I once read of a woman who said, “I want a man who will love me for who I am. Is that too much to ask of a millionaire?” While such a statement may amuse us, it reflects quite succinctly how the concept of love can be distorted. Indeed, due to our Adamic nature, we are all inclined to distort love in some way. But for Christians, it is absolutely essential that we grasp what love really is, first, as it is directed to God, and second, as it is directed to our neighbor.
Before we get into this, I must confess that it took me a few years to understand how one could claim to be a Christian and not be sold out to God without any reservations. I still remember the first quotation I memorized shortly after my conversion at nineteen years of age. It was the well known words of Charles Studd: “If Jesus Christ be God and died for me, then no sacrifice can be too great for me to make for Him.” That was his response to those who would question the wisdom of going to a foreign mission field. When I first heard it, its simple logic helped to lay a foundation of consecration in my own heart and life, leaving me somewhat bewildered that a professing Christian could live any other way. While I have since matured in my understanding (even through the waywardness of my own heart), it still baffles me why more don’t seem to grasp that our professed love for Jesus Christ is woefully deficient if we cannot bring ourselves to present our bodies as a living sacrifice to Him (Romans 12:1).
That is what consecration is, believer. It is a natural response from a heart that truly loves. With no consecration there is no proof of love. And without love, Paul tells us that we are nothing. To put it another way, without true Christian love, our best efforts for God are worthless. That is strong language. Frightful language, actually. But it’s clearly what Paul meant in 1 Corinthians 13:1–3.
Since all of humanity experiences love to some degree, how are we to understand the love Paul speaks of in 1 Corinthians 13? First, let’s understand what this love is not. It is not merely summed up in the word agape, since that word is used for the experience of unbelievers toward each other in Luke 6:32. Furthermore, this love Paul talks about cannot be measured by mere action according to 1 Corinthians 13:3. Also, it is not something that comes naturally. Since love is the chief grace in the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22), we must conclude that one must be converted and walk in the Spirit in order to manifest it. Adding to all that, I would suggest that this kind of love must fulfill what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:31: “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.”
But, what does it look like? I think the apostle’s exhortation in Ephesians 5:25 may help us somewhat: “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it.” There’s the picture. And if we bring this all together, I think we may define true Christian love as simply self-sacrifice for God’s glory. It cannot be mere self-sacrifice as Paul makes clear in 1 Corinthians 13:3. If it is truly of the Spirit, its motivation and end must be for the glory of God.
The proof of this is seen quite simply in John 3:16. The Father gave His Son, and the Son gave Himself to do the will of the Father. At the heart of the work of redemption is this love—self-sacrifice for God’s glory. When we understand this, we understand what Christian consecration is all about.
It is no mistake that love comes first in the list of virtues of the Spirit in Galatians 5. It is the first and primary grace, and where there is true conversion, it always results in self-sacrifice for God’s glory. Take the conversion of Saul of Tarsus. How does he respond to the grace of salvation? It is with the words, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” (Acts 9:6). In that moment, all of his life’s ambitions were tossed away. He laid his life before Christ as an act of loving response to His mercy, sacrificing everything that was once valuable to him.
It is very easy to tell ourselves that we love Christ and to say that we are consecrated to Him. But is it seen in our daily lives? In Matthew 25:34–40 the Saviour shows us that our treatment of others is a reflection of our treatment of Him. He sums it up in verse 40: “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” Does your consecration to Christ manifest itself in your love toward the brethren? How we think and speak of other people is often a better reflection of our love for Christ than we care to admit. As Christ prepared Peter to feed the sheep, the threefold challenge to him was, “Lovest thou me?” (John 21:15–17). The point was that unless Peter truly loved Christ, he would not be in a position to serve the flock of God.
I have learned over time that my consecration and love to Christ aren’t seen just in my willingness to leave home to preach the gospel. Where the rubber meets the road is in how I treat others, whether they be God’s people or my enemies. My consecration is seen in how I love those that are difficult to love. C. T. Studd was right when he said, “No sacrifice can be too great for me to make for Him.” That means that when my ego tries to justify me for not loving my enemies, I will reject its attempts. It also means that when the greater Son of David, the Lord Jesus, asks, “Who then is willing to consecrate his service this day unto the Lord?” I will respond positively, even when it hurts. How can we refuse to give our all to Christ when He has given so much for us?
Rev. Armen Thomassian is the minister of Calgary FPC in Calgary, Alberta.