And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth” (5:9-10; my bold and italics).After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands (7:9; my bold and italics).
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Yesterday I argued that God’s kind of love begins in the affections and shows itself outwardly in action. But that kind of love is difficult, so we come up with poor alternatives. In this post, I’m going to explore some of those alternatives.
One such alternative that I hear people say goes something like this: “Love is not a feeling; it is an action. So do the right action and the feelings will follow.” I may or may not be guilty of this logic in my past (years and years ago when I was so young and immature). I understand the thought, and it may be true sometimes in experience. Sometimes if we will just do the right thing—even when it’s difficult—our feelings afterward may be a lot different than our feelings before.
But there’s a real danger in this way of thinking. We may be performing the right action with the right feelings following afterward. But it’s equally possible that we outwardly perform the right action without dealing with the negative feelings we have toward that person. This leads to hardness of heart. Bitterness. Anger. Callousness. Hypocrisy. All sinful traits we are called to put away from our lives—and replace with God’s kind of love (Eph 4:31-5:1; Col 3:8-10; 1 Pet 1:22-2:3).
Too often my love is captured in the saying, “I’ll love ’em, but I don’t have to like ’em.” I don’t say it, but I do it. I love by gritting my teeth and putting a smile on my face and trying to act kindly and appropriately—but inwardly I don’t feel very loving toward that person.
When I find myself with less-than-perfect feelings toward a person, I don’t need to respond with a “I’ll just sacrificially serve them” mindset; I need to deal with my sinful feelings. At these times, if I’m really honest with myself, what I find is a love that has run cold, a heart that has become hard, and an affection that is really lacking for the person. To just outwardly “love” the person in the hope that the feelings follow after tends to do nothing but solidify my affection-less attitude toward that person. It becomes easier and easier to distance myself from him or her without having to deal with what is going on inside me.
This is far less than God’s kind of love.
The kind of love we are called to in John 13:34-35 and Romans 13:8-10 and Ephesians 5:2 and 1 John 4:7-11 and on and on is the kind of love God has shown us. The kind of love that starts in the heart and moves to our actions. The kind of love that is an affection shown in action. The kind of love that flows from a genuine care for the person instead of just outwardly doing the right thing to them.
So the next time that saying, “I’ll love ’em, but I don’t have to like ’em” (or one like it), pops into your head—or comes out your mouth—start by dealing with your heart before the Lord. The next time you don’t feel like loving that difficult person, remember God’s love for you. Allow His love to shape your heart, and then watch how you will actually care for the person—which will move you to action.
Then you will be able to say, “I’ll love ’em—and I actually like ’em too.”
I’ve heard it said a few too many times. I feel like it’s a well-meaning solution to a serious heart problem.
Maybe you’ve heard it said too. Maybe you’ve even said it yourself (or something very close to it).
“I’ll love ’em, but I don’t have to like ’em.”
On the one hand, I get it. Each of us has that one person (or two or ten or twenty people) who is (are) difficult to get along with. You try and try to care for that person and to genuinely love them, but they prove themselves to be unlovely. You seek to be kind to them and do the right thing toward them, but if you are really honest you just don’t like them very much. I get it.
On the other hand, it is not God’s kind of love. The love of God that is made known through Jesus is a love that starts in the heart and is expressed in our conduct. It is an inward affection that shows itself in our outward actions. God’s love is an affection that shows itself in action. Any kind of “love” that focuses only on the outward action without flowing from an inward affection is a love that falls way short of the kind of love that God shows to us and calls us to.
The kind of love that I’m suggesting here to be God’s kind of love is everywhere in the New Testament:
- “For God so loved (the affection) the world that He gave (the action) His only Son” (John 3:16a). God loved so God gave.
- “But God shows his love for us (the affection) in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (the action)” (Rom 5:8). God’s affection for us was put on public display in the death of King Jesus.
- “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us (the affection), even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive (the action) together with Christ – by grace you have been saved” (Eph 2:4-5). God loved so God acted.
- “Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us (the affection) and gave us (the action) eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word” (2 Ths 2:16-17). God loved so God acted.
- “See what kind of love (the affection) the Father has given (the action) to us, that we should be called children of God” (1 John 3:1). God loved so God acted.
- “In this the love of God (the affection) was made manifest among us, that God sent (the action) his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love (the affection), not that we have loved God but that he loved us (the affection) and sent (the action) his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:9-10). God loved so God sent.
Shall I go on?
It seems to be splattered on almost every page of the New Testament. It’s everywhere. God loves so God acts. God’s inward affection moves Him to outward action—action that is always for our ultimate good. It’s so prominent and obvious I wonder how we can miss it.
But too often we do. Too often I do.
And too often we come up with less-than-ideal alternatives. In tomorrow’s post I’ll explore some of those alternatives.