The Greatest of These (6)
“But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
2 Peter 3:18
Love is the greatest of all Christian virtues. Love focuses faith and fuels hope, giving rise to lives of courage, wisdom, temperance, and justice. Those who are able to increase in love for God and neighbor express the life of Christian virtue as the natural outworking of God’s Spirit and Christ’s righteousness in their souls.
But we do not come to the life of faith full grown in the virtue of love. Instead, like all the virtues, we must grow in love. Growing in love is related to growing in the Lord Jesus Christ, for He is God, and God is love. The more we grow in Him, the more His love will come to expression through us. We cannot love others as we would have them love us simply because we want to. We need the power of the indwelling Christ to make us willing and able to love others according to the pleasure and purposes of God (Phil. 2:12, 13).
Growing in Christian love is a twofold proposition. On the one hand, we must concentrate on growing from within. We must train our minds to love, nurture love in our hearts, and settle our consciences on love being the highest virtue by which we must live. As we are thus being transformed on the inside, the outside of our lives will increasingly reflect that inward reality, and love will be more consistently the standard that guides our conduct in life.
But we can only effect real and lasting change on the inside of our lives by making some important changes in our outer lives at the same time. For example, inner change comes only by the work of God’s Spirit, as we resort to the Lord in prayer and the reading and study of Scripture. But such disciplines take time, and it may be that the time of our lives is already spoken for by a variety of activities. But if the discipline that changes us within is as important as we suspect, we will need to recover some of the time of our lives in order to devote more of it to the disciplines of prayer, reading, meditation, and study of God’s Word. We will have to change some outward aspect of our lives, setting aside some activities – such as sleeping, watching television, surfing the Internet, or whatever – in order to put the time those activities require to better use in nurturing love within our souls.
Similarly, as we are learning to bring our minds, hearts, and consciences into agreement about the real nature of love, we may discover some not-so-loving practices in our lives that will need to change. For example, I may learn (hopefully) that heartfelt, attentive, participative worship is a most important way of showing God that I love Him. At the same time, I may come to realize that my own worship is self-interested, uninformed, uninspired, and not very participative. I may need to change my approach to worship by, let’s say, learning to sing the hymns more sincerely, or paying more attention during the preaching, or making sure that I understand the Lord’s Supper and how I should practice it. As I make these outward changes in my approach to worship, I will discover that they reinforce what I’m learning in my soul, which, in turn, will make my worship of God a more loving and meaningful experience.
We grow in love by looking to the Word of God to teach us what love requires – how we ought to think; what affections are appropriate, and toward which objects; what our values and priorities should be; and how we may practice love in every situation. Then, as we bring our words and deeds into conformity with the new furnishings of our souls, we will find that love becomes more consistently present in all our dealings with God and our neighbor.
But we need to make sure our love is patterned and practice according to the only standard that pleases God. And that means looking to Jesus to guide us in the everyday practice of this greatest of Christian virtues.
How could you adjust your practice of spiritual disciplines to focus them more pointedly on growing in love? Make some plans, then share these with some Christian friends. Invite them to join you in this project of growing in love.
This week’s series, The Greatest of These, is available in a free downloadable format, suitable for group study.
For more insight to the practice of temperance, order the book, Loving God, by Charles Colson. For more insight to the true nature of love, read the article, “True Love,” by Regis Nicoll.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture references are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.