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8. Motives to Unselfish Christian Love (1 Cor. 13:5c)

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Last week we began a study of the phrase: love is not self-seeking in 1 Corinthians 13:5b (cf. the flow of thought, vs. 1-5). This gave us the topic of unselfish Christian love. Today we will consider unselfish Christian love again in two ways: 1) A summary of this love, and 2) Motivation to this love. The danger zone of getting too full of ourselves needs a red flag; we need to learn how to get out of ourselves, out of the box of our own narrow interests and concerns. This summary and these motives should help us get out of ourselves.

1A. A summary of unselfish Christian love

We keep things in perspective and hopefully in balance when we consider what the text does not teach in order to see clearly what it does teach.

It does not teach that the self (your self) must be rubbed out of the picture of the Christian life. Actually if no consideration were given for what you will eat or how you will pay your bills, you would be irresponsible and thus un-Christian in your love rather than Christian. Furthermore, it should be obvious that self-love and seeking our own happiness is not maximized. It is just the opposite. Seeking our own happiness, joy, and pleasure is restrained by true love because love is not self-seeking.

So what does the text teach given that self-love is neither eliminated nor maximized? It teaches that all acts of self-love are limited, regulated, and governed by two higher principles. The first higher principle is that of seeking the interests of others (seeking to please others not ourselves, Rom. 15:1-2). But the second higher principle is the ultimate opposite of self-seeking, which is seeking the things of Christ (Phil. 2:21).

Clarity may be served by emphasizing three things: submission, ultimacy, and disinterest. 1) First, it is a matter of submission. The self is not sought in any way except in submission to Christ. This is Christian or Christ-centered love. It is Christ that is sought not the self. Christ regulates all legitimate acts of self-love. Thus our joy, for example, is not maximized but balanced by His design in a rich and stable way along with the other fruits of the Spirit such as peace, patience, gentleness, and self-control (cf. Gal. 5:22-23). What we do for our own happiness is not self-regulated. It does not flow in its own channel or march to its own drumbeat. The very self is in submission in all things if there is love. Lack of submission to Christ and His sovereign authority, rule, and governance results in inordinate self-love (love that is out of whack and out of balance).

2) Second, it is a matter of what is ultimate. In Christian love, what we do for our happiness is done for something higher than our happiness; it is done for someone regarded higher than our happiness. It is done for Christ to please and honor Him however that may delimit our happiness.

3) Third, this is what is meant by disinterested love as writers like Jonathan Edwards use this language. Disinterested love means that I find my happiness in its limitation and regulation by Christ both by what He requires and by what He gives or withholds. For example, Edwards says that Christian love transcends self-love because it is comparable to a plant that is transplanted into the soul out of the garden of heaven. Thus of unselfish Christian love he says,

It is not a branch that springs out of the root of self-love, as natural affection, and worldly friendships…But as self-love is the offspring of natural principles, so divine love is the offspring of supernatural principles. The latter is something of a higher and nobler kind than any plant that grows naturally in such a soil as the heart of man. It is a plant transplanted into the soul out of the garden of heaven, by the holy and blessed Spirit of God, and so has its life in God, and not in self. And therefore there is no other love so much above the selfish principle as Christian love is; no love that is so free and disinterested, and in the exercise of which God is so loved for himself and his own sake, and men are loved, not because of their relation to self, but because of their relation to God as his children, and as those who are the creatures of his power, or under the influence of his Spirit (Charity 174, italics mine).

Why does Edwards say that Christian love is transcendent of self-love, contrary to it, and truly distinct from all natural love? His answer is that this is so because this love has its spring where its root is-in Jesus Christ:

But divine love has its spring where its root is —in Jesus Christ; and so it is not of this world, but of a higher; and it tends thither, whence it came. And as it does not spring out of self, so neither does it tend to self. It delights in the honor and glory of God, for his own sake, and not merely for the sake of self; and it seeks and delights in the good of men, for their sake, and for God’s sake (174-175, italics mine).

For Edwards, the higher and nobler principle to which the Christian submits himself is love for God. And so it is written: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength (Mk. 12:30). Therefore, if you give yourself to God (and all pursuits of self-love to Him) with your whole heart, then that means you hold nothing back (love so divine…demands my soul, my life, my all). Instead of seeking the self or seeking yourself and your own interests, the self and all it represents about you is made an offering to God:

This shows how much a principle of true love to God is above the selfish principle. For if self be devoted wholly to God, then there is something, above self, that overcomes it; something superior to self, that takes self, and makes an offering of it to God (176).

These considerations give us a summary of Christian love. It is others-seeking love that is Christ centered because He is loved first with the whole heart, soul, mind, and strength. What He wants is paramount and guides all our wants; what He seeks governs what we seek. Thus, Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him (Col. 3:17).

This leads us to the next point. What motivates such marvelous, transcendent, and heavenly love? Since it is out of this world (transcendent) then any motivation in the direction of love must take this into account. With this in mind we now turn to the motivation of unselfish Christian love.

2A. Motivation to this love

I will focus on the command and the example of Christ. How different it is for someone to command (lead, advise, or suggest) without giving a good example from someone who commands while showing a good example at the same time. Our Lord commands from the resource of the greatest and best of examples.

1B. His command motivates

Jesus cut the chase and made the point in clear and unmistakable terms: This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you (Jn. 15:12). This is a duty of all Christians that has a special application to husbands (Eph. 5:25). It is like a double duty for husbands, a duty doubly enforced: be a Christian and be a Christian husband in meaningful and down to earth deeds of unselfishness.

Interestingly, law and commandment inescapably govern the Christian life of love. When it says to live a life of love you can be assured that law and love are automatically tied together. This is so because the call to love is itself a command. Therefore, any suggestion of a law/love tension or a duty/love antithesis is foreign to the Bible.

That it is His command (i.e. my commandment) informs us to look to Him in a special way in taking up this duty. His commandment is surrounded by love, flows out to us from His heart of love, and it commands that we love like He loved! He has the authority to command obedience. But His commanding authority is drenched with love for you personally. The one who loves you personally commands you personally. What He commands is love: love one another as I have loved you. Thus He commands that we take up the duty implied in the description of love in 1 Corinthians 13. He commands that we walk in this excellent way, that instead of self-seeking we are to be others seeking because He commands it (this letter is His word through His apostle, cf. The Normative Status of the Written New Covenant, 3-17-2002).

Out of a heart of love He commands that we pursue and cherish unselfish Christ-like Christian love.

How does the command of Christ motivate? It begins when we consider who He is. He is God the incarnate Son and Sovereign Lord. Then consider His love for us. It is very personal. The Sovereign Lord who personally commands us is the one who personally loves us. So we say, Lord what will you have me to do? He says, love in the excellent way of 1Corinthians 13. Then we say, So be it Lord, love is what I will cherish as your disciple. Seeking you, then the pathway of unselfish love is what I will seek. This is a prayer of submission to Him (with confession, a sense of need, and great resolve).

The lover of our souls commands that we love. How can that not affect us and move us to this duty of unselfish love?

2B. His example motivates

Without fear of contradiction, I believe that we can talk about the motivation to this kind of love if we are referring to the example of Christ. Tied to our text (1 Cor. 13:5b) this means that we find motivation by considering the seeking of Christ. That is, He did not seek the self or His own things but the things of others, even us. Meditate on the fact that this includes you and me. It includes all who believe and confess that He is the risen Lord of glory (cf. Rom. 10:9-10). Romans 15:1-3 guides our thoughts to His example (not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor…for Christ did not please himself). The reference to neighbor here shows that the weaker brother example is a case in point of a general rule of Christian love (it goes from love your neighbor to love this weaker/brother neighbor). He commands love by calling us to follow His example: love as I have loved you! So let's now reflect on how He exemplifies what He commands.

1) He sought us as unthankful enemies. While we were yet sinner/enemies Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8, 10). The best description of our plight comes to us from Scripture. Reflecting back on our state in sin and depending on our individual histories, we have difficulty seeing just how bad things were. To be more accurate, we have difficulty seeing just how sinful, rebellious, and hateful we were toward the things of God and the gospel. But before our conversion we were among those who would not come to the light because of our evil deeds and our desire to avoid exposure (Jn. 3:19). This is the important fact that accents our need of saving grace and saving love.

Consider the hidden man point of Augustine again in this connection. He hid himself behind his back. We need to face this truth about ourselves. We need to be alert to the fact that remnants of sin remain in us and we must do battle continually (not hide ourselves from ourselves). Look to Him who fought sin unto death for you and then go forth to do battle with the sin of selfishness for Him. This battle with selfishness is a battle we engage following Jesus above. We are following in His steps that lead us assuredly home to heaven above to be with Him. Along the way, we are thus encouraged to love the unthankful, including the enemy.

2) And He sought us without expecting repayment from us. He knew full well that we could never repay Him (Charity 179). Therefore, Christ's love for us in no way depends on our love for Him. Christ loved us without any love on our part toward Him. Here is an example of the independence of the love that we are to have toward others. It is altogether out of context to think that love in any way depends on how others benefit our self-interests and our self-love. Consider how Christ loved you. Now go and do likewise for others.

3) He sought us actively. As lover of our souls, Jesus made our interests His own and came to our aid. Jesus is the Good Samaritan of Good Samaritans (cf. Lk. 10:25-37). He did not simply feel and own our pain. He did not just make some light efforts and small sacrifices for us (179). No, He took action and denying Himself He undertook the greatest efforts and the endured the greatest sufferings for you and me. As Edwards put it, He gave up His own ease, and comfort, and interest, and honor, and wealth; and became poor, and outcast, and despised, and had not where to lay His head, and all for us! And not only so, but he shed his own blood for us, and offered himself a sacrifice to God's justice, that we might be forgiven, and accepted, and saved! (179). We were the ones in need. He considered our needs and made it His determined goal to see to it that our needs would be met.

Therefore, if He so loved you, then you ought to so love others. A fitting response to the love He exercised on your behalf is for you to consider the wants and needs of others. Have compassion, empathize with others, and get into their shoes to understand them. Don't pass them by on the other side like the religionists of Jesus day who could not bother themselves with the interests of the neighbor in need. As a church and as individuals, we should constantly be asking ourselves, How can I be neighbor to those around me in need?

So commit yourself to unselfish love. Take up the interests of others. Take an interest in their struggles, wants, and needs. Make their interests your own. Consider their need for safety and well being both now and forevermore. Then be active on their behalf.

4) His seeking was ultimate. What do I mean? The answer is found in what Christ did and did not seek. He did not seek the self. He was not self-seeking. He did not seek His own things. Instead, He sought the things of the Father. He came to do the Father's will fully and completely. He sought the things of the kingdom of God. His very food was to do the will of His heavenly Father. He had a supreme goal out in front of Him toward which He relentlessly applied the most strenuous efforts. As He loved us by seeking the Father supremely so we are to love others.

Therefore, seek the things of God first and foremost above all other things. In other words, Christian love is not rooted in self-love. It is not self-seeking. Rather, Christian love seeks God through Christ by the Spirit. Finding Him leads inevitably to seeking the things of others.

Here we are motivated by Christ's example to fulfill the duty of Christian love. He shows us what true unselfish love is and He stirs us up to follow in His steps. His love not only clarifies what true love seeks but His example draws on our hearts and pulls us down the same path. It is motivating to ponder these things. When we see His love we are moved far beyond self-love and we are moved to put all self-love within the framework of Christ centered Christian love, God-centered and Holy Spirit centered Christian love!


1) First, a pointed comment can be made. It is unbecoming of Christians to display a selfish spirit. We are loved by Christ in such a matchless way and are joined to Him to form one body. It is extremely perverse to name the name of Christ and alienate others by selfish motives. Selfishness is radically ill fitted; it is radically un-Christian. It is contrary to the tone and tenor of Christian faith. The Christian seeks others, especially those in the body of Christ, because He seeks Christ and His kingdom righteousness above all else.

This applies to all men to whom we are to do good. But it especially applies to the family of God. Our Lord Jesus gave Himself for His church to bring many sons and daughters to glory. So act in love for one another as He loved you. How much we ought to be helpers and comforters to each other in the body of Christ. The hand will move itself from the flame but it will also aid in removing the feet from the flame. The feet move themselves from a fire but they also move the hand away from the fire.

It is the risen Savior who moves us to this unselfish Christian love by His command and His example.

2) Second, some provoking questions can be asked.

Do you love the Lord Jesus though with a feeble love?

Do you believe that He is worthy of all your love and of the best you can be and do for Him?

Are you grateful to Him for what He has done in love for you?

Do you want to please Him?

Do you think He should be honored by all, above all, and by you?

Are you a member of His flock under His marvelous care?

Are you His disciple learning to live under His authority?

If your answer to these questions is yes, then there is only one life for you to live and one pathway for you to tread. Live a life of love following in His steps. Make this your prayer and commitment (“I give myself away, tis all I can do”). Cherish an unselfish spirit. Seek the Lord Jesus in all your seeking. Look away from your self and live a life of unselfish Christian love.

Soli Christo Gloria

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