LOVE: what more can be said? The old adage, “familiarity breeds contempt” may be a temptation when you first glance at this week’s theme of LOVE. “The Church talks about love all the time!” You may be thinking to yourself. Yet, to speak of it as a “DEADLY VIRTUE” changes the conversation. I (Mike) bring this week’s devotion. Read on and stay strong during these strange days and our final weeks of Lent.
Love doesn’t make the world go round. Love is what makes the ride worthwhile.
—Franklin P. Jones
“He that but looketh on a plate of ham and eggs to lust after it hath already committed breakfast with it in his heart.”
—C.S. Lewis, Letters to an American Lady (March 10, 1954)
It may seem odd to call “love” a virtue. I think it seems odd because our culture continually tells us that love is a feeling. Those of us who have been well-loved—or who have attempted to love well—know that it’s not just a feeling. Love is intention and action and difficult to accomplish (much of the time). If you don’t believe this, then re-read 1Corinthian’s 13:4-8 where we are told that love is “patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” When Jesus tells us to “love your enemies” in Luke 6:35, love, obviously, becomes a virtue.
Love, the virtue, is the mortal enemy of lust, the vice. Lust is a passionate, overmastering yearning. It’s an intense craving, usually for something sinful. Most of the time we use it to refer to an illicit sexual desire. As C. S. Lewis said in Mere Christianity, “Love is the great conqueror of lust.” Here is the irony. We lust because we think that the object of our immoral fascination will make us ecstatically happy—not understanding that God does want us to be ecstatically happy in ways that are true and lasting. Our lusts, as a matter of fact, move that happiness further and further out of our reach. God wants us to love so that we can actually find the joy that we seek.
Take the problem of pornography, for instance. After a few decades as a pastor of young men, I can tell you that most of them are seeking sexual intimacy and the pleasure associated with it (of course). Here’s the thing: God created them to long for that and He’s the one who came up with the whole idea of sex in the first place. The problem is that by lusting after the images on their computers and elsewhere, these young men are actually pushing the intimacy they pursue farther away—for they were created to love someone who loves them back within a secure covenant of marriage. I’ll repeat: God wants us to love so that we can find the joy that we seek—joy that is only found in Him who is Love. Hidden within every one of our lusts is a desire for something good. As G. K. Chesterton said, “Every time a man knocks on the door of a brothel he is looking for God.”
If lust is damaging to what we were created to enjoy, then love (by its very nature) is healing; although, it may not be easy. In his fantasy book, The Great Divorce, Lewis employs an allegory of lasting impact. It is worth a long look.
There is a man upon whose shoulder sits “a little red lizard, and it was twitching its tail like a whip and whispering things in his ear.” This lizard would implant lustful thoughts in the man’s mind and give him dreams that had “sometimes gone too far in the past.” In the book, a large flaming angel extends its hand and asks the man’s permission to kill the chattering creature. After much mental and spiritual struggle, the man finally agrees. The man “gave a scream of agony such as I never heard on Earth. The Burning One closed his crimson grip on the reptile: twisted it, while it bit and writhed, and then flung it, broken-backed, on the turf.”
As this happens, the man himself begins to be remade—more solid, brighter, stronger, larger—and something seemed to be happening to the lizard. “The creature was still struggling and even growing bigger as it struggled. And as it grew it changed. Its hinder parts grew rounder. The tail, still flickering, became a tail of hair that flickered between huge and glossy buttocks. Suddenly I started back, rubbing my eyes. What stood before me was the greatest stallion I have ever seen, silvery white but with mane and tail of gold. It was smooth and shining, rippled with swells of flesh and muscle, whinnying and stamping with its hoofs. At each stamp the land shook and the trees dindled.”
“The new-made man turned and clapped the new horse’s neck. It nosed his bright body. Horse and master breathed each into the other’s nostrils. The man turned from it, flung himself at the feet of the Burning One, and embraced them. When he rose I thought his face shone with tears, but it may have been only the liquid love and brightness (one cannot distinguish them in that country) which flowed from him. I had not long to think about it. In joyous haste the young man leaped upon the horse’s back. Turning in his seat he waved a farewell, then nudged the stallion with his heels. They were off before I well knew what was happening. There was riding if you like! I came out as quickly as I could from among the bushes to follow them with my eyes; but already they were only like a shooting star far off on the green plain, and soon among the foothills of the mountains. Then, still like a star, I saw them winding up, scaling what seemed impossible steeps, and quicker every moment, till near the dim brow of the landscape, so high that I must strain my neck to see them, they vanished, bright themselves, into the rose-brightness of that everlasting morning.”
Lust is an impoverished, pitiful substitute for the love God gives us when we submit to His ways. The Virtue of Love will carry us through this life and into the eternal joys of Heaven.
Lord, I confess my sin of lust to you and I denounce it for the vice that it is.
Help me to love instead—to honor the ones I have lusted after instead of using them.
May I not seek my own pleasure but strive for the joy that you want to give me by loving as you love. For you are love, my God, and the model of what it means to love another person.
May my love be patient, kind, not envious, not boastful, not proud.
May it honor others and not be selfish, not be easily angered and may it keep no record of wrongs.
May my love never delight in evil but rejoice with the truth, always protect, always trust, always hope, always persevere and never fail. So be it by your great power and your love for me, Jesus. Amen.
Responding to the Deadly Virtue of Love:
- Who, among your family and friends, has loved you the best? Pinpoint a few specific examples of how that love was shown to you. Have you ever loved others in the same way? Why or why not?
- It is said that lust seeks a legitimate desire by illegitimate means. Examine just one of your lusts. What do you think might be the “true good” you are searching for in the wrong way? How would God want you to pursue it?
- In our overly-sexualized Western culture, where do you think the culture has, indeed, embraced love over lust? Why?
- Name one person in your life that you want to love better. What is one way to exhibit the virtue of love these last few weeks of Lent?
“Before his death, aged 63 . . . the NBA’s Wilt The Stilt Chamberlain, confessed to some misgivings about his estimated 20,000 lovers. “It would have been better for me to have one woman 1,000 times,” said Chamberlain. “I wasn’t bragging that I was a great lover. Actually, you can say that I had so many women because I was such a bad lover. They never came back a second time.” —Tony Parsons in GQ Magazine, 22 February 2013
- FOR FUN:
- I asked my girlfriend to meet me at the gym but she never showed up. I guess the two of us aren’t going to work out.
- How do you get a farmer’s daughter to fall in love with you? A tractor.
- I dated a Communist once. I had no idea. She seemed sweet. But it didn’t end well. Honestly, I should have noticed all the red flags.
- Love is telling someone to go to hell and worrying about them getting there safely.