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Sunday, October 16, 2011

Love much, love well

 9-11So this is my prayer: that your love will flourish and that you will not only love much but well. Learn to love appropriately. You need to use your head and test your feelings so that your love is sincere and intelligent, not sentimental gush. Live a lover's life, circumspect and exemplary, a life Jesus will be proud of: bountiful in fruits from the soul, making Jesus Christ attractive to all, getting everyone involved in the glory and praise of God.
(Philippians 1:9-11 The Message)

Love will flourish, but it must be cultivated.  This includes the love of others that we receive and learn to give, the love we come to understand in our relationship with Christ, and our love (acceptance) of who we are as Christ sees us.  Did you realize that the word "flourish" comes from the root meaning "to bloom"?  So, when Paul writes to the Philippian Church, he is reminding them that in order for their love to "bloom" there must be a process of cultivating, caring for, and tending that love.

His goal is not that they will just come to "love", but that they will learn to love well.  We are often more consumed by the quantity of something and totally lose sight of the fact that the quality of something may not measure up.  I know from experience that the "economy" size of something may not be the easiest to tote around, it can stick around way past the time it was useful, and that it sometimes does not measure up in quality to that which may have come in a "smaller" package.  

The process or idea of learning to love well is easy to miss in this passage.  It is laid out for us with some very specific examples, but I think we often skip over them because we see these verses as "introductory" to the book of Philippians (like the greeting in a letter we'd write to an acquaintance).  Let's take them apart:

Learn to love appropriately - most of us can associate with this verse by sharing the times when we have been "inappropriate" in our love, or in what we have placed our love in.  For example, we embrace someone or something that takes our eyes off of Jesus and we find ourselves "drying up" on the inside as a result.  Appropriate love is something that will ultimately help us become what God desires for us to be.  That which is befitting for us is often not what we choose.  For us to love appropriately, we have to understand what is proper for us to love.  

We must know how involvement with that person or object will be useful to us - if is takes us away from Jesus, it is not useful; if it builds us up in Christ, it is.  We must also see how who we involve ourselves with, or what we become attached to, is suited for us as a new creation in Christ.  Now, a word of caution here - this does not mean that if we are married to a spouse that does not believe in Christ, or has a differing belief system, that we have license to leave them.  Marriage is a covenant relationship, not to be entered into lightly, that God expects us to remain faithful to.  We have to learn to be God's love within that relationship.  We chose that relationship, maybe not very wisely, but we have an obligation to be the example of God's love within that relationship.  God will honor that commitment, but it may be a tough haul!

Learn to use your head and test your feelings - this is probably the biggest obstacle to learning to love well.  We are so feelings oriented that we often don't put any thought into our actions.  Paul is reminding us that what seems reasonable to us because of how we are feeling at the moment may not be what will produce the best outcome in the end.  If you have ever done something impulsively, then you will understand what I mean here.  When you acted on that impulse, you were responding to your "feelings" at that moment.  Later, you regretted the impulse you responded to.  We call that "buyer's remorse"!  The thing we need to see is that "feeling" something is not love.  Love is an action - not a feeling.  It is best understood in the "fruit" is produces, not in the "promises" it makes.

Learn to live circumspectly and exemplary - big words for some to understand, so let's break them down a little.  Circumspect living is really conducting our lives in such a way that we live with a little "caution" in our decisions.  We are not always obeying our impulses.  The opposite of circumspect living is carelessness.  To live an exemplary life does not mean that we have to be perfect, but that we learn to embrace the principles Christ teaches, putting them into action in our lives more and more until they become "second-nature" to us.  See, we usually respond in life by our "first-nature" - that part of us that we call our sin nature.  As we learn to live with some "caution", not always giving into the impulse of our feelings, we begin to take on the characteristics of our "second-nature" - our new nature in Christ Jesus.

When we learn to love in this way, Paul says it will make the Jesus people see in us something they will find "attractive".  So, if you have ever felt that you are not an "attractive" individual, here's your remedy to that!  Our physical appearance pales in comparison to the appearance of learning to display God's love in our lives!