Shaping the Ordo Amoris of Our Children

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The Providence Upper School has begun to do some new and exciting things in its morning assembly. Each school day Upper School students and teachers gather in the Great Hall to read the Scriptures, confess our faith, sing, and pray together. It’s such a gift to begin our day with devotion to Christ the Lord. He is the center of our community and the focus of all our learning, and beginning the day with a habit of worship is a powerful way to shape us to be a Christ-centered people.

I thought I would share with you, parents, what I shared with the students and staff today in assembly (slightly expanded).

Living the Christian life is not easy, but it does have the virtue of simplicity. God uncomplicates and clarifies in His Word what is most important to Him. In Matthew 22 we witness a lawyer approaching Jesus to test Him, asking, “’Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?’” And Jesus responds, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets’” (vv. 36-40).

Jesus so knew and understood the Scriptures that He could instantly prioritize and distill the Law’s greatest command: Love the Lord your God with all your being. And then he followed it with the second great command: Love your neighbor as yourself. Christ calls us to love, a truth that the Apostles reinforced repeatedly in their epistles. “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us […] Let love be genuine” (Rom 5:8, 12:9). “Whoever does not love abides in death” (1 Jn 3:14). “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 Jn 4:10-11).

And notice in Matthew 22 that Jesus says we should love our neighbor when our neighbor is lovable. If our neighbors are nice and likeable, then we should love them. If not, we’re off the hook and love is optional. Right? Absolutely not! God’s call to love our neighbor does not hinge on how lovely the neighbor is – the command is to love our neighbor no matter what, even when our neighbor is unlovable. This is sacrificial love that imitates God, who is love.

Those who love the Lord God first, with all the heart and soul and strength, are ready and able to love their neighbor unconditionally. Once you know God’s unconditional love in Christ and are transformed into a God-lover, then you are trained to be a neighbor-lover. Augustine long ago understood this principle and described it as the ordo amoris, the order of loves, with loving God first ordering all other loves. “We do well to love that which, when we love it, makes us live well and virtuously.”

Moreover, we are all born with a poisonous and idolatrous bent toward self-love. Only when we learn to love God with all our hearts are we then enabled to dethrone self-love and begin to love others. Love requires sacrifice and self-denial.

So, today, look around you and see your neighbor. Deny yourself and love your neighbor. Find ways to use your words, your actions, your smile, to love your friends. Love each other, to the glory of God who loved us first and gave His Son for us.

Let me close by asking you a couple of questions, parents: one personal and one school-related.

The personal. How can you apply these words today? Look around you in your own home and workplace and neighborhood. You are surrounded by people whom God placed before you so that you can love them. They may be unlovely. They may be unworthy of your love. But, then, you were unworthy of God’s love, too, and He loved you anyway. You can show forth the power and beauty of the gospel today as you love your neighbor because you love the God of amazing grace.

And the school-related. Is this the kind of message you want your children hearing at school each day? If you answer with a resounding “Yes!” then let me encourage you to stay the course and commit yourself and your children to persevering to graduation from Providence. The real pay-off a classical Christian education comes in the final years when the transforming power of God’s Word does amazing things to shape the ordo amoris of our children and nurture real virtue in them. It is such an exciting journey, and I am glad to be taking it with you and your children!