Motivated by Love

When we embrace the gospel message of Jesus Christ, one of the changes we experience, whether rapidly or gradually, is that we are no longer motivated by selfish ambition, by “what’s in it for me.”  We have a new motivation for our actions.

In the first chapter of I Peter, the apostle goes to great length to explain our inheritance in Christ.  “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to his great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you” (I Pet 1:3-4).

Peter continues in this chapter with two actions that should naturally follow when we recognize the spectactularness of our salvation.  Obedience and love.  “Therefore [based on what I just said about so great a salvation]…as obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior” (I Pet 1:14-15).  And, “Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart” (I Pet 1:22).  Obedience and love.

It is interesting that Peter follows verse 22 with the reason we are even able to love.  “For you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God” (I Pet 1:23).  God’s imperishable seed inside empowers us to love fervently.

If our goal for living the Christian life is to keep a set of rules or attain a certain level of character qualities, the road will grow stale and the motivation will fade away.  If, on the other hand, our goal is to love from a pure heart, our motivation and enthusiasm will grow as our love grows.

Think about this progression with me and the verses that go with it.

  • My ultimate goal, the greatest commandment in the New Testament, is to love one another.  (See Jn 13:34, Jn 15:12, Jn 15:17, Rom 12:10, Rom 13:8, I Thess 3:12, I Thess 4:9, II Thess 1:3, I Pet 1:22, I Pet 4:8, I Jn 3:11, I Jn 3:23, I Jn 4:7, I Jn 4:11, I Jn 4:12, II Jn 1:5.)
  • I love others by serving them.  “Through love, serve one another” (Gal 5:13).
  • A clean vessel is a vessel fit for service.  “Therefore if anyone cleanses himself from these things [the bad stuff], he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work” (II Tim 2:21).
  • I cleanse myself by obeying God’s commands, an obedience that comes from my love motivation.  “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love” (Jn 15:10).
  • Love is our motivation to do the right thing.

The apostle Paul adds an additional dimension to our love motivation in II Corinthians 5:14, “For the love of Christ controls us.”  The idea of being “controlled” or “constrained” (KJV) by love is more than just being motivated by it.  As my friend Greg Despres points out, the word picture in this verse is like a rushing river being controlled or constrained by its banks.  Its the idea of being controlled or constrained by a crowd as we all press into an arena for a sporting event.  Faced with this “control”, it only makes sense to go with the flow.  Our love is going with the flow of who Christ indwells us to be.  Let your pride and selfish ambition fall to the wayside and go with the flow of Christ’s love filling you and overflowing in service to others.  Go with the flow!

Love is the Unifier

“I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, entreat you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing forbearance to one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph 4:1-3).  Love is the unifier in the bond of peace.

Pastor Ray Stedman summarized theses verses well in his book, Body Life.  “The church is never told to create unity.  There is a unity that exists in the church by virtue of the simple fact that the church exists.  It can only be produced by the Spirit of God.  But once produced, Christians are responsible to maintain it.  And maintain this unity through Christlike love.”

All the “one anothers” of the New Testament are most effectively carried out under the overarching umbrella of “love one another”.  In fact, I would suggest, they cannot even happen without the power of love.  Bearing one another’s burdens only happens well when we love.  We will be motivated to pray for one another more often when we love.  Can we honestly forgive another person without love?  Even our efforts to admonish one another will only have a positive effect on the other person when they know we love them.  Love is the answer to every question of unity in the church.

“And so, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against any one; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.  And beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity” (Col 3:12-14).  Love is the unifier.

Crucifying the Flesh by Love: One More Thought

When our younger children were teenagers, I asked them one evening, “Do you think we have a lot of rules in our home?”  They looked at each other and finally Bethany answered for the group, “Well, we seem to really just have one big rule:  Do whatever Mom and Dad say.”  It was an interesting answer and I immediately wondered how they would always discern – following the one big rule idea – what Mom and Dad would say in any given situation.

Years later, I realized what Bethany was saying.  The idea of children obeying their parents as one big rule is both biblical and practical, and on the practical side it looks like this.  One of our core values as parents was to establish a relationship with our children.  A relationship based on love and mutual respect.  A relationship based on knowing and being known.  Rhonda and I asked a lot of questions at our house to learn what life looked like from our children’s point of view.  Did this somehow diminish our authority?  I don’t think so.  Our authority just became more grounded in our relationship than in structures of control.

So because we allowed ourselves to be known by our children, it wasn’t much of a stretch for them to know what Mom and Dad were thinking in any given situation.  So even if we didn’t address a particular issue – we did discuss many situations and temptations beforehand – our children basically knew what Mom or Dad would say.  Hence, because we knew and were known by our kids, the one big rule of doing whatever Mom and Dad said was not arbitrary or dangerous.  Their obedience was based on a love relationship.

It is the same idea with our Lord.  When you know the Lord as well as we know our own children or parents, we know what God is thinking.  We know what He expects.  We know what kind of things please Him.  We don’t need to know a list of rules because we know the rule-maker.  And the more time we spend learning the rule-maker’s ways, the more we learn His heart.  His ways are no longer so distant that they cannot be known.  God has chosen to make Himself known to those who seek a relationship with Him.  Since our obedience flows from this love relationship, His commandments are not burdensome, but life-giving.  And best of all, they draw us closer to the heart of God.

Crucifying the Flesh by Love Unleashed

Another way we “crucify the flesh with its passions and desires” is to unleash the love God has put into our new hearts.  “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome” (I Jn 5:3).  “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (Jn 14:15).  As children of the Heavenly Father, we keep His commandments – “crucifying the flesh” – out of a love relationship with the Godhead.

I don’t know what your childhood was like, but I have a distinct memory of being motivated to obey my parents out of a love relationship.  That is, I did not want to disappoint them or abuse the trust they put in me.  As we grow up, we transfer that “obedience out of love” to our relationship with God.  And this love relationship, this ability to love God as we should, comes from God Himself as one of the provisions of the New Covenant.  So not only does God give us the resurrection power to resist temptation, but He gives us the desire to do so as well through our love relationship with Him.

Another way love affects our response to temptation is in the manifestation of the love God has given us for each other.  For example, I will not correct my children out of anger – a deed of the flesh – if my motivation is to deepen my love relationship with them.  I will treat my wife with honor and respect even in times of disagreement because I love her.  I will not dismiss personalities different than my own if I am controlled by love.  My moral choices, when motivated by love, will be influenced by how my choices affect others.  My choices will be governed by a desire to enhance the love relationships God has brought into my life; both close familial and friend relationships as well as more casual acquaintances in the body.

A good measure of our level of love motivation is our attitude in carrying out Christ’s commands.  Hospitality is not really hospitality if it is done reluctantly.  Generosity is not really generosity if giving is done begrudgingly.  “God loves a cheerful giver” (II Cor 9:7), and I think it is safe to say, based on many scriptures, that God loves a cheerful obeyer in all areas.  “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!” (Phil 4:4).  Good cheer and joy will be the result of “crucifying the flesh” out of a love motivation.

Finally, embracing and experiencing the love of God takes the power out of the sin of fear and worry.  On the large scale, the twenty-four hour news cycle supplies us with more than enough to worry about.  As author Marilynne Robinson has observed, “We’re stuck in psycho-emotional bomb shelters.”  Closer to home, intimate knowledge of our family and friends situations often give us ample opportunity to worry.  I know I specifically worry about what my children’s future will hold.  But God’s love casts out fear.  Resting in God’s love, trusting that any future issue will have passed through His loving hands, helps quiet the urge to worry when the temptation comes.

“And we have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us.  God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him” (I Jn 4:16).  May you experience the abiding love of God today!

Love Lifts the Burden

Another challenge we all face in the area of lifestyle is the high standard of Jesus’ call to discipleship.  When we reduce that standard to a list of rules to keep and the burden to keep the rules becomes too great, there is a temptation to give up on the Christian life.  But under the New Covenant, rule-keeping by will power has been replaced by an unfolding of our new nature as we more and more yield to the new influence of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  A way to think about getting out from under the burden of rule-keeping is this.

Have you ever heard someone say about their job, “It doesn’t really feel like work, because I am doing what I love?”  It does happen.  And it happens in the Christian life as well.  “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments.  For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome” (I Jn 5:2-3).  Depending upon how you were introduced to the Christian life, “His commandments are not burdensome” may be news to you.  It was sure good news to me.

Tying the flow of God’s love to our keeping of the commandments – as John does twice in this passage – always seemed like a “catch” to me.  Aha! This love of God is not entirely unmerited.  There is a performance required on my part to earn God’s love.  There is a requirement to obey and, by the way, the standard – all that Jesus asks – is incredibly high.  Not just high, but maybe out of reach.

Then I began investigating why I was not experiencing “His commandments are not burdensome”, because honestly I found them quite difficult.  You cannot read the gospels with an open mind and not recognize that this discipleship business is serious stuff.  It really goes against our natural grain.

The promise of I John 5:3, “His commandments are not burdensome” came into view for me as I began to understand the provisions of the New Covenant.  I came to see that the joy in following Christ’s commands was not found in working harder, it was found in resting in and appropriating the new nature that He has given us.  It lies in abiding in His love.  “Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love.  If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments, and abide in His love” (Jn 15:9-10).

When we abide in Christ’s love, we are inviting the facts of the New Covenant to become our experience of the New Covenant.  And when we do, His commands are not burdensome, because they were exactly what our new nature was made to do.  Just as someone may say about their vocation, “I enjoy this because this is what I was made to do,” so we too can say about the commands of Christ, “I enjoy them, because this is what I was made to do!”