Monday, December 21, 2009
Current Study: Advent
Today’s Topic: Maturing Love
Scripture Reading: Matthew 1:20-21 An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
It is the theme of more songs than any other subject. It is the subject of more prose and poetry than any other topic. It is the topic of more conversations than any other item of interest. It interests everyone even before we understand we are interested in it. We were designed by our eternal Creator to need it, know it, experience it and show it. It is love.
The love of God that we have the capacity to know and experience is far greater than the counterfeit defined and desired by the world. What the world calls love is nothing more than an attempt to satisfy self, and should not be called love at all. The essence of love has nothing to do with emotions. It has even less to do with hormones. Love may produce emotional responses, but it is not found in the emotions. Love is volitional, not emotional. Love is found in the will of one’s heart.
The love of God is not based on His emotional connection to mankind, for there is nothing in our sinful nature for Him to desire. Love is itself an attribute of God, not a product of any of His other attributes. His nature is love, and therefore His actions are all loving. Even in His judgment of sin He declares His love for the sinner. Jesus came to earth to be judged for our sin, yet God sent Him as an expression of His love so that we might be forgiven and experience His love.
As I read the story of Joseph I am impressed by the nature of his love. What kind of love was it that would move Joseph to listen to the angel and take Mary as his wife after she was already pregnant and declared by society to be an adulteress? How great the love he knew that he would forego the stoning required by the law and marry her. How strong the love he lived that he would put his own reputation and career at risk for the sake of honoring God. How secure he was in the love of God to prioritize obedience to his Lord over acceptance of his culture. How confident he was of God’s love that the opinions, scorn, and even rejection of his friends were not allowed to influence his decision. What love Joseph knew!
We are in desperate need of this kind of love. As the Apostle Paul said, And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:17-19 NIV)
We may think we know what love is, but the reality is probably that we don’t. How many of us would dare to presume that we know the depth and width and length and height of God’s love? But according to Paul we can. We must not be satisfied with less than the fullness of God’s love. So here’s a measuring stick to help you determine where you are in the process of understanding the love of God. May the Lord use it to bring you to maturity in love so that you fulfill the promise of Jesus when He said that the world will know we are Christians by our love.
These are the five stages of love’s maturity. Stage one is actually not love at all, but must be the starting point because it’s where we all begin apart from Christ.
1. The love of self for self’s sake – All choices are made for the benefit of self because love of self has been chosen as one’s highest priority.
2. The love of God for self’s sake – All choices have a spiritual appearance, but God is worshipped and served only so long as self is well served.
3. The love of God for God’s sake – Now love is beginning to truly be experienced. We love God not for what He does for us but exclusively for Who He is.
4. The love of self for God’s sake – We now see ourselves in light of God’s grace that has forgiven us, accepted us, and qualified us as His eternal child.
5. The love of others for God’s sake – This is the fullness of love – the sacrifice of one’s self for the sake of another.
It was the love of others for God’s sake that moved Joseph to consider God’s purpose and take Mary as His wife. It was the same love that had sent Jesus to her womb. God’s love is unique to Him, but shared with those who are His. Each one who has been born of God has inherited the love of God. We can and we must know it, experience it, and live it.