Volitional Love

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other. John 15:12-17 (NIV)

The commandments can be summed up as follows: Love God; love each other (Mark 12:30, 31).

“You did not choose me, but I chose you,” Jesus said. From there, the pastor in this morning’s sermon developed the ideas of the covenant love of God towards his people, in the typology of his relationship to Israel in ancient times, and in his relationship to the church through all ages, through the covenant of grace. As objects of God’s covenant love, it is not our choice to receive it, but it is God’s choice to bestow that love on us, and so, as we exhibit that love towards others (most explicitly in marriage, according to Eph. 5:25 ff.), we doing so as a reflection of Christ’s love for us (“Love each other as I loved you”).

We often associate love with a feeling, but feelings come and go. So much in modern-day American evangelicalism is based on “experience”, and the highs come and go. But the goal of the Christian walk (“appointed…so that you might go and bear fruit”) is much more concrete: Love God; love each other.

We often hear young people talk about “falling in love”. The Greeks had four words for love: phileo, storge, eros, and agape. Agape seems to have been little used in classical Greek, and it was co-opted by the New Testament authors to express a different kind of love (actually, agape and phileo have overlapping meanings, and you can only determine the usage based on the context—see D.A. Carson’s Exegetical Fallacies). In contrast to the love as a feeling, the love we are commanded by Scripture to exhibit is a conscious, intentional love, more volitional than emotional.

As a Calvinist, I tend to get nervous whenever someone mentions “choice” or an “act of the will.” But then I remind myself, the Five Points of the Canons of Dort are about soteriology. If you want to look at it from the Jonathan Edwards Freedom of the Will aspect, you can consider that from our perspective, God has already given us the will and the ability to obey, so it’s entirely appropriate for a pastor to address Christians by speaking to their volition.

C.S. Lewis said that if you decide to act in a loving way, it “primes the pump”, and the feelings will follow. There have been scientific studies on the release of oxytocin by the brain when you’re feeling romantic. Even if you’re not feeling romantic, if you start holding hands, hug, kiss, speak affirming words… the oxytocin will start flowing!

God’s covenant love (grace) is not based on our actions, not a contract. It is unconditional. Not quid-pro-quo, you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. Marriage has to be a covenant, not a legalistic contract. It’s grace. It’s the way we’ve been treated, because, “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (NIV).

The commandments to love God and neighbor are inextricably linked to each other. We are able to demonstrate our love for God when we obey him by loving our neighbor. In the context of the church community, our love for God is shared when we love one another as believers. But ultimately, it all derives from God’s unconditional, covenant love (grace) for us.

And in our Law and Gospel moment for today… God’s covenant love/grace for his people is definitely gospel. The response of his people in exhibiting the God kind of love towards him and towards others is law. We encounter the pedagogical use of the law when we see ourselves in the mirror and realize how far we fall short in our love for others, and the didactic use of the law in that we were actively being encouraged this morning to follow God’s will in obedience to both tables of the 10 commandments (first table: love God, second table: love your neighbor).


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