The Orthodox Pages
QUESTIONS FROM ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST
Is fallen man capable of true love? Christ Himself said what credit is it if we love only those who love us! Even somewhere I think in Proverbs it states that a poor man is hated even by his own family. Furthermore, even when it comes to choosing life partners, how many of us will choose someone from a different race group or financially insecure? My question is ,is true, unadulterated love actually an attribute of the divine grace of God enabling us humans to love perfectly? After all didn't even Christ say that if we love one another as He has loved us then all men will know that we are His disciples! Very simply what is the church's position concerning love?
Answer to Question 44
In the world, "love" usually refers to physical love or sentimental, romantic love. At first people are physically attracted to each other and when they get to know each other and find that their characters and way of life are compatible they speak about falling in love. Some even call that first attraction love at first sight. It is a form of love but whether it is true love, this will come with the test of time. In many cases this love turns to hate so in reality it is not love at all because there is no room for hate in a loving heart.
Love, from the Christian standpoint, means sacrifice, and self-denial. This is a love that most people have little knowledge of. St. Paul tells us that a “husband must love his wife even as Christ also loved the Church and gave Himself for it” (Eph. 5:25) What Paul is saying is that a husband must take as much care, concern, thoughtfulness, attention, regard and precautions for his wife as Christ takes for the Church. The husband's attentiveness might even have to extend to death itself. For just as Christ was put to death for His love of the Church, so too the Christian husband must yield all things - even his life, if necessary - for his wife.
The closest people come to this kind of love is the parental love of their children. Parental love is not based on sentimental romantic love, but on sacrificial love. A parent will lay down his/her life for his/her child and this is similar to a Christ-like love.
You ask if fallen man is capable of true love and the answer is yes if we become Christ-like. Christ gave us a new commandment: “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all [men] know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another. (John 13:34-35) And John in his first epistle says: If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us. (1 John 4:12). Thus if God dwells in us then through his grace we are capable of achieving perfect love.
I noticed that in the comments someone mentioned 1 Corinthians 13 and what better way to explain what love is. Paul mentions many gifts like speaking in tongues, prophecy, knowledge, faith and charitable works, but said if we have not love then these gifts and good works are accounted as nothing and of no spiritual profit. Paul said: “that even if we should lay down our life for God’s sake, and not merely lay it down, but to be burned, we shall have no great advantage if we do not have love for our neighbour.” With all these examples Paul is telling us that all the spiritual gifts will not profit us if we do not have love for all people.
Having shown us that faith, knowledge, prophecy, tongues, healing, a perfect life and martyrdom are of no advantage to us if love is absent from our way of life, Paul now sets out to tell us the matchless beauty of what love really is. “Love he says suffereth long, and is kind; love envieth not; love vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up.”
Love suffereth long - in other words it is the virtue of patience and all self denial. A certain wise man said “A man that is long-suffering is slow to anger and is of great understanding; but he that is hasty of spirit is a great fool. A man with patience is more secure than a strong city because his patience is like an invincible weapon and a sort of impregnable tower, easily beating off all annoyances. Whatever attacks a long-suffering soul is like a spark that falls into the deep waters and vanishes. The soul remains impenetrable and unharmed. This excellence of patience is born of love and can withstand anything that comes its way. But Paul doth not stop here, but adds also the other high achievements of love, saying, “Love is kind.” He mentions it straight after saying that it is long suffering because there are some who practice their long-suffering with a view not to their own self-denial, but to the punishment of those who have provoked them, to make them burst with anger; thus if someone uses patience to provoke his attacker then Paul is warning us that if our patience is the fruit of love then it cannot have this defect because love is kind and seeks to cure and not to hurt. “Love Envieth not.” Because it is possible to be both long suffering and envious Paul mentions that a Christ like love has no room for envy. If we envy others then our love is not true.
“Love Vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up.” in other words love is not arrogant, it does not praise and boast of its accomplishments, is not vain by vaulting itself in self importance, is not proud and egotistic, is not impertinent and insolent, does not inquire into matters which do not concern it. Love accompanied with any of the above is not a virtue but a vice, but perfect love cleanses us off all these things.
“Love doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil”. Love does not behave indecently or in a worldly, outrageous or shameful fashion. But it also means that love considers many things contrary to what might seem to the world as unseemly. Love is ready to suffer the most shameful things for him whom it loves, because it doesn’t consider the thing as unseemliness?” Love suffers unseemliness, but bears the shame nobly. It will refuse nothing whatsoever for the safety’s sake of those whom it loves, nor will any thing that it can suffer shame it. Our Lord Jesus Christ was both spit upon and beaten with rods by pitiful slaves; and not only did He not count it an unseemliness, but He even exulted and called the thing glory. He spoke with a harlot, which scandalized the Pharisees who stood by and accused Him, but He didn’t count the thing to be disgraceful, but both allowed her to kiss His feet, and to wash his feet with her tears, and to wipe them with her hair, in front of those who were his enemies; “for love doeth nothing unseemly.”
“Love seeketh not its own” Having said that love does not behave unseemly Paul shows us also the frame of mind of the person. What is this frame of mind? The person who has perfect love does not selfishly seek his own benefit and interest but does all things for the persons that he loves. Thus elsewhere Paul also said, “Let no man seek his own, but each his neighbour’s good.” (1Cor. 10:24) For your own profit lies in the profit of your neighbour, and his in yours. Seek not therefore thine own, that thou mayest find thine own. Did not Christ do the same? Did he not suffer everything because he loved us and for this love he willingly accepted death on the Cross?
“Love is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil” See again how love not only overcomes every vice but doesn’t even allow it to come to the surface, because Paul did not say that when provoked it overcomes it, but that it is not provoked. As for evil, Paul did not say that it works no evil but that it doesn’t even think of evil. Not only does it not contrive anything evil but it doesn’t even suspect it in others who it loves. Love does not remember the evil does against her, but because it forgives totally it does not allow the slightest memory of evil to remain in the heart.
“Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth” Love does not rejoice in other people’s misfortunes, it does not feel pleasure over those that suffer ill, it does not desire harm for its enemies, it does not seek for divine justice to punish them. Love is void of all these defects, but it knows how and when to rejoice for it rejoices with the truth and feels pleasure with them that are well spoken of and as Paul says in Romans: it “Rejoices with them that rejoice, and weeps with them that weep.” (Rom.12:15)
“Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Love never faileth.” Love bears all things - from her long-suffering, from her goodness; whether they be burdensome, or grievous, or insults, or stripes, or death, or whatsoever else. Love believes, hopes and endures all things. What is “hopeth all things?” It does not despair of those it loves for even though someone is worthless it does not give up hope for him and continues to correct, to provide and to care for him.” And it does not merely hope, but also believes from its great affection. And even if these good things should not turn out according to its hope, but the other person should prove yet more intolerable, it bears even these. For love “endureth all things.” “Love never faileth” for it puts up with everything: and whatever comes its way it accepts with humility, whatever will happen love can never hate. This then is the greatest of its excellencies. Love understands and separates the man from the deed. One must hate the doctrine of a heretic but not the man, one must hate the wicked conduct and the corrupted mind, but never the man, because the man is God’s work, but the deceit is the devil’s work. Thus we must learn not to confuse the things of God and the things of the devil.