Do you really know how to love? For Jesus, loving others is what it’s all about. But do we, as a people, really know how to love? Or are those who profess to be the modern-day followers of Jesus more like the Pharisees, who outwardly drew near to God but had hearts that were far, far away from him? Are we merely whiting our social media sepulchers when we present an image to the world designed to manipulate how others perceive us? In our effort to be perceived as good are we really being bad? In our effort to project and convey righteousness are we really just putting on a bad disguise?
Nothing frustrated Jesus more than people who did the “right” things for the wrong reasons. Jesus abhorred pretense (Matthew 23:14) and hypocrisy (Matthew 6:2, 6, 16; 23:13-15). While piousness and adherence to religious rules was something Jesus did not want to be left “undone,” he placed religious behavior on a hierarchy where there were some matters that were “weightier” than others. (Matthew 23:23.) Of course, the weightiest of all matters was to feel and then show love to others.
The path to true discipleship … requires that you care only about what you think of others and not what others think of you.
He said, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you ….” (John 13:34.) Of course, Jesus loves not just in deed. His very essence is filled with compassion and love for us. So, to love as Jesus loved requires the right actions and the right motives. Doing good when you “have not the love of God in you” (John 5:42) is ultimately unacceptable. To love others as you were loved by Jesus Christ requires more.
Paul explains it this way:
“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.
And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.
And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.”
(1 Corinthians 13:1-3.)
Jesus evaluated men from the inside out, not from the outside in.
The state of your heart is so important to the Lord that you could give all you have to the poor or die as a martyr, but if you “have not the love of God in you” (John 5:42), it “profiteth you nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:3.) Nothing. Those are strong words. The bar is set. It’s quite high. Your motives for doing what you do—even if those things are “charitable” and good—matter to the Lord.
Jesus evaluated men from the inside out, not from the outside in. (See Matthew 15:17-20.) To him, this was the order of priorities: “cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also.” (Matthew 23:26.) He wants your heart first. Then, Jesus taught, “[a] good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things.” (Matthew 12:35.) Hence, discipleship works from the inside out, forcing you to examine your motives; to examine the state of your heart.
Just as the physical human heart has four chambers, the spiritual heart has four main dimensions.
Because this aspect of Christianity is so vital to discipleship I developed a tool that helps me evaluate the state of my heart. This tool can be used in every single human interaction. The more you use it, the more your focus will change. Hopefully, it can help you find the path to true discipleship, which requires that you care only about what you think of others and not what others think of you.
Just as the physical human heart has four chambers, the spiritual heart has four main dimensions, which are depicted in the following graphic:
To give you an example of how the four chambers works, think, for a moment, to the last time you were at a gathering of family or friends. Most likely there were people there that you love. And, most likely, there were people there that you struggle with and that you find hard to love. For those for whom you have deep and genuine feelings of love, expressing that love probably flowed naturally for you. It was easy to give compliments and hugs. It was easy for you to listen to them. Your behavior and your feelings were congruent with the highest in you and would put you in Chamber Four, where you feel love and show love. This is the ideal.
There may have been those that you genuinely love and care for but, for some reason, you found it difficult to express your love. You didn’t know what to say to express your true feelings. You didn’t know what you could do to express your love in a way that would be understood (or not misunderstood). Or, for some reason (perhaps unknown to you), you just held back. You didn’t express your love. Maybe you were too tired. Maybe you just didn’t have it in you. This is Chamber Three, where you genuinely feel love but don’t show it. In Chamber Three, your capacity to feel love exceeds your ability to express it.
We have to practice being disciples of Jesus Christ each and every day.
At this gathering there were undoubtedly those that you found difficult to have feelings of love for. Seeing these people may have triggered anger, frustration, or dislike. Whatever it was that you felt, it was not love. As you felt these things, you had two choices. You could either show love or not show love. If you chose to show love, this was a Chamber Two behavior. You did not genuinely feel love for this person but you acted as if you did. If you chose not to show love, this was a Chamber One behavior where you neither felt nor showed love. In Chamber One you probably avoided this person or perhaps you may have confronted or slighted this person in some way. Whatever you did, you didn’t feel love or show love.
Most of us toggle through each of the Four Chambers throughout various social interactions. However, over time, patterns emerge and through honest self-evaluation and introspection you will notice within yourself the chamber within which most of your behavior patterns occur. There are, for example, people who are almost always in Chamber Two. People who care more about how others feel about them than how they feel towards others are classic Chamber Two people. They act nice and kind but do it for all the wrong reasons, such as wanting to be accepted, wanting to be valued, or wanting to be esteemed. Like actors, they are constantly playing to an audience and have an insatiable longing and yearning for the approval of the crowd. They value themselves when they are valued by others, failing to realize that valuing others is what actually helps us discover our true identity and our true worth.
I’m convinced that practicing Christianity is just that–practice. We have to practice being disciples of Jesus Christ each and every day, which means not just doing the right things but also doing them for the right reason. Chamber Two behavior doesn’t cut it. We must evolve into Third and Fourth Chamber beings, who are filled with love and have the ability to express it. The Four Chambers is a practice tool that will help free you from the prison-like atmosphere of the First and Second Chambers.
Hell has already arrived for them and they may not even know it.
Why do I say these lower chambers are prison-like? Because for those stuck in Chamber Two behavior patterns, where they care more about being seen in the best possible light rather than seeing others in the best possible light, life is a living hell. Those stuck in Chamber Two are constantly trying to control how others feel about them, which, of course, is totally out of their control. And trying to control things that are out of your control is the definition of suffering. Being manipulative and acting with ulterior motives does not bring happiness. It’s a prison from which many people don’t ever escape. Those stuck in Chamber One simply don’t have the love of God in them and, since God is love, they live their lives without God, which is a prison. Both First and Second Chamber people find it hard to look inward because they are always looking “out there” and trying to control or blame what is “out there” instead of fixing themselves and looking at their own hearts. In short, they cannot repent. They are damned. Hell has already arrived for them and they may not even know it.
What chamber are you in? Do you really know how to love? Are you honest with yourself? Do you regularly and routinely work on how you feel about others? Do you regularly and routinely evaluate your motives?
I would invite you to apply the Four Chambers paradigm for a week. In every interaction that you have, label what you do and why you do it with one of the Four Chambers. As you do this, you will start to think from the inside out rather than from the outside in. You will begin to feel lighter as you shed the burden of worrying what others think about you and focus on how you feel about others. You will begin to see every human interaction as an opportunity to express the highest within you, which is the light of Christ that is in us all. And, most of all, as that light of Christ glows within you, you will be filled with his presence and his love, which will bring you happiness, joy and peace.