“As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace.”- 1 Peter 4:10
Institutes: Book 3, Chapter 7, Section 5, Part a
“Now, in seeking to benefits one’s neighbor, how difficult it is to do one’s duty! Unless you give up all thought of self and, so to speak, get out of yourself, you will accomplish nothing here. For how can you perform those works which Paul teaches to be the works of love, unless you renounce yourself, and give yourself wholly to others? ‘Love,’ he says, ‘is patient and kind, not jealous or boastful, is not envious or puffed up, does not seek its own, is not irritable,’ etc. (1 Cor. 13:4-5)… And therefore the lawful use of all benefits consists in a liberal and kindly sharing of them with others. No surer rule and no more valid exhortation to keep it could be devised than when we are taught that all the gifts we possess have been bestowed by God and entrusted to us on condition that they be distributed for our neighbor’s benefit (cf. 1 Peter 4:10).” (3.7.5a)
Why must we ‘get out of ourselves’ in order to truly love others? In other words, what paralyzes and immobilizes us thereby causing us to “accomplish nothing” with regard to loving others? Given that Calvin quotes the “love chapter”, aka 1 Corinthians 13, a warranted (and hopefully not too simplistic) answer is arrived at by using 1 Corinthians 13 for prayerful and meditative self-examination. Progression in self-denial is aided by healthy self-examination. If we are impatient, unkind, jealous, boastful, envious, puffed up, self-seeking and irritable, then we will not able to properly love others. Properly loving others involves sharing our gifts with and for others. And a humble and God-centered attitude concerning the varied degrees and kinds of gifts we possess helps us benefit from self-examination. If we are laden with guilt after self-examination, then thinking about our God-given gifts, and not our sins, failures, and imperfections will help move us toward proper neighbor love. If we are laden with pride after self-examination, then thinking about our God-given gifts will mobilize us to love others as well. All our gifts are derived from God, sustained by God, and utilized for God and others.
The ultimate Gift that has been bestowed upon us is Jesus Christ. The gift He gives is Himself. The benefits of receiving Him as ultimate Gift include the power to love others properly. If Christ loved you by denying Himself and dying for you, in turn, that stirs you up to deny yourself and love others. Vertical love (God to us) precedes, grounds, and motivates horizontal love (us to others). “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another (1 John 4:7-11).
How will you use your gifts today? What empowers you to love others? (Justin)