Loving the Way Jesus Loves by Philip Graham Ryken
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Love Is a Person
Loving the way Jesus loves is a daunting task, yet one to which every one of His followers is called. Phil Ryken approaches the central calling of the Christian’s life by walking the reader, slowly and deliberately, through 1 Corinthians 13, the “Love Chapter of the Bible.” Less an exegetical treatment of the text than a life application, Ryken’s approach in Loving the Way Jesus Loves is to show us that love is a Person—Jesus Christ—and not a “feeling” nor an abstract theological concept. He states it plainly: “The biggest challenge for us here is not to understand what Paul meant but to do what he said.” (76).
Ryken establishes the necessity of biblical love more than any other attribute, then goes on in subsequent chapters to demonstrate how each characteristic of love mentioned in verses 3-13 is personified in Christ. Throughout the book, he emphasizes that all of the virtues mentioned in this passage are verbs; attributes we are to put into practice by imitating Christ. Interwoven throughout his discussion of each aspect of love—patience; kindness; selflessness; trust; etc.—are scenes from the life of Christ which underscore how He Himself demonstrated each virtue. Christ’s refusal to become provoked or irritated takes us to the shores of Galilee, at the end of a long day of ministry (Mark 6:7-13). Forgiveness is tenderly demonstrated in His restoration of Peter (John 21:15-17).
Examining our own hearts in light of Christ’s responses to people, we learn how to anticipate our own temptation to become irritable (what Lewis Smedes calls a “spiritual readiness to get angry”), and where it comes from: putting our own wants ahead of other people’s needs. By dissecting irritability (and the other opposite attitudes of those mentioned in the passage), Ryken illustrates in an every-day, non-judgmental way how we fail to love people and hinder our relationship with God. “Love lets the needs of others set our agenda, rather than letting our agenda limit how much we are willing to serve” (55).
From the beginning of the book, a question may linger in the back of the reader’s mind: “If love is primarily a choice, and not a feeling (as biblical counselors often exhort), is what Ryken calls ‘loveless social action’ worthless? Do we not have to choose to demonstrate love sometimes—even when we don’t feel like it—out of simple obedience?”
The answer is yes, but to think of love in terms of duty is to miss the point. The problem, as Ryken summarizes, is that “we are less loving than we think we are, and a lot less loving than we ought to be.” Therefore, we need to learn how to love—and this begins our journey into understanding the heart of Jesus. Love is as love does; and through His interaction with other people (most of whom did not reciprocate any kind of affection, let alone charity), we learn to see what love looks like. The Gospel, the Good News that we are loved undeservedly and unconditionally, is what transforms our hearts – from that of dutiful servants to joyful heirs.
Outward Behavior and Inward Heart Change
Throughout the book, Ryken draws the connection between outward behavior and inward heart change. In Chapter 4, Love’s Holy Joy, he explains that rejoicing with the truth (v. 6) goes beyond theology and morality by taking us to the dinner table of Simon the Pharisee. More than warning against participation of sin, however, love does not rejoice in the wrongdoing of others. A subtle sense of satisfaction may creep in when another—especially a rival—falls into sin. What Paul is pointing to (and Christ demonstrated through forgiving the sinful woman) is the joy that comes with a personal experience of God’s grace—and what we rejoice in vicariously when another tastes it. This transformational, selfless, joy-sharing love is what motivates true Christ-like compassion. What better way to cultivate patience towards a fellow believer, than to appreciate a holy God’s patience with us in coming to repentance!
In order to appreciate the multi-faceted love we see in Scripture, Ryken probes deeply into the self-centered human heart in order to understand how and why we fall short. In every failure to forgive; to be long-suffering; to trust—there is an idol. We prize our own comfort; security; reputation or convenience. By contrast, a heart transformed by the forgiving grace of God will be preoccupied with extending the same blessing to others. Ryken shows how our hearts can be truly transformed by grace: “First it takes our failures and forgives them. This gives us so much gratitude that we start loving Jesus in return. But that is not all. The love of Jesus then enables us to serve others with the same kind of love.” (171).
This attitude—giving freely what we have freely received from the hand of God—applies, of course, not only to forgiveness; but to every other loving behavior-attitude listed in 1 Corinthians 13. Far from being a “behavior modification” chapter, Ryken shows, through simple anecdotes and the life of Christ, how to “put off” unloving human reactions and “put on” their godly opposites. His life, example, and personal involvement in ours is what transforms our attitudes and motivation towards others. In this practical and compassionately-written book, Ryken helps Christians of all stages see how walking in love is a natural consequence of living in the overflow of God’s intense, personal, and active love for the believer.
This review was first published on The Biblical Counseling Coalition's website: http://biblicalcounselingcoalition.or...
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I was recently asked to write the Foreword to Dr. Mark Shaw's latest biblical counseling book, written with co-authors Rachel Bailey and Bethany Spence. Bethany and Rachel both serve in the field of eating disorders at Vision of Hope and Houston Eating Disorders Center, respectively.
It was a huge honor to be involved with this project, and I believe God will use this important resource to help many struggling women!
It was a huge honor to be involved with this project, and I believe God will use this important resource to help many struggling women!
(Originally written for a friend of mine, who is a doula with a special ministry to pregnant women with eating disorders.)
For a young woman with body image issues, the prospect of carrying a baby and watching her body grow and change (in ways she cannot control) is frightening. In addition to the physical aspect, pregnancy is a bit of an enigma to young women: in high school and college, the unmarried but sexually active fear it. There is shame and stigma attached, which partially accounts for the high abortion rate. Once married, pregnancy is desired and greatly anticipated – the joyful promise of a new baby awaits. Where, exactly, does the woman suffering with an eating disorder fall into this spectrum?
That is a complicated question, as many of us who have been through this experience can attest. The life-dominating obsession of anorexia or bulimia is an intensely lonely experience, and many women with eating disorders truly want to become nurturing mothers to a little one who loves them unconditionally. Having an eating disorder during pregnancy is not a matter of selfishness; of putting one’s vanity or pride before the child’s needs. The pregnant woman struggling with anorexia (or, more commonly, bulimia), needs compassion more than ever in order to reach out for the help she needs.
My eating disorder began 10 years before my first pregnancy in 1996. Although severely underweight in high school, I had managed to maintain a normal-enough weight throughout my early twenties to conceal my bulimia. At 5’5” and 110-120 lbs., I weighed enough to menstruate regularly and had no trouble conceiving and carrying my babies to term. (I had stopped menstruating from age 15-19, as I had insufficient body fat to produce the estrogen needed to ovulate. Many women with eating disorders permanently lose their fertility; it should be noted that I was extremely lucky.)
As a pre-teen, I had casually made the comment once to my mother, “Being a fashion model seems like a fun job to have,” to which she caustically replied: “What would you model – maternity clothes?” This comment stayed with me my entire life…causing me to associate pregnancy with being overweight. As a young married woman, I do not recall, however, being unduly concerned about weight gain or looking “fat” during my pregnancies. However, as I was regularly bingeing and purging (up to four times per day), I did not gain as much weight as the average woman would have. During my first pregnancy, I gained 15 pounds – and delivered a healthy, 8 lb. 4 oz. baby girl. My second pregnancy was similar – the bulimia continued, undetected….and I gave birth to an 8 lb. 1 oz. baby boy.
Towards the end of my third pregnancy in 2003, protein was noted in my urine. Tests were done to check my creatinine clearance – a measure of kidney function. Knowing that long-term bulimia can affect the kidneys, I became worried. Thinking I had been drinking insufficient water, I began fluid-loading…..which skewed the results of the tests and caused my ob-gyn to think my kidneys were failing. Knowing nothing about my bulimia, she assumed I was pre-eclamptic (despite my low blood pressure) and scheduled an induction at 37 weeks gestation. A difficult and painful delivery followed, although my son was healthy and strong at 7 lbs. 6 oz. Several months later, I saw a nephrologist who assured me my kidneys were completely healthy….and that compromised kidney function was often present in late-term pregnancies.
Nevertheless, the experience scared me…..and it was part of the wake-up call God gave me to turn my life around. While Stefan (my third child) was an infant, I began the process of repentance from the eating disorder that could have claimed my life. Intercessory prayer by others, as well as regular time in the Word and personal prayer were tools that I used to overcome the bondage food had become in my life. (See my book, “Redeemed from the Pit: Biblical Repentance and Restoration from the Bondage of Eating Disorders” , (Calvary Press) for helpful information on the process of renewing the mind.)
In 2005, I unexpectedly found myself expecting once again – this time, with a second daughter. In between buying pink outfits and nursery toys, I was by this time talking to women online who found themselves in the same predicament I had years earlier – pregnant; trapped by eating disorders; and scared. I shared with them the same hope that God had given me – and explained that there was freedom available in Christ. I encouraged them to get help, either through their churches or with a local counselor. Eating normally, this time I gained 30 lbs. (although I had slightly more edema) and came home from the hospital 20 lbs. lighter. Without reverting to restriction, purging, or any other unhealthy mechanisms, I was back down to my pre-pregnancy size 3 within a few months. Natalia, who weighed 8 lbs. 6 oz. at birth, was the only one of my children conceived, carried and born post-bulimia.
The physical risks of eating disorders to a pregnant woman (and her unborn child) are sobering. Dehydration can lead to severe cramping, which may be mistaken for miscarriage. Malnutrition causes key nutrients and minerals to be leached from the mother’s bones, in order for the baby to obtain what he/she needs. Worse, in the case of anorexia, miscarriage is common and low-birth weight (along with insufficiently developed brains) is a major risk. Although my children were fortunate not to have been physically affected by my eating disorder while I was carrying them, while practicing bulimia I could not have been the mom that they needed. Constantly being preoccupied with thoughts of food and the takes time, energy and attention away from the little ones who need it most. One of the first things I noticed when I stopped the bulimic behavior was how much more energy I had. I was also able to concentrate and stay focused much more easily.
Overcoming an eating disorder is never easy, and because the mindset and behavior pattern is so difficult to break the motivation to “just do it for the baby” is simply not enough. Moreover, such statements (however well-intentioned) may add to the guilt a pregnant woman with an eating disorder already feels. She needs to feel safe enough to confess the bulimia (or other eating disorder) to her doula or trusted medical professional, in order to get nutritional and spiritual help. Pregnancy can be an added incentive to a woman’s recovery, but transformation is never automatic. If you are pregnant and suffer from an eating disorder, there is hope. Do not be afraid to tell someone you trust, and allow others to help and support you!
Posted by Marie at 11:13 AM
|Sometimes the counselor needs counsel. Or just understanding.|
Wow...has it really been 3 months since I blogged? I started this blog in 2011 (I think), as a platform for my writing about eating disorders, and in hopes of getting my first book, "Redeemed from the Pit: Biblical Repentance and Restoration from the Bondage of Eating Disorders" picked up by a traditional publisher. It worked - Calvary Press released RFTP in October of that year, and I still get e-mails from women all over the world seeking help. (I try to keep up with them as much as possible.)
I completed my certification as a biblical counselor the following month, just in time for the counseling ministry at my church to fall apart and the Associate Pastor to move to Canada.
Oh well. I've always considered myself more of a writer than a counselor anyway. (For those of you who don't know me personally, I am a courtroom and medical interpreter by profession so I keep busy. As of now, I am the only certified Bulgarian<=>English interpreter on the East Coast. My dream is to interpret for a biblical counseling conference someday, if ACBC ever brings biblical counseling to Bulgaria.)
But I digress. Why have I not been writing? Well, the truth is, I HAVE. This spring, articles I wrote about overcoming eating disorders in the power of Christ were published in both Albania and Bulgaria, as well as a second article about using social networking to further the Gospel. I can barely keep up with the e-mails and Facebook messages I receive from women in both countries, and I have been trying (thus far unsuccessfully) to get "Redeemed from the Pit" translated.
Recently, I was honored to write the Foreword for a booklet Dr. Mark Shaw is publishing on eating disorders (His Truth in Love Ministries). I was a contributor to Nancy Kennedy's fourth "Miracles and Moments of Grace" series, "Inspirational Stories of Survival". And, this month I completed my second book, "Plugged In: Proclaiming Christ in the Internet Age", which is in second-draft form at the publisher's. (More on that as release date gets closer.)
I have not updated this blog because I have not known what to say, really.....apart from answering the desperate e-mails and Facebook messages I regularly receive, my life has so little to do with eating disorders. And, increasingly little to do with biblical counseling (although I am currently counseling one young woman). For several years, including after completing my biblical counseling training, I have been increasingly apathetic towards theology, and dissatisfied and disillusioned with my family situation.
This summer, my family and I traveled to Bulgaria and Albania for the first time together in 6 years. We had been planning this "Balkan Road Trip" for 3 years, with the main purpose being to visit my husband's family in Bulgaria (and naturally to attempt sharing the Gospel with them, as we have in the past). I have "family in Christ" in Albania, and have developed close relationships with several students and their families. For years, I was dreaming about the day I would introduce my husband to them. They, also, were eagerly anticipating meeting my family and husband.
The "vacation" did not go as planned, despite the cheerful, happy pictures I managed to upload to Facebook. (Ever notice how we can make our Christmas card family pictures and Facebook albums tell a much rosier story than reality?) What I had seen coming - known was inevitable - hit the proverbial fan on the first afternoon of our trip. Maybe someday I will be able to write about it. But not yet.
Anyway, as incongruous as it sounds for a certified biblical counselor, my husband and I are now in counseling. With a wonderful ACBC counselor (who is a pastor). For our marriage. Which I no longer believed could be saved. And, one Wednesday night in a hotel room in Albania - during a week that was supposed to be a "dream come true" for me - I threw in the towel, and that became my decision. After years, and years, and YEARS of verbal abuse. The Holy Spirit has already begun to work. If our counselor is right, and our marriage begins to "sing", it will be a truly amazing testimony of God's grace....and I will happily write a blog for the Biblical Counseling Coalition about the Happily Ever After of allowing God to meet us in a new "pit" and pull us out.
Today, however, is not that day.
I am still too angry, double-minded and emotionally raw to give you a success story of being transformed by the power of God's Word. Right now, that's all it is....just words, like the ones I crank out in my book manuscript.
So, that's where I am at right now.....busy as always; writing where possible; struggling to find the will to save my marriage. I will not be writing about that here, as a blog is much too public and personal to write about one's marriage struggles, but I do hope someday to have a grace-filled testimony to share. Thank you for your prayers, patience and understanding as I try to move forward. As Martha Peace wrote in one of her books, learning to obey and glorify God is more important than whether we ever are published or not. I don't really know what He is doing right now or why He allowed this, but I am trying to trust Him.
Posted by Marie at 10:38 AM