In his best-selling book, The Road Less Traveled, M. Scott Peck proposed a definition of love from a psychiatrist’s perspective. He wrote,
“When we extend ourselves, when we take an extra step or walk an extra mile, we do so in opposition to the inertia of laziness or the resistance of fear. Extension of ourselves or moving out against the inertia of laziness we call work. Moving out in the face of fear we call courage. Love, then, is a form of work or a form of courage. Specifically, it is work or courage directed toward the nurture of our own or another’s spiritual growth. We may work or exert courage in directions other than toward spiritual growth, and for this reason all work and all courage is not love. But since it requires the extension of ourselves, love is always either work or courage. If an act is not one of work or courage, then it is not an act of love. There are no exceptions.”*
Although Peck’s definition was not originally written from a Christian worldview (he did come to faith in Christ some time later), it corresponds in many ways to the agape love required of followers of Jesus Christ. Obedient lovers of God described in the Old Testament exhibited their love through work or through courage, and sometimes both. Think of Noah, building an enormous vessel by God’s instruction, measuring, cutting lumber, hammering nails, sealing with pitch. Or David, standing boldly before a giant enemy with only a slingshot and a handful of rocks. Picture Moses, lifting his staff over the wide waters, trusting that God would part them for the people to walk through. This kind of faith compels work and courage to carry out God’s plan, whatever the risks or rewards. Only love, directed toward a higher cause, can energize this in human beings.
What about Jesus? Of course, the ultimate example of work and courage in the name of love. His work as the Son of Man was to announce the coming kingdom, to heal, deliver, teach, save and forgive as he fulfilled his earthly ministry. He never backed down when under pressure, yet didn’t utter a word to defend himself against the false accusations of the Jews and Romans. His courage allowed him to go the distance, knowing the disgrace of the cross, because of the joy set before him. Praise God for this completed work, done so perfectly and courageously!
As his disciples, we are called to follow this extraordinary example of love. To extend ourselves “in opposition to the inertia of laziness” or “moving out in the face of fear.” This means that if we are able to help a neighbor or brother in need, we must extend ourselves to do so. If God calls us to leave what is safe and comfortable–for a day or a year or a lifetime–we must move past fear and selfishness to embrace this higher call.
*Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, 1978, 120.