The things we do for love

Photo by nenetus. Courtesy of freedigitialphotos.net
Photo by nenetus. Courtesy of freedigitialphotos.net

Why do people have children? For many, it’s a complicated mix of desire, personal necessity, and a sense of social obligation. I don’t know if we’ll ever understand all the reasons. Some, in fact, would argue that the reasons themselves are changing.

According to Jennifer Senior, for example, today’s adults are more likely to consider parenthood more as a matter of personal self-expression than necessity, and to view the goal of parenting itself as keeping their children happy. That’s too high of a bar, she suggests, and one likely to lead to frustration and disillusionment. A healthy dash of realism might be just the thing.

Even so, parenthood necessarily brings its own challenges. What keeps parents going? How do they endure the sleepless nights and the disruption to their routines? For what possible reason do they try to keep their emotions in check when they’d rather yell and scream?

The simple answer is: they do it all for love. That’s not to say that they always feel warm and loving. But they are bonded to their sons and daughters in such a way that self-interest must often yield to what’s in the best interest of the child.

So let me ask this: what motivates us in the Christian life? Why should we restrain our own selfish impulses for the sake of service? Why such sacrifice?

Again, the simple answer is, we do it for love.

As noted in an earlier post, Paul reminds the Corinthians that we will all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. Knowing this, a healthy fear of the Lord is one motivation for Christian service (2 Cor 5:11).

But Paul is not driven by fear alone:

The love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: one died for the sake of all; therefore, all died. He died for the sake of all so that those who are alive should live not for themselves but for the one who died for them and was raised. (2 Cor 5:14-15, CEB)

“Controls”: the NRSV reads “urges us on,” while the NIV has “compels.” The word literally means to hold together, and can have the sense of control. But the word can also mean to lock up or imprison: I like to think of Paul as saying that he has been taken captive by the love of Christ.

If we are “controlled,” it’s not in a passive sense, as if we were television sets and God held the remote. Paul is compelled by a captivating vision: God’s love was demonstrated in the substitutionary death of Christ. He died in our place, and in him we died to sin. But after death, of course, comes resurrection, both the resurrection that we anticipate in the future, and the new life we enjoy now in the Spirit.

That vision should change the orientation of our lives. Instead of living for ourselves, we live in grateful love for the One who gave us new life in the first place. And in so doing, we live to serve others with the same sacrificial love.

Both fear and love, then, motivate the Christian life.

But I think Paul might say that the greatest of these is love.