Cultivating: Love

Oh dear. This week has already opened up a big ol’ can of worms (by the way, where the heck did that phrase come from? Am I the only one who probably thinks it should be something more like “a can of maggots” or something?) Seriously, I think wayyyy too much about stuff sometimes. Anyhoooo….

This week I’ve been thinking about love. Not, (as I say to my students) the smoochy-smoochy kind of love, but the kind of love that is listed among the fruit of the spirit.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  Against such things there is no law.

                                                                                                                     -Galatians 5:22-23

As with anything we try to understand in the bible, the best way to get to the root of the meaning is to go back to the original language. Of course anything translated from one language to another will lose some of its meaning, and I feel that is especially true with this word, love. If you’ve ever been introduced to studying the bible, you know that there are lots of tools that some super smart people have published to help us dig back into the original languages of the scriptures, and even now we can use many online versions of these tools. No excuse for not studying, right? I mean, hey, we don’t have to go learning Hebrew or Greek ourselves. We get a big break with that stuff.

This verse above from Galatians was written in Greek, so going back through the Strong’s concordance (my best buddy as of late) I found the original word that was translated as love in this verse. Not surprisingly, it was agape (ahh-gahh-pay). Now, lots of people who’ve been around the bible for a little bit know that there are multiple words used for love in the original languages. Hebrew- and Greek-speaking folk didn’t just throw around the same ol’ word to say “I love tater tots” as they did “I love my wife” or “I love God.” No way, Jose! While we might use that word for many different applications having a variety of meanings, they had a different word for different types of love. For example, the word for intimate, sensual love would be eros. The word for friend/kinship kind of love would be phileo. But the word agape means a benevolent-care type of love. It’s the same word used when talking about God’s love for us. It is, in my view, the highest type of love one can express, because it’s completely outwardly-focused. So recipients of this letter in the church of Galatia read this, they knew that the very first piece of evidence (fruit) that they were expected to have as people of God was agape. Benevolent care for others.

What I’ve noticed is that, as Christians, we ebb and flow between loving people beautifully like Jesus did and failing miserably at this. I know I certainly do. I’m asking God to help me flow more toward seeing others the way he does so that I can love them like he does. I think an awful lot of time is wasted trying to figure out why someone acts the way they do or doesn’t like us or whatever, and not enough time asking God what we’re missing about that person so we can show them agape.

For me, some of the worms jumped outta the can when I realized that the agape word in this verse is very closely related to the word agapeo (also translated as love) in several other important verses. For example, that is the word used in Matthew 5 where Jesus is teaching and tells people that they should love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them (oddly enough, exactly the verses my pastor taught from on Sunday!) And also later in Matthew 22 when Jesus says:

‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’This is the first and greatest commandment.And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Whoa. Jesus sums it up for us right here. The GREATEST commandment is to love him like crazy. To agapeo him, which means to show welcome to, to be contented with, to show care for. Then right after that, we are supposed to love (show welcome to, to be contented with, to show care for) our neighbors as ourselves. I realized this means that in order to do that, I need to love (show welcome to, to be contented with, to show care for) myself in that way.

I’ll just go ahead and tell ya, sometimes if all I did was love my neighbors as I love myself, they’d be loved in a pretty crappy way. I’d neglect their needs, talk about them pretty poorly, and generally show disdain for them.

My friends, I must confess that this is often how I regard myself, and God is showing me (even if I don’t feel like seeing it) that the first fruit of the spirit, love, begins with loving him, and flows into loving myself and into loving others. Hmmm. So I have to have a right view of myself before I can rightly love others?? Jesus, you blow my mind.

As far as the fruits of the spirit go, I kinda thought this love thing was going to be one of the easier ones (patience, not so much!) But this may very well be one of the hardest lessons I’ll ever endeavor to learn.

Can’t I just stuff those worms back in the can right about now?



Cultivating Character with Ben Franklin

I can’t remember exactly what I was reading the other day, (a book often leads to an article which leads to a blog which leads to another book…sort of a common hazard among us ADD’s. Anyhoo….) but at some point a reference was made to Benjamin Franklin’s Thirteen Virtues. It gave a brief description, and I was fascinated, so I had to find out more. After a very quick search I learned the following from Wikipedia:

Franklin sought to cultivate his character by a plan of 13 virtues, which he developed at age 20 (in 1726) and continued to practice in some form for the rest of his life. His autobiography lists his 13 virtues as:

  • “Temperance. Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.”
  • “Silence. Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.”
  • “Order. Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.”
  • “Resolution. Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.”
  • “Frugality. Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.”
  • “Industry. Lose no time; be always employ’d in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.”
  • “Sincerity. Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.”
  • “Justice. Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.”
  • “Moderation. Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.”
  • “Cleanliness. Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, cloaths, or habitation.”
  • “Tranquility. Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.”
  • “Chastity. Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.”
  • “Humility. Imitate Jesus and Socrates.”

Franklin did not try to work on them all at once. Instead, he would work on one and only one each week “leaving all others to their ordinary chance”. While Franklin did not live completely by his virtues and by his own admission, he fell short of them many times, he believed the attempt made him a better man contributing greatly to his success and happiness, which is why in his autobiography, he devoted more pages to this plan than to any other single point; in his autobiography Franklin wrote, “I hope, therefore, that some of my descendants may follow the example and reap the benefit.”

Um…first of all, at 20 years old he “sought to cultivate his character” so he made a list of the highest virtues he could think of, then briefly defined them, and created a plan to follow them in order to have descendants that someday followed his example??

WHOA. I don’t know what you were doing when you were 20 years old, but I think I was probably just trying to cultivate enough dough to pay my rent and keep gas in my car. I was barely worried about my character (which explains a whole lot if you knew me back then.)

I have read over this list of Franklin’s 13 Virtues several times in the past week or so. I have been very inspired by it. I wondered how it might benefit me, as well as the world around me, if I took time to intentionally cultivate (or on some days, even bother to pay attention to) my own character as he did. How would it help bring to light things that I need to work on? How would it show me the ways that God’s gifts are already being used well through me? And what would be on my list of virtues to use as a measuring stick?

As a person of faith in Jesus Christ, my list is really already figured out for me. We already have a list of virtues to live by…they’re more commonly referred to in scripture as the fruit of the spirit. They are not just virtues that we should aspire to; they are actually the evidence that we’re growing more Christ-like every day.

I have an experiment in mind. Not even sure if that’s the best word for it. Maybe more like a 9-week devotional journey. What if we took this list of 9 fruits of the spirit, briefly sketched out what those look like to us in everyday life, and focused on cultivating one of them in our lives each week? Not a lot of work or hype, just focus and notice. I’d almost bet that some cool stuff would happen right in front of us.

I’ll be starting this next week. I’ve already had a couple of crazy chicks I know say they’re on board with it too. We can share our thoughts, progress, and shortcomings through the journey. Anyone else care to join us?