Discerning Between Worldly, Soulish, and Divine Love

Ajay Chakravarthy

Very often in our mind we naturally associate certain words with others. For example, when we say, “Roses are ________,” we automatically associate it with the word “red.” Not all roses are red, but we naturally have a tendency to make that association since we’ve heard that phrase so often. Similarly, when we read Scripture, I see that there is a tendency to associate certain words in Scripture with others.

For example, we read a verse that says “… that your love may abound still more and more in ________ and _________.” In my mind when I read this, my mind automatically says we must surely abound in love in the area of generosity, kindness, care or hospitality. However, when I read the Scripture carefully, there is a very different set of words that is associated with abounding in love. The words are “real knowledge” and “all discernment.” The full verse reads, “And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment” (Philippians 1:9.

The word “love” is used frequently by many today — “I love my brother,” “I love my wife,” “I love the church,” etc. I see a great need for me to have an understanding (a real knowledge) of what this love truly is. There are many levels of love but I want to share three of them:

We see first the love which the world (Gentiles) have — “worldly love” — describe in Matthew 5:46,47. This is the love that can love when loved, anyone can love this way, you do not need any divine strength for this type of love. Someone invites you to their home and you invite them to yours. Someone greets you and you greet them back.

The second love is slightly better than the first — it is the love that you can find in the Old Covenant; it is neighborly love, where you see how you’d like to be treated and you treat others that same way. This love is described in Matthew 22:39. This love too can be found in those who are morally upright and religious, who treat others the way the like to be treated.

The third love is Divine. It is the love that Jesus had for me — He died for me. He asks me to have the same love for my brothers and sisters in the church. This love is described in John 13:34. The way Jesus demonstrated this love is that when we were yet sinners He died for us (Romans 5:8). In 1 John 3:16, we read that we ought to die for one another. Before I can die physically for my brother or sister, I must start with dying to myself (Self-life) in every day situations. When my brother or sister says something and it goes against my will or rubs me the wrong way, am I ready to die in that situation or am I going to be angry or bitter? If I get corrected in a situation can I receive it or do I get offended or try to justify myself? These are tests of whether the quality of my love is Divine. This love requires the power of the Holy Spirit as we read in Romans 5:5 — “that the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts through the Holy Spirit” — and is not something I can manufacture on my own.

Why we need discernment

Let’s say we were to see two events. The first event was a man going up to Jesus and then kissing him. The second event was a man whom Jesus had to ask three times whether he loved Him, and that man replied “Yes, Lord I love you” twice, and the third time said, “Lord you know all things; I love you.”

Based purely on the viewing of these two events, we may see the first man kissing Jesus and think that this man must surely love Jesus. How can one who kisses Jesus not love Him. And we can think that the second man doesn’t seem confident in his love for Jesus, that Jesus had to ask him that three times. You might think that this man doesn’t love Jesus that much.

But, as we know, that first man was Judas Iscariot — a man who got offended when Jesus corrected him (Mark 14:6) and the devil had entered him (Luke 22:3). He was bitter and wanted to betray Jesus (Mark 14:10) because he was put down in front of others. This man would shortly after commit suicide (Matthew 27:5), and was the one about whom Jesus said that it would have been better if he had never had been born (Matt. 26:24). This man with so much evil inside could externally put on a show of affection that would make it seem that he loved Jesus.

And, we know that the second man was Peter, who had failed the Lord and was broken (Luke 22:62). A couple of weeks later, Peter would be filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:4) and live the rest of His life full of Divine love for the Lord and for His church. Another aspect of love is discipline (Hebrews 12:6), and a test of whether my love is genuine is how I respond to discipline. Peter had received strong discipline from the Lord (Matthew 16:23), but was not offended.

We need discernment so that amid all the people talking about love in the world, we will know which is genuine love that is from the Holy Spirit, and which is a natural or soulish love. There are those who are seeking to build His Body in these last days, who are seeking to have this genuine love that comes with the cost of death to Self-life (Romans 5:8). I want to be in this remnant. Being filled with God’s Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5), I want to invest and give myself for this love like Jesus did for the church (Ephesians 5:25).

My children sometimes say, shortly after a meal, that they are hungry. When we set some more food before them, they look at it and say they don’t want it. When we ask them why, they clarify that they’re actually hungry for ice cream! True hunger can obviously be satisfied by any food, not just ice cream. Kids love ice cream, so their saying that they are “hungry” is a way of them trying to get ice cream. Children, being less mature, don’t understand true hunger. Similarly, when some people say, “I love you,” based on their level of maturity, they may really be saying, “I love you, brother, with a neighborly love” or, “I love the church with worldly love”, or “I love God with a soulish emotional love”. Because everyone uses the same word “love”, however, we must discern what type of love it is, so that we are not misled. Just like children say they are “hungry” when they really mean they want ice cream, we must discern when a person says, “I love you”, whether they are referring to Divine love, or if they simply mean that they are seeking for a love that does not require denying oneself, resulting in relationships that are superficial, worldly, soulish, and emotional.

The love that will stand

On the sermon on the mount, Jesus says that everyone who hears His words and does them are the ones who build on the rock (Matthew 7:24) and will not be shaken. True love does not love in word only, but also in deed (I John 3:18); there will be a cost to it in daily situations of life where we will need to bear our cross (Luke 9:23). This is the love that will not be shaken. But the love that is only in words or in soulish emotions will definitely be shaken when tested (Matthew 5:47; 7:26). In fact, God Himself will do the shaking (Hebrews 12:25-28).

In the last days, the love of many will grow cold (Matthew 24:12). Jesus wasn’t referring to worldly love and soulish, emotional love here; those will remain just as “hot”. It will be Divine love that will grow cold. May the Lord help us to discern and persevere in genuine Divine love for the Lord and His church. Amen.

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