Portrait of Love

We are, not metaphorically but in very truth, a Divine work of art, something that God is making, and therefore something with which He will not be satisfied until it has a certain character. Here again we come up against what I have called the “intolerable compliment.” Over a sketch made idly to amuse a child, an artist may not take much trouble: he may be content to let it go even though it is not exactly as he meant it to be. But over the great picture of his life—the work which he loves, though in a different fashion, as intensely as a man loves a woman or a mother a child—he will take endless trouble—and would doubtless, thereby give endless trouble to the picture if it were sentient. One can imagine a sentient picture, after being rubbed and scraped and re-commenced for the tenth time, wishing that it were only a thumb-nail sketch whose making was over in a minute. In the same way, it is natural for us to wish that God had designed for us a less glorious and less arduous destiny; but then we are wishing not for more love but for less.” –C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, Chapter Three: Divine Goodness

Ellen White, in the Desire of Ages, Chapter 86: Go Teach All Nations, makes a similar statement: “Christ is sitting for His portrait in every disciple.”

The question naturally arises, what does it mean by portrait? A portrait is a reproduction of visible or invisible imagery on canvas. It is a mixture of various shades and tints. From this composite comes forth a masterpiece of representation.

It may well be asked what are the various shades and tints? “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” Galatians 5:22-23 NAB. A parallel passage is II Peter 1:5-7.

Let’s focus on love:

Love is so misunderstood and so unknown today. No human definition is adequate. We can see the results everyday if our eyes are open to see. It seems that love finds little expression, and many wonder why.

Love cannot be commanded. It must be given. To give requires to have. If you don’t possess it, you cannot give it; that is so simple, yet it is so complicated because the complication lies within us.

Love is an element of divine infusion from the Holy Spirit. It is a foreign substance introduced into our mind by Infinite Love. Once we grasp this momentous reality, we come face to face with the question—what do we do with it? There are two choices open to us—to accept or to reject.

Love remains where it is wanted. Love never intrudes itself because it recognizes it can only manifest itself in fertile soil.

A genuine life produces love because it has nothing else of worth to produce. When the product is seen, then the truth, that is the basis of creation and redemption, finds vindication.

The vindication of God is found in total loving. Total loving is manifested in total giving. For you see, the portrait of reproduction or character development is nothing more than total loving. Total loving is the direct result of the daily work of the Holy Spirit.

To have the character of Jesus means to love the same way that He did. “When we love the world as He loved it, then for us His mission is accomplished. We are fitted for heaven; for we have heaven in our hearts.” DA, Chapter 70: The Least of These My Brethren

Now we have a slight glimpse of the portrait. In this life we can only see the portrait in midnight shades. Should this concern us? The answer is no; our concern is to allow the Holy Spirit to work in us, and the Spirit will bring the perfection of fruit to harvest.

The reality of all of this is open to each one. There is only one condition.

Jesus stands at the door of the heart and knocks. We possess the power of will to give Him the invitation to come in. He will stay only if we want Him too. Our daily wanting is the condition.

To behold an apple and never partake of it is to deny oneself a pleasure of joy. To behold Jesus and never invite Him in to stay is to deny oneself the reality of love—agape.

G.D. Williams has worked in Adventist higher education for 30+ years and is happily counting down to retirement. His other pursuits include photography, genealogy, collecting antique books, and working on his old farmhouse. This essay has been adapted from an article originally published in 1977 in Southern Accent, the student newspaper of Southern Missionary College (now Southern Adventist University), and is reprinted here with permission from the author.

Photo Credit: Julia Eisenberg / FreeImages.com

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/7643

Too bad that the English has only one word for Love. Far better the Greek. (agape) To say love your neighbor as yourself can create a woeful misunderstanding. Tom Z

The word “love,” in English, has become nearly meaningless. When one uses the same word to describe a relationship with pizza and a relationship with God, we have a problem. Which is why I have a campaign to use the Greek word, agape, when one means the kind of love described in I Cor. 13, that unselfish love which is not dependent on the object of one’s love, but on the principles within the one who shows that love. As Ellen White said, “True love is a high and holy principle,” not a feeling or an emotion. Or, as the bard once put it (even he got it right on rare occasions, just like a stopped clock), " Love is not love, Which alters when it alteration finds, Or bends with the remover to remove. O no! it is an ever-fixed mark, That looks on tempests and is never shaken . . . ."

It is tragic, but it seems that the only love completely understood and exercised by all; including the professed followers of Christ; is the love of self. Hocked by the media, the entertainment industry, advertising, and certain salesmen such as Joel Osteen; the rampancy of the original sin, or love of self, firmly places us in the final phase of earth’s history, as identified by Jesus in phrases like “…the love of many will grow cold…”, and “…as it was in the days of Noah…”.

Contrary to what has been said, however, I don’t believe that it requires a command of the Greek language to understand un-selfish love, or even unconditional love. Paul does a great job of describing it in the ‘Love Chapter’ (1 Corinthians 13), but even better, Jesus’ new commandment, to “love others as yourself”, is quite definitive; how could I love others as myself if I love myself most?

To place it in contemporary human context, one might understand that the five dollars I had put aside for a Starbucks might be better spent if given to someone who had not had lunch; or breakfast, perhaps. And if studied through the lens of 1 Corinthians 13, the worries about what that person with the cardboard sign at the Walmart entrance might do with the cash I give them simply disappear. After all, how can I be concerned with what evil another child of God might do with what I have been given by God - when I too am sinful? Doesn’t the Lord make the rain to fall on the wicked as well as the righteous?

In that respect, love may be understood as simply as the force that causes us to live our lives differently. For better - love of others and of God; or for worse - love of self.

It might be good to point out here that I believe, contrary to popular understanding, that the opposite of love is not hate - those two are actually quite closely related. The opposite of true, unconditional love for God and for man (because He made them, after all), is no love for God or man, also known as apathy; or simply love of self. Ironically, you cannot truly love God if you do not love your fellow man (woman) - it is impossible to love someone yet have contempt for what they have made. (Would you criticize a hand-made gift from your child?)

I appreciate the portrait analogy, but we must remember that, in the words of Josh Wilson, “life is not a snapshot”. It is constantly moving, and so; as long as we live; our love also grows and changes. I am convinced that there will never be a time on this earth when we will be ‘finished’, or achieve ‘perfection’ in and of ourselves. If that were possible, why would we have needed the sacrifice of Christ? But that as long as we are truly seeking Him - falling in love with Him - that our ‘moving picture’ will be one of a journey toward Jesus, and through His lens we will be seen as perfect by the Father.

We have a problem in the church today, but it is not one of obedience or understanding, it’s a love problem. The solution is not something that we can achieve, either, any more than we can force ourselves to be in love with someone we are not - it’s just something that happens. That is why it is called ‘falling in love’, like the schoolboy for the new girl in town. When; in the presence of beauty; we allow our guards of fear, apprehension, anxiety, and guilt to drop, the natural reaction is to fall in love. Since none are more beautiful than Jesus, for us to fall in love with Him we simply need to see Him for who He is (per Paul…). Then love, that perfect love for the One who is perfect, will permanently cast out fear (also Paul), once and for all. One cannot fear whom they love, nor love whom they fear.

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You may want to revisit the new commandment definition…

How so? I know I have transcribed the wording of the ‘second commandment’ of Matthew 22:39 and Mark 12:31 into the ‘new commandment’ of John 13:34, but I hardly see how that changes the definition of loving one another - or unconditional love either, for that matter. Please explain.



Had to respond this way because of the single post rule…

First of all, you seem to be approaching the ‘new commandment’ in the same Old Testament demand/requirement/checklist way that Christians have regarded the decalogue for ever, instead of the ‘prescriptions’ that I believe they were meant to be.

That aside, we have no understanding of love in and of ourselves, unless it is through our selfish, original sin nature of ‘what does it do for me?’ That is where we fail every time, and I will give you that, it is in and through the unconditional love of Christ that we can begin to share that true, unconditional love with others. I don’t believe the precept ever changed, ‘love God more than anything else, and your neighbor as yourself’ was simply the best thing they could understood until they met Jesus in person. I don’t think we were not supposed to love Him/them unconditionally before, we just didn’t have His example yet - I believe that is what God was trying to teach the Israelites in the wilderness.

And I would be very careful around the born again / miraculous changes statements. It is very easy to represent a ‘one and done’ mentality, when it is clearly a daily thing. If I could rid myself completely of my sinful nature (original sin, selfishness) why would I need Christ’s sacrifice to cleanse me? The permanence, I believe, comes at His return and our ‘transfiguration’ if you will.

I see no other issues with what you have described, other than the ‘die daily’ requirement. The rest is merely semantics and differences of vocabulary.

Tim, this is how I see it. John 13:34 is very clear, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.”

Matthew 22:39 is just as clear. “The second is like it, you shall love your neighbour as yourself.”

To “love one another” and to “love your neighbour” are equivalent terms so no issue here.

It is the words, “even as I have love you” that is the key to Christ’s new commandment. By what authority can we think to substitute these words of Christ with “as yourself?” They are worlds apart.

To love others or your neighbour as yourself is to define love on human terms, at the human level - at a human level where sin lurks. It is the love of one human being for another. This is not Christ’s new commandment.

In the new commandment, we are to love even as He loved us. This is divine love that is now the foundation of love for new covenant Christians. Christ’s new commandment is a new revelation of Divine love. In fact, we have here an insight into divine love that had been hidden for ages past.

In 1 John 3:16 we read. “We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us.” This is love that was never known under the old covenant, the Law and the Prophets. It is Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary where He died for our sins that defines love under the new covenant. On the cross the love of Father, Son and Holy Spirit was revealed. God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself.

This is why it is so important to know that when a repentant sinner is born again there are miraculous changes in the human heart. Our old sinful nature is gone, crucified with Christ. The Holy Spirit creates a new heart, a new spirit in us. We are a new creation, sons and daughters of God, indwelt by the Holy Spirit.

God then pours His love into our hearts. We are new in Christ and His new commandment becomes one of His greatest promises. He empowers us to learn to love the way He loved us and gave Himself for us.

There is more but this is why I reacted to the idea of writing the old commandment into the new. Does this new commandment change the definition of unconditional love? Absolutely! Unconditional love can only be understood at Calvary and through the Christ who rose again to give us resurrection life. It is now our joy to learn to love the way He loved us.

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I’ll risk a normal reply. To clarify my position I fully agree that the new commandment in no way emulates the “demand/requirement/checklist” concept of keeping the law of 10 commandments under the old covenant. To live by the power of Christ in us through His indwelling Holy Spirit is a completely new way of life. It is the living Christ who is our righteousness and constant guide. We are not called to obey an external set of laws, even those written on tables of stone. We live by a much higher calling which is Christ in us.

I note your comments re the new birth. Romans 6 is where I’m coming from. “How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” “…knowing this that our old self was crucified with Him…” Paul is talking about being baptised into Christ which means we were baptised into His death. As born again Christians, we are not filthy rotten sinners as some Christians like to describe themselves.

Our old sinful, selfish human nature has been crucified - gone, finished. We are newborn at conversion by a miracle of the Holy Spirit and given a new spirit. We are a new creation at the core of our being - new heart, new spirit. This is where the Holy Spirit dwells in us. Too often I see the new birth described in terms of opening our hearts to the Holy Spirit so He can come in and spend a lifetime battling and subduing our sinful, fallen, selfish human nature. This is not the gospel of grace and I’m sure you don’t see it this way.

Yes, we still have sin in the flesh, in our minds, in our emotions, in our old habits, in our way of life. We still are tempted in the flesh through our five senses. And we fall all too often. Our problem is that we fail to respond to the guidance of our new nature that is under the control of the indwelling Holy Spirit. The New Testament describes born again Christians as saints, never as sinners.

For this reason, I do not understand where the “die daily” concept comes from. Birth is a one-off event and in terms of the new birth occurs once at conversion or at some indeterminate time for those of us who were born into a Christian home. I should mention here that in 1 Cor. 15:31, Paul is not talking about daily spiritual death requiring a daily new birth. He’s talking about physical death related to the persecutions and trials he faced on a daily basis. Although, I did listen to a preacher recently who tried to convince us that we had to be born again every morning and even born again twenty times a day - born again and again and again every day.

Romans 6 is one of a number of passages that put life under the new covenant of grace on a whole new level.

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