Works of Love – Week 3(b) – Love Builds Up

Tonight, will be discussing excerpt 29 Love’s Hidden Need and excerpt 30 Love Builds Up of Soren Kierkegaard’s Works of Love found in Provocations – The Spiritual Writings of Soren Kierkegaard. In “Loves Builds Up,” Kierkegaard explores one aspect of what love looks like in action. The title of this chapter is from 1 Corinthians where Paul writes “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. If any one imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if one loves God, one is known by him.” 1 Cor 8:1b-3. When we love our neighbor as ourselves, we build up our neighbor.

Kierkegaard begins with the idea that love builds up only when we presuppose that love is present in the other, even in those situations where love seems to be absent and the rational course is to tear down the person in front of us. Think about the story of “Beauty and the Beast.” The Beast was loved by Belle before he became loveable. The Beast was a monster both in appearance and in action, but Belle loved the Beast anyway, and in loving him, brought out the love that was buried deep within him and thereby caused him to be restored to a man. When we see the existence of love in the other (the image of God in the other, the light of Christ in the love, etc.) then we have the preexistent foundation upon which to build.

In 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, Paul gives us the means and methods by which we are to build up the love in the other. We are to be patient with our neighbor and persevere in believing the love is truly present within him. Our love for neighbor cannot be irritable or resentful for that denies the love in the other, and our love must endure all things in the other including his misunderstandings, ingratitude, and even his anger. Our love for neighbor cannot insist upon its own way for that requires us to tear down our neighbor and not build him up. Our love of neighbor bears all things by continuously presupposing that love is fundamentally present despite evidence to the contrary. Love believes all things, for mistrust cannot build up. And our love of neighbor hopes all things for love firmly trusts that love will eventually show itself, even in the deluded, the misguided, and the lost. Think of the love of the father for the prodigal (Luke 15:11-32). This is how we love our neighbor as ourselves.

For tonight think about those times you have been Belle and loved the unlovable and the difference that it made. And also think about those times you have been the Beast, and nonetheless were loved when you were unlovable. As Kierkegaard concludes his chapter “If we take love away and cease presupposing it – then there is no one who builds up, nor is there anyone who is built up.”

Unless we look at a person and see the beauty there is in this person, we can contribute nothing to him. One does not help a person by discerning what is wrong, ugly, and distorted. Christ looked at everyone he met and saw the beauty hidden therein. And what he did was to call out that beauty.

Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh (1914-2003)

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