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True Love

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Posted by Lee Gatiss, 9 Mar 2021

Lee Gatiss preaches part 1 of “A Homily of Christian Love and Charity.”

Of all the things that are good to be taught to Christian people, there is nothing more necessary to be spoken about and daily recalled than charity. All kinds of works of righteousness are contained within it, just as the decay of it is the ruin of the world, the banishment of virtue, and the cause of all vice. Almost everyone thinks of themselves of loving, in their own way, and however detestable their life may be, to both God and people, they persuade themselves that they still have such love. Therefore you shall hear now a true and plain description of love, not out of human imagination but from the very words and example of our Saviour Jesus Christ. In this description, everyone may consider themselves (as in a mirror), and see plainly without error whether they are truly loving, or not.

Wholehearted love
Love means to love God with all our heart, all our soul, and all our powers and strength (Deuteronomy 6:5). With all our heart: that is to say, that our hearts and minds are set to believe his word, to trust in him, and to love him above all other things that we love best in heaven or in earth. With all our life: that is to say, that our chief joy and delight is set on him and his honour, and our whole life is given to the service of God above all things, with him to live and die, and to forsake all other things, rather than him. For the one who loves their father or mother, son or daughter, house, or land, more than me (says Christ) is not worthy to have me (Matthew 10:37, 16:24-27, 19:29). With all our power: that is to say, that our hands and feet, our eyes and ears, our mouths and tongues, and all our parts and powers both of body and of soul, should be given to the keeping and fulfilling of his commandments.

This is the first and principal part of love, but it is not the whole. For charity is also to love everyone, good and evil, friend and foe, and whatever cause is given to the contrary, nevertheless to bear good will to everyone, to behave ourselves well towards them in words as well as in all our outward acts and deeds For this is what Christ himself taught, and also how he himself lived.

Concerning love for God, Jesus taught thus to a doctor of the law who asked him which was the greatest and chief commandment in the Law: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). And of the love that we ought to have among ourselves for each other, he teaches us this: “You have heard it taught in the past, ‘You shall love your friend, and hate your foe.’ But I tell you, love your enemies, speak well of those who defame you and speak evil of you. Do well to those who hate you,  and pray for those who vex and persecute you, so that you may be the children of your father in heaven. For he makes his sun to rise on both the evil and the good, and sends rain to the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward shall you have? Do not the tax collectors do likewise? And if you speak well only of those who are your brethren and dear beloved friends, are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?” (Matthew 5:43-47). These are the very words of our Saviour Christ himself, concerning the love of our neighbour.

Christ’s love for enemies
The Pharisees (with their most troublesome traditions and false interpretations and glosses) had corrupted and almost clearly stopped up this pure well of God’s living word. They taught that this love and charity applied only to one’s friends, and that it was sufficient for someone to love those who love them, and hate their enemies. Therefore Christ opened this well again, purged it and scoured it by giving a true and clear interpretation to his godly law of charity, which is this: that we ought to love everyone, both friend and foe, adding to this what benefit we shall have as a result, and what disadvantages from doing the contrary. What better thing could we wish for ourselves than for the eternal heavenly Father to adopt and accept us as his children? And this we shall be sure of, says Christ, if we love every person without exception. And if we do otherwise, he says, we are no better than the Pharisees, tax collectors, and heathen, and shall have our reward with them — that is, to be shut out from the number of God’s chosen children, and from his everlasting inheritance in heaven.

In this way, Christ taught about true love that everyone is bound to love God above all things, and to love every person, both friend and foe. And this, he himself did: exhorting his adversaries, rebuking the faults of his adversaries, and when he could not amend them, yet he prayed for them.

First he loved God his Father above all things, so much that he sought not his own glory and will, but the glory and will of his Father. “I do not seek,” he said “my own will, but the will of him who sent me” (John 5:30). Nor did he refuse to die, to satisfy his Father’s will, saying “If it is possible, let this cup of death be taken from me. But if not, your will be done, and not mine” (Matthew 26:39, 42). He loved not only his friends, but also his enemies who (in their hearts) nursed an exceedingly great hatred against him, and with their tongues spoke all evil about him, and in their acts and deeds pursued him with all their might and power, even to death. Yet despite all this, he did not withdraw his favour from them, but still loved them, preached to them in love, rebuked their false doctrine, their wicked living, and did good to them, patiently enduring whatever they spoke or did against him. When they gave him evil words, he gave no evil in return. When they struck him, he did not strike them back. And when he suffered death, he did not slay them, nor threaten them, but prayed for them, and referred all things to his Father’s will. As a sheep that is led to the slaughter, and as a lamb that is shorn of his fleece makes no noise or resistance, even so he went to his death, without any resistance, or opening his mouth to say any evil (Isaiah 53:7. Acts 8:32).

So, I have described to you what love is, both in terms of doctrine and in terms of the example of Christ himself. From this, everyone may without error know themselves, what state and condition they are in, whether they are loving (and so the child of the Father in heaven) or not. For although almost everyone persuades themselves that they are loving, let them examine no-one else but themselves, their own heart, their life, and their behaviour, and they shall not be deceived but truly discern and judge whether they are loving or not. For the one who does not follow their own appetite and will, but gives themselves earnestly to God to do all his will and commandments — they may be sure that they love God above all things, or else surely he loves them not, whatever they pretend. As Christ said, “If you love me, keep my commandments. For whoever knows my commandments, and keeps them, they are the one who loves me” (John 14:15, 21). And again he says, “The one who loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will both come to them, and dwell with them. But the one who does not love me will not keep my words” (John 14:23-24). In the same way, the one who has a good heart and mind, and uses their tongue well, and does good deeds to everyone, friend and foe — they may know by this that they have love. And then they are sure that Almighty God accepts them as his dearly beloved children, as St. John says: Hereby manifestly are known the children of God, from the children of the Devil: This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister” (1 John 3:10 NIV).

Lee Gatiss is Director of Church Society

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