Sacrifice and the price we are willing to pay - Dr Jim Cecy on the nature of love
What is love? Perhaps one of the most profound questions of human existence, but last night Dr Jim Cecy attempted to answer that question as the Bible sees it.
In a webinar organised by the Forum of Christian Leaders (FOCL), he started out by breaking down the Latin to show how the word 'emotion' means 'to move out'.
"We are not lifeless, we are not just these creatures of instinct," he explained.
Dr Cecy, author of "Purity War" and cofounder of the Purity War ministry, acknowledged the question of love is old territory: "You can't be in ministry for 40 years and not talk about love, but it's always fresh"
The reason it is always fresh is that it is a life long mission and something that is so fundamental to being a Christian.
"Love is one of the greatest measurements of good Christianity," he said.
To show how important it is that others from the outside see this, Dr Cecy quoted from the Greek Philosopher Aristides who wrote the following about Christians in 125AD.
"They love one another. The widow's needs are not ignored, and they rescue the orphan from the person who does him violence. He who has gives to him who has not, ungrudgingly and without boasting.
"When the Christians find a stranger, they bring him into their homes and rejoice over him as a true brother. They do not call brothers those who are bound by blood ties alone, but those who are brethren after the Spirit and in God.
"If they find poverty in their midst, and they do not have spare food, they fast two or three days in order that the needy might be supplied with the necessities."
Emotions, he said, were God's "energisers". Anger, for example, was given to us to act as the energy to change things, while fear energises us "to run from things and sometimes to run to him".
When it comes to love, he explained: "Love is recognising the value God places on you as a person and then it is action upon that value with self-sacrificial service and God-ordained fellowship."
A big part of viewing people the way that God views them is to remember the price that was paid for each and every one of us. Dr Cecy quoted 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 pointing out: "You are not your own, you were bought with a price."
Although Paul often used the Greek word 'agape' for love, Dr Cecy explained that it was originally a banking term meaning "the price you are willing to pay".
He used the example of a simple shoe shine kit he had been given to demonstrate that the price paid could often be different from the worth of something. It had a brush and a well of black shoe polish, but it was old and used and had some writing in Russian on it. Ostensibly, not worth very much.
However, it was given to him by an old Ukrainian man who had come to see him after one of his missions to that country. He came up to Dr Cecy on the stage and asked him if he could shine his shoes.
"At first I said, 'oh no sir, you don't need to do that' and then he started to weep and he just said 'I just want to thank you for your ministry, and I have so little to give, so I just wanted to shine your shoes'. And this is the shoe shine kit that he used.
"How much is this shoe shine kit worth? Not much, a few cents, you might even throw it out. But how much am I willing to pay for it?"
He also brought up the need for real love to be self-sacrificial. His wife, he shared, says something is really romantic "when it costs you more than you're willing to give".
Just as Jesus was self-sacrificial, Dr Cecy believes we have to be prepared to sacrifice our time, our money, our resources of all kinds, for the betterment of those we need to love: "Love engages not only in valuing, but in self sacrificial action."
Perhaps the most challenging portion of his discussion was when he said "the preponderance of Biblical evidence suggests that you cannot love from a distance".
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Quoting the Peanuts comic strip character Linus, who said, "I love mankind, it's people I can't stand," he questioned whether the Bible really supported the attitude of people who say, "I love that person, I just can't stand being around them."
Dr Cecy suggested that while technology allows us to communicate from a distance, true brotherly love requires us to want to be with the person, to share in their experience, and be close enough so that we are better provide for them.
"Brotherly love, the desire to be with someone, comes from agape," Dr Cecy said.
This contrasts with the easy claim of 'loving everyone'.
"It's easy to love a globe," he said.
Moving on from the theological to the practical, Dr Cecy looked at the things that can get in the way of love and make it harder, such as selfishness, only loving conditionally, pride, the inability to forgive, sin and fear.
"If you're involved in pornography, that's going to make it harder for you to love. We think of these things as separate, but they're all interconnected," he said.
Being conditional, he continued, was linked to selfishness and pride - the idea that others are not worth our time, that we are above them, and that we should only love them if we can get something back out of them.
Dr Cecy reminded those listening "that's the way the world loves" and he pointed out how even Jesus noted a lack of distinctiveness in this respect as being potentially calamitous to good ministry.
"And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?" Jesus says in Matthew 5:47.
Addressing the question of why we should love someone who hurt us, Dr Cecy said "because God does".
Dr Cecy explained that one of the biggest things that causes lack of love in the Church is an overemphasis on doctrine.
"The danger is thinking that if you can turn a Hebrew verb or get the declension of a Greek noun, that you have more love.
"The love of truth has to engage in the truth of love. Knowledge brings arrogance, love edifies."
To demonstrate this point, Dr Cecy quoted Ghandi: "If you persecute Christians they will unite, if you leave them alone they will die fighting among themselves."
On the other hand, creating programmes and events could ultimately stifle love and cause it to die. An example of this came from the little interest that was generated when his church tried to launch a weeklong event focusing on forgiveness.
"You can't programme love," he said.
Perhaps the biggest stifler of love in the church, Dr Cecy argued, was self-aggrandisement and the desire for things other than love.
He concluded by setting this challenge to the church: "I want to die and not have people say 'look how big his ministry was'."