Learning more about love means learning more about ourselves…and finding out that we haven’t been as loving as we thought. It means getting past the superficial reasons we give ourselves and others for all the things we do, and finding what’s really driving us. I’m not talking about prolonged and self-defeating introspection. Rather, I’m talking about simple questions and honest answers. For example, am I doing something because I love or because it will get me love? The answers come more quickly than we expect…if we’re willing to honestly listen for them.
Motives have to be reexamined regularly, too. We can start out doing something for a good reason but end up doing it for a bad one. When my wife and I had our first child, I really began to apply myself at work. I was motivated by the desire to succeed financially in order to be able to provide for this family I’d helped start. Soon I was succeeding…and beginning to spend more time at work and less at home. My business career soared at the expense of my family life. If I had paid more attention to my motives I could have caught this situation much earlier. My selfless motive for success had subtly become a selfish one. As it was, the consequences eventually revealed my error. Fortunately, we mended the family fences long before the divorce that would have inevitably come.
In Paul’s timeless treatise on love, 1 Corinthians 13, he says, “And if I give everything I own to feed the poor, and if I give my body to be burned, but do not have love, it doesn’t profit me a thing.” In other words, doing all the right things for all the wrong reasons profits us nothing. Or to put it yet another way, motive is everything! It’s the reasons behind our living that make it holy, good, and loving. If the root of motive goes bad, then the fruit of deed is tainted – no matter how good the fruit looks on the outside. God looks on the heart – every day. So should we.
The Testing of Love
When we seek to make love our singular motive we will be tested. At times, we’ll feel like we’ve been given every reason in the world to act out of a motive other than love. Sometimes living this way seems to bring out the worst in others – at least in the short term. Jesus found this to be true. But the long term results of love’s endurance through such trials will work to the good of everyone concerned. Jesus found this to be true also. For this reason, we must keep seeking to learn more about love.
If you’ve ever felt the sting of a wasp, you know how painful it can be. But for the wasp, the experience is fatal. When you take evil and don’t return it, something evil dies. When evil is returned for evil, a natural cycle continues. Breaking that cycle is the purpose of humanity. It is the purpose of love. When Jesus refused to return rejection for the rejection He was being shown, Sheol died. And heaven was opened to us all. (For the full story of how Sheol/Hades ceased to be the destination of the dead, see first the post Everyone Is Going to Heaven and then the online book The Biblical Case for Everyone Going to Heaven.)
Heaven lets you see the meaning that love gives to your life. God sees meaning in the choices you make, and the motives that impel you to make them. Keeping yourself aware of heaven keeps you aware of that meaning. Remember the love that created heaven and be inspired by it. The heaven we see waiting for us wasn’t there when Jesus was being crowned with thorns. He kept in mind our best interests while we were treating Him so shabbily…and produced the heaven to which we now go. The implication is that you and I can also produce good when we are treated shabbily.
When you refuse to return the evil that’s coming your way, you never know what bad thing might die and what good thing might live. It’s a wonderful sort of discovery, this life God has created. When a rose’s thorns are crushed, there’s perfume. And heaven inhales the fragrance. The more we’re aware of that dimension called heaven, the more chance we’ll get a whiff ourselves. The lingering moral fragrance combined with the absence of the thorns shows how much more powerful goodness is than evil.
Once we die, the thing that will matter most to us about our lives will be the love we have shown. If you give a cup of cold water to someone who is thirsty, the water is gone and the thirst is gone. But into eternity will last the bond of love that was created when you gave that cup. The satisfaction you felt in giving and the satisfaction the other felt in receiving will go on and on. As will the gratitude you feel toward the Creator who made it all possible. In the end, love is all that will matter.
The Ultimate Life
The ultimate life is a life animated by love. Such a life must be lived from the inside. Most of it won’t be seen by other people, even those close to you. It’s a life where deeds and consequences are important, but motives are even more important. It’s a life that can be shared with others, but most of all with God. He’s the only one who can see all your thoughts and thus share all your motives. It’s a life where you don’t put heaven off until you die, you let it enter your life now. Maybe that’s one reason Jesus called this way of life “the kingdom of heaven.” It’s a way of life where heaven rules our thinking. It’s heaven enlightening and empowering the earth.
Heaven is a place that speaks of a Person. The kingdom of heaven is the kingdom of God. Life is boiling down to something profoundly simple: being aware of God. What is the ultimate motivation to do good? A moment by moment desire to please your Maker. It’s a very personal matter. Good relationships are cemented by shared intimacy. When it comes to God, this means sharing our innermost secrets. Our constant acknowledgment of His omniscience and love enables us to continually show Him the motives behind our actions. (More precisely, it’s letting God continually show us the motives of our actions.) A self-righteous person wants everyone else to know how right his motives are. A genuinely righteous person, however, only wants One Person to know how right his motives are. God takes your life seriously and personally. When you take His interest personally, you live the ultimate life.
How much difference can such a life make in the earth? Look at the life of Jesus. The ripples from that “pebble tossed in the pond” have yet to stop. Can your life make that much difference? It can to someone. Jesus didn’t travel worldwide. In fact, He never went more than 200 miles from home. He knew that the way to reach the world was to reach the person next to Him. You can do the same. Just seek to be motivated by a personal love for a personal God. If for some strange reason it doesn’t seem to make a difference to the people around you, know that it will make a world of difference to God…and you.