While discipline and love are often held together in the context of parenting, I don't think those two are held together when thinking about love otherwise. We tend to be indulgent with our love; we may want to be indulged when we think about being loved. I may want to use love as the vehicle to discipline someone else, but does love somehow enter me as a discipline? And not so much just to change my behavior, but as a way to forge my identity, too.
Any discussion around love has the potential for being large and long - many a book is written proof! Instead, I want to look at what the Bible says about love and its implementation in me that provides a way for me to move towards God and His purposes for me, which essentially makes it a spiritual discipline. I will just cover three, although there is much more.
1 Corinthians 13:1-8
Ahh! The love chapter, which gives us hope about God and good instruction on the verb-nature of love, as opposed to a modern feelings-nature of love, which might be why we had not thought of discipline being embedded in love. The strength of such love is in its action-orientation makes it easy to see the disciplines that appear or are driving forces of love:
Love is patient.
Love is kind.
Love is not envious, boastful or arrogant.
Love is never rude.
Love keeps no record of wrong.
Love celebrates justice and truth.
Love bears all things,
trusts, hopes and endures all things.
We are glad for this set of verses because we see God's love for us. We relish and find comfort in it, as well we should, but Paul's letter to the Corinthians is the context. It was a letter written to a group of people not behaving very well towards each other. He really meant this to be the way for them to love.
What if I inserted myself as the one who was to be acting in these loving ways?
I am kind.
I am not envious, boastful or arrogant.
I am never rude.
I keep no record of wrong.
I celebrate justice and truth.
I bear all things;
I trust, hope and endure all things.
That would be a discipline!
Another way love is a discipline is in how I love God. From the above, I should press my definition for love for Him as an action-oriented verb. Jesus tells how that love-action should look in reference to loving him. John 14:15 - If you love me, obey my commandments.
Let's be clear. Keeping Jesus' commandments does not cause me to love him (nor him to love me). Rather, if I love Christ, I desire to obey him. Obedience becomes the action which represents the condition of my heart. Out of commitment and desire to please the One I love, I obey. I am glad to obey. I seek to obey.
Here is my favorite analogy: I love my husband. His desires interest me. He hates onions, so, even though I really like onions, I never cook with onions. I even go so far as to read labels of any prepared food for any trace of an onion. I'm on alert for onion presence in any dish. I am thrilled to do so; it is not a burden for me. He receives my care of avoiding onions as an act of my love for him.
Does your love for God cause you to be vigilant to obey?
Surely, loving God is a spiritual discipline, too.
The Bible offers one more discipline of love: servanthood. The sacrificial, purposeful service to God and others is an act of love. Servanthood (servant/serve) is mentioned over 400 times in the Bible. It is a basic role, which provides an identity to God's people. Jesus both comes as a servant and calls his people to serve. He sets the standard. John 6:38 - For I have come down from heaven to do the will of God who sent me, not to do my own will.
It is that act of love which defines our identity and role with the Master Servant. Jesus gives example after example for us whether as "small" as a gesture towards the "least of these" to how our gifts and assignments are managed as a sign of our service to him. Our servant status speaks to the commitment, loyalty, and passion we have for Jesus. We always want to be like the ones we love!
So, the spiritual discipline of love requires that I practice servanthood. That surely is a discipline, especially for someone who comes from the "Land of the Free." I have served others willingly for the cause of Christ and his kingdom in me and them. As an act of discipline, I have yielded my will to what God has asked of me. Servanthood causes me to move towards God and to mold me into his likeness, the ultimate goal of a spiritual discipline.
Still, I do need more discipline in order to call myself a servant to God and others. Jesus' example for servanthood redefines who I am. There lies the greatest discipline of love. When a person is able, out of the passion of service towards God, to forget herself entirely and only do the bidding of the Lord, then servanthood would be complete. Jesus said it clearly, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me." (Matthew 16:24)
That would be more discipline!