The Francis Asbury Society

FACE TO FACE: Intimate Moments with God 7/24

Posted on | July 24, 2015 | Comments Off on FACE TO FACE: Intimate Moments with God 7/24

Scripture reading: I John 4:7–21

Aim High

Let love be without hypocrisy. (Romans 12:9)

In the twelfth century Bernard of Clairvaux wrote a famous tract entitled On Loving God. For centuries this classic of Christian devotion has challenged followers of Christ to grow in grace by moving from one degree of love to another. Bernard understood that if followers of Christ fail to love, they fail to follow Christ. He correctly discerned that the greatest manifestations of religious piety are only empty rituals and meaningless acts if they are not motivated by love. His vocabulary is often archaic, his logic difficult to follow, and his theology sometimes troubling (!), yet I find myself challenged by what he has to say.

I have taken editorial liberties with Bernard’s “degrees of love” by both shortening and revising his original tract. I pray this makes his work more accessible for readers today and more theologically accurate. As you read through these degrees of love, consider that Bernard was focusing only on the first part of the Great Commandment (loving God). The call to love our neighbor was treated elsewhere.

The First Degree: I love myself for my sake. The word “love” seems hardly appropriate for this conceited manifestation of self-infatuation, but the unbeliever simply has no other frame of reference but self. It’s all about me. Everything in my ego-centric universe is measured by its ability to meet my needs and make me happy.

The Second Degree: I love God for my sake. Conversion to Christ makes me suddenly aware of Another. God loves me and has a wonderful plan for my life! The grace of God floods my soul and transforms my heart. His love for me enables me to love him in return. However, self-examination reveals a troubling reality. There is a self-orientation to my love. I don’t love God because he is good, but because he is good to me. It’s still all about me, only now my egocentrism has a spiritual dimension and religious justification.

The Third Degree: I love God for God’s sake. The highest degree of love occurs only when the one loved is more important than the one doing the loving. Only this level of love can be considered pure. But how can I love the Holy One when my heart is so unholy and so polluted by self-interest? Only the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit can purify my motives so that my love for God is “without hypocrisy” (Romans 12:9). When I lose myself in loving God like this, then I find myself. But it’s not about me. It’s all about him.

Bernard understood how the Great Commandment to love God completely is at the very core of what the Gospel is all about. But these steps of love are more than good doctrine. A theology of love must lead to a doxology of praise. As you meditate on the degrees of love, I pray that you will be inspired to aspire to have a heart saturated in every part by love.

There are those who seek knowledge for the sake of knowledge; that is curiosity. There are those who seek knowledge to be known by others; that is vanity. There are those who seek knowledge in order to serve; that is love. —Bernard of Clairvaux

point to ponder • Egocentrism must be replaced by Christocentrism.

prayer focus • For God’s love to be poured into our hearts.

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