that we can ever hope to love unconditionally.

References

Baer, G., M.D. (2003). Real Love: The Truth About Finding Unconditional Love in Fulfilling Relationships. New York, NY: Avery.

Peterson, E. (2003). The Message//Remix: The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.

Skinner, K. (December 16, 2013). “Unconditional Love: Is It Real or Just a Romantic Illusion?” Retrieved from: https://www.yourtango.com/experts/kathe-skinner/unconditional-love-it-real-or-just-romantic-illusion

 

 

Growth in Self-Control

We come now to the last of the nine fruits of the Spirit, self-control. (See Galatians 5:22-23) The nine Beatitudes (Matthew 5) could be pronounced on those who bear these nine fruits, and there could well be special emphasis on the last in this way: “Blessed are the self-controlled.”

It is interesting that Paul puts self-control last. Most systems, ancient and modern, would put it first. Confucianism through self-control would strive to produce “the superior man;” Hunduism through breath- and thought-control would try to produce “the realized man;” Stoicism through will-control desires to produce “the happy man.” The Christian way produces through Christ-control the self-controlled man. But note that self-control is not so much a means as an end. You do not gain Christ through self-control; you gain self-control through Christ.

The love of Christ constrains us, or, literally, “narrows us to His way.” If you begin with self-control, then you are the center, you are controlling yourself. And you will be anxious lest you slip out from beneath your control. I can think of very few situations in which this illusion of self-control is more prevalent than with the addict or alcoholic. There is always this insanely persistent illusion that you’ve “got this handled.”

If you begin, as Paul does here, with love, then the spring of action is love for a Person, someone outside of yourself. You are released from yourself and from self-preoccupation. The power of a new affection breaks the tyranny of self-love and releases your powers. This means that you are a relaxed and, therefore, a released person. When you begin with love, you end in self-control. But it is not a nervous, anxious, tied-up self control; it is a control that is natural and unrestrained, therefore beautiful.

Self-control, the last fruit of the Spirit, is the one that makes all the rest operative. To the Greek, self-control meant to have power over oneself. Paul grasped this quality from the four cardinal virtues of the Stoics, and claimed it as one of the many vital aspects of the Holy Spirit. The Greek word egkrateia means to have strength to control the self. We know this is not possible until we surrender to Christ’s management.

This sublime fruit of the Spirit is not negative. It does not delineate what we are against or will not do. Rather, it consists of a very positive capacity to know who we are and what we will do because the Spirit is in control of our abilities and aptitudes, as well as our appetites. We can have power over ourselves only when we have submitted to the Spirit’s control and power in us. Christ’s control is the basis of self-control.

The fruit of Christ’s indwelling is more than just not flying off the handle or always being Mr. Perfect or Ms. Smooth. Instead, it’s being centered so that all our energies, when multiplied by the Spirit, can be used creatively rather than be squandered. A person who has the fruit of self-control becomes like a wind channel in which the power of the wind is directed. It is silent strength that’s focused to do what the Master commands.

Interestingly enough, this is the only place where the word self-control (egkrateia) is used in the New Testament. And here it is used last as a by-product of love for Christ. Love Christ and do as you like, for you’ll like what He likes.

Invite the Holy Spirit to Walk With You Daily

“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desires of the flesh.” (Gal. 5:16)

The original Greek word for walk means, in a metaphorical sense, habitual conduct. The phrase in the Spirit means by the Spirit as a rule of conduct. The New Living Translation says, “So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves.

If you have been living in spiritual defeat, powerless and fruitless, wondering if there is any validity to the Christian life, there is hope for you. What greater promise could Christ offer to the Christian than the assurance that he can walk daily in the power of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus Christ, and experience an abundant and fruitful life of purpose and adventure?

The Christian life, properly understood, is not complex, nor is it difficult. Rather, the Christian life is very simple. It is so simple that we stumble over the very simplicity of it, and yet it is so difficult that no one can live it. Why the paradox? It’s because the Christian life is a supernatural life. The only one who can help us live this abundant life is the Lord Jesus Christ, who empowers us with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit can help you to be more consistent in your walk with God, and to be more effective in your witness for Jesus.

The moment you invited Christ into your life as Lord and Savior, you experienced a spiritual birth. You became a child of God, and you were filled with the Holy Spirit. God forgave your sins, all of them, past, present and future, making you righteous, holy and acceptable in the sight of the Father. You were given the power to live a holy life.

When you try to control your own behavior through shear willpower, you fail. You go from one emotional experience to another, living most of your life as a worldly Christian, frustrated and fruitless. If you try to live the Christian life by your own fleshly effort, it becomes complex, difficult, even impossible. But when you invite the Holy Spirit to walk with you and direct your life, you become empowered to live the abundant life Christ wants you to live.

This is not simply a matter of positive thinking. In Galatians 2:20, Paul says, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” Remember that the Holy Spirit already dwells within you. You do not have to ask Him to come into your life. He is already indwelling you. Your body became a temple of God from the moment you became a Christian. So you simply say to the Holy Spirit, “I surrender my life to You, and by faith I claim Your fullness and power.”

Whatever happens, do not depend upon your feelings. Tied as they are to your ever-changing circumstances, feelings are unreliable in evaluating your relationship with God. In fact, your emotions will lie to you. The unchanging promises of God’s Word, not your feelings, should be the authority in your life. You need to live by faith, believing in the trustworthiness of God and His Word.

If your new life in Christ began by the Spirit, then your life from that day forward should be carried out by the Spirit. (See Gal. 3:1-5) To walk by the Spirit means to do what you do each day by the Spirit. You should live your life, in all its details from waking up in the morning until going to sleep at night, by the enabling power of the Holy Spirit. Galatians 5:17 tells us, “For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other, so that you cannot do the things that you would.” In other words, the flesh produces one kind of desires, and the Spirit produces another kind, and they are opposed to each other.

Walking by the Spirit is what you do when the desires produced by the Spirit are stronger than the desires produced by the flesh. This means that walking by the Spirit is not something you do in order to get help from the Holy Spirit. Rather, just as the phrase implies, it is something you do by the enabling of the indwelling Holy Spirit.

Ultimately, all the good inclinations or preferences or desires you have are given by the Holy Spirit. Apart from the Spirit, you are mere flesh. In Romans 7:18 Paul said, “I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, dwells no good thing.” Apart from the gracious influences of the Holy Spirit, none of your inclinations or desires are holy or good. Romans 8:7 tells us, “For the mind of the flesh is hostile to God’s law and does not submit to it because it cannot.” At the time of your new birth, the Holy Spirit seeks to create a whole new array of desires and loves and yearnings and longings. When these desires are stronger than the opposing desires of the flesh, you are walking by the Spirit.

Galatians 5:19–24 describes a contrast between the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit. The opposite of doing the works of the flesh is bearing the fruit of the Spirit. (See v. 16.) If you walk by the Spirit, you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. What pleases God is walking by the Spirit and being led by the Spirit and bearing the fruit of the Spirit. As a Christian, you are not to learn the right thing to do, but how to do the right thing. The problem is not to discover what love looks like, but how to love by the Spirit.

For Paul it is absolutely crucial that, if you came to life by the free and sovereign work of the Spirit, you need to learn to walk by the free and sovereign work of the Spirit. As a believer, you have the Spirit of Christ, the hope of glory within you. (See Col. 1:27) If you walk in the Spirit, you will show forth daily moment-by-moment holiness. This is brought about by consciously choosing by faith to rely on the Holy Spirit to guide you in thought, word, and deed. (See Rom. 6:11-14) Failure to rely on the Holy Spirit’s guidance will result in not living up to the calling and standing that salvation provides.

You can know that you are walking in the Spirit if your life shows the fruit of the Spirit, which is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (See Gal. 5:22-23) Being filled with the Spirit is the same as allowing the Word of Christ to richly dwell in you. (See Col. 3:16)

The result is thankfulness, singing, and joy. Children of God will be led by the Spirit of God. (See Rom. 8:14) To walk in the Spirit is to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. It is essentially to walk with the Spirit, allowing Him to guide your steps and conform your mind. Invite the Holy Spirit to walk with you in your journey every day until you are taken to heaven. Until the day you hear the Lord say to you, “Well done my good and faithful servant.”