David Jeremiah - A Life of Love
Country superstar Alan Jackson made a fortune singing love songs with words like this: "When somebody loves you there's nothing you can't do. When somebody loves you it's easy to get through". That sentiment may not be absolutely true but it's a whole lot better than the old country classic that goes like this: "I went back to my fourth wife for the third time and gave her a second chance to make a first-class fool out of me". That actually is a song. I gotta tell you that after a lifetime of ministry, I've observed that the whole idea of love makes fools out of a lot of people. When you talk about love, you are talking about something that people write, talk, and sing about so much and I believe that one of the reasons that's true is because there's a hole in the human heart and we need reassurance and affection and fellowship.
Love is the oxygen of the soul and we have to have it. The first thing that an infant needs at birth is to be held and hugged by a loving parent, and the presence of love brings a lifetime of blessing. When we receive Jesus Christ as our personal Savior, the very love of God is poured into our hearts. Did you know that? The Bible tells us that he pours his love into our hearts by his Holy Spirit and that love grows within us just like grapes grow on a vine and the fruit of the Spirit is love. And this love isn't just a sensation. It's not just a warm feeling around here, in your body. This love wears work gloves and handles the everyday nuts and bolts of life. It's very practical. It hugs the lonely, it feeds the hungry, it tends the sick, it comforts the sorrowful, and it puts up with the insufferable. It's kind and longsuffering, it's pure and perceptive and positive in its outlook. It is truly one of the foundations of a life beyond amazing.
And here's the interesting thing about it, folks. Until Jesus came to this earth, nobody ever had experienced that kind of love. The world's concept of love before that was very self-centered. It was love that demanded something in return. It was love for what you could get out of love but when God sent his Son as a love gift to this world, his special other-centered love was put on display in Jesus Christ for all of us to watch and they called that love agape. That's the word in John 3:16: "For God so agape the world".
Now let me tell you something that will surprise some of you. Love is not an option. Love is a command. The command of love is everywhere on display in the New Testament and I find many believers are quite shocked at this because they've bought into the idea that you can't command love. Love is something that's gonna kind of overtake you. You know, we talk about it this way. We fell in love, like you're walking down the street and you fall into it, you know? Like something happens to you, you didn't have anything to do with it, you don't know anything about it. What happened to you? "Oh, I just fell in love".
Well, the Bible tells us that we are responsible to love one another. And I'm gonna read these Scriptures and I want you to notice how often the word "command" or "commandment" shows up. The command to love. Here's what the Scripture says. John 13:34: "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another". John 15:12: "This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you". John 15:17: "These things I command, that you love one another". 1 John 3:23: "And this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of the Son of God and love one another, just as He gave us commandment".
Now here's the question that you and I have to answer. Is it possible for us to obey that commandment? Can love be commanded? Can we love each other as he has loved us? And based on the evidence that you observe today, you would have to see that most people have taken that option off the table. No, love is not something they take as a responsibility but something they get to do if it so happens to be right for them. Earlier when I was doing a lot more counseling than I do now, guys would say, "Well, Pastor Jeremiah, I just gotta tell you, I don't love her anymore," like they have an option not to love her anymore. The Bible says, "Husbands, love your wives". What part of that don't we get? "Well, what if I don't feel like it"? That isn't anything to do with it. Love her anyway. Because love isn't a feeling; love is an action. Love is a response. Love is a verb. Love is what we do more than what we feel. The feelings come after the action.
In the New Testament book of Revelation when the Ephesian church had lost its first love, what is it that God told them to do? "Go back and do the first works". He didn't say, "Go back and sit around and see if the feeling comes back". He said, "Go back and do the first works". In fact, in the New Testament Scriptures we are commanded 55 different times to love. And all of these commands are given to us in different contexts, in different settings. They affect us as parents, they affect us as children, they affect us as individuals. These commands affect us as members of the local church. Even the New Testament holds out for us what seems to be impossible, that we should love our enemies, and Jesus Christ apparently thought that was important enough to leave us with a vivid illustration as he hung on the cross and forgave the people that put him there. Of those 55 commands to love, 21 of them are commands for us to love one another. God commands the impossible and then he gives us his ability to accomplish this love.
So how do we cultivate this love in our lives? How do we cultivate this command? As with all the character traits we are studying in this series, let me tell you we are responsible for developing God's gift to us of love. Remember now, God pours out his love to us when we're saved. He gives us this deposit of love. But he doesn't give that to us just so that it can sit there and not be responded to by us. We're to take that love and take it to the next level. We are to say, "This is God's gift to me and I'm gonna take this and give a gift back to him out of what he's given to me". Paul summarized the words of 1 Corinthians 13 in this statement at the end of the love chapter. You know it well. "And now abideth faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love".
Now, that seems like that's the end of the discussion of love. But unfortunately, there is a chapter division between 13 and 14 which I think shouldn't be there. It's arbitrary. By the way, the chapter divisions in the Bible are not inspired. They were put there by people who wanted to make the Bible easier for us to read. So you hear the summary statement of what love is at the end of chapter 13. Do you know what the first verse of chapter 14 says? It says: "Pursue love". Here is what love looks like, the love that God has given to you. Accept it, rejoice in it, be thankful for it. Now pursue it. In other words, take control of your own life and begin to ask God to help you learn how to love better. That's what I want in my life.
And here we have this prime example of that seeming paradox that stands at the center of all of these traits. The fruit is always a gift but it is still something that requires hard work on our behalf. So that brings us to how we do this. How do I become a more loving person? I've been commanded to love. I hear people say this, "I just wasn't born with much love". Or "I don't have, I'm just not a loving person," like once you say that you're off the hook. No, you just admitted where you are but you're really on the hook now. Nobody has a right to say, "Well, I know we're supposed to do this but I just wasn't born that way". I know some of you weren't born with a loving attitude but that doesn't mean you aren't responsible to love.
So since love is both a gift and a task, here's the question that challenges us in every one of these discussions. How can we become more loving people? I'm a Christian. I know God. I know that he poured his love into my heart. I'm confident that God loves me. John 3:16 is something I know well, but do you know 1 John 3:16? We all know John 3:16. Do you know what 1 John 3:16 looks like? The 3:16s are kind of there for us to remember. "By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren". That's 1 John 3:16. And 1 John 4:11-12 is similar because "if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another". So let me just lay this principle out so that we can all grab hold of it. One of the ways you learn how to love one another is by learning how much God loved you in the first place, because if we're supposed to love one another as God has loved us, then we need to learn more about how God has loved us so that we can pattern that in our love for one another. Because God loved us.
October 22, 2007, the first medal of honor was awarded for combat in Afghanistan. It was presented to the family of Lieutenant Michael Murphy, a Navy SEAL who gave his life to make a radio call for help for his team. Murphy and three other SEALs were sent on a mission in June of 2005 into the rugged 10.000 foot Afghan mountains, searching for a known terrorist and they apparently were spotted by local tribesmen who reported them to the Taliban and Murphy's team was trapped by 50 enemy troops who surrounded them on 3 sides, forced them into a ravine and all 4 men began to sustain wounds and were out of ammunition. "We were hurting," said the team's sole survivor, Petty Officer 2nd Class Marcus Luttrell. "We were out of ammo and it was bad. It was real bad. But Murphy moved from man to man to keep his team together, though he had to expose himself to enemy fire to do it.
Then because the mountainous terrain blocked communications, he had to move into the open area and call for help. Despite incoming fire, he calmly provided his unit's location and information about opposing force. While making the call, he took two rounds in the back and dropped the handset but he managed to retrieve it and complete the call, even telling the person at the other end, "Thank you," while he was in this wounded condition. His dad, speaking to reporters after his son had been killed in action, said, "Here is a man who had been shot in the stomach. He'd been fighting with this wound. Then he gets shot in the back and then he still has the presence of mind to say, 'Thank you.'"
Petty Officer Luttrell survived the firestorm because he was blasted over the ridge by a rocket-propelled grenade, knocked unconscious, and rescued by local villagers who refused to turn him over to the Taliban. He was later transported to a Marine outpost and he owed his life to Lieutenant Murphy. I can't imagine the love, respect, and gratitude that he feels today for his fallen companion, to know that a buddy willingly and without hesitation exposed himself to enemy fire to save him. That must be a lifelong appreciation. Not many of us will ever see that kind of courage or love in our own personal lives 'cause it doesn't happen that often. The "me" generation has turned into "it's all about me" generation and, if we're not careful, even in our churches, we become consumer centers where everyone wants his or her own style of worship or set of programs. But the Bible says this: "While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us".
There's only one symbol that I think is greater than the medal of honor and that's the cross of Calvary. And I think it would help us if we used our imagination once in a while just to consider how similar our plight was to that of Murphy's team, trapped by the enemy, outnumbered, wounded and hopeless, and yet one man stood up and stretched out his arms and saved us. There's something about that picture that moves us and I think it's no accident that Jesus died with outstretched arms. It was his way of embracing the whole world and reaching out for you and me. The second thing we need to do is pursue genuine love.
Did you know that in John 13:35 it says: "By this the whole world will know whether or not we are Christians if we love one another". You expect that to say, "By this the whole world will know we are Christians if we come to church or if we pray or if we give to the offering". Doesn't say any of that. It says: "By this shall everyone know that you and I are a Christian by how we love one another". That's the badge of our discipleship and it's no wonder that the watching world looks sometimes at the church which seems to be more about fighting and griping and complaining and all of that, and they don't want any part of it because it doesn't seem genuine. It doesn't seem real. This was very much of a problem in the New Testament.
Here's the third thing I want to share with you and I'll just give you this principle: "Pray for greater love". If you don't feel like you're really as loving as you ought to be, ask God to help you. God wants us to be loving people and he doesn't mind if we come and ask him to help us. And if you have somebody in your life who's not very loving toward you and others, you might want to pray for them that God would give them some more love, too. Then don't be afraid to risk. That's number four. If you want to grow in your love for others, don't think it's a safe way to go. How many of you know it's never safe to love anybody 'cause they can hurt you? We've often said in our discussions at home, that sometimes the people you help the most are the ones who hurt you the worst. Isn't that something? But that's one of the things you have to guard against. You cannot stop loving simply because you're afraid that if you love you'll be hurt. Maybe you've gone through a relationship and it just ended up so bad and you've said in your heart, "I'm never getting involved with anybody else again. This was so awful".
Let me read to you what C.S. Lewis said about this. He said, "To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully around with hobbies and little luxuries. Avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness, but in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken, it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy or at least to the risk of tragedy is damnation. The only place outside of heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is hell".
You've got to be willing to risk and then here's the last one and we're done. Practice love every day. "Therefore be imitators of God as dear children," the Scripture says. "And walk in love". How many of you know walking is one step at a time? Just as we learn to walk one step at a time, we learn to love, one loving act at a time. 1 Corinthians 16:14 says: "Let everything you So here's the essence of the message. Find out how much God loves you and take that love and be a distributor. Take that love and love others.
Every time you think, "I don't know if I can love that person," stop for a moment and remember how much God loved you, what he not only saved you from in the past, but what he might have saved you from in the future. Remember, the Bible says God loved us when we were without any reason to be loved, sinful, rebellious. Not looking for love, God reached out to us. That's the quality of love he wants us to develop as believers. And when we do, I want to tell you if you've ever experienced even a little bit of this, it's an amazing life. To love others is the greatest reward you will ever get in your life.