Step 12 – Proven By Love
“All men will know that you are My disciples if you love one another.” (John 13:35)
A: Discovering the Truth
B: Exploring the Truth
God calls us to the highest degree (agape) of love. Agape refers to a selfless and unconditional type love. It is the highest of the four types (Eros – sensual; Philia – brotherly; Storge – family; and Agape) of love in the Bible. That is not to say that the other three types do not have their proper place. But unlike these other three types of love, agape has less to do about involuntary desires of love and more about voluntarily desiring to love. It is a motivation for action that we are free to choose or reject. It is a sacrificial love that willingly suffers inconvenience, discomfort, and even death for the benefit of another without expecting anything in return. How do we know it is the highest degree? Jesus said “as the Father has loved Me, so have I loved you,” and for us to “love each other as I have loved you.” It cannot get any higher than that. Jesus told us how to identify this type of love when He said “greater love has no one than this: that one lay down his life for his friends.” Then He provided the ultimate proof that He was more than an itinerant preacher of the warm and fuzzy when He laid down His own life on the cross and died for our sins. This is unmerited love – we do not deserve it. It is love that bore a very high cost – the sacrifice of the Son of God. It is love that is often rejected – not everyone accepts the free gift of salvation. It is love that not always returned – many do not serve Him the way that they should.
Of course, relatively few believers will be called upon to literally lay down their lives for Him or for a fellow believer. But there are many ways that we can figuratively lay down our lives (serving Him, obeying Him, caring for those that He cares for, to name just a few). Paul refers to this kind of love as “the most excellent way.” Excellent means something that is of the highest or finest quality. One might think this is definition enough for the kind of love God calls us to. But Paul affixes a superlative (most) in front of something that is already defined as highest and finest (excellent). Most means greatest in degree. So the love we are called to as Christ’s disciples is one in the greatest degree and of the highest and finest quality. As we look to some of the more challenging people in our lives we can begin to appreciate how great a challenge this might be.
C: Knowing and Understanding the Truth
Because the love Jesus refers to is of the highest degree, it is difficult for sinful man to understand it, much less to attain it. But perhaps we can gain a clearer understanding by knowing a few things about it. In what has become known as the love chapter of the Bible (1 Corinthians 13), Paul describes this type of love in terms of the positive characteristics it has (what it is) and the negative characteristics it does not have (what it is not). The positive characteristics it has are: patience, kindness, truthfulness, protectiveness, trust, hope, perseverance and trustworthiness. The negative characteristics it does not have are: envy, boastfulness, pride, rudeness, selfishness, anger, bearing grudges and a delighting in evil.
Interestingly, Paul’s discussion about love comes immediately after his discourse on spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12. In conclusion Paul instructs his readers to “eagerly desire the greater gifts.” He then goes on to show us “the most excellent way” in 1 Corinthians 13. In doing so he tells us that even extreme giftedness is of little value if it is not accompanied or motivated by love: “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love. I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3). At some point the gifts may fade or disappear, leaving us with only faith, hope and love, of which love is the greatest.
D: Weighing the Truth
We live in a fallen world. Because it is fallen, it is imperfect. Because it is imperfect, our love is also imperfect. There is still a tendency towards harshness, quarreling and jealousy. All of which are signs of an immature love. But we need not lose heart. As we continue to grow as disciples, our love will continue to grow as well – our love of God and of each other. As Christ is reflected in us more and more we will find ourselves giving way to gentleness, peace and kindness. Where we once loved to fight, we will fight to love. We stated earlier in this lesson that love is the litmus test of how we are growing as disciples. So how are you doing with this thing called love? Which way are the scales tipping?
E: Questioning the Truth – For Musing On Your Own
1. How would you define or describe love?
2. Why is our love for each other so important to God?
3. Why is the rest of Scripture so dependent upon love?
4. How hard is it to love when the object of love does not merit it?
5. How can we continue to love someone when the love is not returned?
6. What makes something that is otherwise worthy, essentially worthless without love?
7. Which of the listed positive characteristics of love do you think is the most indispensable? Why?
8. Which of the listed positive characteristics of love do you think is the most neglected? Why?
9. Which of the listed negative characteristics that love is not do you think is the most distasteful? Why?
10. Which of the listed negative characteristics that love is not do you think is the hardest to avoid or suppress? Why?
11. What makes love greater than faith and hope?
12. Why is agape love so hard to achieve and maintain?
13. What is it that causes “fights and quarrels” among believers?
14. How can we turn a “harsh word” into a “gentle answer”? Why would we do that?