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Love and Compassion

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Love— the word evokes powerful images and emotions: a man and woman joined for life in heart and soul, a mother pouring herself out for her child, a son caring for an aging parent, scenes of togetherness, devotedness, longing in another’s absence.
How can we define love? According to the dictionary, it is “an intense feeling of deep affection.” Apart from God, love is merely a human emotion-fueled at its core by self. The Christian then looks beyond his world to God for a true definition of love. Put - “God is love.” Love is not merely an attribute of God; it is His highest characteristic, an integral part of who He is. In love, all His other qualities are blended. The greatest expression of God’s love is redemption. For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son… (John 3:16a). But God commendeth His love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8). The songwriter said, “Such love cannot be fathomed, ‘tis like the boundless sea.” Truly, love found its greatest expression among men in Jesus Christ.
When asked by the rich young ruler what he must do to be saved, Jesus answered, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets (Matt 22:37-40). His simple words demonstrate how core this issue is to the Christian. It truly encompasses his life, his love to God and others. The link between our vertical relationship to God and working it out in our horizontal relationships becomes very clear and sobering. First John 3:17 captures this thought clearly with the question, Whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?
In the NT, two Greek words are primarily used to describe love, specifically God’s love. “Agape” is a love of commitment, of giving to others. This is deeper than a love of affection. It is an exercise of His will, with no reason for it except that love is part of His nature. “Agape” loves even when the recipient has no desire for a relationship. This is what sets Christian love apart. It is not merely a passing emotion but a reflection of God’s love. It is not self-serving but seeks to give what we have been given.
The Scriptures also portray God’s love as one of feeling and affection. “Phileo” is a love of feeling, of fondness for another, of sentimental attachment, and tender affection. This is the love that the Father has for the Son. It is the love that Jesus had for John, the love that the Jews witnessed as Jesus wept by Lazarus’ grave. And praise the Lord, it is the love that the Father has for us. For the Father Himself loveth you (John 16:27).
It is no surprise that the devil has corrupted such a powerful force for good. In our culture, “love” is an umbrella under which all types of human behaviors fall, from selfless and worthy expressions to totally depraved actions. Perverted “love” engenders much evil. You may have seen the phrase, “Love is love.” On the surface, this statement sounds benign, but love as an end in itself is used to justify all types of relationships, no matter how immoral. Too often, the world confuses love and lust. The jealousy and obsession of perverted love have fueled unspeakable crime. To many, love is disposable. Satan also works to deceive people into misplaced love. For men shall be lovers of their own selves… lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God;” (2Ti 3:2,4).
How does Christian love find expression? After all, love can only be known in the actions it prompts. Someone has well said, “To love is to feel and act lovingly. Love is not an obligation done with a cold soul. But neither is it a passion that expresses itself in cruelty… The feeling must be wedded to the deed.” Love that is not expressed is not love. Love is an earmark of the Christian. It is no accident that the first of the fruits of the Spirit is LOVE. Among Jesus’ last words to His disciples are these, A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; as I have loved you (John 13:34a).
Love is a commitment. This commitment enables us to act lovingly, even when we don’t feel like it. It makes us willing to sacrifice for others, even if no love is returned. John says, Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friend. This is “agape” love. While we may also feel affection for our spouse, family, or brethren, at the core, love is a commitment, giving ourselves selflessly for the good of others.
Love is compassionate. The Good Samaritan is a wonderful example of love in action. He could have excused himself, saying, “Others should be doing this. I don’t have time.” But Luke says that when he saw him, he had compassion on him. He stopped and took time to love the wounded stranger. Jesus used him as an example of how to love our neighbor. Do I take the time to see the needs of those around me who fell among thieves? Will I stop, enter the messiness, and offer myself, my time, and my love? Do I notice the lost look of a struggling brother? What stirs within me when I encounter the “down and out”?
Love expresses itself in patient forgiveness to all. Jesus was the perfect example of this when He said, Father, forgive them for they not what they do. This was the purest love. He was ready to forgive even those who horribly mistreated Him. This does not only apply to our enemies but also to those with whom we relate closely. Peter says that charity shall cover the multitude of sins (1Pe 4:8). When we truly love, we are willing to overlook faults in another and give the benefit of the doubt. Charity suffereth long, and is kind. (ICo 13:4)
What about loving our enemies? When Jesus said, “Love your enemies,” was He calling us to muster up warm, fuzzy feelings toward those who have harmed us? The answer is no. This is “agape” love- the love of doing. It is God’s love flowing through us even though it seems foolhardy to do so. It is acting loving, doing good, being kind even to those who have caused us much pain. It is intentionally committing ourselves to God, even when our emotions cry out against it. Romans 12 says, If thine enemy hunger, feed him, if he thirst, give him drink, for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head.
Love in truth. Love is not always being nice. At times the loving thing to do is to confront another person. Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:15 to [speak] the truth in love. Is it truly loving our brother to watch him pursue a destructive course and say nothing? Is it love not to draw boundaries for our children to avoid conflict? The key is approaching others with a true heart of humility and compassion. People can tell if we come with a critical attitude or if we really care. Truth wedded to love is a powerful tool.
Love finds expression in tender feelings for another. Our feelings need to be tethered to our commitment to love. Otherwise, we set ourselves up to fall into an endless cycle of “falling in love and falling out of love.” While we cannot demand loving feelings in ourselves or others, what we feed grows. In any relationship, whether marriage or any close friendship, tenderness and affection will grow as we are vulnerable and pour ourselves into another’s life.
In a self-centered, love-sick world, cultivate expressions of love - whether at home, in the brotherhood, or in our communities. Give a cheery smile. Call out your brother by name. Show an interest in the details of another’s life. Verbalize appreciation for a job well done. Offer a word of encouragement to leaders. Help others in times of trouble. Tell your brother or sister that you care. Take time for your neighbors. Go out of your way to be friendly, even to those who may irritate you.
We are met every day by opportunities to exercise and grow our love. As Paul prayed for the Thessalonians, “The Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, ….to the end He may stablish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God (ITh 3:12,13).