In our modern translations of the Bible one word has been modernized that can leave us with, what I believe, is an incomplete impression of its meaning. That word is love. The depth of meaning of this word in English can be difficult to describe. And understanding how we should understand this word’s usage when we find it in the Scriptures can create some unhelpful confusion.
We have all heard that in Greek the word love can be represented by several Greek words. We will not rehearse that here. However, it is worth noting that in older versions of English translations the word love was very often translated as charity. The meaning of the word charity has shifted in the centuries since it was first used as the translation for the Greek word agape. And in the transition, I believe that we have lost an important aspect of what God’s love looks like towards us.
In common usage today the word charity describes the act of one person towards another where the first person is offering benevolence towards the second. The idea is that the person extending charity is giving to the other person something that is not within their power to attain. This is often seen in the form of giving food or shelter or money to those in poverty. But there are other forms of charity many of which you may already practice.
The question I think we should consider is why do we not want to see God’s love toward us with this in mind? In what way or for what reason should we not see God’s grace as a form of charity toward us?
We are incapable of accepting this, I believe, because of our sin. The separation our sin causes in our re-establishing our relationship with God can make us feel worse when God what’s to show his love toward us. But God, who is love, has reached down from heaven in the person of Jesus Christ and has made a way for us to reconnect with him. This demonstration of love is in its truest form an act of charity. Where God is extending to us what we could never acquire for ourselves.
There is no reason to feel that this diminishes us in any way. Just because someone receives charity it is not an attack on the inherent dignity they possess. But it could be easy to see why some would be concerned with this understanding. We should do all we can to remember that love is the act of one performed for the benefit of another. The way that that love is expressed is dependent on the circumstances in which the recipient finds themselves.
When we fully understand the state in which we find ourselves because of sin we should adopt a posture of humility. To reject God’s love because God recognizes we can do nothing without him is a form of pride. And it is one that should be rejected.
God’s love toward us is something we can never earn, and in a very real sense, do not deserve. This is not a statement designed to make us feel bad. It is a statement designed to help us gain the perspective we need to approach God and receive from God in humility and sincerity.
As we continue our journey towards Easter morning, I pray we will not be distracted by the circumstances of life that would keep us from receiving God’s love. The fact that God, who does not need to earn our approval, has chosen to extend his love toward us should inspire us to seek him more intently. God’s love, properly defined, is charity toward us. For God who knows all things, who sees all things, and who has all power has chosen to extend toward us his infinite charity.
This is a reason to rejoice and worship God. Let us do that without reservation today and every day of our lives to come.