If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
1 Corinthians 13:1-3
Recently I have discovered that I do not excel in being loving. I have known for some time that I wasn't the most compassionate or patient person. These virtues have been earmarked for improvement in my life for a while. But it wasn't until I read Donald S. Whitney's Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health that I realized just how short I fall of embodying the supreme Christian virtue of love. Since Christmas is a time for families, and since often our families suffer the most at the hands of our character flaws, I thought this would be a good time to post a section from Whitney's book covering parts of the chapter entitled "Are You More Loving?". (I also very highly recommend Whitney's Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. It should probably be on every believer's bookshelf.) I hope this quoted section nourishes and challenges your heart as much as it did mine.
(The rest of this post is quoted from Donald S. Whitney's Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health pages 39-42.)
Love is the badge and character of Christianity. A Christian may advance in many areas including the the ability to witness, teach or even preach..., but these mean little without growth in the most important Christian distinctive- love.
Some people flatter themselves about how loving they are. They know that nothing means more to them than their children. Holidays are always spent with family. They consider themselves good neighbors and devoted friends. As their family and circle of friends grow, their love grows with it, right?
Too often we wrongly classify as love what the King James Version of the Bible calls “natural affection” (see Romans 1:31 and 2 Timothy 3:3). In normal circumstances, parents love their children, family members love each other, and people love their friends. This is true for Christians and nonChristians alike. God made us in such a way that, even in a fallen world, we naturally love certain people, thus the term natural affection... Many people, therefore, are congratulating themselves for what amounts to merely being human, and they conclude amiss that this innate love testifies of spiritual health.
Besides natural affection, there is another counterfeit love. Its loving actions are only a veneer for too much self-love. Any benefits it brings to others are secondary to the question, “Does it please me first?” A man will be absolutely convinced that he loves a beautiful woman, and indeed will do almost anything for her. He adores her, thinks of her constantly, and wants nothing more than her. But the truth is, he loves her only for what she does to and for him. She excites, intrigues, and arouses him. He does want her to be happy, but in reality he wants her to find her happiness in bringing pleasure to him. And he continues to love her only to the degree that she continues to please him. He will do nothing for her willingly or without hypocrisy unless it brings pleasure for him to do it anyway. This kind of love is just as common in other relationships as romantic ones. With parents or children, siblings, neighbors, or friends, we can act in loving ways, but either heartlessly or only because it pleases us to do so. We do not measure our growth in Christlikeness by the vicissitudes of this kind of love.
A similar counterfeit is the “I’ll love you if you’ll love me” type of love. This kind of love doesn't originate from a commitment to love, nor from a desire to be like Christ, but simply dispense love as a quip pro quo. This is not Christian love, rather it is the epitome of worldly love. Jesus put it this way: "But if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them" (Luke 6:32). Edwards portrayed those who love like this:
They are full of dear affections to some, and full of bitterness toward others. They are knit to their own party, them that approve of them, love them and admire them; but are fierce against those that oppose and dislike them. Some show great affection for their neighbors,... the children of God abroad; and at the same time are uncomfortable and churlish towards their wives and other near relations at home, and are very negligent of relative duties.Can anyone think he is growing in love and thus becoming more like Jesus when, just like those who hated Jesus, he only loves with a reciprocal love? The test of Christlikeness is not the greatness of your love toward those who love you, but the bounty of your love toward those who do not.