Love: the sacrificial nurturing and caring for another person, body, soul and spirit; the life of Christ within us expressed outwardly
Love is the fulfillment of virtue in that it encompasses and employs all other virtues. If we have learned our lessons from the previous chapters, we already have all the necessary ingredients of love in our hearts (1Cor.13). Here we learn to blend them all together into a single thought and expression. Love singularly fulfills virtue with the fullness of God, leaving no quarter for any semblance of evil or sin. Showing love is how we care for the needs of others, whether this means the basics of food, clothing and shelter, or the soulful needs for learning, growing and emotional support, or sharing the spiritual bread and water of life. The fullness of love is expressed when we surrender our wills to our Lord and allow Him to live His life through us, for God is love (1Jn.4).
The love we speak of here is not to be equated with the romantic or erotic passions that are a part of the normal human desire to mate; the love we speak of here doesn’t require “to have and to hold” another. Likewise, love is neither the extent to which another pleases us nor a mere bodily response to physical and emotional sensations. Love is neither an excuse to sin nor does it legitimize ungodly, reckless behaviors that endanger self or others. The love of God that we are to express to all souls, especially in our closest relationships, always upholds the virtues we have learned in the preceding chapters.
To love others means knowing the Truth of God and living life accordingly. It is letting our knowledge of Truth govern all our interactions, drawing upon His wisdom to provide us with the answers as to how best to tend to life. We also love by sharing Truth and wisdom with those we’ve been given to love. Our fear of the Lord brings His presence into all our relationships, ensuring our conscience is in accord with His goodness while stripping away the fantasies and delusions that lead to a myriad of maladies that compromise healthy interaction. As we grow spiritually and mature in our Christ-likeness, we learn of His wisdom. Doing so gives us broader and deeper insights into our life choices which in turn leads to making godly and productive decisions that are more rewarding than their fleshly alternatives.
Our love for others is based upon our faith in God, His power and His provision; we needn’t be overcome by our personal shortcomings or difficult circumstances. Our faith leads to a courage that gives us the ability to maintain our virtue and bring the goodness of God to bear upon any situation. Abiding in the Holy Spirit, we have the power to act according to His will; we are blest accordingly. In addition, to exercise the virtue of love is to practice remembrance and watchfulness, knowing that any given moment is an occasion to express the love of God and lay the groundwork for a more godly future. We recall the goodness of our Lord, how He has cared for us in the past so that we might fully trust in Him in the moment, and in turn demonstrate His love by loving those around us. Likewise, we practice watchfulness and are able to recognize the hand of our Lord in our current circumstances so that we might join in His work while avoiding the pitfalls and traps the demons use to lead us astray. The pursuit of virtue develops our power of discernment such that we can more easily see the way of our Lord, learning to love others as He loves us and prevent succumbing to fleshly lusts and evil temptations.
Since our love has the Word of our eternal Lord as its foundation, we are blessed with an unshakeable stillness that fosters the trust of God and our fellows as we walk in His ways. We become worthy of being entrusted with greater responsibilities that lead to even greater deeds with even greater rewards. The peace of our Lord sates our souls with a sense of fullness and satisfaction, freeing us from trivial neediness or grotesque wantonness, allowing us to tend to all His creation with unsullied motives. By abiding in the loving ways of the Holy Spirit, we become a beacon of light for lost souls in a darkened world, showing others His way, reaping love from teaching others these lessons. As we see others being touched with His goodness, we in turn become acquainted with the encouragement of hope that lets us know all things are possible in Him and that there are always better things yet to come.
Our love for others is expressed with purity, cleansed from sin, free of self-serving motivations and without selfish, fleshly lusts; love is holy unto the Lord. Its singularity of purpose and intent keeps us focused on God, undeterred by demonic distractions while caring for and providing nurture for those around us. The absence of duplicity in our motives brings simplicity into our lives; we live free of the complications and chaotic consequences of sin. Our expression of love will be honest, in accord with the Truth of the Word of God and without any traces of deception or delusion. Our integrity will prevent our love from being compromised by worldly temptations, dire circumstances or mistreatment; it will be tireless and ever-present, not succumbing to frustrations, tedium, futility, fears, impatience, or any other irritant that might otherwise exhaust our souls.
Our love will be expressed with joy, for our hearts will know the goodness of our Lord and be gladdened. We will enjoy the elation that accompanies praising and worshipping God in all that we do, being energized by His presence because pleasing the Lord is also our pleasure. Our love will also be expressed with thankfulness, free of complaints, criticisms, and unnecessary characterizations, for such thoughts only serve to compromise our virtue by impugning our ability to give thanks to God in all things. The absence of ingratitude in our lives leads to an absence of resentments; we will not isolate ourselves away from individuals and communal activities due to any ill feelings towards those around us. Instead, we will abide in an appreciation of His blessings, beginning with life itself and including all the wondrous things that fill His creation, finding joy in our loving interactions with others, ever thankful for His saving grace.
Our love will be expressed with a humility that has the life of the incarnate Christ as its source. Our inspired deeds will not be cause for self-aggrandizement, but rather be cause for giving thanks for His presence, His trust in us, and the talents and virtues He gives us that make it possible for us to create a trove of treasures in Heaven. Our care and nurture of others will be done selflessly, for our love is enabled by the fullness and abundance of our life in Christ who has at His disposal everything we need. We are His children and we have been given an inheritance of His Kingdom in the Holy Spirit. Therefore, we are empowered to give without thought of recompense, reward, or recognition since God exists without need for anything and our life is in Him. Our love is an expression of His goodness, an outward manifestation of His indwelling righteousness that finds satisfaction in pleasing Him with purity born of total submission to His divine will.
Our love will extol the virtues of justice, dignity and mercy. Abiding in Him, we will be motivated to ensure that justice prevails upon our every domain, that fairness and equality are upheld in deed and not merely in rhetoric or litigation of questionable worth. We will be willing to hold the guilty accountable for their transgressions so that they may learn the error of their ways and come to repentance, thereby protecting the innocent, preventing the creation of more victims and abbreviating the perpetrator’s list of offenses. Our words and actions will lovingly uphold and affirm the dignity of all human souls, recognizing that all are precious in His sight and are never devalued by the application of secular standards of worth. Instead, being ever mindful of Christ’s love for us and the sacrifices He made on our behalf, we will share with others the same mercy He has shown us. We give to the ungrateful, forgive the impenitent, serve the undeserving, respect the contemptible, share with the selfish, and teach the ignorant. Ultimately, we love the unlovable as Christ first loved us.
Our love will be tempered with patience rather than being compromised by rash actions or quick tempers, and we will not express impatience even when harried by demons. Our love is eternal, a constant in time, always on our agenda and is never importune when abiding in His will and exercising godly discernment. We will learn to love with acceptance; meeting people where they are at and helping them grow from there, and do so without condemnation or criticism of their shortcomings, being mindful of our own need for His forgiveness. We do not usurp the province of God; we teach Truth with gentleness, firmly trusting the Holy Spirit to communicate any necessary conviction of ungodliness. We will learn self-control so that our love is not negated by thoughtlessness or impulsive reactions, but is preserved by the stillness of unshakable faith and an uncompromised trust in God.
Our love will be manifest in acts of charity, the giving of our means and ourselves wherever our Lord calls us to serve, returning to Him a piece of His bounty that He has entrusted to us. The love in our hearts will compel us to give generously and joyfully, for we know that sharing His goodness with another may just be the warm introduction to God a lost soul needs to find their way home to Him. Our love is shared with others with hospitality, being considerate and kindly, welcoming guests and not treating others as unwanted, obtrusive, or otherwise unworthy of our time or effort.
Our love will be a constant in all our relations because we have learned to forgive another’s shortcomings in the same manner God has forgiven us, completely and unconditionally. Our love for others will shine with a godly kindness that cheers the disheartened, restores hope in goodness, and reorients the recipient’s heart toward the benevolence of God. By loving others, we will learn of compassion and be moved to redress another’s suffering and pain, and learn of the miraculous healing powers God has made available to us when we live virtuously.
Love is all the above, twined and threaded into a single thought and expression, in obedience to His will, and with proper discernment, rightly balanced for the unique considerations of any given situation. Love gives His will top priority and is willing to make sacrifices for the benefit of another. Love has purpose, to please God, to spread goodness instead of evil, and to help the lost find their way home to Him. By living love, we find the abundant life Christ said would be ours in Him (Jn.10:10).
God has given us a most wondrous example of the many aspects of love being expressed singularly in the salvation history and summarized in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” Let us now seek to understand His love by attempting to discern the components of love found in this verse and see the attributes of God that are the virtues we aspire to attain. First, a word of caution; contrasting how God loves us against how we are to love God, and then against how we are to love one another, creates some difficulties due to the uniqueness of the Almighty; comparing the infinite with the finite certainly leads to unequal findings. However, God has given us many examples and shown us how to love despite our shortcomings and limitations (Micah 6:8), and has likewise empowered us to do so (Acts 1:8). To use the excuse, “I’m only human” may be true for the secular world, but for the children of God it is a lie because we have the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit enabling us to commit acts of love worthy to present as gifts before the King.
By sending His Son into the world, we are given an unadulterated glimpse of His wisdom (1Jn.1). With this insight, we develop a fear of our Lord with greater depth and appreciation. We are also given the means to His knowledge and wisdom through the words and acts of Jesus. The presence of our risen Lord in our lives enables us to love Him with a rock solid foundation of faith that leads to divinely inspired courageous actions or restraint tempered by self-control born of a godly conscience. His plan of salvation also provides for us after His departure; at Pentecost He blessed us with the power of the Holy Spirit who now lives within us, allowing mankind to abide in His presence as Adam and Eve once did in the Garden of Eden, today on Earth and then eternally in Heaven. The indwelling Holy Spirit helps us develop an ever-present spiritual awareness that leads to the virtues of watchfulness and remembrance of Him. His presence brings peace and hope to souls ravaged by sin. By pursuing purity made available though Christ, we come to know the serenity of stillness and the unspeakable beauty of Heaven while yet on Earth. The love of God is expressed with such simplicity in John 3:16 that virtually no prior doctrinal teaching is required to understand it, and children are able to come to a saving knowledge of Him at very tender ages. This verse challenges a soul to take a soul-searching self-assessment, the beginnings of honesty, of the ability to acknowledge Truth that leads to developing integrity based on knowledge of His Word.
The proclamation of the coming of Christ is cause for joy in Heaven and on Earth. It gives His children much cause for thankfulness and praise as the glory of God shines with blinding brilliance in His presence. In the perfect timing of His arrival, we see the patience of God in the many years He prepared the world by sending prophets as documented in the Old Testament books. The Son of God coming down from Heaven to dwell among us is an act of humility on a scale that can only be understood as the love of God. He likewise generously expresses the selfless and sacrificial qualities required to manifest goodness for the benefit of others. His love shows us mercy because we were yet sinners when He died for us, demonstrating His acceptance of us despite our sinful state. He affirms our dignity by saying we are worth all that Christ sacrificed and achieved for our sakes (Rom.5:8). His charitable plan likewise provides the means for our forgiveness. His ultimate sacrifice, dying for all our sins, upholds the justice of God, for the lawful penalty of sin is the agonizing death of total separation from God, a death His mercy makes unnecessary for any human soul to suffer. Instead, the hospitality of God invites us into His home of many rooms that Jesus now compassionately prepares for us (Jn.14:2). In the meantime, Jesus tells us to “Go and do the same” (Lk.10:37) with the gentle assurance that He is with us always, “even till the end of the age” (Mt.28:20).
Mt. 5:43-48, Jesus instructs us to love all souls with perfect virtue
Mt.22:36-40, Jesus teaches us to love God above all things and then one another
Lk.6:27-38, Jesus tells us to love others unconditionally as our Father in Heaven loves us
Lk.10:25-37, Jesus teaches us to love our neighbors with mercy and compassion
Jn.14:15-21, Jesus says our love for Him will help keep us attuned to God
Jn.15:9-17, Jesus commands us to follow His example in loving sacrificially
Rom.12:9-21, our love is zealous, energetic and humble in overcoming evil with virtues
1Cor.13:1-13, if our love isn’t rightly motivated then all our service is corrupt
1Jn.3:16-24, if we love in Truth, our hearts will be stirred to action by our virtues
1Jn.4:7-21, our love for God and others identifies us as children of God abiding in Him
“When the intellect begins to perceive the Holy Spirit with full consciousness, we should realize that grace is beginning to paint the divine likeness over the divine image in us. Artists first draw the outline of a man in monochrome, and then add one color after another, until little by little they capture the likeness of the subject down to the smallest details. In the same way the grace of God starts by remaking the divine image in man into what it was when he was first created. But when it sees us longing with all our heart for the beauty of the divine likeness and humbly standing naked in its atelier, then by making one virtue after another come into flower and exalting the beauty of the soul ‘from glory to glory’ (2Cor.3:18), it depicts that we are being formed into the divine likeness; but the perfecting of this likeness we shall know only by the light of grace. For through its power of perception the intellect regains all the virtues, other than spiritual love, as it advances according to the measure and rhythm which cannot be expressed; but no one can acquire spiritual love unless he experiences fully and clearly the illumination of the Holy Spirit. If the intellect does not receive the perfection of the divine likeness through such illumination, although it may have almost every other virtue, it will still have no share in perfect love. Only when it has been made like God – in so far, of course, as this is possible – does it bear the likeness of divine love as well. In portraiture, when the full range of colors is added to the outline, the painter captures the likeness of the subject, even down to the smile. Something similar happens to those who are being repainted by God’s grace in the divine likeness: when the luminosity of love is added, then it is evident that the image has been fully transformed in the beauty of the likeness. Love alone among the virtues can confer dispassion on the soul, for ‘love is the fulfilling of the law’ (Rom.13:10). In this way our inner man is renewed day by day through the experience of love, and in the perfection of love it finds its own fulfillment.”
St. Diadochos of Photiki (5th C.); The Philokalia, Vol. I, pg. 288 #89
“If, as St. John says, ‘God is love’, then ‘he who dwells in love dwells in God, and God in him’ (1Jn.4:16). But he who hates his neighbor, through this hatred, is separated from love. He, then who hates his brother is separated from God, since ‘God is love, and he who dwells in love dwells in God, and God in him.’”
St. John of Karpathos (7th C.), The Philokalia, Vol. I, pg. 321
“Perfect love… loves all men equally. It loves the good as friends and the bad as enemies, helping them, exercising forbearance, patiently accepting whatever they do, not taking the evil into account at all but even suffering on their behalf if the opportunity offers, so that, if possible, they too become friends. If it cannot achieve this, it does not change its own attitude; it continues to show the fruits of love to all men alike. It was on account of this that our Lord and God Jesus Christ, showing His love for us, suffered for the whole of mankind and gave to all men and equal hope of resurrection, although each man determines his own fitness for glory or punishment.”
St. Maximos Confessor (7th C.), The Philokalia Vol. II, pg. 60