Introductory Note:

Love is at the heart of life with Jesus. It is the defining word in our talk about God. It is the most central word used to express our way of being with other people. It is the highest and most noble characteristic to have as a student of the “Luminous Nazarene.” Yet that one word is curiously missing in the mission statements of most Christian organizations. How come a word so central to the nature of God is so seldom mentioned in the organizational structures of God’s people?

Ville Kavilo

Let us say … that love is an overall condition of the embodied, social self, poised to promote the goods of human life that are within its range of influence. It is, then, a disposition or character (a second-level potentiality or potency, in Aristotelian terminology): a readiness to act in a certain way under certain conditions. It is not an action, nor a feeling or emotion, nor, indeed, an intention, as intention” is ordinarily understood — though it gives rise to intentions and to actions of a certain type, and is associated with some feelings” and resistant to others. It is this understanding of agape love as an overall disposition of the human self that, alone, does justice to the teachings of Jesus and Paul and the New Testament about love and gives us a coherent idea of love that can be aimed at in practice and implemented.

Such love is holistic, not something one turns on or off for this or that person or thing. Its orientation is toward life as a whole. It dwells on good wherever it may be found, and supports it in action. Love is nourished upon the good and the right and the beautiful. That is why Paul the jail-bird writes to his Philippian friends: Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovable and gracious, whatever is attractive, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things” (4:8). That, no doubt, was how Paul passed his time in prison. That is how he learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am” and could do all things in Him who strengthens me” (vss. 11 & 13). 

Paul understood the fallacy of those who say I just can’t love so and so,” and there they stop and give up on love. He knew that they were working at the wrong level. They should not try to love that person but try to become the kind of person who would love them. Only so can the ideal of love pass into a real possibility and practice. Our aim under love is not to be loving to this or that person, or in this or that kind of situation, but to be a person possessed by love as an overall character of life, whatever is or is not going on. The occasions” are met with from that overall character. I do not come to my enemy and then try to love them, I come to them as a loving person. 

Love is not a faucet to be turned on or off at will. God himself doesn’t just love me or you, he is love. He is creative will for all that is good. That is his identity, and explains why he loves individuals, even when he is not pleased with them. We are directed by Paul to be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave himself up for us.” (Eph. 5:1 – 2) We are called and enabled to love as God loves. 

With this understanding of love, as overall disposition to good, in mind, we go back to Paul’s statements: 

· I Tim. 1:5 — Love arises out of a pure heart,” of a person not wallowing in fantasies of sensual gratification or malice; a good conscience,” not burdened with guilt and failure to do the good and the right.; and a sincere faith,” or genuine confidence in God’s goodness and care for us, of his effectual love, from which nothing can separate us. (Rom. 8:37 – 39, I John 1:5) We do not achieve the disposition of agape love by direct effort, but by attending to and putting into place the conditions out of which it arises. 

· Rom. 13:10 — The law is directed toward actions conforming to what is good and right. Love too is directed toward the securing of what is good and right, but from the depths of the self from which actions come. If we take care of the sources of action, action will take care of itself. (See the cases of murder and adultery treated by Jesus in Matt. 5:21 – 30.) We will then not be constantly hindered or defeated in actions by the conflicted self which winds up doing what it intends” not to do or not doing what it intends” to do. (Peter’s three denials of Christ, or Paul’s conflicted self of Romans 7.) 

· I Cor. 13:4 – 8 — Patience, kindness, humility, etc. arise from the overall disposition of love because it is directed to what is good and right before God and not to the gratification of desires and emotions, except insofar as they are under the governance of the overall disposition of love. Thus it is important to understand that in this passage Paul is not saying that we are to be patient, kind, humble and so forth, but that love itself is patient, kind, humble, etc. That, after all, is what the passage actually says. So we pursue love” and the rest takes care of itself. 

It cannot be said too often that agape love is not desire, and not delight. Desire and feelings generally have a different nature than love, and if we don’t understand this clearly we will remain helpless to enter into love and to receive it into ourselves. Desire and feelings fall into the domain of impulse, not that of choice. They aim at their satisfaction, not at what is better and possibly best. Choice considers alternatives and weighs what is best. If its vision is broad enough, it will find what is good and right. If it is surrendered to God, united with his will, it will be able to do what is best. That of course is the nature of love. It seeks what is best. That is why it enables a person to refrain from hating their enemy, which they might very well want to do, and to seek what is good for them along with all others involved. This certainly does not mean you just give in and do what the enemy (or friend) wants or let them have their way. That might be the worst thing you could do to them. 

Love, then, is a condition of the will embedded in all fundamental dimensions of the human personality. It is not something you choose to do, but what you choose to be. The will is your capacity to originate things and processes. It is the executive center of the self: the heart or the human spirit. It is meant to direct all dimensions of the self, not by direct and explicit supervision, for the most part, but by indirect means with God. These fundamental dimensions are: the will, of course, the mind (with its thoughts and its feelings, desires and emotions), the body, the social interrelationships, and the soul. That is how Jesus lays out the dimensions of the self and of love in Mark 12:29 – 31

Excerpted from the Kindle edition of Getting Love Right, linked to on Dallas Willard’s website to whom we extend our gratitude for their generous sharing of his work.