Sunday, December 11, 2016

Love: The Greatest Gift

Love is one of the most talked about concepts/emotions/feelings in the world, probably for all of time.  It’s difficult to find a song, book or movie that doesn’t have at least some mention of love.

However, most of the time the love we find portrayed in popular media is of the (mushy-gushy) romantic sense.  The type of love we see portrayed in the media is typically shallow (“If you can’t be with the one you love, Love the one you’re with”), temporary (celebrity marriages), and rarely is it without some kind of overt sexual connotation.  For as much as it is talked about, sang about, and proclaimed… the word “love” is very misunderstood and often misused!

What is the value of true love?  Would it be possible to quantify love?  Much like the soul of man, love is priceless.  I'm not being cheesy, the Bible actually tells us as much!

Song of Solomon 8:7 Many waters cannot quench love, Nor can the floods drown it. If a man would give for love All the wealth of his house, It would be utterly despised.

The price of love is far beyond the wealth of this world.  Even if we offered everything we owned in this life, the price we offered would be scoffed at.  We shouldn’t use the word “love” lightly.

Overall, I think it’s safe to say that we humans have a very limited understanding of the type of love that is mentioned in the Bible, that is commanded of Christians.  Christian love warrants further study on our part.

1 Corinthians 13

This section of scripture is often read at weddings, but deals with more than just love between spouses.  The attitude toward love described here should apply to all of our relationships in this life, including our relationship with God.

1 Corinthians 13:1-13 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.  And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.  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. Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away.  For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away. When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.  For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.  And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love. 

One might wonder why exactly love is the greatest of the three…  Perhaps it is because faith and hope are temporary and earth-bound , whereas love is eternal!

Without love, all is useless, there is no point, all is in vain.  As Paul wrote in the first verses of this chapter, even the miraculous ability to speak in tongues is just a bunch of noise.

Using 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 as our outline, let us study love:

Love is kind/does not behave rudely

As we seek to love others, are we being gentle and kind to them?

Romans 12:10 Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another...

God commands us to love others, even those we do not know and those that we would count as enemies.

Luke 6:31-35  And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise. “But if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive back, what credit is that to you? For even sinners lend to sinners to receive as much back. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil.

Romans 13:8-10 Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not bear false witness,” “You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

Even when we are in the right, we need to deal gently and kindly with others.  I think it goes without saying that this applies to correcting a brother or sister in Christ as well!  We need to be aware of the tone of voice we are using and be careful in the words we speak.

Any time that we interact with someone, we need to stop and ask ourselves if we are dealing with them in a kind, loving manner or not.

Paul sums it up nicely:

1 Corinthians 16:14  Let all that you do be done with love.

Love does not envy

It’s unlikely that a heart blinded by envy can proclaim to truly love.

Notice the strong contrast between love and jealousy:

Song of Solomon 8:6 Set me as a seal upon your heart, As a seal upon your arm; For love is as strong as death, Jealousy as cruel as the grave;  Its flames are flames of fire, A most vehement flame.

How could these two possibly coexist?  We recognize that jealousy and love aren't a good mix in our earthly relationships so it stands to reason that envy has no place in the spiritual love we are discussing.

Galatians 5:26  Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.

Let us monitor our feelings toward others and not allow ourselves to envy those we are seeking to love.

Love does not parade itself/is not puffed up

Our love should be revealed in subtle workings that often go unnoticed.  (Random acts of kindness?)

Our love should be true and not hypocritical in nature. Additionally, our love should be natural, not forced.  God is not impressed with us proclaiming our love for Him just for show.  Remember the example of the Pharisee and the tax collector.

Luke 18:9-14  Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

God desires a humble, sincere love.

John 13:14-17 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.

Jesus was not only teaching a lesson of servitude to our fellow man, but also of love and humility.  In the New Testament times, washing of feet was a servant’s job.  Jesus, the very Son of God humbles Himself in the washing of His disciples’ feet.

Love does not seek its own

Love is not meant to be selfish.  Imagine what the world would be like if everyone loved only himself/herself.

Romans 15:1-2 We then who are strong ought to bear with the scruples of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, leading to edification

Love is meant to be shared!

How and with whom shall we share our love?

I'm not a big fan of the church sign marquees with their oft-repeated clever sayings.  I find them to be a bit gimmicky and cheesy, but every once in a while I find them amusing.  I read the following once a church’s sign: Jesus Others Yourself.

I feel like this is a great way to keep straight the hierarchy of who is most deserving of our love.  As always, Jesus/God must come first.  Others are next in line and we, ourselves personally, are last.  How often do we approach this love thing in a completely backwards manner?

Notice that when Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, He highlight love as a key component.

Mark 12:30-31 And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
Additionally, love is so important that Jesus made it the focus of one of His last teachings to His disciples before His crucifixion.

John 13:34-35 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

The fact that we are Christians should come as no surprise to others, they should be able to tell by our actions!  Unselfish love should be one of the many righteous trademarks of a Christian!

Galatians 5:13  For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.

Love is not provoked/ thinks no evil

All too often, we easily lose our temper with others.  We let little comments or actions get on our nerves.  Or sometimes we just automatically assume the worst in people.  When we are so easily provoked or think evil of others, these feelings can develop into hate very quickly!  But if we have a truly loving attitude towards others, this should not be so.

1 John 4:20-21  If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also.

Apparently, the love of our fellow man is vital for even proclaiming to love God.  We cannot claim to sincerely love God if we have hate toward our brother in our heart!

Love does not rejoice in iniquity but rejoices in the truth

If we truly love, we shouldn’t wish evil upon anyone; this is the attitude of a hypocrite!

Romans 12:10  Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. 

1 Peter 1:22 Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart,

You know, it's so sad that we can’t wait to share the latest gossip - which may or may not be true - with others.

I wonder:  Do we love others enough to share the Truth with them?

Do we love others enough to tell them about Jesus?

Love is longsuffering/endures all things

As Christians, we are commended not only to love one another, but to be patient with each other!

Ephesians 4:1-2  I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love...

Time and time again, throughout the Bible we are told about the great longsuffering of God.  God’s love is manifested through His longsuffering: Through God’s longsuffering comes our salvation!  (2 Peter 3:14-16)

Therefore, let us seek to be patient with others as well!

Conclusion: Love never fails

Jesus stated in John 15:13, "Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends."

As always, Jesus practiced what He preached, He laid down His life as a sacrifice for all.

Romans 5:7 For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die.  But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 

Nothing could stop the love of Christ, not even the grave.  Likewise, nothing can separate us from the love of Jesus.

Romans 8:35-39  Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: “ For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.”  Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

I would argue that every type of love that we experience in this life (be it brother/sister, husband/wife, or mother/child) pales in comparison to the love that God has for us. It is impossible for us to fully comprehend the love of God, as a song we often sing in our worship points out:

The Love of God

The love of God is greater far Than tongue or pen can ever tell; It goes beyond the highest star, And reaches to the lowest hell; The guilty pair, bowed down with care, God gave His Son to win; His erring child He reconciled, And pardoned from his sin.

When years of time shall pass away, And earthly thrones and kingdoms fall, When men, who here refuse to pray, On rocks and hills and mountains call, God’s love so sure, shall still endure, All measureless and strong; Redeeming grace to Adam’s race— The saints’ and angels’ song.

Could we with ink the ocean fill, And were the skies of parchment made,Were every stalk on earth a quill, And every man a scribe by trade, To write the love of God above, Would drain the ocean dry. Nor could the scroll contain the whole, Though stretched from sky to sky.

O love of God, how rich and pure! How measureless and strong! It shall forevermore endure The saints’ and angels’ song.

As we go out into the world as Christians seeking to love others and spreading God’s message of love, let us always hold up God as our standard of ultimate love!  Let us emulate the type of love that Christ has for us!

1 John 4:7  Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.

1 John 4:11-12   Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.  No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us.

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