I came across this quote I wrote down in my journal a while back. It’s from The 9 Best Practices of Youth Ministry:
“Spiritual growth is a lifelong process of loving God more and loving people more.”
I think sometimes we forget that spiritual growth, like everything in the Christian life, is not all about us. It’s about us and others. Here’s where the charity part comes in. In various versions of the Bible, the Greek word agape is translated sometimes as “love” and others as “charity.” I think charity is actually a better choice. For most of us today, love is a feeling. It changes. We may love something or someone one day, and take an aversion to it later. Love is focused on us. Charity, on the other hand is defined as kindness and tolerance in dealing with others. Even if we don’t have that warm, fuzzy, “love” feeling, we can behave charitably toward those around us. That means trying to understand them, seeing their point of view, controlling our tongue, thinking the best of them.
The famous “love” verses in 1 Corinthians 13 have a lot to say about attitudes and actions, rather than feelings.
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.“
So, test your spiritual growth. Are you behaving more and more like this? Are you loving and charitable to others? Are your decisions and actions leading you into a better relationship with God and with those around you? Do you understand the true meaning of agape? Or are you following momentary feelings?
True agape love expresses itself through charity. This is the love that will remain and will enable us to see through the eyes of Christ — clearly!