IN HIS CLASSIC BOOK, HOLINESS, J. C. Ryle describes the marks of a person who is growing in grace, or holiness. The fifth evidence, he says is an increase of “charity”.
“The man whose soul is “growing” is more full of love every year – of love to all men, but especially of love towards the brethren. His love will show itself actively in a growing disposition to do kindnesses, to take trouble for others, to be good-natured to everybody, to be generous, sympathizing, thoughtful, tender-hearted, and considerate. It will show itself passively in a growing disposition to be meek and patient toward all men, to put up with provocation and not stand upon rights, to bear and forbear much rather than quarrel. A growing soul will try to put the best construction on other people’s conduct, and to believe all things and hope all things, even to the end. There is no surer mark of backsliding and falling off in grace than an increasing disposition to find fault, pick holes, and see weak points in others. Would anyone know if he is growing in grace? Then let him look within for increasing charity” (Holiness, p. 90).
Dallas Willard is spot on, I think, when he suggests that God develops our capacity for love and other virtues through three things. One of those, of course, is the active work of God’s Spirit in us. Another means of our growth in grace is the practice of spiritual disciplines like Bible reading, prayer, fellowship with other believers and so on. These things feed our souls. The third thing God uses is the circumstances of life, especially our trials. God makes every experience and every circumstance of life a gymnasium for teaching us, through practice, to be like Jesus. So, if we want to grow in love let’s take every interaction with people as the classroom in which the Spirit of God will transform who we are through practice.