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The Lesson of Love: Chapter 1 - The LESSON of Love

By J.R. Miller

      Christian love has to be learned. There is natural affection which does not need to be learned--the love of parents for children, of children for parents, of friend for friend. But it is not natural to love our enemies, to love unlovable people, to be unselfish, to return kindness for unkindness. We have to learn this love, and it is the great business of life to do it. The lesson is written out for us in many parts of the Scriptures. We have it, for example, in Paul's wonderful chapter on LOVE.

      "Love is patient." Love includes patience. It is not easy to live with all sorts of people--and to keep sweet always. In a letter from a friend, the problem is stated thus: "How to live victoriously when one does not feel well, has many tasks and duties, and must work with a cranky person." That is something of the problem for many good people, and it is not easy to remedy. There is only one way of solving it--by love. And natural love will not suffice. Some mothers solve it with their children. Some gentle wives solve it with exacting, thoughtless, ungentle husbands. Now and then a friend solves it with a friend to whom it is not easy to be a friend. But the Christian is to learn to solve it with every kind of person--however disagreeable, unlovable, and uncongenial--he is never to come to the end of his loving. It takes almost infinite patience to love thus--more, at least, than many of us can command.

      "Love is kind." Kindness has been called the small coin of love. It is not shown in large deeds--so much as in countless little gentle things. Jesus wrought a few great miracles--but in between the miracles, all the days, hours, and minutes were filled with kindnesses, little words and acts and looks which no one counted. Love should always abound in kindnesses. Our love should not be kept for great things, but should flow out continually, like fragrance from a flower, as part of our own life.

      "Love does not envy." Love is generous. We have learned the lesson well, only when we can rejoice in the joy of others. This is quite as much a part of true love's sympathy, as it is to share the griefs of others. "Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep." We can do the latter--more easily than the former. When we find one in misfortune or in trouble--it is not hard to sympathize with him. But when others are honored more than we are, or prospered more, or when they win success while we fail, or are very happy while we are less so--is it as easy for us to be genuinely glad, as it would be to be really sorry if they were in some kind of grief?

      "Love is not self-seeking." Love is unselfish. Unselfishness is at the very heart of all true love. It is the obtruding of SELF into our thoughts, feelings, and acts--which spoils much of our living. We love people until it would cost us something to continue to love them--and then we stop short. We accept serious responsibility when we say to anyone: "I will be your friend." That is what Jesus said to his friends--and then he loved to the uttermost. That is what "seeks not its own" means. It may cost us years of self-denial and exhausting service.

      "Love is not easily angered." Love keeps sweet amid all irritation. It probably is too much to hope for in this world of infirmity and sinfulness, that one shall ever attain a condition in life in which there shall be nothing that would naturally excite bitter or unkindly feeling.

      Indeed, we could not learn to be sweet-tempered, with nothing to test and exercise our temper. The problem then, is not to find a paradise of sweetness in which to live--we shall have to wait for Heaven for that--but in common human conditions, with infirmities and failings even in our best friends, with a thousand things in the experiences of each day to try our temper--still and always to keep sweet.

      Good temper is an admirable quality of love. For some people it is easier, too, than for others. But it is part of the lesson of love which we should all set ourselves to learn, whether it is easy or hard. It can be learned, too--it should be learned, for it is a Christian duty, one of the fruits of the Spirit, an essential element in Christian culture. We should never excuse ill-temper as only an character weakness or a pardonable infirmity--we should be ashamed to yield to it. Touchy people should determine to conquer their wretched weakness and sin--by which God is dishonored, and the love of tender hearts hurt.

      "Love keeps no record of wrongs." Love is meek. It does not keep a list of slights, offences and injustices. "How often shall I forgive?" Peter asked. He thought he was going a long way in the path of Christian love, when he suggested that seven times would be enough. But Jesus said: "Oh, not seven times only--but seventy-seven times," that is, indefinitely. Let your love be simply inexhaustible. Nothing is harder than to have to endure wrong and ingratitude; to love and to have love unrequited. It is not easy to keep on loving, when this is one's experience. Yet that is what our lesson teaches us.

      A writer tells a story of a man who had given up his whole life to love. Then there came a time when he knew that all he cared about was slipping away from him. At length after ten years of loving and serving, a letter came which told him that all he had cherished so tenderly was lost, that the life of those years was utterly blotted out. Yet though stunned by the blow, and left alone and desolate, he was not crushed--but went on with his life-work in quietness and hope.

      When a friend asked him how he could take up a new life after such blighting disappointment, he said, "It was because I never lost love. Whatever happened to me, I went on loving; whatever change came in others, I was always constant to love. When the crash threw down my palace, though I was miserable, I was not embittered; though I was stripped of everything, my soul was still young; love had kept the springs of life flowing in my heart." This is a secret which all of us should seek to learn. It is easy to let bitterness creep into the heart, when one has to endure wrong day after day, week after week, possibly year after year. There are women who know what this means. There are men, too, who meet this experience. Too often the darkness creeps into their souls and puts out the lights of love.

      Nothing on earth is sadder than this. It is a sort of death that is worse than dying. Whatever wrongs or cruelties we have to endure--we should always keep love in our hearts. We should never allow love's lamps to be put out. We should keep on loving and thus be more than conquerors over all the hardness that besets us. In all such experiences, love will save us, keep us alive--and nothing else will.

      Sometimes one finds a sweet fresh-water spring beside the sea. When the tide is low you may take your cup and drink of the pure well, and the water is fresh as if it flowed from the bosom of a rock on the hillside. Then the sea rolls over it and for long hours the brackish floods bury the little spring out of sight. But when the tide draws back again, you find the water as sweet as ever. So love should be in our hearts when the black, brackish floods of wrong have swept over them. The love should never lose its sweetness.

      Another quality of love to be learned, is seeing the good and not the evil in others. That appears to be the meaning of the words, "Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres." There is in some people, a disposition to see evil in others and even to be secretly glad because of it. This is a satanic spirit! Our Lord's counsel, "Judge not," condemns it. We are not to put on our strongest glasses in order to look at others--and see the flaws and faults in them. Rather we should turn our glasses on ourselves, to find our own defects, while we try to discover the good there is in our neighbor.

      It is amazing how some people are worried over other people's defects and sins--and how little concern meanwhile, the evil things in themselves give them. But that is not what Christian love does. It looks for the good in others--and seeks to woo it out into something better. If only we would learn this lesson and think of finding the good in others, instead of the evil, covering all unlovely things, hoping all beautiful things--how changed all life would be! How much nearer together we should be drawn--if only we saw each other more clearly, more truly!

      These are parts of the great lesson. How can we learn it? Christ only can teach it to us. We must let the heaven-life enter our hearts.

      "When we were playing out in the barn today," said Marjorie, "the sun shone in through a knot-hole high up in one of the boards, and it made a path, a golden path, way up. I guess if anybody could have walked up on it and slipped out where it came in, he would have found a road-way into heaven." The child's imagination was very beautiful. Christian love is like such a shining pencil of light breaking into our world through a rift in the sky. If we could walk up on it, we would find a foot-path into heaven. This love is heaven's life brought down to earth. Jesus Christ brought it down when he came. He was the first who ever loved in this way in our world. He wants all his followers to learn to love in the same way, "As I have loved you, that you also love one another." He will teach us the lesson, if we will only learn it. When we have mastered it--we are ready for heaven!

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See Also:
   Chapter 1 - The LESSON of Love
   Chapter 2 - Things That are LOVELY
   Chapter 3 - To SUFFER and Love On
   Chapter 4 - The Hurt of FLATTERY
   Chapter 5 - "Nor Life"
   Chapter 6 - Having the Mind of Christ
   Chapter 7 - The Second Mile
   Chapter 8 - Losing SELF in Christ
   Chapter 9 - Growing By Abandonment
   Chapter 10 - Leaving Things Undone
   Chapter 11 - Living for the BEST Things
   Chapter 12 - Serving and Following Christ
   Chapter 13 - Citizenship in Heaven
   Chapter 14 - Gladdened to Gladden
   Chapter 15 - The Gentleness of Christ
   Chapter 16 - Would Our Way Be Better?
   Chapter 17 - In the Father's Hands
   Chapter 18 - One Day at a Time
   Chapter 19 - True Friendship's Wishes
   Chapter 20 - Christ in Our Everydays
   Chapter 21 - In Tune With God


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