February 18 – Transforming Love

February 18 – Transforming Love

Exodus 34:6-7

“The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, ”The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin…..”(Exodus 34:6-7)

In the Old Testament, love speaks of a spontaneous feeling that impels to self-giving. This was true both for God and man. When man “loved” God, it meant to have pleasure in God, striving impulsively after him, seeking God for his own sake. From God’s side, the warm, strong feeling of affection that characterizes a healthy parent-child relationship is taken as a picture of how God the Father relates to Israel, his son. Love is the foundation of the covenant relationship. If the legal, covenantal aspect of the relationship is strong in the father-son analogy, the passionate loving-kindness of a good marriage is strong in the picture of God the husband and Israel the wife. The climactic revelation of this love relationship is seen in the prophet Hosea and his well-loved harlot-wife. The same analogy of father-son, bridegroom-bride continues in the New Testament, focusing on the warm affection and unfailing bonds between two who love each other deeply.

But the internal aspect of love is more than a feeling. It is a characteristic of life, a disposition. Old Testament scholars seem to have a problem in translating another Hebrew word, chesded. Some translations speak of loving-kindness (KJV), some of steadfast love (ASV, RSV), some of constant love (TEV, Today’s English Version). Indeed, the love of God is steadfast, unfailing—a basic disposition that never changes and that controls all that he does. This has to do with commitment. God’s kind of love is not a sometime thing, tentative and sporadic. It does not run out. His covenantal love is from youth to old age, from generation to generation, from age to age, from eternity to eternity. This unending love is faithful through all kinds of circumstances, even rejection. Biblical love, then, is not a passing emotion, but a way of life, a disposition, a relationship of permanent commitment to the welfare of another.

There is yet another element in the internal aspect of biblical love: loving feelings motivate. In fact, it is not too much to say that love is the only motive. At the root of every choice, every action a person takes, lies love. It may be purely from love of self that a person takes action, or it may be other-love. But always love is the dynamic that propels, the catalyst that transforms thought into action.

Some speak of the glory of God as a motive. But strictly speaking, glory is not a motive. If I seek my wife’s glory, for example, my motive may be my own glory. If she is highly thought of, I will be more praiseworthy for having caught her and kept her. Of course, I may seek to put her in the best light before others because I love her, not me. But the motive is not her glory. The motive is my love, one way or the other. In the same way, the great commission is said to be a motive. But I may obey any command of God because I love me—it is the smart thing to do. A pastor may work himself into an ulcer to build his own reputation on earth or in heaven. I may give generously for the impression it will make on others or witness for fear of the consequences if I do not. Thus, I may seek my own glory because I love me. Or I may be totally indifferent to how people think of me. I may prefer pleasure. Or money. But money, pleasure, honor do not motivate; they are the means by which I may seek my own fulfillment. The same is true of seeking God’s fulfillment, or my neighbor’s. The basic drive, the mainspring, the motive of all human action is love.

Bible treats self-love and other-love and how the conflict between them may be resolved. But at this point it is important to identify how biblical love is a feeling, a disposition, and a motive.

Our focus on the internal aspects of love is immediately shifted to the external by the term motive. Motivated to what? To act. So we now turn from love as an inner response to love as a description of how a love-motivated person behaves.

The Bible emphasizes what love does more than how love feels. This is no doubt why those who translated the Hebrew Old Testament into Greek chose the colorless agape over the strong, vibrant eros and the warm, affectionate philia. Agape had this going for it: It emphasized choice, action. The others did not. Eros (not to be restricted to contemporary definitions of erotic or sexually oriented affections) was so passionate as to be compared with intoxication. There was no choice, no will, no freedom for the man seized by the tyrannical omnipotence of eros. But agape referred to a free and decisive act determined by the subject himself, not by the drawing power of the object, as in the case of passionate eros or warm, but duty-bound philia. The primary characteristic of biblical love is action.

In the New Testament, as in the Old, loving is often linked with obeying—the outward response of an inward condition of love. We are commanded to love. “You shall love the LORD your God. . . . You shall love your neighbor as yourself “ (Lev. 19:18; Deut. 6:5; Matt. 22:37-39). “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments” (1 John 5:3; 2 John 6). The first question Scripture asks is not, How do you feel about this person? but, rather, What choices must you make concerning this person? What commitment will you fulfill? How can you better promote their best? How can you reflect [9]the unwavering love of God in this relationship? The answer to this transforms the most mundane life!

[9] Introduction to Biblical Ethics (IBE), Robertson McQuilkin, (2014), 32.

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