As this is a continuation of a study group we did on the the article from Soul Shepherding entitled (and linked here) Four Degrees of Love (Bernard of Clairvaux) I recommend you take a look at my previous two posts for parts one and two. I tried to keep these brief and rich so that the reader takes away a nugget to think or pray with for the day, especially with Valentine’s Day approaching.
The Third Degree
We first experience love as basic creatures of the flesh, love for ourselves for our own sakes. In the second degree we become aware of something greater than us and begin to seek God but still for our own interests. Now we deepen into a more relational love with God in the Third degree.
Our frequent needs throw us back constantly upon God. By such continual dependence, we learn to enjoy God’s presence. This intimacy with God becomes sweet as we learn to discover how wonderful God is. This experience thus promotes the love of God, so that it transcends over all our needs. Like the Samaritans, we are to respond that we know His goodness, not because we were told about it, but we have experienced it for ourselves (John 4:42). So too we tell our flesh, “we love God, not because of your needs, for we have tasted and known for ourselves the sweetness of the Lord” (see Psalm 34:8)…Bill Gaultier explains in his article Four Degrees of Love (cited above)
When we fall in love with another person, we can mistake the boundaries of loving them for our own purposes, or where that relationship may benefit ourselves instead of love for the other’s sake. Some disordered relationships will exhibit warning signs that we are using a person for our own selfish reasons and that can also happen with our relationship with the Lord if we aren’t careful. How do we know the difference?
How We Saw The Third Degree
Our group felt the difference is when suffering comes into the picture. When we spend time embracing Christ in his suffering on the Christ we come into deep relationship with him which has no boundaries. When we suffer with another person, or any person because they are loved by God, then we have stepped out of the selfish love that may be part of Degree one and two.
We also see that this degree leads us to obedience and service. We will begin to leave ourselves behind, detach from our own desires and listen more to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. The more we deny ourselves, the more we make room for God and we fall more deeply in love with His goodness. As Gaultiere describes:
The person who loves like this, truly loves the the things of God… without self-interest (1 Corinthians 13:5). This is to love those things that belong to Jesus Christ, even as Christ sought our interests, or rather sought us, and never looked after His own [interest]…
Action Item for the Third Degree
Before we end our series with the Fourth Degree of Love, I ask you to consider 1 Corinthians 13:5 above and evaluate your day in light of the scripture and Degree Three before you go to bed tonight. Consider the deep love you may have for your parents, child, friend or spouse and measure it against the sacrificial love of Christ. We can’t achieve this degree love without his help.