Something from Pastor Babij’s Sunday sermon that stood out to me was his statement about cultivated love: the real tragedy in a relationship is not a lack of love but a failure to cultivate love. How true this is!
As a biblical counselor, I am amazed how much cultivation of love or lack thereof impacts a marriage: when two people who do not love each other take purposeful and practical steps to cultivate their love, their relationship is gradually transformed, and real love and sweetness return! Conversely, when two people who are in love do not take purposeful and practical steps to cultivate their love, their relationship gradually decays until there is no love left. The same is true of our relationship with the Lord Jesus. Our love for him is always either growing or decaying based on whether we are cultivating love for him. But how does one purposefully and practically cultivate love for Jesus?
The Discipline of Love
I am interested to hear how Pastor Babij will answer the above question over the next couple weeks. In the meantime, though, considering how to cultivate love for Jesus reminds me of our series on the disciplines of grace. Paul writes in 1 Timothy 1:5, in connection with his command for Timothy to continue to lead the church at Ephesus and forbid unprofitable teaching:
But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.
Paul saw love—and probably meaning both love for Christ and love for others, here—as the goal and end result of sound teaching. Therefore, if someone wanted to cultivate love, surely one practical way to do so would be to devote oneself to the apostolic word! Furthermore, Paul and the writer of Hebrews mention love as an end result of prayer and gathered fellowship (Phil 1:9-10; Heb 10:24-25). Indeed, each of the spiritual disciplines are key for cultivating love for Jesus. Though there is pain and self-denial involved in pursuing Jesus these ways (1 Tim 4:7-10), the end result is indeed “love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.”
The Loop of Love
One of the most marvelous aspects of growing love is that it encourages its own growth by a kind of positive feedback loop. As one does the hard work of cultivating love, he begins to experience greater delight in the object of his love, which encourages him to cultivate his love further. For example, when a husband chooses to deny himself for the sake of loving his wife in a certain way and experiences her appreciation, that husband’s love for his wife not only grows, but he himself is also more motivated to show her further love. In a similar way, as we cultivate love for Jesus and experience more the joy, peace, and life that he promises are in him (Jn 10:10; 14:27; 15:11), we not only love him more but find more motivation to pursue him and cultivate our love for him.
Yet the opposite can also be true. In a marriage where love is not cultivated, every undealt-with hurt, misunderstanding, or instance of neglect only encourages husband and wife to further withdraw from each other and no longer cultivate love. In the same way, our yielding to sin, believing lies about the Lord, or refusing to cultivate love for Him drives us further away from Christ and all the blessings in him that should normally motivate us to seek him. It’s like we see less and less of his beauty, smell less and less of his fragrance, and feel less and less of his touch. Truly, he is not the one changing (2 Tim 2:13); it is only our perception and experience of him. Yet what a dangerous state to be in! The Bible’s frequent description of this negative feedback loop is the “hardening of heart.” As the heart hardens, it becomes more callous with sin, more unfeeling of the Lord’s grace, and more in danger of the Lord’s discipline and judgment (Heb 3:12-13).
I chose the name “Disciplines of Grace” for my sermon series because I wanted to emphasize that the spiritual disciplines are both grace-fueled and grace-seeking. We do not discipline ourselves for godliness out of mere duty or to earn salvation, but, instead, because we have experienced the Lord’s grace and want to know that grace further. Well, I think we could just as accurately refer to spiritual disciplines as “Disciplines of Love.” Because we have experienced the Lord’s love in Christ (Rom 5:5) and because we want to grow in our own love for him and in the knowledge/experience of his love (Eph 3:18-19), we discipline ourselves for godliness. May we, therefore, earnestly seek to cultivate love for Christ by devotion to his word, prayer, and the gathered fellowship.
Questions to Consider:
1. Is your love for Christ growing or decaying? Why?
2. What practical actions are you taking in your life right now to cultivate love for Jesus? Are they working?
3. How is cultivating love for Jesus intimately tied to cultivating love for others?