January 2021

January 2021


Love Is Forever

In medieval Christianity, there were seven standard virtues. They were made up of the four chief, or “cardinal,” virtues of heathen classical antiquity: prudence, justice, temperance, and courage. These four virtues were possible for all humanity to attain even without the assistance of the Holy Spirit. Lutheran theology has always recognized this, distinguishing these sorts of virtues as “civic righteousness,” i.e., that sort of righteousness that is possible for unregenerate man and that leads to earthly blessedness, but does not lead to eternal life. To these four cardinal virtues were added the three “theological” virtues, which had to be given by the Holy Spirit: faith, hope, and love. These “theological” virtues were drawn from 1 Cor. 13:13: “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

Of course, faith, hope, and love can exist without the Holy Spirit. You don’t have to be a Christian to have faith in someone you trust. You don’t have to be a Christian to hope for better days ahead. And you certainly don’t have to be a Christian to love other people. But to practice these virtues as St. Paul urges, we most certainly do need to be regenerated by the Holy Spirit.

Faith, speaking generally, is trust that something is true despite appearances to the contrary. Usually that trust is based upon the “trustworthiness” of some responsible party. So, for instance, I have faith that our military will protect us from foreign threats. I do not see those threats, nor do I see the preparations that our military is making to protect us from them, but I rely upon the character and ability of those who are responsible for protecting us. When it comes to saving, Christian faith, what we believe is that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. We believe that He is risen from the dead, and that He forgives our sins. In short, we believe what we confess in our Creeds. We believe all this without seeing it. “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1). The basis of our belief is the trustworthiness of God. We believe what our trustworthy God promises us in His trustworthy Word.

Hope is very similar to faith—in fact, the word “hope” is included in the definition of “faith” given in Hebrews 11:1. Hope, like faith, involves confidence in the truth of something that is not currently seen. “Now hope that is seen is not hope,” St. Paul says. “For who hopes for what he sees?” (Rom. 8:25). Hope is a confident expectation of some future condition of blessedness. An unbeliever can certainly have hope that the year 2021 will be better than the year 2020, and he has plenty of good reason for such hope. We Christians, however, have a much more dramatic hope. We hope for entry into Paradise upon bodily death, we hope for the resurrection of our bodies on the last day, we hope for Jesus to judge the living and the dead in perfect justice and mercy, and we hope for the new heavens and the new earth, where righteousness dwells. Like faith, our hope is based upon the trustworthiness of the God who has promised us these things.

The foundation of our Christian life is faith in the promises of God, which gives rise to hope. But “faith,” says St. Paul, is “working through love” (Gal. 5:6). This sort of love is somewhat different from the love that is natural to man. Think about your own experience of love. Has it ever been hard to love? Usually you can’t help yourself! You love your parents, your siblings, your family members, and your friends, and that’s not a love you really have to work at. It comes naturally. Maybe at some point you fall in love with someone of the opposite sex, and maybe that results in marriage. You have very little control over “falling in love”—it just sort of sweeps you off your feet! And then of course your children are probably the easiest to love. You can’t help but love your children more than your own life!

But we do notice that this sort of natural love has its limits. Sometimes parents mistreat their children to such a degree that love no longer comes naturally. Sometimes our family members have characteristics that make it a challenge to love them, and sometimes our friends do things that turn us against them and make it hard to keep loving them. Often we fall right back out of love as easily as we fell in love to begin with, which might be a large part of why we have so much divorce these days. Sometimes even love for our children fails. All of this is because natural love works by loving the lovable. Once the object of our love becomes unlovable to us, we stop loving.

Christian love is different. Christian love is like God’s love for us. God does not wait for us to become lovable. He loves us first and then makes us lovable. When our hearts are filled with God’s love, we love everyone, even our enemies, no matter how unlovable they may be. Through faith, God helps the unlovable to become lovable to us.

And the more love sees, the more it grows. Faith and hope will recede, in a sense, as what we believe and hope for becomes seen. When we have all of God’s promises fulfilled to us by sight, we’ll still trust Him, but we won’t have to trust Him despite appearances to the contrary. But love? Love will only deepen and grow and God’s promises find their fulfillment. That’s why St. Paul lists love as the greatest of the virtues. It reflects the character of our God who is love, it lasts forever, and as faith gives way to sight, love only loves more.

God grant that this year we grow in our love for Him above all things and for our neighbors as ourselves!

God's Richest Blessings!

Pastor Neuendorf