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John Calvin puts forward a very simple reason why love is the greatest gift: “Because faith and hope are our own: love is diffused among others.” In other words, faith and hope benefit the possessor, but love always benefits another. In John 13:34–35 Jesus says, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Love always requires an “other” as an object; love cannot remain within itself, and that is part of what makes love the greatest gift.
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Who First Showed Ray Ortlund the Beauty of Jesus?

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My dear dad was the first person, within the range of my consciousness, who showed me the beauty of Jesus. He showed me the Lord’s beauty countless times along the way.

But first, let me say how grateful I am to my friends at TGC for asking the question in terms of our Lord’s beauty. Beauty, with its attendant concepts, is a consistent theme running through the Bible. For example:

  • Gaze upon the beauty of the LORD (Ps. 27:4).
  • How lovely is your dwelling place (Ps. 84:1).
  • Let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us (Ps. 90:17).
  • Strength and beauty are in his sanctuary (Ps. 96:6).
  • He adorns the humble with salvation (Ps. 149:4).
  • She will bestow on you a beautiful crown (Prov. 4:9).
  • Your eyes shall behold the King in his beauty (Isa. 33:17).
  • You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD (Isa. 62:3).
  • She has done a beautiful thing to me (Matt. 26:10).
  • . . . whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely . . . (Phil. 4:8).
  • . . . prepared as a bride adorned for her husband (Rev. 21:2).

More than True vs. False

The beauty of the Lord is why, as the gospel gains traction within us, our categories include more than right versus wrong and true versus false. As vital as those considerations are, the gospel expands the range of our concerns to include beautiful versus ugly. Truth is more than valid; it also opens our eyes to the loveliness of everything that is of God.

This awareness should matter to us profoundly, because it is easy to be right and ugly at the same time. The Pharisees were simultaneously right and ugly. Sometimes we are simultaneously right and ugly. But to quote Francis Schaeffer, “Biblical orthodoxy without compassion is surely the ugliest thing in the world.”

It is easy to be right and ugly at the same time.

Mere doctrinal correctness can be harsh and coercive, but beauty turns heads. Beauty melts hearts. Beauty works with gently irresistible power. And my dad had a spiritual radiance upon him to a remarkable degree.

How then did my dad show me the beauty of Jesus? Here are three ways.

1. Restraint

In his many years serving the Lord as a pastor, my dad encountered some people who mistreated him. For example, one time some people in his church wrote a letter to the entire membership accusing him of being a communist. My dad, a conservative Republican, a communist? It was crazy! But by God’s grace—I can only imagine the journey his heart had to take to get here—my dad not only didn’t retaliate; he didn’t even answer that foolishness. He restrained himself, putting his trust in the Lord, and he kept preaching the gospel and loving the people.

Eventually, he came through that refining fire more loving and more cheerful and more convincing as a pastor than ever before. His humble self-discipline graced him with an attractive moral authority in the eyes of the congregation. It accelerated his ministry toward unprecedented fruitfulness for the rest of his years at that church. In our day of Twitter rage, I admire my dad’s restraint as the beauty of Jesus, who “opened not his mouth” (Isa. 53:7).

2. Joy

My dad did not live a charmed life. He felt all the buffetings of real life in a broken world. But he was the happiest man I’ve ever known. And it lasted. He didn’t end up a burned-out, disillusioned, cynical old pastor who couldn’t wait for retirement. Instead, he sweetened as the years went by.

My dad did not live a charmed life. But he was the happiest man I’ve ever known.

What helped him along the way? Dad deeply understood that joy is a moral category. Joy is not a mood spike or a personality type. Joy has, and deserves to have, a commanding moral authority over us—whatever might be happening at any given moment. The Bible says, “Rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil. 4:4). That doesn’t mean we refuse to weep. It does mean we refuse to grow bitter.

What helped my dad was the phrase “in the Lord.” He understood that, in both our celebrations and also our losses, the Lord doesn’t change. We always have a reason to rejoice in who the Lord is. Indeed, the pain of this life only makes more precious to us who he is—his faithfulness, his care, his mercy, his reign, and on and on and on. Who the Lord is gives joy a sacred gravitas that deserves our humble obedience, moment by moment. Dad locked onto that insight. He bowed his heart before the Lord, and it made him a magnetic, attractive personality. Like Jesus.

3. Surrender

As my dad aged and it began to show, he said to me, “I am getting old. But it’s okay. I accept it.” Dad had been a handsome young athlete. Then age began taking it all from him. But he didn’t resent it. He didn’t pretend to be younger than he really was. Way down deep, trusting in the Lord, he meekly accepted what was happening to him. And making peace with encroaching death graced my dad with an awe-inspiring dignity. An aged saint, glorifying and enjoying God, is a beautiful sight to behold.

I thank the Lord for the radiance he put upon my dad. And now it’s my turn, by his grace, for his glory. Y’all can hold me to it. Please pray for me. Thanks.

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