Charles Stanley - A Life of Love
Of all the emotions you have ever experienced, which is the most important one of all? Well, somebody would say fear, because it protects me. No. Faith, because that's how I achieve things in life. Well, not really. Well, joy and happiness, because that's sort of what everybody's longing for. All those may be well, but the most important emotion you have ever experienced in life is the emotion of love. Now, maybe you've never experienced that emotion. Maybe deep down inside you'd have to admit, "Well, I think I have, but I'm not sure". Listen, if you have ever felt genuine love from someone, you know it. If you ever felt true, genuine love toward someone else, you know it. And oftentimes it's a sad story that people live their entire lives and can never put their finger on any given time in their life when they said, "You know, I really loved her, I really loved him. I felt genuine love from her, I felt genuine love from this particular person".
Think about it; it is the supreme emotion that God has placed within us. He created us to love Him and to be loved by Him. And the question is: Do you love God? Do you feel God's love in your heart? Can you say that you genuinely love anybody? Or would you have to say, "You know, I've had some feelings, but true, genuine love, I'm not sure"? Well, this is the eighth message in our series on the extraordinary life, "Living the Extraordinary Life," and the title of this message is "A Life of Love". We've talked about a life of prayer and a life of service and all those in the series that have to do with the extraordinary life, which simply means an extraordinary Christian is this: a person who is indwelt by the Lord Jesus Christ; by whose words people know that we know Him; by our actions, they see Him in us; and in our very presence, they feel something of the Lord Jesus Christ in our life. The person who lives the extraordinary life is a person who's learned some very, very valuable lessons about love.
So I want you to turn, if you will, to the twenty-second chapter of Matthew, a very important passage of scripture, and I want us to look at this passage in the light of this whole issue of a life of love, because he covers it right here. And in the twenty-second chapter, beginning in verse thirty-four, here's what is happening: "But when the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees in their discussion, they gathered themselves together. One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him," and here's what he said. "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law"? And He said to him, "'YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.' This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.' On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets".
And so He says, if you'll notice, we're to love the Lord our God, listen, "all," he says three times. Look at that. He says "with all your heart," "with all your soul," and "with all your mind". Then He says you're to love your neighbor as yourself. So we're talking about God's love, our love for Him, His love for us; our love for ourselves, which almost sounds like a contradiction; and then our love for other people. And if anyone's going to live a godly life, an extraordinary Christian life, a life that's above the norm and above the ho-hum that oftentimes people are settled for, then you have to understand there are four lessons of love that all of us have to grasp in our own heart and then to begin to apply in our own life.
So I want us to look at this first one, because in these particular lessons, all of us are going to find ourselves, we're going to see ourselves in some fashion, and the first one is simply this. And that is, we must learn to receive the love of God. We must learn to receive the love of God. Now someone would say, "Well, I received the Lord Jesus Christ as my personal Savior. Didn't I receive the love of God"? Watch this. You received an expression of His love, but think about this. A person who is a Christian can, in their mind, they can think about the love of God. In the scriptures, you can read about the love of God. You can talk to other people about the love of God. People can preach and teach about the love of God, in other words, the fact that God loves us. All of us probably would say, "Well. yes, I know that He loves us, no question in my mind about that. I'm absolutely certain". And we could all turn to some scriptures and say, "Here's what it says".
Here's what I want you to remember. You can receive many of God's expressions of love, but here's the question. Have you ever received His love emotionally? Have you ever accepted the fact that God loves you? Not just in your mind, not just by the blessings that He sends your way, but do you feel it? Now, when you love someone, you feel it. When you're genuinely in love with someone and they love you dearly, you feel it, you grasp it. It affects you. There's something on the inside. You can't even fully explain it, you just know it's there. Oftentimes people will go through their life and never experience, listen, God's love; never feel it, never be able to perceive it deep down inside. Somehow, they can't grasp it. It's so very important that you and I are able to receive God's wonderful love for us, not, listen, not what love provides, but just the emotion, the feeling, this awesome absolute feeling of God's love.
So, what I'd like to do is to give you a definition of God's love. I don't think anybody can fully define what love is or fully define, of course, what God's love is, but at least this is a good try. God's love is His unselfish giving of Himself to us in order for the purpose of bringing about good and blessing in our life. It's His unselfish giving of Himself to us to bring about good and blessing in our life in spite of the fact that we are unlovely and that we do not deserve it. And so, what I want you to see in this definition is this, that God's love is unconditional. Now, what does it mean for it to be unconditional? It means that God loves you and me, listen, without any condition. He doesn't love us if, He doesn't love us but, He doesn't love us when; He simply loves us just the way we are.
Whether you are saved or unsaved, God loves you. Because here's what I want you to notice: God doesn't love us on the basis of anything outside of Himself. So therefore, it can be unconditional. He doesn't love us if we're good or when we're bad. He doesn't change His mind. He loves us absolutely unconditionally. And I can say to you, I never knew it because I wasn't taught that. And that's why I am so desirous that you know when you are able to receive God's unconditional love, your life is going to change, because watch this: until you're able to receive His love, you can't really love anybody else. Now, watch this. You can have a deep affection for them, give them gifts, do all kinds of things. The reason you cannot is because genuine true love comes from God. When you trust Jesus Christ as your Savior, He comes into your life.
Now, watch this. He is able, remember the fruit of the Spirit? Love, joy, peace; the very first characteristic. He is able to love through you in ways that you cannot love someone else apart from Him. So the first lesson we must learn if we're going to live an extraordinary life, that's life on the highest plane, life at its best, we learn to accept and to receive God's love for us. There's a second lesson I think we have to learn. We have to learn how to express our love toward God. Now, if I should ask you this morning, do you love God? "Oh, yes". What do you do that really says you love God? And it's very clear in scripture that lip service isn't enough.
You can sing you love Him, "Oh, how I love Jesus". You can sing about your love, let's look at it this way. You can preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. You can preach love and not love Him. You can read the Bible and not love God. You can pray and not... and here's the reason why. Many people pray because they're desperate. They get in trouble and have all kind of problems and heartaches, and so they pray to God, not because they love Him; they want something from Him. It's okay to need something from Him, He wants us to, but He wants us to love Him. But Jesus made it very clear as to how you and I indicate whether we love Him or not.
So I want you to turn to a passage of scripture here. Want you to turn to John fourteen, and in this one chapter, I want you to notice how many times Jesus makes this statement. The fourteenth chapter of John. And remember, He's in the upper room, He's going to be crucified the next day, and He's giving His disciples some direction. Look how often He mentions this very same thing. So, He doesn't leave us to guess whether we love Him or not. Here's how He says we love Him. Chapter fourteen, verse fifteen: "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments," period. Look at this next verse, verse twenty-one: "He who has My commandments, and keeps them, is the one who loves Me". And then verse twenty-three: "Jesus answered and said, 'If anyone loves Me, he will keep My words.'" And verse twenty-four: "He who does not love Me does not keep My words".
It's very evident, so let me ask you a question. What is the one single way that you and I know that we genuinely truly love God, if we do what? Obey Him. I can give Him lip service, I can preach sermons, and we can sing and read the Bible and give. That's not an indication that I genuinely love Him. We love Him and we express that love toward Him when we obey Him. So think about this. When you live out your life on a given day and you walk obediently before God, do you know what you're doing without even knowing it? When you live obediently before Him and obey Him, what you're doing is you're loving Him. Your obedience on a daily basis is love. He challenges you, for example, to share your message with someone else, how God's worked in your life. When you do what He says, you're loving Him. When He asks you to volunteer to serve in your church or whatever it might be and you do that, you're loving Him. When He tells you to give, you're loving Him.
And so often we think, "Well, in order to love God, I've got to go to church and sing and pray or do something, or do something dramatic". No, He says, "If you love Me, you'll keep My commandments". Takes more than lip service. It takes one simple thing: to obey Him in whatever He's requiring of you. So, lesson number one has to deal with this whole issue of being able to receive God's love. The second is simply this, and that is: Do I really and truly love God? Is my life an expression of love toward Him?
There's a third lesson, because when you think about this, this is the difficult one sometimes. And that is, I must be willing to love myself. You say, "Well, that sounds like a big contradiction when you're talking about loving God and then receiving His love. Then loving yourself, that sounds sort of prideful and pompous". No, it's not, because you see, listen to what Jesus said in this passage: "This is the great and foremost commandment. 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.'" That's the second part of it. Love your neighbor as yourself. And the indication is that He certainly expects us to love ourselves. Healthy self-love says this: "I respect myself".
If I respect myself, there are some things I'm going to do and some things I'm going to avoid. If I respect myself, I'll have the right attitude toward myself. What's that? I'm a child of God. I've been saved by the grace of God. He laid down His life on my behalf. He made me one of His children. He's preparing a home in Heaven for me. He's written my name in the Lamb's Book of Life. He's indwelling me. He's promised to protect me, promised to provide. That means I'm a person of value in His eyes, so therefore, I'm going to respect the fact that I am a child of God, and that because of that, I'm going to watch what happens in my life. I'm going to be careful what I put into this body and what I keep out of it. I'm going to respect myself enough to watch how I dress. I'm going to respect myself enough to look at my potential and find out what that is. I'm going to respect myself enough to do my best. Going to respect myself enough to depend upon Him, to trust in Him, and to walk in His ways because I know His plan's best. You see, all of that is healthy self-love. Because remember this, He says, "You're not your own, you're bought with a price".
And so all of us are the purchased possession of Jesus. And as a result of that, that means this body, your body, who you are, God created you for the purpose of loving you and being loved by you. Therefore, we should respect this body; we should respect our mind, will, emotion, our spirit, our soul. We should respect every facet of our life. Listen, what did we say in the very second message? We spent a whole message on this, that God created us and that we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for the purpose of good works which He beforehand foreordained, that you and I should walk in them. We, listen, we are His magnificent creations. The awesome creation of a human being, to be able to think and to love and to fear and to trust. There's nothing on the creation to match who you and I are. Has nothing to do with being pompous and prideful, it has to do with what God says we are. And if you're going to have the right kind of attitude toward other people, you've got to have a right attitude toward yourself.
Well, there's a fourth lesson I think we have to learn, and that's this. We must learn to reach out to others in love. It's not enough to be loved by God. It's not enough to love Him, not enough to have the right attitude toward ourselves, but we must also reach out to others. And in John chapter thirteen, I want you to notice in this passage what He says. He says, "A new commandment I give you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love, one toward another". And it's interesting when He says here, He says we're to love one another. And there are two reasons He said that, and I want you to watch this. For example, He said in Matthew the fifth chapter, notice what He says here.
And lot of people don't particularly like this verse of scripture because sometimes it sort of rubs us the wrong way, but here's what He said, verse forty-four: "But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you". It's real hard to love somebody who's persecuting you, and it's very difficult for us to love somebody who mistreats us. Here's what I want you to remember. There are two reasons Jesus said that. One of them is that He wants us to be compassionate and forgiving toward others, just like He has forgiven us. "Be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ Jesus has forgiven you".
So His first reason is that you and I would be compassionate and loving. Watch this second one. The reason He said to love your enemies and pray for them is because loving them and praying for them protects us from becoming angry, bitter, hostile, resentful, all of which are self-destructive. When a person lives with anger or bitterness, jealousy, all of these things, what happens? It affects them not only emotionally, their relationship to other people, but, listen, it affects them physically. You cannot live with bitterness and resentment and anger and hostility in your heart without suffering, not only emotionally, but ultimately it's going to show up in this human body because God didn't create us to carry those. And so the truth is, He said, "Pray for your enemies. Love your enemies, pray for them, in spite of what they do," why? Because He wants to protect us.
Listen, He certainly felt every bit of that. And what is He doing on the cross? Praying for them, why? Because that was a right response. Here's what He said in this passage: "By this all men will know that you are My disciples, that you have love one toward another". You think about this, you can work, for example, in your office or in your business for ten long years and they know you're a Christian, things you say and so forth. But let somebody wrong you terribly, terribly they wrong you, and everybody sees them wrong you, and your response is, "Well, thank you very much". And they see you, no anger, no bitterness, no hostility. You know what happens? In one incident, you make your most awesome impact in that whole office, more in that one instant than you did in ten years; why? They see you acting like Jesus.
Now, my love toward other people should be this kind of love, that I am, listen, I'm committed to their happiness, security, and well-being. That's what I'm committed to. If I love you, I'm committed to your happiness, your security, and your well-being. Isn't it interesting that husbands and wives can live with each other and not be committed to each other's happiness and their well-being and who they are as a person? If I genuinely love somebody, I'm going to be committed to their happiness, security, and well-being. Doesn't mean I like everything, but I'm committed to that for them. There's a second characteristic that ought to be found in our life, and that's this: that we relate to them in a manner, listen, we relate to those we love in a manner that enables them to feel three things in their life. And these are very, very important. Every parent should try to build these three things into the life of their children.
First of all, a sense of belonging; I belong. A sense of worth; I'm valuable. A sense of competence; I can do it. And if you'll think about a tripod, has three legs: belonging, worthiness and competence. If you knock out any one of those legs, that person's incomplete. None of us are emotionally complete without feeling that we belong, that we're worthy, and that we're competent. And when parents accuse and abuse their children verbally, "Well, you'll never amount to anything," there goes the competence. "Well, we didn't want you anyway," there goes their worthiness. And what happens? We wonder why these kids develop the things they develop and why they live the way they live. But the same thing is true of adults. If you don't, listen, if you don't feel, if you don't feel like you belong to anybody, you think about this.
Today, maybe you do; maybe you don't. Maybe there's not anybody you belong to. Your family's all gone and you don't have any real close friends, you don't belong to anything. You're just out there, you're very incomplete. A sense of belonging, a sense that somebody values me. The sense of competence, they believe that I can do it. When you relate to someone else and you try to build into their life your attitude toward them about these three things, you know what's going to happen? You're going to build a strong relationship. But there's a third, and that's this. A person who loves somebody genuinely is going to be other-centered; not self-centered, other-centered. You're going to be thinking about them and how you can help them and how you can encourage them and how you can work in their life in such a way that they're better because of your friendship and your relationship to them.
But there's a fourth thing, and that's this. If you're going to love somebody and build a loving relationship, you have to be willing to risk rejection, and that's painful. Rejection is probably one of the most painful of all emotions. While love is supreme, rejection is probably on the bottom line. You have to be willing to risk rejection. And see, you see, the reason some people never develop a relationship with anybody, because they've been hurt and they've said, "I'm not going to be rejected by anybody else". You know what? If you're not willing to risk rejection, you're not going to experience love.
And then of course, if you really and truly love somebody, you're going to be continually seeking ways, listen, seeking ways to express that love. You're going to be looking for ways to express that love. And if somebody says, "Well, I love you". "Well, what's the evidence"? Now, this is the way we often think. We often think, "I know what she needs, so that's what I'm going to do. I know what he needs, that's what I'm going to do". No, if we love somebody, we're going to love them in a way that meets their needs the way they understand it.
So I want to just ask you a question, to see if you can say this. In light of all these things and how very important love is, is there anybody in your life today, anyone, anyone in your life today about which you could say this? "My soul is rich, my life is beautiful all because of you". Could you say that? My soul is so rich, my life is so beautiful, all because of you. Is there anyone that you've ever loved that you could say that to? Or that you do love? Then maybe, after you have watched this, heard this, or walk out of here, you ought to turn to the other person and say, "I'm so rich, my soul is so rich, and my life is so beautiful all because of you". Because the truth is, we can say that to our Heavenly Father. Our soul is rich and our life is beautiful because of You, Father.