Love as Action – Don’t fret over your feelings

C. S. Lewis in Mere Christianity says of …  divine love in the heart of the believer: “But love, in the Christian sense, does not mean an emotion. It is a state not of the feelings but of the will; that state of the will which we have naturally about ourselves, and must learn to have about other people” (129). [He refers, of course, to the command to love your neighbour as you love yourself.]

Think of the relationship of feelings to love this way. Consider a pipe or faucet of water. If you run water through that pipe, you know that – depending on the kind of water running through it – mineral deposits will gradually develop along the walls of the pipe and build up over time. Well, think of the water as love in its purity of action, and the deposits as the feelings that can accrue and grow, depending on the circumstance. When the water first starts to flow, the pipe has no deposits. But if you keep the water flowing, eventually you’ll start having deposits. So it is that, with God’s love, we may have no feelings for the person – the pipe may be quite clean – but the point of having the pipe is for the water, the acts of love, not the deposits. So we act, like God acts, and we give to the other person, and, in time, the feelings – the deposits – will start to grow. Many of us have had that experience.

Of course, there are those occasions when, not only may we not have loving feelings for the person, but they may actually be hurting us in some way. The result is that, though we keep giving – though the water keeps flowing – we have to put forth so much effort to just keep the peace, that there’s no energy left for the feelings to grow. Loving that person may never seem other than a kind of chore. But that’s fine. To keep up the action in the face of discouraging circumstances is a great victory of God’s grace. After all, the people around Jesus when he died on the cross, were not all being very appreciative, were they. But he still loved them and prayed for them. If our feelings are not what we think they ought to be, forget about them. Just keep the love flowing.

And, actually, we get to that kind of situation in the latter part of our passage, do we not? For Paul here [in Romans 12] talks about how to keep up our love for people when they turn out to be our persecutors.
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.
17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.
18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”

Beloved, when it comes to people who are our enemies, people who are hurting us, whether it be our persecutors or whoever else they may be – a fellow student, or a co-worker, or a family member, if we take up that offense, or that hurt and decide we are going to hurt them back, whether by an action or a word, or by foolishly thinking that staying mad and bitter is somehow going to affect them in some way, what are we doing? We are turning off the water, aren’t we. The decision to be bitter, the decision to resent, is a decision to not love, to not act in a loving manner toward this person.

Of course, we feel like saying, “How can I love? Look at what they did!” Well, I may not see what they did, but God does. And God, though he hates the sinful thing this person has done, nevertheless still loves the sinner. Just like he loves you, in spite of the way you have hurt people in the past yourself. But God is also just, and when he looks at what this person has done to you, He cares about it. He cares about the injustice. And, if you will let him; if you will trust him to do the right thing, he will be sure that that person gets what is coming to them, either by way of making it right through the redemption of His Son, or otherwise.

But our duty toward that person remains plain, for we are to be the children of God, who show the unique love of God in this dark world by the words we say and the things we do. Our prayer for our enemies is the same as the prayer of our Saviour for his enemies, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” and we may have to pray that prayer every day. But we pray it. And when we pray it, we may add, based on Romans 12, “and Father, if they do not repent, thank you that you will make all this right in your own way in your own time.” You see, grudges destroy your soul, and your heavenly Father doesn’t want that to happen. He wants you to be a whole, loving person. So, he will take care of the wrongs that happen to you, so you are free from them and their bitterness. Isn’t that kind of him?

Dear friends, God’s love is unique and it outstrips our love every time. That is why we have to have help understanding it, if we are gong to love the same way. And that’s why we have passages like Romans 12, where we have these little word pictures, showing on a case-by-case basis, what this love looks like in action, because that’s what matters; the action is what matters. Not the theory. Not the feeling. But the words and the deeds. And that is what the Lord is going to give you the grace to do. We not only need help understanding what that love looks like, we need help doing it as well. And He is that help in us. He dwells in your heart, by His Holy Spirit, and he not only loves you, and wants you to know that love, but he loves that person beside you that can be hard to love. All the power of God Himself is with you to help you to show that person the love that God has for them. Beloved, we are all in this together as the children of God. Let us have faith and trust our God to keep our hearts as we, like him, give them to others. It’s risky, but it is the way to glory.

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