Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Pathetic Husbands and Hindered Prayers

Do you think God holds a grudge? If you sin and seem to get away with it, does God come back to get you in another area? What about for Christians whose sins have been forgiven, and the wrath of God against them has been forever assuaged by Christ? Of course, we're all familiar with lying in the bed one has made and accepting the consequences for one's actions. But does our sin personally affect our relationship with God? Or is God just statically, perpetually level in his response to us? We have to be careful.

On the one hand, if you are in Christ and he has paid your sin-debt, the wrath of God does not remain upon you (Colossians 1:13-14). His forgiveness has perfected you for all time in his eyes (Hebrews 10:14). But does this mean that God is static in his relationship with you? That what you do, whether good or evil, doesn't matter anymore because God never changes in his relationship to you? I don't believe so, and I believe that by believing this, many have rushed headlong into all sorts of sins and cut out a vital aspect of our union with Christ.

Was the wrath of God lifted from the apostle Peter when he wandered around Israel with Jesus? Yes it was. Was Peter forgiven through the blood that Jesus would soon shed for him? Yes he was. Was God happy with Peter because of the work Christ was doing on Peter's behalf? Yes God was. So consider this disturbing voice of Jesus: "But he turned and said to Peter, 'Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man'" (Matthew 16:23). Jesus called Peter Satan! That's a very stern rebuke. Did God suddenly change his mind concerning Peter? Was the wrath of God all of a sudden thrown back upon Peter? Did the blood lose its power? No. But Peter was made well aware that his agendas were bumping up against Christ's. The covenant love of God for Peter never diminished, even though the relationship went through a rough spot. Peter is righteous in Christ and representing the agenda of Satan to God himself - at the same time. What does this mean?

Peter writes to husbands: "Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered" (1 Peter 3:7). There are many husbands who profess to be Christians, yet refuse to obey this verse. They will not be gentle with their wives, and they will not treat them like precious china dishes. They are harsh and snappy and crude toward their wives. They are quick to anger and ridicule and criticize. They place burdens on their wives that they would never bear themselves. They degrade their wives and treat them like objects or like little children. They will not put their wives on pedestals of honor and adoration. They are pathetic husbands - Pathetic [puh-thet-ik], adjective, 4. miserably or contemptibly inadequate. They're husbandry is inadequate to nurture flourishing growth in their wives. They're pathetic.

What is God's response to pathetic husbands? He doesn't listen to their prayers. For a Christian who truly understands how radically God-centered this universe is, there is no greater threat available to offer. The Christian knows he is positionally right with God because of what Christ has done for him. But that doesn't mean that the relationship doesn't fluctuate. Think of it like this. Imagine that you were born with the last name Jones. But the Smith's adopted you, so you became a Smith. Now, if you do something displeasing to your new parents, they don't un-adopt you and take away your name. They don't say, "You trampled my flowers so you're not a Smith anymore!" Instead, they say, "You trampled my flowers so I'm taking away your video games until they're replaced." If you ask them if they still love you and if you're still their child, they say, "Of course we love you. We always will, and you'll forevermore be a Smith. But you're not getting your video games back until the flowers are replaced."

Being adopted by God through Christ didn't protect Peter from being called Satan when he set his mind on earthly things. And the prayers of husbands who are adopted by God into the family of Christ are not protected when they prove to be pathetic husbands. I've heard several preachers explain our relationship with God as follows: A husband and wife were driving in a car when they passed a young couple in a convertible snuggled right against each other. The wife asked her husband, "Why don't we sit like that anymore?" to which the husband replied from behind the wheel, "I haven't moved." Everyone in the congregation laughs at the joke, and then the preacher says, "If you don't feel as close to God as you used to, just know this: God never moves."

Now, I understand the intention of this story. It is to show the dependability of God. But I'm not sure we can defend it from Scripture. Consider these verses:

"If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened" (Psalm 66:18).

"If one turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination" (Proverbs 28:9).

"But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear" (Isaiah 59:2).

"We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him" (John 9:31).

These verses, along with the one Peter wrote to husbands concerning their prayers, does not seem to support the idea that God remains the same with a Christian who moves away from God. In other words, if you choose to act as though God's Word and will do not count when you want to treat your wife like dirt, do not think that God's Word and will are going to be there for you when you ask for a raise at work or relief from an illness or the salvation of your mother or a more smooth-running home life or guidance in a decision.

Jesus did not let Peter's mind remain on earthly things. He didn't allow Peter to be a perpetual representative of Satan. How long do you think he'll tolerate your earthly-minded agenda, pathetic husband? How many prayers are going unanswered right now in your life because you refuse to honor your wife? It rhymes on purpose. Start chanting it to yourself: "How many prayers are unanswered in life because I refuse to honor my wife?" If you choose to live as though God is insignificant in your marriage, don't be surprised when you can't find his significance anywhere.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Ortlund: How to Wreck Your Church in Three Weeks

I don't usually post church-type things on this blog, but I'll make an exception with this recent Ray Ortlund post.

How To Wreck Your Church In Three Weeks

Ray Ortlund:

How to wreck your church in three weeks:

Week One: Walk into church today and think about how long you’ve been a member, how much you’ve sacrificed, how under-appreciated you are. Take note of every way you’re dissatisfied with your church now. Take note of every person who displeases you.

Meet for coffee this week with another member and “share your heart.” Discuss how your church is changing, how you are being left out. Ask your friend who else in the church has “concerns.” Agree together that you must “pray about it.”

Week Two: Send an email to a few other “concerned” members. Inform them that a groundswell of grievance is surfacing in your church. Problems have gone unaddressed for too long. Ask them to keep the matter to themselves “for the sake of the body.”

As complaints come in, form them into a petition to demand an accounting from the leaders of the church. Circulate the petition quietly. Gathering support will be easy. Even happy members can be used if you appeal to their sense of fairness – that your side deserves a hearing. Be sure to proceed in a way that conforms to your church constitution, so that your petition is procedurally correct.

Week Three: When the growing moral fervor, ill-defined but powerful, reaches critical mass, confront the elders with your demands. Inform them of all the woundedness in the church, which leaves you with no choice but to put your petition forward. Inform them that, for the sake of reconciliation, the concerns of the body must be satisfied.

Whatever happens from this point on, you have won. You have changed the subject in your church from gospel advance to your own grievances. To some degree, you will get your way. Your church will need three or four years for recovery. But at any future time, you can do it all again. It only takes three weeks.
Just one question. Even if you are being wronged, “Why not rather suffer wrong?” (1 Corinthians 6:7).

Friday, January 22, 2010

Our Ability to Love Virtuously is Utterly Trashed

Our ability to love virtuously is utterly trashed. Radical statement, I know. But this statement is more than my usual disregard for nuance. I carefully measured every word before writing it. As we've been looking at love as a progression of phases, I'm pretty sure you've come to a disturbing conclusion if you've read carefully. We don't love the right things with the right intensity, and most of the time, we don't love the right things at all. A view of love would be incomplete without considering it from the perspective of original sin, or Adam's horrifying fall in the Garden of Eden. Here's the thing about sin: it is passed down from generation to generation like eye color or temperament. I have affections and desires for disgusting things. I got that from my parents who got it from theirs and on up the line back to Adam and Eve.

Consider this paragraph from the Belgic Confession of 1561: "We believe that by the disobedience of Adam original sin has been spread through the whole human race. It is a corruption of all nature - an inherited depravity which even infects small infants in their mother's womb, and the root which produces in man every sort of sin. It is therefore so vile and enormous in God's sight that it is enough to condemn the human race" (Article 15). Notice the cancer-like language: it "has been spread" and "it is a corruption" that "infects" even infants. It is really beautiful language to describe a devastating reality. Original sin corrupts our ability to evaluate rightly.

I recently saw a dead and decaying pig on my dad's farm. I will spare you the details, though it's the details of that vision that brings this post into focus. As I walked past the rotting pig with fluid leaking from its body, I imagined sitting down beside it with a tray. On the tray was a plate with a big juicy pork chop, a bottle of A1 sauce and of course, a Mountain Dew. I would not have been able to eat a pork chop sitting next to that dead pig. How much less would I be able to eat the meat of that dead pig itself? Just take a bite out of it as it lay on the ground? Seriously, weak stomachs might gag at the sight and smell of it. Or the thought of it. Eat it? No way. Or is there a way I might be convinced to eat it after all? What if I like rancid, maggot-infested meat? Dogs do. Pigs do.

Before you write me off as an idiot, consider this verse: "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?" (Jeremiah 17:9). This verse is all about extent. It's describing the condition of mankind's heart. Man's heart is what? Loving? Pure? Neutral? Agnostic? Skeptical? Passionate? Slightly bent? Aching? Breaking? Try deceitful and sick. You know what that means don't you? Sick, like my pig illustration above. Sick, like when you say to someone, "You're sick," and you don't mean ill. So when God looks at the human heart, he sees sickness. To what extent? Desperately. You know what's really bad about that? In addition to being sick, our hearts are also deceitful - above all things. The chief characteristic of your heart and mine is that it lies. What do our hearts lie to us about? Being sick of course. Our own heart is desperately sick and refuses to acknowledge it. In other words, our heart does like rancid, maggot-infested meat. But that's not the worst part. It also convinces us that the rancid meat is really a tasty pork chop. The whole human race is delusional.

Now, I began this post stating that our ability to love virtuously is utterly trashed. Virtuous love is love that pleases God. Virtuous love is that love which proceeds from Christ, flows through Christ, and gives glory back to Christ. This kind of love is supernatural. It cannot be drummed up from a sick heart, no matter how hard that is to believe. Only God can give this kind of love to man. So if you're relying on the quality of your love to feel right with God, you're in for a long, miserable life. Fortunately, God has shown us a better way.

"Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit" (2 Corinthians 3:17-18). The Spirit of God shines into our sick hearts the light of Christ's glory. "For God, who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Corinthians 4:6). In other words, we are given by God the ability to find Christ valuable. But here's the catch. It's not automatic. Let me repeat. It's not automatic. Our sick hearts still find rancid meat tasty. We just also find Christ appealing now as well.

If I sit and ponder the world through the eyes of an apocalyptic movie, the world is very dark. There is a shroud of darkness in our hearts that keeps us from seeing the world as it really is. Think with me for a moment without the aid that revelation has given us. I find sex outside of wedlock quite appealing. The more debased the better. God sees it as a rotting pig. I think nice things are the secret to happiness. Show me the money. God sees maggot-infested flesh. I see every reason to nurture and protect my own comfort and convenience. Look out for number one. God sees dead nasty pig. Do you get the picture? When I see dead, rotting pig, it turns my stomach. That's not as bad as what God sees when he looks at the things our hearts find attractive - the desires of the flesh and desires of the eyes and pride in possessions. He sees a heart that finds those things valuable and says, "Deceitful above all things and desperately sick!"

Don't put your faith in your love. It will lead to despair. Put you faith in Christ, the One who is love incarnate, the One whose heart always loved virtuously, not just as an example for us, but as our substitute. If it were enough for Christ to come to earth as an example, he wouldn't have had to die as our substitute. Do you want to love the right things rightly and the wrong things not at all? Don't count on your ability to diminish things that you know shouldn't be valuable to you. The sickness is too deep to cast out by will-power. You can't fall out of love by trying to. Your evaluator is utterly ruined and finds repulsive things attractive. Instead, look to Christ, in the Bible, in the Bible-based insights of other Christian speakers and writers, in the solitude of private prayer and the community of corporate worship. As you behold the glory of the Lord, the Spirit of God transforms you into the same image.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Gospel and Virtuous Love

The gospel is the only life-giving force in the world. Everyone is born under a sentence of death. The wages of sin is death and everyone sins, so all die. When sinners are given "the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Cor. 4:6), part of that knowledge of God's glory is his infinite love. God's love "has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us" (Rom. 5:5). Now that we're Christians, "the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised" (2 Cor. 5:14-15). True Christians are animated and controlled by Christ's love operating in them. They no longer value themselves as the highest good, they value Christ. The value that Christians see in Christ compels them to incline their focus to act on Christ's behalf in the world, or to virtuously love. So having Christ's love inside of us enables us to love like Christ. When a Christian practices virtuous love, it is actually the overflow of Christ's love working through his body. John says something similar when he points out that: "no one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us" (1 John 4:12, emphasis mine). When Christians love others, God's love is made complete through their love. God has chosen to show his love to the world through the love given, first by Christ, then by his body, the church. So the natural fruit and outpouring of the gospel is the love of Christ proclaimed and illustrated to his creation through his church.

This gospel-driven love is recorded in 2 Corinthians 8 and 9. Paul is trying to motivate the Corinthian Christians to give a generous offering to the impoverished church in Jerusalem. He does this by pointing out what the Macedonian Christians have already done: "We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own free will, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints -- and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us" (2 Cor. 8:1-5).

The first thing that Paul brings up is God's grace. God had given grace to the churches of Macedonia (Philippi, Thessalonica and others). We can assume this grace enabled the Macedonians to rejoice in God so much that they could give abundantly, though their own possessions were few. Paul says they even freely gave beyond their means. When Paul was reluctant to accept their gift due to their own poverty, the Macedonians begged Paul to take it. Paul says they "gave themselves first to Lord and then by the will of God to us" (8:5). God's grace produced joy in God that overflowed in free, abundant giving. Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace. "But as you excel in everything -- in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you -- see that you excel in this act of grace also. I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. And in this matter I give my judgment: this benefits you, who a year ago started not only to do this work but also to desire to do it. So now finish doing it as well, so that your readiness in desiring it may be matched by your completing it out of what you have" (2 Cor. 8:6-11).

Now Paul shifts gears from the Macedonians to the Corinthians. Paul is expecting that just as God gave grace to the Macedonians, he also has given grace to the Corinthians producing similar results. Paul even calls their giving "this act of grace" (8:7). Paul says he wants the Corinthians to "prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine" (8:8). The key word in that verse is also. Paul wants the Corinthians to prove their love is genuine like someone else proved their love was genuine. The also obviously refers to the Macedonians. The Macedonians gave out of the grace-given overflow of joy in God. Paul calls that God-given graciousness "love" and wants the Corinthians to do the same thing. Notice how Paul calls their desire to give incomplete (8:11). It's not enough that the Corinthians desire to give. They must finish doing the good they desire. That's how their love will prove its grace-given virtue. "You will be enriched in every way for all your generosity, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints, but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission flowing from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others, while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you. Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!" (2 Cor. 9:11-15).

Paul expresses the benefits of giving cheerfully in the first part of chapter 9. He says giving cheerfully benefits the giver. He says the Corinthians' generosity will produce thanksgiving to God. The generosity of the body will bring thanksgiving to the Head. Why? Because the Jerusalem Christians know that their Macedonian and Corinthian brothers only give because the love of Christ controls them and operates through them. Paul says the love shown by the Corinthians will bring glory to God. This love is "flowing from your confession of the gospel of Christ. . . ." (9:13). Notice the word "flowing." God-glorifying, virtuous love is flowing from a confession of the gospel. Notice how the Macedonians' love follows the progression of phases. The Macedonians began with an affection for God flowing from a sense of his beauty or value. It was out of "their abundance of joy . . ." (8:2). They had a desire for God as "they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us" (8:5). They inclined their focus from things of the world to God and his cause "begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints" (8:4). Their inclination of focus overflowed in action since "they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own free will" (8:3). All the phases are there in this act of love.

Virtuous Love

We can safely infer from 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 some boundaries around virtuous love. First, if love is to be virtuous, it must flow from the grace of God through the gospel. Love is common to all mankind, virtue is not. The reason for this is simple. In our natural state, we don't value God, the Fountain of all virtue. God must give us the sense of his value (faith) and feed and develop it through his Word if we are to see any virtue in virtue. We are dependent on God to produce virtue through us. If he doesn't do this, then we find substitute things from the creation to value and love independently of God. The problem with this love for the world is that nothing in the creation is to be valued independently of God. This brings us to our second boundary.

Second, if love is to be virtuous, God's glory must be manifested, proclaimed and praised. "For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen" (Rom. 11:36). "For by him [Christ] all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities -- all things were created through him and for him" (Col. 1:16). "Yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist" (1 Cor. 8:6).

Love can have a lesser direct object (like a spouse), but if it's to be virtuous it must ultimately present God as glorious. The one doing the loving must consciously desire that God be the receiver of thanksgiving, praise and glory. In order for this to happen, God must be the central focus of our activity. We aren't meant to operate independently of God. This is why I warned in the Introduction against trying to balance God among other areas of life. God is to be the ground, channel and recipient of every area of life. For instance, the direct object of the Corinthians' offering of love was the Jerusalem Christians. However, the ultimate recipient of glory was God. Love is never independent of God. It's either magnifying God's glory or stealing it. The Corinthians loved their brothers in such a way that God got the glory for it. The Corinthians loved the Jerusalem Christians on behalf of God.

When we take these first two points together, 1) virtuous love flows from the grace of God through the gospel, and 2) virtuous love must manifest and proclaim God's glory; we realize the Christ-centered nature of virtuous love. Love comes from Christ, works through Christ and returns to Christ. This may seem radical at first. Is there virtue in a non-Christian soldier dying for his country? No. Apart from the gospel, this soldier is going to hell. Is there virtue in a mother nurturing her child without a desire to see God's glory manifested? No. Since God does everything for his own glory, anything not done by his creatures with the same ultimate motive would be a competitor to his glory. How can a competitor to the Fountain of virtue be virtuous? If there's one thing the Bible is clear about, it's God's passion for his own glory. All acts of love must flow from him, through him and back to him in order to be virtuous love. The very fact that living in such a God-centered way seems impossible to us just goes to show how far we've fallen. Worse yet, we often whittle down love from such a radical, Christ-centered virtue to some small act we can attain. When seen in this light, we can see just how depraved and stained we truly are. When Paul says we all sin and fall short of God's glory (see Rom. 3:23), he means way off the mark! We all desperately need Jesus Christ to wholly deliver us, not just dress us up a little bit.

Finally, if love is to be virtuous, it must be the overflow of joy and value in God. Paul said the Macedonians "gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us" (2 Cor. 8:5, emphasis mine). The Macedonians had an overflow of joy. It wasn't in their physical circumstances. They were dirt poor. It must have been in God. They consciously gave themselves to God before all else, and out of the overflow of the joy he gave them, they gave their possessions to Paul to give to the Jerusalem Christians. Virtuous love for others comes through "cheerful givers" (2 Cor. 9:7) who know the soul-satisfying pleasure in seeking God above and before all else.

Virtuous Love in Marriage

We must understand the difference between God-centered, virtuous love and non-virtuous love if we're going to ensure our marriages are glorifying God rather than competing with him. Non-virtuous love is seeking to fulfill our desires independently of God. With non-virtuous love, as long as our desires are fulfilled, we don't care where the glory goes and if God is pleased. Virtuous love, on the other hand, consciously seeks to glorify and please God all along the progression of love. Marriages that operate independently from a conscious desire for God's glory, no matter how loving and happy, cannot bring ultimate satisfaction. God is very clear in stating, "I am the Lord; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols" (Is. 42:8). A rogue marriage being lived for the vain, temporary pleasure of the couple at the expense of God's praise is a carved idol. God will accept no rivals of his glory. Many rogue marriages end in divorce. However, some couples hold on to an unhappy, rogue marriage for some other benefit (kids, praise of man, security, etc.). Other couples continue operating independently from God their whole lives and happily die together in their old age. God will not be impressed with those "golden" couples. They weren't any more virtuous than the others. Apart from a conscious decision to glorify God through their marriage, every couple hijacks God's creation and uses it for their own private agenda, regardless of how long they make it work. Is God supposed to congratulate seventy years of hard-heartedness more than ten? This may sound new to us and bump up against our legalistic, culturally acceptable sensibilities. Isn't marriage a good thing? Yes, marriage is a good thing so long as it fulfills God's purposes for it. Doesn't God hate divorce? Yes, God hates divorce, but that doesn't mean he can't equally hate a marriage. God can hate both if they both steal his glory. We seem to frequently forget that. Isn't divorce the cause of societal instability and wickedness? No, divorce is not the cause of anything. It's merely a further symptom of man's total depravity. In a world set up against God, divorce should be expected.

The answer to our culture's problems isn't longer marriages, it's the gospel of Jesus Christ. Shouldn't we honor those who remain faithfully married their whole lives? Yes, we can honor those who remain faithfully married their whole lives provided they did it for the glory of God and proclaim it as such. Otherwise, no, it's not good to honor a rogue couple any more than it's good to honor a bank robber as though he worked "heartily, as for the Lord and not for men" (Col. 3:23). "In all toil there is profit, but mere talk tends only to poverty" (Prov. 14:23). Obviously, the "all toil" Solomon wrote about wasn't sinful toil like robbing a bank. When a couple hijacks a marriage from God and uses it to fulfill all sorts of private agendas at God's expense, it is sinful, idolatrous toil and unworthy of honor.

So if we want our love in marriage to be virtuous and God-glorifying, we must make the conscious decision to live that way. We must have an affection for God flowing from a sense of his value. We must value his purposes for marriage (we'll look at those in the next chapter) as an extension of our valuing him. We must desire God above and before all else, even our marriage. We must desire our spouse as an extension of desiring God and enjoy our spouse as an overflow of our joy in God. We must incline our focus toward God-glorifying objects with God's pleasure in mind. We must zone in on what God deems important in our marriage and zone out what God calls "worldly." We must allow our love to overflow in godly ways that enable God to get the praise and glory he so richly deserves, while we thankfully get the benefits of his goodness. We must pursue our pleasure in our spouse's pleasure in God.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Love and Marriage... And Counseling

In the previous four posts about love, I proposed that love is best defined as a progression of phases: Affection... Desire... Inclination of Focus... Action. In the next few posts, I'll lay out some of the implications of this definition for marriage and marriage counseling.

Marriage Counseling Along the Progression

Let's suppose a couple comes to see me. They're struggling in their marriage. I set up chairs close to each other. When they arrive for counsel, they move the chairs apart. They don't directly address each other at all. Both talk as though the other person isn't even in the room. As I ask some questions, I learn that this coldness has been progressing for about a year. The problem they present to me is lack of intimacy. As I dig a little deeper, I realize they live two entirely separate lives under the same roof. My first instinct may be to take some very good Scripture texts and show them the importance of intimacy. I may take them to 1 Corinthians 7:1-5 or Hebrews 13:4 and express the necessity of selflessness in marriage. I may have them meditate on Ephesians 5:22-33 and each spouse's role. I may point out Genesis 2:18 and how neither spouse is being a companion to the other. I could also point out the myriad of texts commanding spouses to love one another. That may be my first instinct. And though it wouldn't be wrong, I would be starting on the wrong side of the progression of love, focusing on actions.

"You guys aren't intimate? You need to be intimate. Read these Scriptures so you can see the importance of intimacy. Try a date night. You guys don't like sex together? See how the Bible says you must have sex together. It's good. You guys need to like sex together. Just do it till you like it. You guys share nothing in common? You guys should find some things in common. You guys spend your time at home online and watching TV? Turn off the computer and television and spend time together. Neither one of you is forgiving the other for offenses? You have to forgive each other. Write down all the offenses you aren't forgiving. Read these texts on forgiveness. You're not loving each other? You must love each other. Follow this list of 'loving things to do for your spouse.'" While all these things may be necessary, I think the order is wrong. If my goal is to make a Pharisee, all those things might work! But if I'm truly working with them for their joy (see 2 Cor. 1:24), helping them run the race of faith (see Heb. 11-12), and be pleasing to God (see Mat. 23:25-28); I can't start on the "action" side of the progression. Remember, apparently "loving" action isn't necessarily flowing from a virtuous love! Even action resulting from counsel isn't necessarily flowing from virtuous love. In other words, I might tell the couple, "Love is giving of yourself selflessly to the other."

Let's say the couple leaves counseling knowing they have to have sex to have a "godly" marriage. A husband with ungodly affections is just going to hang my counsel over his wife's head. "Honey, you know what the pastor said about giving yourself to your spouse!" What happens when the husband hangs the Bible over his wife's head and guilts her into having sex, the whole time thinking degrading thoughts about her? What happens when the wife with ungodly affections has sex because the Bible says to and resents it (and her pastor's counsel) the whole time? When they come back to counseling, do you think they've made progress because they "obeyed" Scripture and had sex? Did they love each other through their giving? Of course not. And for all their obedience to Scripture, the real problem hasn't been addressed.

In order to help the couple, I have to begin where love does -- with an affection. Remember, when affection dies, love dies. Just because the couple is still married does not mean they still love each other. My goal is to explore what pushes each person's buttons. Love flows from a sense of value. What does each person value? Why do they value what they value? What factors are influencing their sense of value? How are they seeking for and receiving pleasure? When young couples aren't sexually active, something is taking the place of intimacy in both partners. What is it? It isn't necessarily sexual. Why is the replacement seen as more pleasurable than intimacy with their spouse? I'm wanting to learn how each spouse assesses value. I'll move along to each phase on the progression -- "Affection," "Desire," "Inclination of Focus," and "Action." As I'm exploring these phases in both spouses, I'm looking for all the ways sin affects each phase. Sin distorts what is truly valuable so that the wrong things are valued or the right things are valued too little or too much. Sin puts up walls between an object of affection and the beloved. Sin keeps track of wrongs so that what should be valuable is degraded. Sin sorts wrongly and inclines the focus on wrong things. Sin works to achieve the wrong goals. Sin can be active at every phase of the progression.

The Gospel and Counseling Along the Progression

Sin is operative all along the progression and must be dealt with all along the progression. Simply pointing out sin is not enough to properly deal with it. Confession accomplishes little by itself. Dealing with sin properly is also more than just stopping an action. We should know that by now. If our goal is virtuous love, we must bring that about by God-pleasing means. Rebellion or reformation are not God-pleasing methods of dealing with sin. Redemption and repentance are God-pleasing methods of dealing with sin. The important thing to remember as we make our way through each phase is that sin is irrational. We'll wonder in our own marriage or in counseling others why we value what we do. "How can that be beautiful?" "How was that worth it?" "Why am I such a creep?" "Why don't I love like I should?" Once we get to what is valued and how it brings pleasure, it does no good to try to go deeper. There is no deeper. When we uncover what is believed and what is wanted, we have the tools necessary for change. Let's be realistic, love doesn't always make sense. It isn't rational to love a drug that kills us! It isn't rational to give up a lifetime mate who waits on us hand and foot and serves us daily for a fifteen minute affair with a co-worker on lunch break! And if we start asking "why?" we'll likely never be satisfied with the answer.

The answer is sin. That's it. Nothing more. We have to bring ourselves or those we counsel to say, "Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?" (Rom. 8:24). That's the conclusion God wants to bring us to. God isn't looking for us to reform ourselves. When we counsel ourselves or others, we cannot forget God's purposes in the world. Remember, God chose to glorify himself through the gospel, not ascetic self-righteousness. God is bringing about his plans through redemption, not reformation. So when we look at ourselves and others and realize our love is all messed up, we can't despair, and we can't just try harder next time. We must do what Paul did. We must look to Christ. "Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (Rom. 8:24).

Of course, dealing with the sin problem correctly is why counseling must be centered on the gospel, not just actions. Right actions alone can't overcome sin. Only right actions flowing from the gospel can overcome sin. The sooner we realize this the better. As I'm working my way through each phase, I'm continually seeking opportunity to apply the couple's struggles to the gospel. Notice the order here. I'm not applying the gospel to the struggle. That would make the struggle supreme, with the gospel serving the struggle. The gospel is bigger than the struggle. The gospel is bigger than the couple. So I help the couple see themselves wrapped up in the gospel. In other words, I'm giving hope by helping the couple see themselves as sinful, yet provided for by God. I want them to see the gospel as bigger than their sin. I'll give a step-by-step process of how I'd deal with one phase. I'd deal with the other phases almost identically.

I begin on the left with pen in hand. I ask questions to determine where affections are. "What do you value? Why do you value that? Why is this or that beautiful to you? How does this or that thing bring you pleasure, or security or fulfillment? How do you expect to get pleasure from this or that? Why do you think this object will bring more pleasure than another one? Why do you think this object is more valuable than that object?" I'm trying to figure out what you believe about life and what you want out of life. As I'm trying to determine from Scripture where affections are sinful (not God-pleasing), I ask a couple further questions. "What did you think or do when the expected payoff was or wasn't there? How did you react when your agenda was or wasn't interfered with? Were you bitter or angry?" I'm asking these questions to figure out whether love began with a wrong affection or if love began right and went haywire along the way. I want to bring to light a desire to control the flow of a blessing from God. If an affection begins virtuous, bitterness shouldn't be the result.

As these questions are asked, I'm listening for certain types of speech. Is the person using extreme words (always, never, hate, etc.) Is the speech sacrificial? Does the person see himself as a perpetual victim? Is the person precious in his own eyes? Is anger and bitterness manifested? Speaking in this manner may display wrong affections. They will reveal a desire to control God's good gifts, rather than enjoy them. As I go through this entire process, I'm keeping track of the sin that bubbles to the surface. That has to be dealt with according to the gospel. Sin must be repented of. To repent means to change the mind. At this level, repentance may require letting the Bible inform what the person thinks is valuable rather than what he naturally thinks is valuable. It will require asking forgiveness of God and any person wronged. It will require affirmation of what is valuable and why it's valuable. If that affirmation cannot come (because unlike changing actions, changing affections is difficult), then he must pray and pray that God would help him change his affections. "Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer" (Ps. 19:14). I would also give him some biblical study and application to help him renew his mind (see Rom. 12:2).

The goal of repentance is to go from wrong affections to right ones. If our affections lead to actions, and we have affection for what we value, then my goal all along here is to paint a huge, beautiful, magnificent picture of God, Christ, his purposes, his church, and his promises. It does no good to say, "Change your affections!" We must help change them by providing a more beautiful object than the wrong one they're loving. As I'm counseling myself or someone else, I'll spend most of my time here in the "affection phase." The reason is simple. This is the heart of it all. If I get the affections wrong, everything else will be wrong -- I cannot get to a virtuous action. If I get the affections right -- sin can interfere all along the rest of the progression -- but at least I'm on my way toward a virtuous action. So I want to be sure the affections are pleasing to God before moving on. Though I won't continue spelling it out here, I would go through the rest of the phases in a similar manner.

The good news about counseling along this progression is that most of the work is done in the "affection" phase. If you get to the bottom of each spouse's affections, and show them how the gospel overcomes wrong affections and inspires correct ones, the rest of the phases should open up to you. You can help them see how to apply their marriage to the gospel by working through the rest of the material in this book with them. I'm not saying all their marriage problems will be solved. Heaven alone will accomplish that. It's doubtful that all their problems will just be solved overnight. There's still sin perpetually interacting with their thoughts and desires. But their eyes will be open to what the true problem is.

Counseling is one way that God has provided for us to overcome the effects of the fall. Thoughts and desires can be complex. It may therefore be a complex process to overturn the impact that years of wrong thoughts and desires have had on our lives. But by the time you take a couple step by step through this progression, they'll have the gospel ammunition to fight the war for happiness at home and stay in the battle until it's done. It's almost unnecessary to point out that every marriage problem is a God problem. This is without exception. Every marriage problem is a result of the fall. The fall is about man's separation from God. Therefore, marriage problems are about separation from God. Jesus Christ is the Mediator between God and man, overcoming the separation and the effects of the fall. Therefore, Jesus Christ is the Mediator within marriage as well. Christian marriage has been redeemed by Jesus Christ. The effects of the fall that resulted in conflict, separation, blame-shifting, fear, shame and guilt have been overthrown in Christ. Through Christ it truly is possible to pursue pleasure in the pleasure of another. A gospel-centered person must be a loving person. The gospel overflows in love.

Monday, January 18, 2010

What is Love? Part 4

With Valentine's Day quickly approaching, I'm sharing a series of posts on love taken from my book on marriage. In order for today's post to make the most sense, I'd recommend reading parts one, two and three first. I believe a concept as complex as love is best described as a progression of phases. I think love develops along a chain from one phase to the next. It's sequential. I think love (both virtuous and sinful) follows a certain reproducible pattern every time. From the beginning of the progression to the end, as long as the sequence is followed, any point along the chain could be called love. Here's the progression: All love begins with an affection... from there it may or may not develop into a desire... if a desire is strong enough, it may or may not proceed to an inclination of focus... and from there, it might or might not overflow in an action toward or on behalf of the beloved object. Part one explained affection, part two explained desire, and part three explained an inclination of focus, or what happens when a desire just has to be fulfilled. Today we'll take a look at the action part of love.

Love May Progress to Action

We've finally come to the point that many begin to talk about love -- action. When we have an affection flowing from a sense of beauty or value, that sparks a desire and progresses to an inclination of focus, love may overflow in action toward or on behalf of the beloved object. Love doesn't have to overflow in action, but it would usually be (feel) incomplete or insufficient without some form of action. The action may be something seemingly insignificant or highly sacrificial. The action may overflow in any number of ways.

Virtuous Affections, Virtuous Actions

We could begin with a virtuous affection and end with a virtuous action, with all points along the progression being virtuous. This would obviously be what the Lord Jesus Christ did when he walked the earth. He said he always does what pleases the Father (see John 8:29). His love was perfect at all points, and unblemished by any stain of sin. He always had perfect affections, valuing just what needed to be valued with just the right intensity. He always had righteous desires in perfect measure. His inclination of focus was zoned in on his Father's will every moment of his life. He ruthlessly prioritized and sacrificed to achieve his righteous goal "for the joy that was set before him" (Heb. 12:2). Jesus' actions were always wholly virtuous. His actions were always appropriate and always flowed from virtuous affections. Jesus (and only Jesus) was sinless all along the progression of love his entire life. Such perfect virtue all along the progression of love will also be the norm in the new heavens and earth that Christians will inherit.

Virtuous Affections, Sinful Actions

We could also begin with a virtuous affection and end with a sinful action. This is because anywhere along the progression, sin can stain and pervert love. Amnon had an affection for Tamar. It's not a bad thing to have an affection for one's sister. A virtuous affection for his sister could have overflowed in guarding her purity and providing for her. On the other hand, sin could have intermingled with the original virtuous affection and tainted and twisted it. As children, Amnon's affection for Tamar may have been fine. But 2 Samuel 13:1 says, "After a time Amnon, David's son, loved her." Where Amnon may have begun with a virtuous affection, his sin distorted his sense of beauty so that Tamar's value to him flowed as an object to be consumed; rather than a sister to nurture and cherish by helping her be happy in God.

Sinful Affections, Seemingly Virtuous Actions

Though we can begin with a virtuous affection and end with a sinful action, we cannot begin with a sinful affection and end with a virtuous action. That's why it's a progression. If an action is going to be virtuous, it must come from a virtuous affection. Once an affection is sinful, a virtuous action cannot flow forth from it. We must repent of the sinful affection and begin again with a virtuous affection if a virtuous action is going to flow from it. We see this clearly in the Pharisees: "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people's bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness" (Mat. 23:25-28).

The Pharisees outwardly appeared beautiful. In other words, their actions looked right! How many people are being counseled everyday to make their actions look right? But the Pharisees were hypocrites. Why were they hypocrites? It wasn't as though they told others to do what they themselves didn't. They wanted everyone to live by their rules. They wanted people to tithe, and they tithed. They wanted people to pray, and they prayed. They wanted people to give alms and they gave alms. They wanted people to live by their rules, and they lived by their rules. There's no hypocrisy in that. Their hypocrisy was in the realm of their affections.

Two different affections can bring forth the same action. Love for God and love for man's praise can both motivate tithing, praying, giving and keeping rules. The affections of the Pharisees were bringing forth actions that most people thought God should be pleased with. However, he wasn't pleased because he wasn't just interested in their actions. He wanted their hearts. "This people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men" (Is. 29:13). God doesn't say, "Go to church and worship, even if you don't feel like it. Give, even if it isn't cheerful." He tells us to go to church and give because we feel like it. The only way we'll feel like doing God-pleasing action is through God-pleasing affections.

At this point, someone may argue that we must complete certain actions whether we feel like it or not. We do have a duty to perform as Christians. We have rules to obey. That is true. However, it's not enough to just do the actions, even though we don't feel like it. We must do the actions while confessing to God our hard-heartedness. We must pray that God would change our affections and trust in Christ's atonement for our callousness. We cannot fall for the deception that it doesn't matter how we feel or what we want. If our actions flow from our hearts, the root is just as or more important than the fruit. It is possible to begin with a non-virtuous affection and end with a seemingly virtuous action. This is where many people are in their spiritual lives. For example, it's possible to have an affection for our own reputations. So we go to church to look respectable or to follow a counselor's suggestion. Now seated right beside us are people that began with an affection for God. They came to church to be satiated with God's glory. Which love is virtuous? Both resulted in the same action -- being at church. But only one is virtuous because only one began with a virtuous affection; namely, to be happy with God.

This also happens often in marriage. Rather than having an affection for God or for our spouses, we have an affection for ourselves or sex, or money or comfort or security. So our actions can come out all wrong and openly display our faulty affections (in adultery, for instance). Or it may take a very long time to figure out that our affections are non-virtuous because the actions seem to be so virtuous. An example of this might be a husband who works sixty-five hours a week and provides well for his wife and children. His seeming virtue may just be hiding a love for money. Even if his wife and children would leave him, he'd still work sixty-five hours a week. Even if his wife and children desired him to work less, he wouldn't because it's not concern for them that's motivating him -- even though it superficially looks like concern for his family. God is not pleased with this hypocrisy.

Love Can Overflow Toward the Beloved Object

Love can overflow in action toward the beloved object. We see this with Amnon and Tamar. Amnon's love for Tamar overflowed in a sinful act directed toward her. She was the direct recipient of Amnon's sinful action. This would also be true of a steak. I love steak. I have a desire for steak. I eat steak. Steak is the direct recipient of the action. It would be the same with other objects of the creation that people consume (alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, food, etc.). Love overflows in action toward the beloved object in marriage all the time. Imagine a husband coming home from work with flowers for his wife. He gives her the flowers. She is the object of his affection and she is the direct recipient of his loving action, giving flowers. Picture a wife wanting to hug her husband. He is the object of her affection and he is the direct recipient of her loving action, a hug. So when an object of affection is the direct recipient of the action, then the love is toward the beloved object. Love overflows in action toward children as well. A mother loves her children, so she gives herself to her children. She may give her children herself in spending time with them. Or she may give presents to them on their birthday. Or she may give them special attention when they need it. They are the direct recipients of their mother's love. Her affection is for them, and they receive the action.

Love Can Overflow on Behalf of the Beloved Object

Love can also overflow on behalf of the beloved object. We also see this often with a husband and wife. Not only does the husband's love for his wife overflow in direct action toward her, it also overflows in action on her behalf. So one day, the husband could bring home flowers for his wife. She is the direct recipient of his loving action. That night, out of affection for his wife, he takes out the trash. The action was taking out the trash. But the love behind the action was directed toward his wife. So she wasn't the direct recipient of the action. He didn't take her out. She was an indirect recipient of the action. The husband's love for his wife overflowed in action on behalf of his wife. This distinction is important because it shows that love can begin with an affection for someone or something and end in a loving action that benefits someone else. In other words, what if love spreads into more love? What if the man didn't just take out the trash on behalf of his wife? What if he loved her children on behalf of his wife? Rather than love overflowing in taking out trash, what if love overflowed in creating more love?

Consider a man who marries a young widow with two young children. The first time he laid eyes on her at a church picnic, his affection was stirred because of her beauty and value to him. He began talking to her and found out she was widowed the year before. He really desired to be with her and inclined his focus toward her. His love overflowed in action toward her and he proposed. She is the direct recipient of his love. He wants intimacy with her and he wants to give himself to her. However, her children also benefit from his love for their mother, even if he doesn't highly value her children at first (please don't act as though that never happens). His affection wasn't for the children. He didn't propose to the children. His love was directed toward his wife and the children were part of her life. But even though he doesn't value her children (yet or highly), his love overflows toward the children on behalf of his love for their mother. I'm not saying that he may not develop strong affections for the children. He probably will. However, at first, when love is new, he loves what his new wife loves as part of loving his wife. So he loves his wife's children on behalf of his wife. Love for her actually sparked love for a whole new object that may have otherwise never happened.

This dynamic also explains how we can love our sinful neighbor out of love for God. We see this dynamic clearly in the life of King David. "And David said, 'Is there still anyone left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness for Jonathan's sake?'" (2 Samuel 9:1). The word "kindness" there is often translated "mercy" or "lovingkindness." What if our love for our friend was so strong, that even though our friend died, we still honored his friendship with our love? Out of the overflow of affection for our dead friend, we seek out one of his relatives to show loving favor to. That's what King David did for Mephibosheth, Jonathan's son. David took him into his own court and treated him as if he were his own son. David had no direct affection for Mephibosheth. He didn't even know he existed. He had to ask someone. But he knew Jonathan. And he remembered his love for Jonathan (though Jonathan was dead). And out of the overflow of his love for Jonathan, he loved a stranger on behalf of Jonathan, "for Jonathan's sake."

Loving on behalf of another in this way can be a tremendous benefit to our marriages. What happens when we stop valuing our spouses? Affection weakens or dies. What happens when affection dies? Love dies. What happens when love dies in marriage? God's glory gets tramped on. So what happens when our spouses are really not that valuable at the moment? What if we catch our spouses in adultery or they get their fourth DUI? Our affection for them may be at an all-time low. So how do we continue to love them? How do we be a blessing to them? How do we keep giving and serving them with loving actions? We see from King David that it's possible to love someone on behalf of love for someone else. So we can value our spouses even when they don't seem so valuable, because God is. God loves marriage. He hates divorce. So it's possible for a godly spouse to value his mate, not for something inherent in his mate, but on behalf of God. We could say we value our spouses, not because of inherent worth, but because of the preciousness of marriage and the preciousness of God who gave us a spouse. Our spouses are automatically valuable because marriage is valuable. Marriage is valuable because God loves marriage and God is valuable. So, even when our spouses are not living up to our expectations, we can continue to love them out of the overflow of our love for God. We may say something like, "How can I love my spouse for God's sake?"

The best example of love is Jesus. He loved the church and died for her. Christ's loving action flowed toward the beloved object. The church is a direct recipient of Christ's loving action. He loved his church from all eternity (see Eph. 1). He came down to earth as a man. He desired fellowship with his bride. He wanted her and made advances toward her. The church is also an indirect recipient of Christ's love. When sin stood like a wall between God and man, Christ acted on behalf of his bride. He died in her place and tore down the wall. He took on her shame and her guilt and her punishment. "He was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed" (Is. 53:5). Christ died on behalf of the church. Where an ordinary husband may take out the trash, Jesus hung on a cross. So Christ's love overflowed in actions both toward and on behalf of his bride.

Let's briefly review how far we've come. 1) Love is best described as a progression of phases. 2) Love begins as an affection flowing from a sense of beauty or value. 3) When affection for an object dies, love dies. 4) An object's value is determined by the pleasure granted or expected. 5) Love may progress to a desire. 6) Desire is sparked when affection is intense and the object of affection is potentially available. 7) Thoughts and desires determine choices. 8) Love may progress to an inclination of focus -- prioritizing and pressing in on the beloved object. 9) With inclination of focus, love becomes increasingly unreasonable and sacrificial. 10) Love may progress to an action toward or on behalf of the beloved object.

In a few upcoming posts, I'll tease out the implications of this description of love.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Be Content!

Here's a short post for the short-attention span people struggling through the more lengthy love posts.

"3:1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” 2 And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, 3 but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” 4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths" (Genesis 3:1-7)

"Mom never let's me do anything." If you have kids, you've probably heard it or something like it. If you've been a kid, you've undoubtedly said it yourself. Here's a typical conversation for those who are totally unfamiliar with this statement:

Tommy: "Mom, can I go to Billy's party on Friday?"
Tommy's mom: "Are his parents going to be home?"
Tommy: "Not sure about that, but there's going to be girls there."
Tommy's mom: "I'm going to have to say no to that."
Tommy: "You guys never let me do anything!" (As he storms off to his room.)

Of course, Tommy is lying in his last statement. It's not that his mom never let's him do anything. It's just that she didn't let him do that one thing. But in Tommy's mind, that one thing is all that matters at the moment. He isn't content with his current life-circumstances. He wants Billy's party and the girls who will be there. In addition, in Tommy's mind, if his mother has habitually said no to his requests, then to Tommy, it's going to feel like his mother never let's him do anything, even though she may let him do all sorts of things he doesn't appreciate.

This is the same concept taking place in the text I quoted above from Genesis. In this account of "the Fall" we read that the serpent provokes discontent in Eve. “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” Let me translate that: "God never lets you do anything!" Notice, Eve's answer. She informs the serpent that God hasn't forbidden everything. There are plenty of wonderful trees in the Garden to eat from. But then the one she isn't allowed to eat from takes center-stage in her mind. Eventually she agrees with the serpent that God doesn't let her do anything. He's holding out on her and Adam. And like a spoiled child, she ate the fruit along with Adam, they both realized they made a mistake and tried to fix it themselves. We do the same thing all the time.

"There's nothing in the house to eat." Really? Nothing at all? Or is there nothing to satisfy your craving for a particular thing?

"You're always putting me down." Really? All the time? Or is that just what sticks out because it doesn't satisfy your craving for honor?

"We can't go anywhere on twenty bucks." Really? Or is it that you can't go to that one place you had your heart set on?

"We never get any breaks." Really? Or is it that you don't get the kind of breaks you think you have coming?

Do you get the picture? If we're honest, we have to admit that we're often like Tommy or the serpent or Eve. How often do we let our minds skip right over a hundred blessings and zoom in on the one thing that we don't have or can't have? Then we interpret our entire life through that one thing that we're lacking? It's not so much that we're dissed as discontent. You don't have to have everything. You don't have to get your way all the time. Just be content!

Friday, January 15, 2010

What is Love? Part 3

With Valentine's Day quickly approaching, I'm sharing a series of posts on love taken from my book on marriage. In order for today's post to make the most sense, I'd recommend reading parts one and two first. I believe a concept as complex as love is best described as a progression of phases. I think love develops along a chain from one phase to the next. It's sequential. I think love (both virtuous and sinful) follows a certain reproducible pattern every time. From the beginning of the progression to the end, as long as the sequence is followed, any point along the chain could be called love. Here's the progression: All love begins with an affection... from there it may or may not develop into a desire... if a desire is strong enough, it may or may not proceed to an inclination of focus... and from there, it might or might not overflow in an action toward or on behalf of the beloved object. Part one explained affection, part two explained desire, and in this part, we'll see what happens when a desire just has to be fulfilled.

Love May Progress to Inclination of Focus

Love may progress to what I've labeled an "inclination of focus." I am inclined, or propelled toward the object of my desire. I have such an affection for the object that I press my whole being toward that object or I choose on behalf of that object. Inclination of focus may sound similar to desire, and it is. But there's a critical, qualitative difference that moves it beyond desire on the progression of love. With desire, nothing (or very little) has happened yet toward or on behalf of the beloved object. Love may stop with desire. With inclination of focus, I'm starting to sort out options and weed out what seems less valuable so that I can hone in on what seems more valuable. This is about priority. This is the bridge between desire and action. This is perhaps the most dangerous phase. Here's why:

An Inclination of Focus Prioritizes and Imagines

A man may have an attractive neighbor. He develops an affection for her based on his sense of her value. He begins to value her so intensely and she is so potentially available (she lives next door), a desire for his neighbor is sparked in his heart. He begins to fantasize about her, and build up her value in his mind. Now, this man's love for his neighbor may stop at a desire. He never acts upon it, never brings it up and buries it until she and her husband move away. But what if he doesn't bury it? What if in his mind, the potentiality of pleasure is so great that it's worth whatever consequence comes to satisfy that pleasure? What if he starts fantasizing about how great an encounter with her may be? What if the thoughts are very vivid in nature and he begins to confuse fantasy and reality? What if he actually gets to the point where he talks himself into it? You may think that sounds like a stupid, reckless thing to do. But how often does just such a thing happen? Probably everyday somewhere. Now, in addition to the fantasies, the man starts scheming in his mind how to overlay fantasy on top of reality. He starts weighing priorities and consequences. "How can I get her to agree to an affair? Maybe I could probe and see if she's happy with her husband. I need to find a crack in her armor, or a hole in the wall that I could wrench through. What kind of leverage can I use? What will the guys at work think if they find out? Would her husband come after me with a gun? I'd be thrown out of church. My wife would be devastated. She'd probably divorce me and take the kids. They'd hate me forever and I'd be a social outcast. Not to mention God would be mad. That's a lot of bad consequences. But she's so beautiful and an encounter with her would be so rewarding! I've been distracted with her for weeks already. I'll talk to her tomorrow over the fence and drop a few hints that I can easily weasel out of if she doesn't respond favorably." That's the inner working of a mind that has moved from desire to inclination of focus. Notice that consequences are inconsequential. He thinks he must fulfill his desire. He will put things in motion, through manipulating, lying, bribing, leveraging, threatening, sacrificing or whatever else it takes to have his desired object. We can see how the man's inclination of focus zones in on his neighbor and zones out any other option.

Consider another, more frivolous example. Imagine me sitting back in that new restaurant with no idea what they serve. I order the special -- tuna noodle casserole -- because it was on the sign at the front door. The waitress goes by with a steak. I love steak. I have an affection for steak flowing from a sense of its value. Now seeing that steak go by has awakened in me a desire for steak because steak is valuable to me and it's available. I start thinking to myself, "How can I get a steak instead of that nasty old tuna casserole?" As I incline my focus toward steak, I devalue all other options in my mind. What may have been perfectly satisfying is no longer good enough. I must have steak. "I could stop the waitress on the way back. But then that'll just cause problems. The chef will probably spit in my food for changing the order. But steak is so good. It's worth the risk! But wait, I only have seven dollars on me and the steak will be more. Wait again, I can float a check until tomorrow. But I don't even know if they take checks. I could find out, but it's not worth all that. No. It is worth all that. I will not be satisfied with tuna -- I must have steak." Then my love is expressed through action, "Waitress, could you please bring me a medium sirloin instead?" Can you see my inclination of focus zone in on steak and zone out any other option?

Love Becomes More Unreasonable and Sacrificial

When love progresses to inclination of focus, it becomes more and more unreasonable and sacrificial. The mind is fantasizing and imagining all the pleasure that will come through the beloved object. Love for an object is difficult to cut off at this phase. By the time love reaches this phase, thoughts and desires are likely so vivid that we start sensing our own well-being hinging on the beloved object. We start believing that the beloved object must be had or life won't work as well. This can be a great virtue when the motive is noble and the end just. It can motivate the highest acts of sacrifice. "For the joy that was set before him [Jesus] endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God" (Heb. 12:2). We also see this inclination of focus in missionary biographies where saints sacrificed earthly comfort and security despite the pressure from loved ones to "just be normal."

Love can also make the biggest fool of anyone (like Amnon). The saddest part in sinful inclination is that reality does not match up with fantasy. We have the ability to imagine in our heads at a far greater pace and intensity than life can deliver. Sin never truly pays off. It just feels like it does. It always costs; maybe not immediately, but inevitably. That's why "love hurts" and "reality bites." Rarely can a beloved object deliver what love imagines. We see this once again with our running illustration, Amnon and Tamar. Amnon had a clear inclination of focus toward Tamar. It was unreasonable and sacrificial. Amnon was King David's son. He could have been king. Instead, he traded that for one encounter with Tamar. In fact, Tamar's brother, Absalom, avenged Tamar by killing Amnon. Amnon's love for Tamar cost him his life. What would drive a person to give up everything for one encounter with a beautiful virgin? Love -- virtuous or otherwise.

"But Amnon had a friend, whose name was Jonadab, the son of Shimeah, David's brother. And Jonadab was a very crafty man. And he said to him, "O son of the king, why are you so haggard morning after morning? Will you not tell me?" Amnon said to him, "I love Tamar, my brother Absalom's sister." Jonadab said to him, "Lie down on your bed and pretend to be ill. And when your father comes to see you, say to him, 'Let my sister Tamar come and give me bread to eat, and prepare the food in my sight, that I may see it and eat it from her hand.'" So Amnon lay down and pretended to be ill. And when the king came to see him, Amnon said to the king, "Please let my sister Tamar come and make a couple of cakes in my sight, that I may eat from her hand" (2 Sam. 13:3-6).

With a little help from a scheming cousin, Amnon moved from desire: "Amnon was so tormented that he made himself ill because of his sister. . . ." (13:2), to inclination of focus. He started to develop a plan to have the object of his desire. At this point, Amnon cannot figure out a way to get alone with Tamar. She's beautiful and valuable to Amnon, but not exactly available. She's available enough to stir affection, but not enough to satisfy desire. But "Jonadab was a very crafty man" (13:3). He provided the skill to zone in on Tamar. Notice how Amnon's desire was affecting his whole life. "Why are you so haggard morning after morning? . . ." (13:4). That's a clue that Amnon's love was perverted and non-virtuous. Amnon put into motion his plan. He weighed all the options. His desire for Tamar would be fulfilled. Action would spring forth. He would have his beloved Tamar, no matter what the cost. "Dad, I'm sick. Could you have Tamar make me some cakes and feed me?" And David, the accommodating father, says, "Sure, son. No problem."

"But when she brought them near him to eat, he took hold of her and said to her, "Come, lie with me, my sister." She answered him, "No, my brother, do not violate me, for such a thing is not done in Israel; do not do this outrageous thing. As for me, where could I carry my shame? And as for you, you would be as one of the outrageous fools in Israel. Now therefore, please speak to the king, for he will not withhold me from you." But he would not listen to her, and being stronger than she, he violated her and lay with her" (2 Sam. 13:7-14).

Notice Amnon's absolute unreasonableness. He cannot be dissuaded. Every defense is refused, every plea ignored. He has an inclination of focus that will not be denied. He knows he'll be considered "one of the outrageous fools in Israel." He doesn't care. "But he would not listen to her, and being stronger than she, he violated her and lay with her" (13:14). Amnon bridged the gap between desire and action. Don't forget, the writer of 2 Samuel called Amnon's desire love (13:1, 4, 15). He didn't call it virtuous love. It was sinful, perverted love. But it was love nonetheless. Not for long, though. Love turned to hatred with a vengeance. "Then Amnon hated her with very great hatred, so that the hatred with which he hated her was greater than the love with which he had loved her. And Amnon said to her, "Get up! Go!" But she said to him, "No, my brother, for this wrong in sending me away is greater than the other that you did to me." But he would not listen to her" (2 Sam. 13:15-16). I'm guessing that the encounter that Amnon had been dreaming about in his perpetually haggard state was not even close to what reality delivered. I'm sure in the state in which it happened, Tamar was far less pleasurable than Amnon had imagined. It's a shame, too. Amnon's unchecked imagination cost him his life and Tamar her purity.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

What is Love? Part 2

Yesterday I started a series of posts on love. In order for today's post to make sense, I'd recommend reading What is Love? Part 1 first. In part one I put forth the idea that a concept as complex as love is best described as a progression of phases: All love begins with an affection... from there it may or may not develop into a desire... if a desire is strong enough, it may or may not proceed to an inclination of focus... and from there, it might or might not overflow in an action toward or on behalf of the beloved object. Over the next several posts, I'll unfold each step in this progression. Today we'll look at what happens when an affection births a desire.

Love May Progress to Desire

Love may progress to desire. Desire is a want. It's one phase beyond affection. It's possible to have an affection for something, but not desire it all the time. I think love moves on to desire based on extent of value and availability of the object of affection. In other words, picture me sitting in a new restaurant and having no idea what is served there. I'm waiting to order and I see a steak go by. I have an affection for steak because I value it. But until that moment I hadn't desired a steak. When I saw it, a desire was awakened in me. Why? Because steak, the object of my affection, is available to me. Now, seconds later, asparagus goes by. There is no desire awakened in me for asparagus. Why? Because though asparagus is available to me, I have no affection for it. So desire is sparked when the affection is intense and the potential for availability is high enough.

Let's take Amnon and Tamar as a continuing illustration. "And Amnon was so tormented that he made himself ill because of his sister Tamar, for she was a virgin, and it seemed impossible to Amnon to do anything to her" (2 Sam. 13:2). We saw in 13:1 that Amnon loved Tamar. We described that as an affection based on Amnon's value of Tamar -- she was a beautiful virgin. Now in this verse, we see Amnon's affection move to desire. Amnon's love could have remained forever in the realm of an affection. He didn't have to channel it toward a specific want. But here we see Amnon is so worked up and tormented that he makes himself sick. Why? Because Tamar was valuable to him and she was potentially available (lived in close proximity). She was so intensely valuable that even though the potential to do anything seemed impossible, Amnon held onto the hope she could somehow be made more available.

I saw a similar dynamic when I was in the Army. Everyone who trained to be a scout had to endure a 15 week cycle of basic training. Time and energy was strictly channeled into what the government thought most beneficial. The Army didn't see cigarettes as compatible with the strenuous training. There were young men who were hooked on cigarettes who had to quit cold turkey. It was shocking how few had nervous breakdowns! Few ever mentioned withdrawal or how tough it is to quit. Why? The desire for cigarettes soon vanished. Why? Did cigarettes suddenly lose their value? Maybe. I suspect a better answer would be because the immediate availability of cigarettes had vanished. Now what if I would ask those smokers, "Has your love for cigarettes diminished?" I suspect some would say, "Yea, I really don't care about them anymore." I would attribute that to a loss of value. They realized they could live happily without them (perhaps more happily without them). But others would likely say, "No, I love cigarettes. Camels especially. They relax me and taste good." Their love for cigarettes hasn't diminished any. But their desire has -- because cigarettes aren't available to them. They're not pulling their hair out, but when training is over and cigarettes are once again available, they'll likely start up again. A third group might answer differently yet. They may say something like, "No, I still love cigarettes. In fact, I'm craving one so bad I'm going to sneak out at dinner and bring a pack back and hide it in the ceiling tiles." Their affection for cigarettes is so high and they value them so greatly, that they'll go out of their way, at any cost, to make cigarettes available. The same dynamic happens when new lovers will drive hours just to see each other for a fraction of that time. Desire is sparked when affection is intense enough and availability is deemed high enough. Desire is wanting something. It can be good or bad, strong or weak.

Virtuous Desires

"Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you" (Ps. 73:25). We see here a godly desire. When Asaph wrote this psalm, he was fighting envy. He looked around at all the evil men prospering through their oppression of others. Then Asaph considered eternity and that changed everything. He realized that God would judge these evil men and their pleasure would soon be anti-pleasure. That's when Asaph realized the value of God. He said, "But for me it is good to be near God. . . ." (Ps. 73:28). As Asaph took his eyes off others and put them on God, he considered God's goodness. Then his affection for God was stirred and desire for God solidified again.

"One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple" (Ps. 27:4). King David clearly had moments of intense sinful desires (see his affair with Bathsheba in 2 Samuel 11) and those moments were, of course, idolatrous. But if we read through the account of David's life, the overarching theme was seeking God. He longed for God. Notice in this psalm that David wanted to gaze on God's beauty. David desired God because God is beautiful. David had an affection for God that flowed from a sense of beauty or value ("to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord") that sparked a desire for God in David. Part of the reason David longed for God was because he knew his own sinfulness (see Pss. 32 and 51). When David would consider his sinfulness alongside of God's splendid holiness; rather than drive him to despair, it drove him to desire God all the more. May that be our response as well.

Thoughts and Desires

What makes us desire money over God or God over cigarettes or God over anything else in this world? There is a direct relationship between what we believe and what we want. If we could do surgery on our spiritual hearts we would find thoughts and desires. It's easy to recognize that these two related concepts line up with the first two phases on the progression of love. Why do we have an affection for one object over another? Because we sense the beauty or value of the one object over the other. Why do we have a hatred or fear of one object over another? Because we sense the lack of beauty or value over another. Without sense, we wouldn't know anything. So based on our interpretation of the sense that we have (a belief), we gain an affection.

Now, a desire is sparked when the object of affection is seen as so valuable to us and potentially available, that we want it. The extent to which we've convinced ourselves of an object's value will determine our desire for that object. In other words, every choice in life is based on what we think and what we want in our hearts. We see this in Scripture. "Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life" (Prov. 4:23). "For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks" (Mat. 12:34). "For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander" (Mat. 15:19). "For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person" (Mark 7:21-23). "The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks" (Luke 6:45). "For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart" (Heb. 4:12). Our choices come from the thoughts and desires of our hearts. This is why it's so crucial that we think and desire according to the truth and not just what seems or feels right. We'll see this in the next phase on the progression (inclination of focus).

Fantasy, Meditation and Desire

When we begin to desire something, we turn that object over and over in our minds. We meditate on it. Our desires are sparked from our affections. Our affections flow from our sense of value. As an object of affection is meditated upon, the heart conducts more extensive evaluations. In other words, our meditation can channel our desire. Our desire for an object can increase or decrease. Our meditation on an object can be the key determining factor in the intensity of desire. It' like our moms used to tell us when we wanted that new toy at the store -- stop thinking about it. Meditation is not always good. Our "evaluating mechanism" is fallen and corrupt, so that there is always potential for distortion of reality. Unless our evaluations are shaped by the Holy Spirit through Scripture, they may not be accurate. At the extremes, our evaluation may devalue something beautiful -- like God. Or our evaluation may beautify something shameful -- like sexual immorality. As we meditate, we begin to role-play possible scenarios. We allow our thoughts to run free with potentialities. We imagine how enhanced our existence would be if we only had the object of our affection. This can be good when we're thinking of the glories of heaven or the virtues of Christ. However, our role-playing may also inflate attributes of beauty to false proportions. We may downplay any blemish or anything that may taint the image. The actual payoff of pleasure that is expected from an object of affection may be far below what we nurture in our thoughts. We can speak lies to ourselves, and we believe the lies. We have the ability to carry out entire little alternative worlds in our heads. This can be so dangerous because it's difficult not to eventually act upon what we're fantasizing about.

Our heart evaluates based on what we think will pay off with the greatest reward. This is another area where our corruption distorts reality. We frequently place value on some object with lesser potential pleasure that is currently available (no matter the cost), rather than value an object of greater potential pleasure that isn't available the way we'd like. In other words, we loathe delayed gratification. We often fail where Moses succeeded. We'll take hot dogs now rather than steak later. And we'll take sin now rather than heaven later. Rather than looking to the greatest reward, we look to the quickest and easiest. This is the essence of John's warning in 1 John 2:15-17. We are tempted to love the world and the things in the world because the world is right here, right now and we don't have to exert much effort for the payoff. It doesn't take much meditation to enjoy all the immediate sensual pleasures of the world. We can get caught up rather quickly and before we know it, Paul could say of us: "For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things" (Phil. 3:18-19). In the end, only fools choose the world. Those who have a sense of God's beauty or value choose God, even if they have to wait for him.

Just as our thoughts and desires can take us down a sinful path, they can also take us down a godly, virtuous path. This requires meditation on God and truth, looking with the eyes of faith. This requires God's Word. It takes more self-control and discipline to enjoy spiritual pleasures through faith than it does to enjoy sensual pleasures. But the payoff is worth it. That's the message of texts like Psalm 119:105: "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path," or Psalm 19:7-8: "The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes," or Psalm 119:9-11: "How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word. With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments! I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you," or 2 Timothy 3:16-17: "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work." One of my favorite texts dealing with the benefits of knowing Scripture is 2 Peter 1:3-4, where Peter says God "has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence," and that we have "escaped the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire." So we see here that our affections can be shaped by the Word of God and spark godly, virtuous desires, or they can be shaped apart from God's Word and spark worldly, sinful desires.

Desire is Love

I have tried to show from several texts and plain reason how an affection flows into a desire when the value of the beloved object is intense and can be made available. In the same way that an affection is truly love, a desire is also truly love. A concordance survey of the word "desire" in the Bible would show how often the word "love" could replace "desire" with little altering of the meaning. This is obvious in 1 John 2:15-17. Of course, I'm still referring to love in a neutral way, not a virtuous way. Remember, it's possible to love (agapáō) my brother (see 1 John 2:10) and the things in the world (see 2 Tim. 4:10 and 1 John 2:15-17). What makes that love virtuous or perverse is the motive and object of love, the intensity of love or the fruit that love brings forth.

In the same way that love can stop at an affection, love can also stop at a desire. The desire could remain unfulfilled forever and yet remain a love. Amnon desired Tamar so much that he made himself ill over her, and up to that point his love was nothing more than desire. To that point, his love produced no action. Desire is unrequited love. It may not be returned or satisfied. In other words, I could have an affection for steak flowing from a sense of the value of steak. That affection is so intense it sparks a desire for it. However, if all the steak in the world is consumed, my desire may remain quite high for it, but unfulfilled. My love for steak is forced to stop at desire. Or I could stop having a desire for steak because I settled for ribs instead. In that case, I don't desire steak anymore, yet love didn't die. It just regressed back to an affection. I still love steak; I just don't want one at the moment. But what happens when my desire for steak, or Amnon's desire for Tamar, or David's desire for God is so intense, we'll stop at nothing to get it, regardless of consequences? What happens when love demands a response? We'll find out in part three.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

What is Love? Part 1

Valentine's Day is quickly approaching. I'm doing a Pursuit of Pleasure in the Pleasure of Another conference again this Valentine's Day, so I'm thinking about love and marriage more intensely right now. I thought I'd share excerpts from the book for your consideration. In these posts, I'll lay out my definition/ description of love. I know these posts are longer than usual, but don't let that scare you.

Let me begin my description by pointing out that love is a neutral term. Love is not virtuous by mere definition. It can either be virtuous or sinful, beautiful or baneful. When I say "virtuous" love, I mean God-pleasing love as opposed to a love that displeases God. Jesus loved his disciples (see John 15:9) and that love pleased God. Therefore it was virtuous. Religious hypocrites love to show off in front of others (see Mat. 6:5) and that love does not please God. Therefore it is not virtuous. The ability to love flows from God, as man is made in his image. However, man has always had the capacity to bestow that love on whatever object he chooses. The only discriminator between virtuous and non-virtuous love is whether the motive, object, extent and fruit of love pleases God or displeases God. As I use the word love, I mean it in this general, neutral sense.

I describe love with the phrase "progression of phases" because I think love develops along a chain from one phase to the next. It's sequential. I think love (both virtuous and sinful) follows a certain reproducible pattern every time. From the beginning of the progression to the end, as long as the sequence is followed, any point along the chain could be called love. That doesn't mean that the love is sufficient. It may just be a good start. For instance, the first phase on the progression is affection. Love that remains an affection would fall far short of God's pleasure. But it could still be called love (as we'll see). I will try to show how this progression of phases helps explain the rich variety of love displayed in Scripture. As we look at the broad spectrum of love (both virtuous and sinful) in the Bible, the progression of phases seems to describe it every time. Love as sequential progression seems to be Scriptural (it doesn't contradict any text), experientially valid (you'll find yourself saying, "That is how it happens."), reasonable (it makes sense), and helpful (for life and counseling). So here is the progression: All love begins with an affection... from there it may or may not develop into a desire... if a desire is strong enough, it may or may not proceed to an inclination of focus... and from there, it might or might not overflow in an action toward or on behalf of the beloved object. Over the next several posts, I'll unfold each step in this progression.

All Love Begins With an Affection

All love begins with an affection. At first this may sound extreme. All love begins with an affection? Yes. Maybe we've always thought of love as a verb. Love is something we do. As we survey the Bible, we see that love is often a verb. I can buy that. I agree that love involves acting. Love feels. Feeling is a verb. Consider the sentence, "He rejoiced." The subject is "he" and the verb is "rejoiced." Rejoicing is something you do, though the action can be entirely inside you. The apostle Paul says love "rejoices with the truth" and "hopes all things" in 1 Corinthians 13:6-7. Rejoice and hope are verbs, yet they happen inside of us. They're in the realm of affection. To "rejoice with the truth" is to feel good inside about truth. Love has an affection for the truth. To have an affection for an object is active.

Let's look at another biblical example of this. The Old Testament prophet, Micah, had this to say: "He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" (Mic. 6:8). If our minds are accustomed to thinking of true love only as giving or acting, then this verse makes little sense to us. In this verse we have love sandwiched in the middle of two noble actions. "Do justice" and "walk humbly" are both actions that please God. Many people would call both those things love. But right in the middle of those two actions is the phrase "love kindness [or mercy]." Love an idea or a concept. If love is merely an action, how do we fulfill this command? How do we give ourselves to an idea? How do we serve an idea? You may think, "By doing something kind or merciful for others." I would agree that we should be kind, but that's not what Micah said. If we do something kind and merciful, we're loving the object of the kindness, not the kindness itself. Micah says we're supposed to love kindness. I think Micah is saying, "Have an affection for kindness. See its beauty or value. Be on its side. Feel good when you show kindness. But even beyond that, feel good when you see it happening all around you." Should kindness overflow into tangible action? Of course. And we'll rejoice when it does. But we also just love the idea of kindness.

By seeing love in this way, we allow for the rich variety of "love" the Bible depicts. Consider 1 John 2:15: "Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him." First, consider that the love in this text is the same love directed toward either the world or the Father. In other words, whatever love is, it's the same thing flowing out either toward the world or toward God.
The next thing to consider is the question, "What is love in this text?" It is not likely that love in this context deals with the realm of action alone. The love here may result in giving ourselves over to the world or to God. But I have a hard time believing that God is pleased with a person who lusts after women, yet never actually approaches them (in fact Jesus says it's sin in Mat. 5:28). In other words, if love is merely action -- giving or serving -- then until we act on our covetousness, we're doing fine. No, in reality, we're damned for the feeling, not just the acting.

If there's an alternative given between love for the world and love for God, then why would we give ourselves to the world instead of to God? Or why would we love God instead of the world? The answer seems obvious. Because we want to. Why would we want to? Because we have an affection for one or the other. 1 John 2:15-16 is in the realm of motivation. Consider the next verse. "For all that is in the world -- the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions -- is not from the Father but is from the world" (1 John 2:16). We see in verse 16 that loving the world is described as desires. If love in John's mind was nothing more than action or giving, then why would he bring up desires at all? It must at least be because love is connected in some way to the desires. The question I ask then is, "What causes a person to desire the world over God?" Affection is my answer.

Love for the world and love for God are incompatible because there's no qualitative difference between love for the world and love for the Father. Wherever our affection flows, action follows. The reason so many Christians love the world is because they think love for God and love for the world are two different concepts. Therefore, the most carnal of Christians can claim to "love God with all my heart" because love for God is heavenly while love for the world is a different concept altogether. Clearly Paul didn't think this was so. "For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica" (2 Tim. 4:10, emphasis mine). Paul was clearly seeing a deficiency in Demas because he loved (agapáō) the world rather than God. John obviously thought love for the world and love for God are mutually exclusive -- because it's the same love directed to different objects (the world vs. God).

Affection Flows From a Sense of Beauty or Value

Why does someone love the world, or God, or his wife, or little dog Fido, or steak, or his favorite sports team? The answer seems clear -- there's an affection for those things. The question that then begs to be asked is why does someone love his own wife and not someone else's, or why might he start loving someone else's wife? Because he has a sense of beauty or value in his wife, or in someone else's wife. So affection flows from a sense of beauty or value. The greater the sense of value, the stronger the affection. I love steak. I love steak smothered with sour cream, mushrooms, onions and steak sauce. As I've eaten this blessed concoction, I've often asked myself why I love steak. Why do I desire it? Why do I prioritize finances to eat it? Why do I love steak and not asparagus? Why do I love telling the world how much I love steak? Now, I'm going to use steak as a running illustration (please don't mistake this as an inordinate love for steak). I love steak because I've tasted it. I've smelled it on the grill. I've seen the grill marks and perfect proportion as it sets on the plate. I've heard it sizzling and felt its tenderness as I cut into it. I love steak because I have an affection for steak. I have an affection for steak because I sense the beauty or value of steak. I see, smell, taste, touch and hear steak. All five senses are enlivened in a good steak-eating experience. I don't love asparagus because I have no affection for asparagus. I have no affection for asparagus because I do not sense the beauty or value of asparagus. I think it tastes like dirt. It looks like a weed. It smells like grass. It feels nasty to cut into and even worse to chew. And all I've heard about its nutritional value doesn't override my other senses! Do you see how my affections are based on values derived from sense?

Why do the majority of people in the world not love God? God commands it, yet they disobey him. Why? It's simple. Non-Christians do not have an affection for God. Now why would a non-Christian have no affection for God? God is infinitely beautiful and altogether lovely and deeply worthy of affection. Nonetheless, God's perfections don't register in the mind of a non-Christian. Non-Christians have no sense of the beauty or value of God. Seeing, they don't see and hearing, they don't hear. Explaining God's perfections to a non-Christian is like trying to explain the color blue to a boy born blind. How can he relate? We have a sense (sight) that he doesn't have and that makes all the difference in the world in appreciating beauty and assessing value. So a brilliant blue sky on a summer day will not likely hold much sway over the blind boy's heart. Paul is clear about this in the realm of spiritual insight: "And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God" (2 Cor. 4:3-4).

The gospel is veiled to those who are perishing (non-Christians). Their minds are blinded. They can't see the light of the gospel of Christ's glory. They have no sense of God's value! The capacity to bring in knowledge about the beauty or value of God is shut off to them. Though they may have five senses, they have no God-valuing faculty. Paul shows the exact same truth in Romans 1:18-32. Paul says everyone knows of God in verse 21. However, rather than worshiping God, verse 23 says they exchanged God's glory for things in the creation. Why would they do that? Verse 28 says they didn't see fit to acknowledge God. Why? Because they didn't value him. "Exchange" is a value word. It's what we do at Christmas with the gift we have no affection for -- we trade it in for something we sense is better. Maybe we don't like seeing an orange sweater so we exchange it for one we do like seeing -- the blue one. "See fit" is also a value phrase. We see fit to do something based on the value derived from the act. Non-Christians do not see fit to honor God because they can't identify with him. So they settle for what they can identify with, what they can appreciate -- the things of the natural world.

Faith -- the "Sixth Sense"

Non-Christians have no faculty with which to sense God's beauty, so they never love him. Christians on the other hand do have a sense of God's beauty. It is a gift of God flowing from the new birth. Faith is the sense of God's value that the world doesn't have. When we're born into this natural world, we're likely to have five senses. We likely develop the ability to see, smell, hear, taste and touch. When we're born again, we have another sense added to our natural five -- faith. In the same way as a natural man develops his five senses, a Christian develops his faith.

I think we find this in Hebrews 11:1 (and the whole rest of the chapter): "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." We also see it in John 3:3: "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." We see it in Romans 1:17 where Paul lays faith over against the exchange of God's glory in 1:18-32. We find it in 2 Corinthians 4:6 where God "has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." I could give so many more examples, but I trust we're getting the point. Christians have six senses, while the natural man has five. Faith enables us to find beauty and value in God that exceeds the value of things of this world.

One of the neat things about faith is its impact on the other five senses. It takes saving faith to make the other five senses operable in the spiritual realm. In other words, as a non-Christian we can look at the creation and enjoy its benefits all the time without ever bringing glory to God. But through faith we are able to use our other five senses to bring glory to God. We can listen to music that brings joy and gratitude in our hearts for what God has done. We can taste food that points to the wedding feast to come. We can see a sunset and use it as fuel to inspire the most heart-felt worship of the one who painted it. We can hug a brother or sister in Christ whose world is falling apart. We can smell flowers in spring and contemplate on what pleasures heaven has in store.

Christians sense God's value. What's more, they always will. This is great news. This explains why it's possible to love God forever and with increasing intensity. God is infinite. It's impossible to sense our way to the bottom of God's value. God is worthy of infinite love because God is infinitely valuable. We'll never stop finding beautiful things to sense about him once he gives us the faculties to see or "taste" (see Psalm 34:8). Yet, there remains a great deficiency in love to God by Christians. What can explain this? If love begins with an affection flowing from a sense of value, and God is infinitely valuable, then why don't we love God perfectly? This too has to do with our senses. Though we have a new sense of God's glory, our sense of the world's pleasures has not disappeared. At best our sense of the world's pleasures may be kept in check, but it rarely diminishes. Christians still find things in the world valuable. We just find God valuable now, too. However, we pray that God will continue to show himself more beautiful and more glorious so that our affections for worldly things will be outweighed by God's value.

One reason we value the world is that sin is intermingled with our sense of value -- perverting and distorting it. Another reason is that senses can deceive. Take hot dogs for instance. Hot dogs may not be the most beautiful food, but they do fill us up. What if I spent 45 minutes glutting on hot dogs? Then my neighbor comes over with a steak fresh off the grill. I know steak is good, but I've already eaten. I take a bite anyway to indulge my friend. What if I vomit at the second bite? What did I vomit on? Steak. But should I have? No. Those stupid hot dogs interfered with what should have been truly valuable. This is what John is saying in 1 John 2:15-17. Love for the world and love for God are mutually exclusive because both are competing affections, filling up our hearts.

Affection is Love

I describe love as a progression of phases because love begins with an affection and may or may not move on to the next phase. Love is truly love at the level of affection, even if it dies there. Though the example doesn't perfectly illustrate the point, consider a human being. A person lives along a continuum. An embryo is a person. So is an infant, a toddler, an adolescent and and adult. If a baby dies or has some sort of developmental disease, we still consider him to be human, even though he never progresses to maturity. Love begins with an affection, though at that point, it would be least mature and developed. There are times in everyday life when love doesn't move beyond affection. Let me give you a far out example. I love steak. If every cow on the face of the earth dies of disease so that no steak is produced from this day forward until Christ returns -- I will go to my grave loving steak. I don't have to go through the action of eating it to prove I love it. I go through the action of eating it because I love it! I can say, "I love steak," fifty years from now without ever eating another one. Someone may ask why I love it. I'll respond, "Because fifty years ago I saw, smelled, tasted, touched and heard it, and I found it valuable."

It's possible that love never progresses to the next phase beyond affection (though it would be incomplete). On the other hand, it may regress back to the level of affection from a more advanced phase and still be love. For example, suppose someone is married fifty years. Then his wife dies. He loved his wife. She's gone. He can't do dishes for her anymore. He can't prioritize his life around her. It does no good to desire her. However, if you asked him, "Do you love your wife?" What's he likely to say? "Yes, very much." How? He can't give to her. He can't serve her. But he still has an affection for her flowing from a memory of her beauty and value. If you asked him why he still loves her, he'd likely rattle off a few sentences of praise for who she was.

When Affection Dies, Love Dies

This description of love as a progression of phases enables us to get to the root of why love grows cold in marriage. This is incredibly practical. When affection dies, love dies. Affection is the fountain from which all love flows. It's impossible to perform the other phases along the progression and call it love if it didn't flow from an affection. Love can still be love without an action or even desire (we'll see this later) because an affection may still remain. But love cannot exist without affection. How does this apply to marriage? Suppose a couple comes to me and says, "All the love in our marriage is gone." I could tell them, "God commands you to love. You must love. I know you don't feel like it, but that's alright. If you perform these actions, the feelings of love will come back -- your feelings follow action." I could then show them from Scripture how love is giving and love is an action, send them home with a list of fifty ways to show love (because love is an action, a gift) and demand they ask God's help to do it. And I wouldn't be surprised when that doesn't fix the problem over the long haul.

As an alternative, I could look at the progression of phases and ponder what the Bible says about motivation. It's obvious in this marriage that loving actions are non-existent. I hardly need to ask why. There's no desire to perform loving actions. I could go back to the area of affections and start to probe. In my experience, there are always areas in troubled marriages where spouses simply stop finding beauty or value in one another. Love grows cold because spouses lose value. This is why actions and giving alone are not enough to fuel feelings. If a couple doesn't find any value in the marriage, they'll do dishes and have "date nights" until blue in the face and grow more bitter the whole time. I've seen this happen more than once.

If what I'm saying is true, then why does mere action seem to cause change sometimes? I do agree that demanding change can cause change at times. But that change could make the person twice the child of hell than they were before the change (see Mat. 23:15)! Changing action is not necessarily creating virtuous love. In those cases where godly change occurs, I think the dynamic follows the progression of phases. In other words, the action sparks a renewed interest in finding value, which renews a worn down affection. When that happens on its own, we say, "See, I told you if you just do the work, love happens." That's not in reality what happened at all. Instead, while the couple was focusing on their marriage, affection was restored because value was rekindled. But for those times "action counsel" doesn't work and the couple never improves relations, it's because one or both spouses are not finding value in each other or in the marriage. When value dwindles, affection dies. When affection dies, love dies.

If we're having problems getting along with our spouse, we have to go back and figure out why we've stopped finding value in him or her. Perhaps we got married out of physical attraction. When that wears off, we want someone else. Maybe we married out of necessity. When we don't feel the need anymore, we don't value our spouse anymore. Or it could be that we married to have a companion. But when our companion always wants something from us and wants to control us, then we lose the value of having that person as a companion. Maybe we're comparing our spouse to someone else's or to some dream mate from a movie or soap opera or book or pornography. When our real spouse doesn't measure up, we stop valuing him or her. Then again, we might have valued security at first. But after awhile, we realize how secure we are without our spouse, so value diminishes. There are hundreds of reasons to value someone and hundreds of reasons to stop. If we only value our spouse because he or she makes much of us, what happens when our spouse cannot make as much of us as we're used to? We may feel shafted and our value for our spouse diminishes. If we only value our spouse because he or she makes much of us, then what happens when, in bitterness, he or she starts getting jealous and acting like a brat? We get angry and our value for our spouse shrinks.

If you're in this situation right now, not valuing your spouse, keep reading these posts. Pray that God will show you what he wants you to value. It could be that the reasons you valued your spouse were all wrong. Or it could be that your spouse has changed and truly become less valuable in your eyes. It doesn't matter. If the love in your marriage feels cold, it's because the value between you and your mate is down to yard sale prices. It may not help for you to immediately try to "drum up" things to value about your spouse. It may work, or it may be incredibly discouraging. First, you're sense of value may be all out of whack. Second, it may be because your spouse really isn't that valuable at the current time. I've written this book to try and show what is truly valuable about marriage and our spouses. So keep reading on and let the Bible speak to your sense of value before you put your marriage on the chopping block or start doing all sorts of assessments.

A Biblical Example of Non-virtuous Love

Consider with me a biblical example of the interplay of value and love. In 2 Samuel 13 we read about King David's family. David had a son, Amnon. He also had a daughter, Tamar.

"Now Absalom, David's son, had a beautiful sister, whose name was Tamar. And after a time Amnon, David's son, loved her. And Amnon was so tormented that he made himself ill because of his sister Tamar, for she was a virgin, and it seemed impossible to Amnon to do anything to her" (2 Sam. 13:1-2).

We find in the text that "after a time" Amnon loved Tamar. The question I ask of this text is, "Why did Amnon love her?" There are clues. First, she was beautiful. Second, she was a virgin. Amnon loved Tamar because he had an affection for her. He had an affection for her because he valued her. He valued her because he could see she was beautiful and he obviously would have heard if she had been given to a man -- he knew she was a virgin. We have my description of love taking shape here. Did this love last? No. Why? Because the affection faded. Why? Because Amnon stopped finding value in Tamar. Amnon's love for Tamar overflowed in rape. We read on in 2 Samuel 13 that Amnon ceased to value Tamar after he raped her. Maybe it wasn't all Amnon had imagined it would be. Maybe he'd gotten what he wanted and didn't see the use in repeating. The text isn't clear as to why Amnon changed, but he did. "Then Amnon hated her with very great hatred, so that the hatred with which he hated her was greater than the love with which he had loved her" (2 Sam. 13:15). I am not saying Amnon's love for Tamar was noble or virtuous. It clearly wasn't (remember, the only criteria for virtuous love is that it pleases God). His affection for her could have flowed out in a desire for her purity. But it didn't. That's the power of sin to corrupt a God-given gift like love. Amnon's affection for Tamar (love) took him down all the wrong paths, at serious cost to her and himself.

Value is Determined by Pleasure Granted or Expected

Love begins as an affection flowing from a sense of beauty or value. The question I now want to ask is, "What determines what we value or to what extent we value it?" The value of an object is determined by the pleasure granted or expected from that object. To the extent that an object can further the pleasure of the one doing the loving, that object is valued. An object's value may emanate from inherent beauty or it may be derived as a means to another end. An example will illustrate this. God is inherently beautiful, or objectively beautiful in himself. So it should not be a foreign notion that every reasonable creature should have an affection (love) for God -- because he's valuable in himself. On the other hand, we have sinful man. He is unlovely in himself. He isn't inherently beautiful. Any beauty man has is derived from God. Therefore, what beauty or value does God see in man that he should have an affection (love) for us? God has an affection for man flowing from a sense of value in himself. It's not that man is inherently valuable and worthy of love. Instead, God is valuable and worthy of love. So God loves the world as a means to the end of getting glory from the world. If this sounds unreasonable, consider Paul's statement in Ephesians 5:

"Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish" (Eph. 5:25-27).

Paul says that Christ loved the church. Everyone agrees with that. What did that love require? Christ gave himself up for her. Why did Christ die? Christ died to sanctify and cleanse the church. Why did Christ want to sanctify the church? Christ sanctified the church so that he might present the church to himself in splendor to worship him for all eternity. This was the joy set before him (see Heb. 12:2). Christ died for himself. And he died for the church. This blows away many people's conception of love. Christ had an entirely different reason for loving the church than that they were lovely. Christ had an affection for man flowing from a sense of value in himself. So man served Christ's greater end of glorifying himself. Christ valued the church for the pleasure he would gain from her. What's more, the church eternally benefits from Christ's seeking his pleasure in dying for the church. No sane person faults Christ for this! We should not feel the least bit slighted that Christ is working everything for our benefit, in spite of our unworthiness, to bring glory to himself. We should greatly rejoice that he is. We may be tempted to think that Christ didn't love the church. He just loved himself. That's not what Paul said. Jesus Christ pursued his own pleasure in the pleasure of the church. Paul called this pursuit "love."

In the above illustration of Amnon and Tamar, Amnon valued Tamar because of the pleasure he was expecting to receive from her. His affection flowed in the sinful way it did because his sense of value was perverse. He valued Tamar as a possession, something to be had for the sexual pleasure he expected to receive from her. The difference between Christ and Amnon is that Christ's love ultimately benefits the beloved by helping the beloved cherish God (which pleases God and makes the love virtuous). Jesus pursued pleasure in the ultimate pleasure of the beloved. Amnon's love consumed and did violence to the beloved and cared nothing about helping the beloved cherish God (which makes it displeasing to God and therefore sinful). Amnon pursued pleasure at the expense of the beloved. Christ's love was a fountain; Amnon's a sponge. What is your love for your spouse?

I would like to think that Amnon really just loved sex and saw his sister as an object to satisfy that love. But the biblical writer didn't say that. He wrote in 13:1 "And after a time Amnon, David's son, loved her." He didn't say Amnon loved sex. He didn't call Amnon's love "lust." He said Amnon loved Tamar. We must let the writer say what he wrote. It's alright to try to figure out why he wrote what he wrote. But it's not alright to make him say something he didn't. (Again, this proves that love is a general term, describing either a virtuous action or a sinful action depending on its relationship to God.) I think the pursuit of pleasure explains why Amnon ceased to love Tamar after he had violated her. It's interesting that Amnon wasn't just disinterested with Tamar afterwards. He was actively opposed to her. He hated her. Perhaps it was because Amnon's expectation of pleasure was seriously overinflated in his imagination. We'll see in the next section that Amnon was obsessed with Tamar. He thought of her constantly. He was fantasizing about how it would be. Then when he got his way with her, it was not the payoff he'd been expecting. So Amnon may have hated her because his expectation of pleasure had been dashed to pieces or because he expected no further pleasure could be had from her. In fact, after the deed was done, the thought of potential consequences may have come crashing down on his head. Those thoughts would not have been very pleasurable!

Another example of this relationship between value and pleasure is from the life of Moses in Hebrews 11. We looked at him in the last chapter. Moses had to choose between the fleeting treasures and pleasures of sinful Egypt, or the reproach of Christ. Moses made his choice by considering the reward he'd receive from both. He chose Christ over sin because he valued Christ over sin because his expectation of pleasure from Christ was greater than the pleasure he expected from sin. The reason I think he thought the reproach of Christ would bring greater pleasure than sin was because sin's pleasures are fleeting. They will eventually end and become anti-pleasure. So by faith Moses chose everlasting pleasure over temporary pleasure because everlasting pleasure is of necessity more valuable than temporary pleasure.

This is also John's argument in 1 John 2:15-17. John says not to love the world or the things in the world because the world will end along with its desires. In other words, the pleasure that the things of the world can give is fleeting and temporary. There will come a day when the world's pleasures will come to an end and become anti-pleasure. Seeking pleasure in the things of the world isn't nearly hedonistic enough because the promises of worldly pleasures are not powerful enough. John says the one who does the will of God abides forever. We saw in the last chapter what the will of God is -- to be happy in him through the gospel forever.

We must discipline our minds to constantly weigh competing pleasures. When the temporary pleasures of the world call out to us, we cannot allow ourselves to coast right into them. We must consider their promises, assess their payoff in the end and choose according to what is truly valuable. To a mind awakened to the value of God through faith, God's way will win out if considered long enough, because the eternal pleasures of God's way are better than the fleeting pleasures of the world's way.

It's important to point out at this point that we value based on pleasure granted or expected. Not every choice we make ends up in pleasure. Our decision may solidly backfire on us. If I go to a skydiving school and learn to jump out of an airplane, there is a real chance that the parachute won't open or a line may snap or I could crash into a tree and break my leg. I'm not setting out to kill myself. I'm setting out to get pleasure. However, my choice could result in anti-pleasure. But I'm expecting pleasure, not pain. If I go to a night club in a quest for a one-night-stand, I am expecting pleasure. I am not going in expecting to get a sexually transmitted disease. I may end up with one that could cause serious agony and death. I'm not setting out on a quest for agony. I'm setting out on a quest for pleasure. However, the quest may end in agony. But I'm expecting pleasure, not pain. This dynamic explains why we do the things we do, even when they seem really stupid to those around us. This explains why so many couples won't quit fighting or being selfish, even though it makes them miserable. Both spouses are expecting to get their way. They're not setting out to be upset. They're setting out to be happy. They're just going about it all wrong, and it backfires on them. We don't generally set out to ruin our lives with our choices. We set out to better our lives through heaping on more pleasure and it backfires on us. This shouldn't lead us to stop pursuing pleasure since we can't. It should provoke us to start seeking it in the only place it can be found in durable and ultimate form -- God.

Loving the Unseen Christ

We can see the relationship between love, joy and faith in 1 Peter 1:8-9. In this chapter, Peter is reflecting on the trials and joys of the Christian life when he considers the love that his readers have for Christ. Peter points out that, "though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls" (1 Pet. 1:8-9). Notice here that it seems somewhat strange to love someone we've never seen. That's why Peter points it out with the word "though." Consider this illustration. If I run around the block, no one may notice. But what if I have a broken leg and run around the block? Would that seem peculiar? Probably. Someone may even say, "Though he has a broken leg, he's running around the block." The word "though" in that sentence points out something out of the ordinary that may keep an act from being done. It's not normal to run on broken legs. In other words, it wouldn't be out of the ordinary to see a guy running around the block. But it is out of the ordinary to see a guy running around the block with a broken leg. Peter is saying something similar about his readers' love. It isn't extraordinary to love someone. It is more extraordinary to love someone you've never seen. That's why Peter seems pleased that his readers love Jesus without having to see him.

Peter seems to be saying here that love is in some measure usually based on physical sense -- in this case, sense of sight. You see Jesus and you love him. If you want to love Jesus, you have to see him. The capacity to love seems related to the ability to assess something lovely. That assessment comes through senses. If you don't have that capacity to assess, you can't decide to love. Now what would enable Peter's readers to love Jesus without seeing him? What would give them the ability to assess something lovely about Jesus that would make it extraordinary? I think it's clear from the text that the answer is faith. Peter calls his readers' joyful, believing love for Jesus "faith" in verse 9. Peter's readers assessed the value of Jesus through the eyes of faith. Faith was the sense by which they could assess Jesus' value.

The love with which these early Christians loved Jesus was fueled by inexpressible joy. Through faith, they could rejoice in the promises of salvation given by Jesus and that sustained them through the most extreme trials. They valued Jesus because Jesus brought them such intense joy that it couldn't be fully expressed. It couldn't have been the sight of Jesus that brought them such great joy, like the sight of a super-model. They'd never seen him. It was what Jesus had done for them through the gospel that provoked such radical joy. And they sensed that, not through sight, but through faith. So we can see the relationship between love, joy and faith in this text. Love flows from a sense of beauty or value. Beauty or value is based on the joy granted or expected from an object. Faith is the "sixth sense" that enables virtuous love to flow without the aid of the physical senses.

I know what I'm saying may be new to you and require intense thought. Don't give up, keep thinking with me. Let me recap my thoughts about love to this point. 1) Love is best described as a progression of phases. 2) Love begins as an affection flowing from a sense of beauty or value. 3) When affection for an object dies, love dies. 4) An object's value is determined by the pleasure granted or expected. Let's move along to the next phase tomorrow.