Love Is War

I was reading 1 Corinthians 13 the other day and learned something which I did not know. Apparently, all (or most?) of the descriptions of love are verbs in the Greek. Phrases rendered like “Love is kind” could be rendered ultra-literally as “Love kinds” or more dynamically as “Love acts kindly.” Love is active throughout the passage.

Moreover, the actions ascribed to love in this passage are entirely contrary to the flesh, our natural way of living based on our merely animal aspects. We act in one way by default, by instinct, and that way is entirely opposed to the way of love. They cannot abide one another. They are antithetical at their very core. There is one way of acting characterized by love and another way of acting characterized by the self-being of the flesh, and one cannot act in both ways with creating inner conflict.

This brings me to another thought, namely the way that Christianity is often portrayed as a soft, feminine religion with no room for toughness, conflict, strenuous self-discipline, or heroic efforts. It seems unmanly by any of the traditional traits associated with masculinity. Christianity often appears to be an issue of “love, not war.”

But what I would like to point out here is that, in a very important way, love is war. It is strenuous conflict, the fight against natural instincts of self-service in order to do what is right for God and others. It involves determined efforts to kill the old man. We fight and struggle against not humans, but spiritual forces and powers and the corruptions in nature.

This is a Biblical theme. Paul speaks in Romans 9 to us about killing sin, putting it to violent death in our bodies because we have been hung on a bloody cross to die with Christ. We direct strenuous energy and training into fighting the war of love, which means following our Captain Jesus to fight the way He fought, not against humans but against sin, self-love, and the effects of death and Hell. Jesus fought by resisting all of His natural impulses to save or avenge Himself and instead suffering nobly to complete the mission of God. This is our call as well, and it is a hard one which requires an almost military discipline, or even more than that.

Acts is also portrayed as a conquest narrative. It has numerous parallels with Joshua, showing Canaan and then the world being conquered by the preaching of the Gospel through Christ’s elite warriors. These warriors suffer just as other warriors do, more literally than in most of these other parallels as they experienced flogging, beating, and all kinds of torture or harsh conditions.

This is all specific to love, not just a conception of Christianity in general. We do and must do all of these things for  the sake of love, love for God and for people. It is love which must be the force here, and yet it is also through these fights and struggles that we actually love. There is circularity here: love compels us to fight the war that enables us to love.

I also do not say this merely to point out an interesting idea in thinking about love. I’m pointing this out because this realization has two possible benefits. On the one hand, it is a reminder to men that Christianity is serious conflict, that it is not simply sitting around singing mushy songs and feeling fluttery feelings about God and others. Rather, it is a fight. In Christianity we are called to act like heroes who love by taking down sin and self-centeredness like Liam Neeson takes down Eastern European criminals in order to serve the ones we love. We are like the troops who lay down their lives to protect their families and honor their king.

On the other hand, I say this to remind us that love is effort, serious effort in which we will have to suffer. Like in war, we must discipline ourselves and be consciously vigilant against all threats. Love and our loved ones are located in a battle zone, and we must behave in a way that makes sense in such high stakes. It takes diligence, self-control, attention, and obedience to orders if we want our love, our mission to put God and others first, to succeed.

Onward, then, Christian soldiers. Let us march on to the war that is love.

Love Is War

Will We Apply “Love Thy Neighbor As Thyself” to Our Wallets?

“This is the most important,” Jesus answered:
Listen, Israel! The Lord our God, the Lord is One. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.

“The second is: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other command greater than these.” 

The second greatest rule of Christian life is to love our neighbors as ourselves. Indeed, this rule is barely distinguishable from the first and greatest rule, since to love God is also to love those whom He has made and loves Himself. As Paul says, if we have everything else but do not have love, we have nothing.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the “as yourself” part, though. We’re not just called to treat our neighbors well, to be nice and kind, even a bit sacrificial, and not mean. More than all of that, we are called to love our neighbors with the same kind of interest and concern with which we love ourselves. The rule could be restated: “Whatever you do to benefit yourself, be sure to do that same kind of thing to benefit others.” And while this restatement may get “amens,” we usually fail miserably to actually implement and follow it in our daily decisions.

This seems to be especially the case when it comes to money and possessions. I don’t know about you, but I find that I rarely spend my money on other people in anywhere near the same way that I spend it on myself. Take one simple example. Say you have an old cell phone, and you want to upgrade. You buy a nice new phone, and give your old phone away to a friend. That’s nice, but what if you thought proactively about treating your friend as you would yourself? What if you did the radical opposite of this situation?

What if you did this instead? You think you want a new phone. But your old phone still works. You would just like a nicer phone. At the same time, you know your friend would like a nicer phone. So instead of buying a fancy new phone for yourself, you buy the phone for your friend and keep your old phone. That’s what you would do for yourself, so why not do it for others?

This kind of thing, spending money and using possessions for others as much as you would do for yourself, presses itself upon my mind often. Obviously, you can’t treat yourself and everyone else exactly equally, because your means can’t support every family on earth. You need to apportion enough to yourself to sustain yourself, otherwise you can’t give help anyone. But once you have what you need, what justifies spending more on yourself than others? What gives you more a right to your money and possessions than other people, especially those in need?

Loving other people as yourself means being willing to do for others things you would usually only bother doing for yourself. That includes the way you spend money. If you would buy a new car for yourself, then if you can truly afford it why not do so for someone who needs one even more than you do, or equally?

This is radical. This is hard. This is not something any of us will probably ever succeed in truly living up to. Yet we can take steps. Next time you want to go out to eat, why not give someone else a gift card? Next time you think about unnecessarily upgrading your phone, why not upgrade someone else’s? The possibilities are endless. It should all make sense if we really love our neighbors as ourselves.

Again, as always, I repeat that we don’t have to sacrifice all goods for ourselves. But still. Just think. Let both extremes plague you until you settle into a good pattern. I pray that for me as well.

Will We Apply “Love Thy Neighbor As Thyself” to Our Wallets?