Christ’s Love to Sinners in the Midst of Sin

Commenting on Peter’s three denials of Christ, and of the general abandonment of Jesus by his disciples during his passion (his greatest expression of his love), Goodwin makes the point that we learn something very important about the heart of Christ toward his people:

And by the way, so God often orders it, that when he is in hand with the greatest mercies for us, and bringing about our greatest good, then we are most of all sinning against him; which he doth, to magnify his love the more.

-Thomas Goodwin, The Heart of Christ, p. 28




Love is Humble (1 Cor. 13:4c-5 Study Notes)

Study Notes is where I share some of the fruits of my  weekly sermon studies

  • 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
    (1 Cor. 13:4-5).

I offer my paraphrase of vv. 4c-5:

  • Love is not self-inflated; it is not self-assertive, self-seeking, self-conscious, or self-defensive.

1. Love is not self-inflated = not puffed up, not arrogant
2. Love is not self-assertive = not overbearing, doesn’t transgress proper boundaries
3. Love is not self-seeking = it terminates on something other than itself
4. Not self-conscious = not touchy, not prone to fly off the handle
5. Not self-defensive = not keeping lists of acts of aggression

The overarching idea is that love is not prideful. Positively this means that love is humble. Together with all of verse 4 (positively), you get, (1) Love is meek (long-suffering and positively kind), (2) love is content (not envious or boasting), and (3) love is humble (not concerned with self).

The point is clear enough: if you are going to love, you have to get your attention off of yourself and put it somewhere else. You must decrease that Jesus Christ may increase. In turn, you must decrease so that ALL may increase.

You can read previous entries on 1 Corinthians 13 HERE and HERE.

Meek Love

It’s been a busy week that has included trying to come up with a Sunday School lesson on ‘he descended into hell’ from the Apostles’ Creed. I haven’t had time to write much outside of that and sermon work. But as I meditated on 1 Corinthians 13:4 tonight, thinking about the meekness of love (suffering long and being kind), I found my mind going back to two quotes that are worth sharing. The first is Thomas Watson’s description of meekness:

Meekness is a grace whereby we are enabled by the Spirit of God to moderate our angry passions…First, meekness consists in the bearing of injuries…The second branch of meekness is in forgiving injuries…The third branch of meekness is in recompensing good for evil… (Thomas Watson, An Exposition of Mat. 5:1-12).

And I thought of C.S. Lewis’s challenge to us in The Four Loves:

Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.

And so the blessed Spirit continues 1 Corinthians 13, and men like Watson and Lewis, to rip up my heart and put it back together as they point me to the Lord Jesus Christ, the meek One, who bids us, in the words of Watson, not to learn of him how to perform miracles, but how to be meek.

Study Notes: 1 Corinthians 13:4a

I offer you a peak into my studies this week. While digging in the commentaries on 1 Corinthians 13:4, I found quite an array of suggested meanings to the Greek words commonly translated ‘patient’ and ‘kind.’

1 Corinthians 13:4a ‘Love is patient; love is kind…’

The word generally translated ‘patient’ is a compound word that cannot really be translated into English in any literal sense; the closest we can get is probably something like ‘long-passioned.’ But the issue of translation is compounded by the fact that the word is a verb, which doesn’t come out so well in the word ‘patient.’ The KJV uses the word ‘long-suffering,’ which is probably closer to the actual meaning (and it brings out the compound nature of the word). F.F. Bruce suggests the word ‘long-tempered’ (as opposed to short-tempered). Matthew Henry suggests something like ‘big-hearted.’ The main idea is that love patiently bears being wronged.

As for the word translated ‘kind,’ it is even harder to translate in some ways. It only appears in this particular form in this text (nowhere else in the NT). It is also a verb and it appears (surprisingly, at least to me) in the middle voice, which denotes interest in the subject, such as ‘Love is kind in, or of, itself’ or ‘Love shows itself kind.’ The actual word denotes more than ‘kindness.’ It is a mixture, as some commentators have noted, of kindness and goodness. In other words, it denotes benevolence, or a good disposition (but in an active, demonstrable form). Phillips translates it ‘love looks for a way of being constructive.’ Gill uses the words ‘liberal’ and ‘bountiful.’

Between Gill, Henry, Clarke, Calvin, Coffman, Bruce and others, I came up with this list of paraphrases:

  • Love is big-hearted and open-handed.
  • Love receives wrong and gives good.
  • Love is slow to get angry, quick to do good.
  • Love is long-suffering and liberal.
  • Love accepts rudeness and offers kindness.
  • Love suffers long and wishes well.
  • Love patiently endures and actively does good.

All of these are accurate descriptions of the disposition and actions of the Lord Jesus Christ, bearing evil and giving good. This is summarized nicely by the words of Jesus in Luke 9:41: “Jesus answerd, ‘O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.’ Jesus patiently bears the faithlessness of his people, and then positively heals in spite of it. He does not withhold good even though he has been wronged. He does not return ‘in kind.’ This is where the good news comes in. We fail, and he endures our failing and offers us good. And experiencing that gives us strength to do the same for others.

So, how am I going to preach the text? I want to demonstrate the meaning, give examples, demonstrate how Christ personifies the meaning, reminding them of the suffering and compassion of Christ, remind them that they fall short, and call upon them to respond to Christ in faith that they might become more like him. ‘As I have loved you, so must you love one another’ (John 13:34).

He Delights More in Simple Sincerity than Grand Acts of Pride

Jonathan Edwards takes 1 Corinthians 13:3: ‘If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing,’ along with Mark 9:41: ‘For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward,’ and comes to this conclusion:

God abominates the greatest things without sincerity, but he accepts of and delights in little things when they spring from sincere love to himself. A cup of cold water given to a disciple in sincere love, is worth more in God’s sight than all one’s goods given to feed the poor, yea, than the wealth of a kingdom given away, or a body offered up in the flames, without love.

-from Chapter 3 of Charity and Its Fruits

If we accept this conclusion (and I think we have to), then we can never underestimate the value of small acts performed out of sincere love for Christ. In that sense, there is more cosmic significance in the Jesus-loving housewife changing her child’s dirty diaper than in the religious man burning in flames of martyrdom for his pride. He delights more in the loving mopping of the janitor than in the grand politicking of the prideful leaders of the masses. He delights more in the modest hymning of the loving country church member than in the grandiose singing of the loveless tenor.

Let that fact encourage you, as it has me, in the midst of the mundane.

Unreflecting Love

I was reading some poetry this weekend and came across John Keats’s 52nd Sonnet (otherwise known as When I Have Fears). It is a beautiful sonnet to say the least, but I was particularly moved by these words:

And when I feel, fair creature of an hour,
   That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the faery power
   Of unreflecting love—then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
Till love and fame to nothingness do sink.

Here I simply one to record one train of thought thought from my reading of this sonnet.

The line ‘Never have relish in the faery power/Of unreflecting love…’ struck a particular chord with my imagination. Just yesterday I finished up a lengthy series on Romans 8 and had to deal with that famous line of the Apostle Paul, ‘What shall separate us from the love of Christ?’ As I thought about how I might go about presenting such a grand theme as the love of Christ, I almost felt at a loss for words. I have reflected on the love of Christ for years, and because of that past reflection, at times I feel it is an unreflecting love at this point.

I would never say that love must be fully unreflecting. Rather, I would urge that we reflect on the object of love to the point that our experience in the present, at times, feels as though there were no need for reflection: that is that we would simply bask in beauty from time to time. That is what I wanted to do Sunday morning before the great love of Christ. And if the beauty of that experience were taken from me, indeed I think that I would sink. But I would not appreciate that beauty quite so much in the present had I not spent years previously reflecting on it.

The same is the case with purely human love in some sense. To enjoy unreflecting love is a great privilege; but it will never truly be enjoyed if the unreflecting love of the present is not backed up the deep reflections of the past. Beauty is fleeting. I can look at my wife and cringe at the thought of never again seeing her face. But if it is just a face, why would I cringe? Rather, behind that face, for me, lies a thousand reflections from that past dozen years that reinforce the significance of that beauty. Again, I say, it is the reflection of the past that makes way for the true beauty, or faery power, of unreflecting love in the present.

You can read the entire sonnet HERE.

A Different Kind of Medicine: Bringing the World of Love to the World of Machinery

Wendell Berry offers an interesting insight about the ‘atmosphere’ of hospitals:

In the hospital what I will call the world of love meets the world of efficiency – the world, that is, of specialization, machinery, and abstract procedure. Or, rather, I would say that these two worlds come together in the hospital but do not meet. During those weeks when John was in the hospital, it seemed to me that he had come from the world of love and that the family members, neighbors, and friends who at various time were there with him came there to represent that world and to preserve his connection with it. It seemed to me that the hospital was another kind of world altogether.

– Wendell Berry, Another Turn of the Crank, p. 101

Why should you visit people in the hospital? Because it is an act of love, which reminds them that their existence is not one of cold steel and machinery alone. It is counter-cultural. It is a different kind of medicine. It is humane because it reminds the sick that they are human despite the chords and wires.

Not Quasi-Physical

Put your arm around somebody. Give someone a hug:

The New York Review of Books of February 3, 1994, for example, carried a review of the correspondence of William and Henry James along with a photograph of the two brothers standing together with William’s arm around Henry’s shoulders. Apropos of this picture, the reviewer, John Bayley, wrote that ‘their closeness of affection was undoubted and even took on occasion a quasi-physical form.’ It is Mr. Bayley’s qualifier, ‘quasi-physical,’ that sticks in one’s mind. What can he have meant by it? Is this prurience masquerading as squeamishness, or vice versa? Does Mr. Bayley feel a need to assure his psychologically sophisticated readers that even though these brothers touched one another familiarly, they were not homosexual lovers?

The phrase involves at least some version of the old dualism of spirit and body or mind and body that has caused so much suffering and trouble and that raises such troubling questions for anybody who is interested in health. If you love your brother and if you and your brother are living creatures, how could your love for him not be physical? Not spiritual or mental only, not ‘quasi-physical,’ but physical. How could you not take a simple pleasure in putting your arm around him?

– Wendell Berry, Another Turn of the Crank, p. 92

“To love a thing without wishing to fight for it is not love at all…”

Chesterton, commenting on the work of Charles Dickens, offers his take on love, and the fight – the fight for love, and against what stands against the beloved.

Here’s the key line:

To love a thing without wishing to fight for it is not love at all; it is lust.

Here’s the context:

All this is, in a humble manner, true for romance. Romance is a shortening and sharpening of the human difficulty. Where you and I have to vote against a man, or write (rather feebly) against a man, or sign illegible petitions against a man, romance does for him what we should really like to see done. It knocks him down; it shortens the slow process of historical justice. All romances consist of three characters. Other characters may be introduced; but those other characters are certainly mere scenery as far as the romance is concerned. They are bushes that wave rather excitedly; they are posts that stand up with a certain pride; they are correctly painted rocks that frown very correctly; but they are all landscape—they are all a background. In every pure romance there are three living and moving characters. For the sake of argument they may be called St. George and the Dragon and the Princess. In every romance there must be the twin elements of loving and fighting. In every romance there must be the three characters: there must be the Princess, who is a thing to be loved; there must be the Dragon, who is a thing to be fought; and there must be St. George, who is a thing that both loves and fights. There have been many symptoms of cynicism and decay in our modern civilisation. But of all the signs of modern feebleness, of lack of grasp on morals as they actually must be, there has been none quite so silly or so dangerous as this: that the philosophers of to-day have started to divide loving from fighting and to put them into opposite camps. There could be no worse sign than that a man, even Nietzsche, can be found to say that we should go in for fighting instead of loving. There can be no worse sign than that a man, even Tolstoi, can be found to tell us that we should go in for loving instead of fighting. The two things imply each other; they implied each other in the old romance and in the old religion, which were the two permanent things of humanity. You cannot love a thing without wanting to fight for it. You cannot fight without something to fight for. To love a thing without wishing to fight for it is not love at all; it is lust. It may be an airy, philosophical, and disinterested lust; it may be, so to speak, a virgin lust; but it is lust, because it is wholly self-indulgent and invites no attack. On the other hand, fighting for a thing without loving it is not even fighting; it can only be called a kind of horse-play that is occasionally fatal. Wherever human nature is human and unspoilt by any special sophistry, there exists this natural kinship between war and wooing, and that natural kinship is called romance. It comes upon a man especially in the great hour of youth; and every man who has ever been young at all has felt, if only for a moment, this ultimate and poetic paradox. He knows that loving the world is the same thing as fighting the world. It was at the very moment when he offered to like everybody he also offered to hit everybody. To almost every man that can be called a man this especial moment of the romantic culmination has come. In the first resort the man wished to live a romance. In the second resort, in the last and worst resort, he was content to write one.

Read it HERE.

To be against the world, contra mundum, is love. Take the above quote with this one from chapter 2 of The Everlasting Man:

But there was something that did not end. There had arisen in that hour of history, defiant above the democratic tumult of the Councils of the Church, Athanasius against the world. We may pause upon the point at issue; because it is relevant to the whole of this religious history, and the modern world seems to miss the whole point of it. We might put it this way. If there is one question which the enlightened and liberal have the habit of deriding and holding up as a dreadful example of barren dogma and senseless sectarian strife, it is this Athanasian question of the co-Eternity of the Divine Son. On the other hand, if there is one thing that the same liberals always offer us as a piece of pure and simple Christianity, untroubled by doctrinal disputes, it is the single sentence, ‘God is Love! Yet the two statements are almost identical; at least one is very nearly nonsense without the other. The barren dogma is only the logical way of stating the beautiful sentiment. For if there be a being without beginning, existing before all things, was He loving when there was nothing to be loved? If through that unthinkable eternity He is lonely, what is the meaning of saying He is love? The only justification of such a mystery is the mystical conception that in His own nature there was something analogous to self-expression; something of what begets and beholds what it has begotten. Without some such idea, it is really illogical to complicate the ultimate essence of deity with an idea like love. If the modems really want a simple religion of love, they must look for it in the Athanasian Creed. The truth is that the trumpet of true Christianity, the challenge of the charities and simplicities of Bethlehem or Christmas Day, never rang out more arrestingly and unmistakably than in the defiance of Athanasius to the cold compromise of the Arians. It was emphatically he who really was fighting for a God of Love against a God of colorless and remote cosmic control; the God of the stoics and the agnostics. It was emphatically he who was fighting for the Holy Child against the grey deity of the Pharisees and the Sadducees. He was fighting for that very balance of beautiful interdependence and intimacy, in the very Trinity of the Divine Nature, that draws our hearts to the Trinity of the Holy Family. His dogma, if the phrase be not misunderstood, turns even God into a Holy Family.

Love: Am I Glad that this Person Exists?

If…we had to express in a sentence the meaning of human love as a reflection of and response to God’ sown love, it would be hard to do better than the formula of Josef Pieper: Love is a way of saying to another, ‘It’s good that you exist, it’s good that you are in this world!’

-Gilbert Meilaender , Bioethics: A Primer for Christians, 2nd ed., p. 48.

I actually do not agree that this is the best one sentence idea of love. But I certainly think it is a part of what love is, and a quote worth remembering. I can be happy and thankful for the existence of many things or persons without truly loving them. I am happy for the existence of the people who provide me with clean water every day, but that does not mean that I love them. I am thankful for their service but apathetic toward them personally. I am glad that they exist but might be hesitant to lay my life down for them (that’s a flaw in me, I know that). Yet I certainly will not love them if I do not think that it is good that they exist. It is good, then, I think, to ask yourself this question about the people you interact with daily: Am I glad that this person exists?

In other words, I do not think that you necessarily love someone, or some thing, if you are glad that he, she, or it exists. But I also think that you cannot love a person or thing without being glad that he, she, or it, exists. And so the idea can become one test to the legitimacy of love.

So, ask yourself this about that co-worker who gets on your nerves, or that estranged family member, or that unborn child (the context in which Meilaender uses the quote): Are you glad that they exist? If you are, then it may not mean that you love them. But if you’re not, then you certainly don’t.