What governs your behavior? Some people seem to have little or no governor on their behavior. Yet for others, what controls them is seldom more noble than some form of external pressure. Maybe the opinion of peers, maybe governmental laws, maybe circumstantial necessities. Others may be governed by internal pressure. Mere emotions (e.g., fear of punishment), selfish desires (avoidance of the uncomfortable or difficult, desire for personal gain), and sometimes reason (What is liable to cause me trouble. What option is most advantageous.). Yet others may be governed by what appears to be some noble force: a strong moral code, for example, a benevolent bent, or a sense of piety. Though fallen, mankind still reflects the image of God; and though marred by sin, some manifest an admirable strength of character. But the best of these still falls infinitely short of the glory of God.
Paul offers the only acceptable control on the behavior of a believer. Writing to the saints in Corinth, the apostle testified that “the love of Christ controls us” (II Cor. 5:14a). Scholars tell us that Greek grammar allows for either of two legitimate meanings for the phrase “the love of Christ.” On the one hand, the phrase can mean “our love for Christ”; on the other hand, it can also mean “Christ’s love for us.” But since the immediate context references the death of Christ three times (“one died for all” [v. 14b]; “He died for all” [v. 15a]; “Him who died and rose again on their behalf” [v. 15b]), it seems clear that, in this context, Paul is referring to Christ’s love for believers, rather than the other way around.
But what exactly does that mean? Centuries before the time of Paul, David had warned: “Do not be as the horse or as the mule which have no understanding, whose trappings include bit and bridle to hold them in check, otherwise they will not come near to you” (Psa. 32:9). A horse or a mule requires some sort of physical force to get them to go, stop, or turn. David wrote that a saint should not require such means to be governed. And clearly, the love Christ has for the believer does not exert a physical force on him that impels him to go or compels him to stop in some course of action.
Paul offers further insights into this matter in his epistle to the Philippians. Enjoining unity among believers, he explained that such relations should be a “no-brainer” because of the “encouragement in Christ” that they routinely received through His Spirit and the Word of God, the “consolation of love” that they had received from Christ, the “fellowship of the Spirit” that they had enjoyed through the indwelling Spirit of Christ, and the “affection and compassion” that Christ had manifested to them, not only in dying to save them but also in the manifold blessings He had poured out on them and would continue to lavish upon them into all eternity.
In other words, as a believer experiences and comes to understand and appreciate the infinite gift of love that Christ has purchased for both his temporal and eternal benefit, his behavior changes. He wants to please the One who has done so much for him. He delights in sacrificial expressions of love. He cherishes the privilege of offering his stuff, his energy, his time, his desires, and his will to the Lord. He recognizes that, as the Lord told His disciples, “to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine [e.g., visited them when sick or in prison], even the least of them, you did it to Me” (Matt. 25:40).
So in a strange and wonderful way, Christ’s love for us, sown in our hearts, does flower into our love for Him, transforming our will, our desires, and our behavior until, finally, believers prefer doing what pleases Him rather than what pleases themselves. That control is gentler than a soft nudge but more powerful than a nuclear reactor, transforming a selfish, ego-centric soul into a selfless, others-focused one. Have you experienced the love of Christ in salvation? If so, do Paul’s words reverberate in your heart? Are you controlled, not against your will by some irresistible, omnipotent force of deity, but in glad and thankful submission to the One who loved you and gave Himself for you? WHO governs your behavior?
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