The last three years, our church has produced its own Lenten devotional book: forty days of reflections on passages of Scripture related to a central theme, each followed by a prayer for the day. And all done by the laity and clergy of Salem Covenant. It’s been a privilege to be part of each devotional, and a joy to get to know the other members of our congregation in this way.

My contribution to the 2012 book (on the theme of “Developing Disciples Who Love”) shows up today, Monday in Holy Week. It’s reposted below; then later in the week I’ll share my efforts from 2010 and 2011.

“For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.” (2 Cor. 5:14, NIV)

Read 2 Corinthians 5:12-21

“Compels” doesn’t sound very loving. I think most of us would prefer the NRSV here, as it renders the Greek verb in question “urges us on.”

Jesus heals Peter's mother-in-law
Stained glass from a Cambridgeshire church: Jesus heals Simon Peter’s mother-in-law, “taken” (or “gripped”) by a high fever (Luke 4:38) — Creative Commons (Steve Day)

But as the late great evangelical pastor John Stott pointed out, that verb is used elsewhere, by Luke, to describe powerful sensations in which we do not feel under our own control: e.g., people being “gripped” or “overcome” by disease or emotion. Writes Stott, “In each case there is some strong pressure, physical or psychological, which grasps hold of a person, and controls or compels him. Now the pressure Paul feels upon him is Christ’s great love” (Life in Christ, p. 99). So it’s understandable that almost all English Bibles have Christ’s love controlling, compelling, constraining, or ruling us.

If we are to love as Jesus loves, does this mean that we should seek to control others? Not at all. Paul’s point, according to Stott, is that we, as those beloved of Christ, now live not for ourselves, but for Him. The one whose love drives us “‘out of our mind,’ as some say” (v 13) has thereby “committed to us the message of reconciliation” (v 18) and made us his “ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us” (v 20). Loving as Christ loves compels us to share the compelling message of the Gospel.

Lord Christ,
Compel us to love as you have loved us first.
Urge us on as your ambassadors,
Gripped by anguish at the injustice we see and do,
And overcome with awe and joy that you have died for all.

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