Day Sixteen - What Matters Most

In this chapter Mr. Warren maintains that learning to love other people is what matters most. Says he, “Love is not a good part of your life; it’s the most important part,” (p. 124) and, “Relationships…are what matters [sic] most in life.” (p. 125) It always seems safe to make liberal use of superlatives when speaking of love, for how can anyone say too much about love? However, when an author repeatedly resorts to superlatives, his effusiveness begins to ring hollow. Mr. Warren already assured us on page 30 that, “Nothing matters more than knowing God’s purposes for your life, and nothing can compensate for not knowing them.” Then, on page 70 we were told, “…learning to love God and be loved by him should be the greatest objective of your life. Nothing else comes close in importance.” First, Mr. Warren says that the most important thing is that an individual should know God’s purposes for his life. Next, he says that the most important thing is an individual’s relationship with God. Now we are told that the most important thing is an individual’s relationship with other individuals. So many things take turns being the “most important” thing that the overall message of this book cannot be systematically integrated.

While it is difficult to over-emphasize the importance of love, it is not at all difficult to trivialize it with a lot of fuzz and fluff. What comes to us in this chapter is on the order of what we read in those chain-email messages that promise all kinds of good things if only we will forward the message to ten of our friends. For example, Mr. Warren suggests that love is so difficult that it takes all our lives to learn it. “Learning to love unselfishly is not an easy task. It runs counter to our self-centered nature. That’s why we’re given a lifetime to learn it.” (p. 123) Immediately a question presents itself that is completely ignored by Mr. Warren: Is our self-centeredness an attribute of our original created nature or our nature as corrupted in sin? Presumably, Mr. Warren would see self-centeredness as a defect and therefore to be charged to sin. But, in case Man remained without sin, he would have eaten of the Tree of Life and lived forever (Gen. 3:22). As it is, our days upon the Earth are fleeting. If love is so difficult that it takes all our lives to learn it, then how is it that we have life that is “just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away” (Jas. 4:14) when we have important lessons to learn, but would have had life eternal in the event we had no lessons to learn at all? The puzzlement of this question confronts us only if we have glossed over sin in our thinking and thereby have romanticized concepts of love and of life. This is what we see presented here in this chapter.

A truly Christian outlook on these things will honor God as God, will acknowledge the creaturehood of Man and the corruption of his nature in sin, and will confess the summing up of all things in Christ. God, our Creator, speaks to us with authority about the nature of love, the proper occupation of Human life, and the proper occupation of His Church. Is there no truth in God’s Word to us that Mr. Warren must resort to concepts arising from his own mind? For example, he cites I Corinthians 13:3 to the effect that love is of great importance in life, but then ignores the elaborate description of love in the remainder of the chapter and instead makes up something that he would like to think of God as having said, “God says relationships are what life is all about.” (p.125) Is this, indeed, what God says? In support of this view Mr. Warren appeals to the Law of God, noting that, “all ten [Commandments] are about relationships.” (p.125) But, could anyone suggest a law that did not involve relationship? Surely, one must be in some relation to God and to other people in order to keep or to violate the Commandments. But to say that the Commandments are all about “relationships” is like saying that life is all about breathing, since it is necessary that we must breath in order to do anything else. Mr. Warren cites also Jesus’ saying that the Law is summed up in love of God and love of neighbor. In broaching the subject of God’s Law Mr. Warren had the standard of love in his hands, as it were, but let it slip through his fingers. He takes the summary of the Law in love to mean that the crux of the Law is “relationships.” This makes “love” into a complete abstraction rather than an objective standard. He proceeds to speak of “love” as though it somehow may have reality distinct from deed. This is expressed most eloquently in the quotation of Mother Teresa that he favorably cites, “It’s not what you do, but how much love you put into it that matters.” (p.125) This is absurd. One may as well say, “It doesn’t matter what you do so long as you breathe.” In reality one’s actions matter a great deal. We cannot say that love matters more than deeds, for what one does is the standard that determines whether indeed there is love. The reason the Commandments are summed up in love is because a motive of love will keep the Commandments. Thus, what one does or refrains from doing determines whether he has love. “Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth. We shall know by this that we are of the truth, and shall assure our heart before Him.” (I Jn. 3:18-19)

As though the totally abstract nature of Mr. Warren’s idea of “love” needed any further demonstration, he proceeds to elaborate, “The best expression of love is time.” (p. 127) “Your time is your life,” he says. (p. 127) As noted above, one could just as easily say that your breath is your life. (Indeed, one could make a biblical argument for this view from Genesis 2:7) There could then result a great debate over whether life is time or breath. In reality time and breath are media or context in which life is lived. To reduce life to time is to turn attention away from all of the questions and issues of life and to focus it instead upon an abstraction. Mr. Warren sharpens his focus upon an abstraction even further as he proceeds to declare that love also is time. Says he, “…the best way to spell love is ‘T-I-M-E’.” (p.127) On the strength of this abstraction he then posits that, “The essence of love is not what we think or do or provide for others, but how much we give of ourselves.” (p. 127) But, how can we “give of ourselves” apart from what we think or do or provide? As he develops this theme he makes it clear that what he has in view here is “spending time” with people. Mr. Warren attempts to make his idea of love as time seem biblical by citing I John 3:18, the very same text cited above. He chose this text evidently because it states emphatically that love must not be in word only. Mr. Warren says that, “Words alone are worthless,” (p. 127) and maintains that true love requires time. I John 3:18 says that words alone will not suffice (it does not say that words alone are “worthless”) and that added thereto must be - not time, but - deeds. This was the very point of citing this text above. Now Mr. Warren cites this same text in support of his notion that love is time, seemingly oblivious to the fact that the text calls not for “time” but for “deeds” or “action.” What are we to make of a fellow who, in defense of his view, cites a text that precludes his view? The difficulty comes about in that his view makes a sharp distinction between love and deeds. His citation of Mother Teresa to the effect that it does not matter what we do so long as we love is more favorable to this view than anything the Bible says. Mr. Warren elaborates on the theme of Mother Teresa to say that the essence of love is specifically not what we think or do but instead is how much time we spend with people. There is no discussion of what might be done during all of this time spent. Presumably, he considers that it does not matter.

In Scripture life and love are not abstractions that may be contemplated independent of actions. What it means to live is bound up in the concrete reality of the Human being as the creation of God, made in His image and fallen into sin. What it means to love is patterned after God’s love for Creation and is bounded by the constraints of His Law. The Bible explains very clearly how the Commandments are summed up in love: “Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. For this, ‘You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,’ and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; love therefore is the fulfillment of the law.” (Rom. 13:8-10) Love of neighbor is not merely having a “relationship” with one’s neighbor, but relating to one’s neighbor in such a way that does him no wrong. What characterizes such manner of relating? Again, the Scripture is clear: “Love is patient, love is kind, and is not jealous, love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, it not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (I Cor. 13:4-7) Clearly, what we do matters greatly and profoundly. “Spending time” is a meaningless concept apart from a consideration of what specifically is done. Love cannot be sharply distinguished from our thoughts and actions, as Mr. Warren proposes, but is known and demonstrated by our thoughts and actions. Love does not exist in contrast to deeds, but in context of deeds.

Mr. Warren’s thesis has the outward form of rational argument: “The best use of life is love. The best expression of love is time. The best time to love is now.” (p 128) His ideas of life and of love are abstractions that invoke an emotional response. The reader who flows along in this emotional tide is left with the impression that he has read something profound. However, the reader who would press to grasp the truly biblical practicality of Mr. Warren’s formula is left with a corresponding series of difficult questions. If the best expression of love is time, and the best time to love is now, then when is the best time to build the house, or to plant the garden? When is the best time to sew the clothes, or to tend the flocks, or to repair the window? When is the best time to read a book, or to cook the dinner, or to mow the yard, or to split the firewood, or to write in your Purpose-Driven ® Journal, or to go to the store, or to clean the bathroom, or to teach the algebra lesson, or to pay the bills, or to change the diaper? When is the best time to do all of the other things you need to do besides loving? In the fuzzy abstraction that Mr. Warren calls “love” there is no room for contemplation of such questions. According to him, “Busyness is a great enemy of relationships.” (p. 125) This is ludicrous nonsense. The issue of love is not whether or not you are busy; the issue is whether or not your busyness conforms to the Law of God. According to the biblical idea of love as the foundation of the Commandments, busyness that conforms to the Law is the substance of a truly loving relationship.


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