Have you ever noticed that love can be painful at times? By this, I mean that living in the genuine love of God can take us beyond our comfort zones and require us to lay down our lives for others. Hmmm, sounds like the Jesus kind of love, doesn’t it?!
Jesus’ simple command to love others requires greater strength than any of us naturally possess. It requires obedience to God’s Word and yielding to the Holy Spirit.
This past Sunday, my wife, Carolyn, who is a pastor at Passion Church in Tucson, gave a beautiful message about love and growing with the Love of God. A portion of her sermon and this article she gleaned from a message at LifeWay. Let us jump into Carolyn’s sermon and this important subject of love!
Jesus shares the following in the book of John,
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35 ESV)
The Bible says we are to love one another. This command is given in many places throughout the New Testament and it is worded in many ways. It is obviously important to God, but can we actually do it? Yes, but it requires yielding to God’s Word and the Holy Spirit!
When we were newly married, our first pastor, Jim Maher, told us to be “thin-skinned toward God and thick-skinned toward people.” At first, this seemed harsh to us and unloving toward others. However, years later, we came to understand he did not mean to not love people, but rather to not allow the difficulties in relationships to penetrate our hearts and create offense and judgments which could keep us from loving others.
Love does not keep an account of a wrong suffered; Love is not irritable or resentful.
How do we make love a dominating characteristic of our lives?
First, make love a priority. Secondly, understand the importance of love. Third, embody the distinguishing nature of love. And lastly, demonstrate the virtue of love.
Make Love a Priority
Indeed, loving people is difficult. Yet this is what the Bible commands. “For this is the message you have heard from the beginning: we should love one another” (1 John 3:11). We spend time on what we deem important. For many of us, these choices are valid: time with family and friends, church family, work, prayer, serving the poor, fighting for rights, protesting wrongs. But as the Scripture reminds us, “And if I donate all my goods to feed the poor, and if I give my body in order to boast but do not have love, I gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:3).
Love does not brag, it is not arrogant, it does not seek its own benefit.
Even though we have the freedom to set our own priorities, Jesus made a point of defining certain ones for us: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and most important commandment. The second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself'” (Matt. 22:37-39).
Love, then, is not a gray area in the Scriptures. Jesus gave love priority over all other Christian virtues. Every thought, response, and act of goodwill must first pass through the fine filter of love, or it means nothing at all.
In Martin Luther King, Jr.’s book, Strength to Love, he encouraged us to realize that “our responsibility as Christians is to discover the meaning of this command and seek passionately to live it out in our daily lives.” But why love? What makes it so important?
Understand the Importance of Love
When Jesus spoke to the disciples regarding the first and second greatest commands, he explained that “All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands” (Matt. 22:40).
To the people of Israel, as well as for many believers today, it would seem more logical for obedience to be the peg from which the Law hangs, since the point of writing a law is adherence to it. And it is written, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15). Yet Jesus also said, “I give you a new commandment: love one another. Just as I have loved you, you must also love one another” (John 13:34). The apostle Paul goes on to tell us “Love does no wrong to a neighbor. Love, therefore, is the fulfillment of the law” (Rom. 13:10).
Yet Jesus’ simple command requires greater strength than any of us naturally possess.
In Romans 13:10, the logic of Paul’s interpretation of Jesus’ command that love fulfills the Law seems equally simple. For if one loves his neighbor, he will not commit adultery with his neighbor’s spouse. If he loves his coworker, he will not lie to him. And if loves his enemy, he will not slander him.
Love fulfills the law because, if we genuinely love every person because he is a person, we will not desire to hurt or violate him or her, thus never break the law. God established love as the impetus for obedience. God’s love is so huge and intense that—with the action of love—obedience is a direct result.
Love is not rude. Love does not insist on its own way. Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.
In the early days of Passion Church, we ministered to the homeless at a vacant lot on 22nd street on Thursday nights. There was one homeless man who always attended and was rude. He would get into my face, often drunk and reeking of alcohol, and say inappropriate things to me—his behavior toward me was wrong and frankly creepy.
Eventually, we started to hold Sunday morning services on the same vacant, dirt lot. We pitched a tent, set up chairs, and ran a sound system. This same man attended these Sunday meetings. Sometime later, I was preparing a meal to take to the Thursday night dinner, and I told God, “I just didn’t want to see this man!” I stopped and realized I didn’t have love for this man; I needed God’s love for him.
As I meditated on this, with horror, I asked God if I was even loving Him like I should? If I could not love this man, did I even love God? Then, the Lord gently spoke to me, “You love me because I first loved you.” I had a supernatural experience with love in that moment and saw the man through eyes of love. That night, the man was polite to me, not rude at all. Eventually he came to us on a Sunday morning and asked us to pray for him as he was getting on a bus to go to Minnesota to be with his family from which he had been estranged. God’s love changed this man.
Love is not provoked; it is not arrogant. Love is kind and patient.
Embody the Distinguishing Nature of Love
When we demonstrate Christian love, it distinguishes believers from the rest of the world. Jesus goes on to say, “By this [love], all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).
Notice Jesus did not say that people will know that you are my disciples if you promote my agenda, or wear Christian T-shirts or Christian jewelry, or have a fish decal on your car, but rather if you love one another.
A watching world will be persuaded not when our values are promoted, but rather when they are incarnated, when we become purveyors of love. We can have the core value of love in this church, but if we do not live it, then it is a clanging cymbal. It is as though Jesus has given the entire world the right to judge whether one is His follower simply based on their love for fellow human beings. The vivacious virtue of love distinguishes the Christian.
Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Cor. 13:4-7 NKJV)
From the very beginning, God’s plan was to develop a people that reflected His character. And what is His character? Love.
God is love, and the one who remains in love remains in God, and God remains in him. In this, love is perfected with us so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; for we are as He is in this world” (1 John 4:16-17).
The love we show to one another and offer to the world will always be the best example of the gospel of Jesus Christ that our church has.
When Ira Gillett, Methodist missionary to Mozambique, East Africa, returned home to report on his activities overseas, he related an interesting phenomenon. Repeatedly, Gillett had noticed how groups of Africans would walk past government hospitals and travel many extra miles to receive medical treatment at the missionary compound. He finally asked a particular group why they walked the extra distance when the same treatments were available at the government clinics. The reply: “The medicines may be the same, but the hands are different.”
That is the virtue of love incarnated. That kind of love makes a difference. Christ has no hands, but our hands… no feet, but our feet. We are his ambassadors, representing Him to the world. And when we love as He as loved us, it will make the difference. People will notice. Christian love is indispensable.
Passion Church has a ministry for feeding the community in need. We co-labor with the Pima County Community Food Bank and two other ministries. A few years back, the food bank came on-site and did an inspection. They told us, at that time, that we were one of the food distribution locations that gave out the largest amount of food. They had done a survey to understand what distribution location people chose and why. What the people told them about our church and location was that we were kind and respectful, and they did not feel embarrassed to come and get food.
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Demonstrate the Virtue of Love
How do we demonstrate the distinctiveness of Christian love? Because virtue is moral action we practice, how can we practice the glorious virtue of love?
Love values the other person.
Let us not confuse Christian love with its modern counterfeits: lust, sentimentality, and gratification. While love is a wonderful, warm feeling, it is not only a feeling. In fact, according to the Bible, love is primarily an active interest in the well-being of another person. Love acts for the benefit of others. According to William Barclay, love “is the spirit in the heart that will never seek anything but the highest good of its fellow man.”
God loved us not because we had something to offer him, but rather because He had something to offer us. “For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). God loved us so that He could demonstrate His mercy to us in the person of His Son.
In like manner, everyone around us is of incredible value to God as a potential object of His mercy. His one and only Son died in their place. Because people matter so much to Him, they ought to matter to us. And we, therefore, need to love them as He loves them.
Love is vulnerable to the other.
In other words, love opens its life to another person. It goes beyond sentimental feelings. It breaks down barriers. It exposes the heart.
Think about Jesus. He left the glory of heaven to come to earth. He veiled His divinity and took on humanity. And what did it get him? “He came to His own, and His own people did not receive Him” (John 1:11). Most of the world did not recognize who Jesus was. Some did, but many did not. Maybe this was hurtful for Him. Then, as Jesus hung on the cross, dying for these people that He loved, they hurled abuses, scorn, and ridicule. His heart was broken. And yet, He forgave them.
If you love with Christ’s love, you will make yourself vulnerable. Be prepared to have your heart broken, to be hurt and misunderstood. But also, be ready for the greatest opportunities to have healing, change, growth, and to experience an even deeper love from the Father—for Christ lives in you. Likewise, you will have the greatest fruit in your life—joy, peace, patience, gentleness, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, self-control, and love. Love begets Love.
Love entails a cost.
It gets its hands dirty. It takes a chance. It goes out on a limb. It takes a gamble. Love makes a statement and leaves a legacy. It does the unexpected, surprising and stirring. It performs acts that steal the heart and leaves an impression on the soul. Often, these acts are never forgotten.
Waiting for the fulfillment of promises from God for my life. Promises made, promises kept. This requires vulnerability and has a cost. Do I have joy and support in another’s success? I have repeatedly stepped out of my comfort zone, but when I do, I see growth in my life. I experience deeper understanding of who God is and who He is to me. When I have released something precious to me, something of cost, I see the miraculous fruit from the Lord in my life. When I have yielded my hurt or sorrow to the Lord or have confessed my sin, he has given me more life and victory in an area once controlled by my flesh.
For us all, is the cost measured in time? Measured in money, emotions, leisure, material possessions? Is it measured by trust, patience, willingness to change? What else do we hold dear to our hearts? Are we willing to lay down the timing for His promises given to us? Does your promise have more of a priority or have more value than loving God and loving our brothers and sisters?
Love is patient and kind. Love is not envious or jealous.
Christian love inevitably carries costs. Even when the cost is high, we can nevertheless count on God to bring fulfillment to His followers. True love always costs. If there is no cost, there is no love.
What I long for—and what I hope you long for, too—is a Church and a world transformed by the abundant and scandalous love of God in Jesus Christ, a Church far more concerned with offering forgiveness and seeking reconciliation and far less concerned with the hurts that we carry and the anger we hold towards people who have offended us.
I long for a Church that is far more concerned with seeking out and welcoming those who are missing from Christ’s table and far less concerned about the perceived shortcomings of others.
This should be the community where we learn about and practice the life of love—where we learn and grow and become the people God wants us to be—a reflection of Christ and His love.
Living together as a community of faith is always going to be messy and challenging. We are going to laugh, we are going to cry, we are going hurt one another, we might even fight a little. But we should always be willing to offer love to one another. We should always be the first ones to reach out in love and extend an olive branch of peace and push past our hurts. The Church is a beautiful community when it becomes a place where love is embodied, spoken, and lived.
Can we do it? Can we love others in this way? Only if each of us makes a commitment to the way of love. Only if each of us fixes our eyes on the One who shows us how to live the life of love. Only if each of us offers our hearts and our minds, our hurts and our hopes to God.
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things.
For a deeper look at this topic, watch the Passion Church message, “Growing With God’s Love”: