The appalling and unsettling story of Amnon and Tamar in 2 Samuel 13 was the subject matter of Aaron’s recent messages on sexual sin and past trauma. The passage paints a grim picture: In Amnon’s broken desire for his half-sister, he “made himself ill.” After he had violated her, Scripture describes Amnon’s twisted emotional response: “… for the hatred with which he hated her was greater than the love with which he had loved her.” In the tragic aftermath of Amnon’s sin, he sends Tamar away in turmoil and shame.
I was recently praying about a challenging relationship when I sensed the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit speak to my heart: “Susan, you’re loving like Amnon.” I was jolted into attention. I continued to pray and recognized that this was a correct assessment of my heart. Amnon’s so-called love came with an agenda, was self-serving, and evaporated when his planning didn’t produce the desired result. I couldn’t claim that my love was much better in the relational challenge I was currently encountering.
Our Amnon-love is hereditary. The sin of Adam and Eve found its origin in a self-serving agenda. They saw that the forbidden fruit was “good for food, a delight to the eyes, and desirable to make one wise,” and they wanted it more than they wanted to obey God. So they ate it. In their futile attempt to hide from God and each other, “… they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.”
This act of self-protection was something new. Prior to their sin, they had no thought of self-preservation or self-justification. Sin brought with it a devastating and sinful self-orientation that has infected every person who has ever been born. Not one of us is exempt. We are prone to love like Amnon.
The inescapable truth is that we want our own way. We’re those wayward sheep in Isaiah 53:6, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned – every one – to his own way.” And when wayward self-interested sheep bump into each other, the bleating begins.
One of the most beautiful passages in Scripture is found in Philippians 2. It doesn’t use the word “love”, but it is a perfect description of the love that God makes possible through the Holy Spirit who indwells us:
Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard
one another as more important than himself; do not merely look out for your own personal
interests, but also for the interests of others (verses 3-4).
Paul David Tripp describes what happens in our hearts when we love with an agenda. He describes Amnon-love: “If sin turns me in on myself so that all I live for is me, then sin in its essence is antisocial. Living for myself and the satisfaction of my selfish desires dehumanizes the people in my life. No longer are they people to me. No longer are they objects of my affection and service. No, my loved ones and friends are reduced either to vehicles to help me get what I want or to obstacles in the way of what I want. When they deliver what I want, I speak kindly to them, not actually because I love them, but because I love myself and the fact that they have satisfied my desires. When they get in the way of what I want, I speak unkindly to them because I love myself, and they have made the mistake of getting in the way of what I crave.”
In Relationships: A Mess Worth Making, authors Timothy Lane and Paul Tripp get specific about what it looks like when our loving looks like Amnon’s:
- Refusing to let go of a moment of hurt
- Getting angry when our children complicate/inconvenience our lives
- Becoming defensive when challenged
- Avoiding conflict out of fear
- Being resigned to a broken relationship that could be healed
- Gossiping about people
- Pursuing comfortable relationships and avoiding difficult ones
- Envying other people’s friendships
- Controlling relationships out of a desire for security
- Blowing up at people when our agendas are trampled
- Living in bitter isolation in the face of disappointment
One of God’s purposes for the church is to teach us to love. We’re surrounded by bleating sheep – and they get in our space and they eat our grass. God calls us to a sacrificial love that is defined by the cross of Christ. All of our love for others must find its source in that Love that provided for us a new power and a new desire to say “no” to the self-protection and self-orientation that is our natural Adam-and-Eve inherited inclination.
When we think of Amnon and his sin against Tamar, we can readily comfort ourselves and dismiss any personal conviction, because we have never been violently or aggressively abusive. But when we dig a little deeper, we realize our love is often Amnon-love in seed form, bearing no resemblance to the patience, kindness, and goodness that the Spirit desires to produce in the hearts of those who belong to Jesus.
The love of Christ that God makes available to us and through us is costly: It requires two deaths. The first of those deaths occurred almost 2000 years ago. Christ’s death on the cross paid the penalty for our sin, so that we might be forgiven and receive new lives and new hearts. Jesus’s death paved the way for a second necessary death: our death to self. It’s a daily choice made possible by the power of God’s Spirit who lives in us, and by God’s grace which He offers freely to all of His children: my life lived for the benefit of others, or my life lived to benefit me.
Loving like Amnon doesn’t take work. It comes naturally. But something supernatural happens in the hearts of those who belong to Jesus when we surrender our desires to Him and find our satisfaction in Him. Our capacity for true love increases. Tara Barthel says, “As we trust in the Lord and persevere in love, He carves out a vast space that holds His grace in our hearts, for only He can enable us to obey the command, ‘A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know you are My disciples, if you love one another'” (John 13:34-35).
I can think of no better way to celebrate Easter this year than by loving like Jesus – by the power of His blood-bought grace and for the magnifying of His resurrection glory.
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!