Jesus declared in John 15:12-13 that, "This is My commandment: that you love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love has no man than this: that a man lay down his life for his friends."
Wow, I never cease to be amazed at the depths of these glorious words from our Lord! This call and admonishment to love in this way definitely relates to a place of spiritual maturity that we should all aspire to walk in as followers of Jesus Christ.
The greatest display of God's kingdom is a love that is always maturing or growing.
To develop and grow in other areas—including but not limited to the usage of gifts, speaking ability, leadership, management skills, charisma, and so on—and not to grow in love is a travesty according to God's Word. First Corinthians 13:1-3 says, "If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not love, I have become as sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not love, I am nothing. If I give all my goods to feed the poor, and if I give my body to be burned, and have not love, it profits me nothing."
Here Paul speaks very deliberately to the importance of how that love is the ultimate expression in the lives of all who claim to be followers of Jesus. The truth is that we all need to incessantly reflect on these truths and allow them to convict us as we more deliberately give ourselves to maturing love.
Sadly, there is a strong focus in much of the modern expression of church that entails an aggressive approach to success, growing ministries, casting vision, constructing buildings, and so on. I am not inferring that these dynamics are always wrong, but I am conveying that it is common to focus our attention in areas that lend themselves to apparent accomplishments, when many times there is little to no substance, and true love is void.
This reality can even be played out in the way that ministers and others present the gospel. Many have embraced and promoted a practice of compromising God's Word and calling it love. The result is that we create a false sense of security that can end up causing people to never come to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Of course, we show love toward everyone, but love must include truth as well—or it is not real love.
The fact is that growing in love will demand the continual influence of the cross in our lives, which is oftentimes resisted due to the multiple levels of death that it demands. By that I simply mean that the perfect picture of divine love is the willingness of Jesus to give His life for us. This picture of radical forgiveness is history's perfect image of God's love. The radical and even horrific image of the cross of Christ demands a love that rises above selfishness, self-preservation and offenses.
Below are some telling signs and scriptural references of maturing love:
- The ability to forgive deeply and quickly (see Matt. 6:14-15, Col. 3:12-14, Eph. 4:31-32).
— The ability to forgive those that have offended or hurt you is directly connected to your ability to live in peace. We actually hurt ourselves through unforgiveness more than those that we refuse to forgive.
— When our hearts are unforgiving, we become part and parcel in spreading bitterness among others. Hebrews 12:15 says, "... watching diligently so that no one falls short of the grace of God, lest any root of bitterness spring up to cause trouble, and many become defiled by it."
— We must never forget how deeply and completely Jesus forgave us, and in turn, this is our example as to how we are to forgive others.
— Corrie Ten Boom said, "Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart."
- The ability to never take others or opportunities for granted (see Gal. 6:6-10).
— Every day presents a new opportunity to share God's love with others.
— Too often, we take people and opportunities for granted and miss great opportunities to be the hands of Jesus in their lives.
— Mature love allows us to live outside of our own selfish paradigm and in turn live in such a way as to take every opportunity that presents itself to reveal Jesus.
— The ability to choose love over self, even in difficult situations, is directly connected to the ongoing influence of the cross: "I affirm, by the boasting in you which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily" (1 Cor. 15:31).
- The ability to give of yourself completely for the betterment of others (see 2 Tim. 1:16, Phil. 2:3-8).
— True, mature love always looks to others and asks, "What can I do to be a blessing to someone else?"
— When we live with self primarily in view, then we actually begin to wither.
— God created us to be His hands and feet. He calls us to be our brother's keeper.
— The truth is that God's kingdom is experienced through a life of mature love that is expressed by and through giving to others. (Jesus is the ultimate example.)
- The ability to use our mouths (words) for the edification and encouragement of others (see Prov. 12:18, Prov. 18:21, Eph. 4:29, Matt. 12:35-37, 15:18).
— Mature love is completely connected with the way in which we use our tongues (mouth).
— It is impossible to love deeply if our lives are full of ungodly communication including: gossip, lying, slander, vulgarity and so on.
— When our communication is connected to the character of Christ, then we find ourselves moving in love that is mature. James 3:2 says, "We all err in many ways. But if any man does not err in word, he is a perfect man and able also to control the whole body."
- The ability to live abandoned unto the purposes of God in such a way that the heart and purposes of Jesus become our ultimate source of motivation (see Matt. 6:33, Phil. 3:7-8, Gal. 2:20).
— The ultimate display of love is coming to the end of ourselves while coming alive exclusively to the purposes of Jesus.
— The ultimate expression of love comes only through the willingness to become recklessly abandoned to the heart of Jesus, which in turn brings us into the depths of His compassion for a lost, hurting and dying world.
Tune into this episode of Maintain the Flame with Keith Collins titled "Mature Love" on the Charisma Podcast Network.
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