David Jeremiah - Selfless Love
We long, do we not, for examples of love that's genuine. Not just talked-about love, but lived-out love. Not the shallow emotions that we see in film and TV, but true self-sacrificing love, biblical love, God's love. "God demonstrated his love toward us, that while we were yet sinners, Christ gave his life for us". And the kind of love that is demonstrated by what Jesus Christ did, as many of you know, has a term. It's called agape, agape love.
Now, let me tell you what agape is. There is a lotta words in the New Testament for love, but the highest word, the most honored word is this word. The word "agape" means to love somebody without regard to what they may do in return for you. That no matter if they do not respond to you or return anything to you, you continue to love them. Obviously, we don't know very much about that in our culture today. We love others for what we can get from them and when they stop giving what we thought we wanted, we stop loving them and find somebody else to love. That's pretty much the way our world works today, but that's not God's way and, thankfully, that's not the way God loves us.
Wouldn't that be awful? "I love you, David, till you mess up again". Pretty short times of love. Isn't that true? But God doesn't love us that way. He loves us because it's his nature to love. God does not just love. God is love and even the love that we get to give back to him isn't our own. The Bible says we love him because he first loved us. I don't have any love to give to God unless he gives it to me, so all I'm giving back to God is what he gave me in the first place. I got my love from him, I give it back to him, and that's how it works.
Well, Peter, in this passage of Scripture, insists that we do our part in developing these qualities. We've gone through them one by one. They're, kind of, like dominoes that topple each other over, and we've come to the final supreme quality and that quality is Christ-like love. It's the final quality on Peter's list because it's the most important quality on Peter's list. It completes and gives meaning to everything else we've been talking about, and if you cultivate all of the other character qualities and you leave love out, then it won't work. Love is like the key that goes in the middle of all of these qualities that make them all work, and it's such an important lesson for us to communicate today in this world of hatred and anger and mean talk.
God loves you. As I've said before in another book, he always has, and he always will, and the best way to understand how to add love to our brotherly kindness is to find out how Jesus loved. You wanna know how God works? You find out how God works through Jesus, for Jesus is God's picture to us of himself. If you wanna know what God does, how he functions, what he thinks, who he is, study Jesus and when you study Jesus you find out how God's love works. The setting was the upper room. It was the last night before Jesus was to be crucified. It was the most poignant night in the life of the most powerful man who ever lived, and I wanna give you some thoughts about love as we go through the story that really are pertinent to us today as we add to our list of virtues this final quality, adding to our lovingkindness agape love.
First thing I want us to note is that love navigates our lifelong journey. Love is the key. Love is the red thread that runs through our lives from beginning to end after we become Christians. Listen to John 13:1. "When Jesus knew that his hour had come that he should depart from this world to the Father, having loved his disciples who were in the world, he loved them to the end". For three years, Jesus had led these men through Galilee and Judea and through the truths of the Scripture. He'd put up with their squabbling and their outbursts and their mistakes and their lack of faith, and he nurtured their hearts, and he taught them the greatest truths the world has ever heard.
Now it's time for him to die. He's going to rise again and ascend back to heaven, and the same love that navigated his dealings with them for three years, the Scripture says, endured to the end. It never faltered. It never failed. He knows how to put up with your squabbling, too. Did you know that? That sometimes we think, well, if we do such and such, he'll quit loving us. No, God doesn't love us on the basis of what we do. That would be a sad story, would it not, if performance was the basis of God's love for us?
We've already said that denies the very meaning of the term "agape". Agape is loving some person even though you may never receive anything back from them. That's the kind of love that's demonstrated in this passage of Scripture. His love is incredibly patient. It's always nudging you toward maturity and, as I said before, if you mess up you can't give up, because God is still there urging you on, telling you that he loves you even if you never return your love to him.
How many of you know when you don't know what to do usually the best answer is love? Let me remind you that before Jesus got to the upper room that night, the disciples were having an argument over which one of them was the most important. Remember that? I mean, it wasn't just a discussion. It was an argument. Jesus is about to give his life for them, and they're arguing over which one of 'em is gonna sit next to him in the kingdom. One of them was a trader. Another one of 'em is gonna deny him three times. Roman soldiers are on their way. Torture is ahead. Execution stands before him. There are goodbyes and the completion of his work on this Earth and so much to say and so little time and all these things rushing together like meteorites colliding.
If Jesus's love had failed him then, everything would have fallen apart. The Bible says he loved us to the end. He loved them to the end. Through all of that turmoil, through all that commotion, through all those things that are about to unfold in his life in the redemption of mankind, Jesus never forgot that while he was dying for the world there were 12 guys sitting around a table with him that he had loved for 3 years, and he loved them to the end. So, let me say this to you. Love is what navigates your lifelong journey. Wherever you started, wherever you are, however long you have left, the one thing that will get you through all of the things you're going through is love, realizing the love that God has for you. And that if you have failed he hasn't stopped loving you, because his love isn't based on your performance. His love is based on the performance of his son, Jesus Christ.
How many think he did all right? Yeah. So, love is what navigates your lifelong journey and, secondly, love is what motivates you to serve other people. If you read on into this text, here is what it says, "Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, Jesus rose up from supper, laid aside his garments, took a towel and girded himself. And after that, he poured water into a basin, and he began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which he was girded".
Now, don't forget the setting. What are they doing? They're arguing. They're arguing over which one of them is the greatest in the kingdom and here is the Son of the living God, who is the greatest, and he gets a towel and wraps it around himself and gets a basin full of water and gets down on his knees and begins to move through the disciples washing their feet. And one by one the flustered disciples felt the fingers of the Lord stroke their feet, wiping away the mud. He dried each foot carefully. He whose sandals they were not worthy to unlatch, he washed their feet, and the thing that demonstrates who we are as Christians is the unexplainable things we do because we have this quality of divine love coursing through our spiritual veins.
We do things nobody could understand. "Why would they do that"? There's only one reason: they're Christ followers and the love of God has captured their heart. And when the love of God captures your heart what you discover is you got too much for just yourself, and you gotta let it spill over into the lives of other people.
You know, one of the most important things for you to remember about love in the New Testament is once in a while it's a noun, but mostly it's a verb. The Bible says, "Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church". And you know what's interesting about that? It's not an option. It's not a suggestion. It's a command. You say, "Well, my wife doesn't treat me right". "Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church". And you know what happens when you start to do that? Whatever it is you think that isn't going right with your spouse will start to get straightened out not by something she's done, but by something that you do.
The best thing you can do when you start having trouble in your marriage is find out exactly what it is God tells you you're supposed to do and do it whether anything good happens or not, and you will be surprised what God does. When God's love begins to resonate with you, you will feel so overwhelmed with it that you'll wanna share it with somebody else, amen?
As Jesus's love that night spilled over into his act of service to his disciples. And then, number three, love imitates the Lord Jesus Christ. Let's take a step further. When we learn to love as Jesus does, it's because we have decided to follow his example. It means we see Jesus doing this, and we wanna do it. Is that the right thing? Listen to these words. These are the words of Jesus. "If I then, your Teacher and Lord, 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".
Now, I do not believe that Jesus was literally saying that we should wash each other's feet. We live in a totally different culture. In the days when Jesus washed the disciples' feet literally, they walked through dirty streets, and when they would arrive at a house there would be a servant who would come and cleanse their feet so that they wouldn't track dirt into the house, and so foot washing was simply a symbol of a self-sacrificing act. Jesus said, "I have shown you my love by washing the dirty feet of my disciples". Take that illustration and don't be too embarrassed to do anything in the name of Jesus that will make a difference in the life of a person.
And here is the fourth thing: it elevates the experience of life for us. Now, I know you have to take this by faith. If you have never really served the Lord sacrificially, you are missing the greatest blessing you will ever have outside of becoming a Christian. Here is what the Bible says. Jesus said, "If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them". He didn't say, "Blessed are those to whom you do it," although that is true. No, Jesus said if you know these things about sacrificing your life out of your desire to show the love of God to other people, if you know these things and you do them, you will be blessed.
This is what I found more and more in my life than any other thing. The thing I sometimes go to do to help someone else comes barreling back at me with a blessing I never expected, bigger than anything I could ever imagine. You can't out-serve God, just like you can't out-give God. The more you serve, the more God blesses you as you serve. And then, number five, love authenticates our discipleship. This is something very special. The new element in this is really important.
This love that we're talking about today, according to the Bible, is the highest level of love in all of the world. It is so different from the Old Testament concept of loving one's neighbor as oneself. Jesus's love is this: love others not as you love yourself, but as Jesus has loved you. And how has Christ loved you? "But God demonstrates his own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us". "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". The love of Jesus is so different than any other kind of love you will ever imagine, that the Bible says it is the badge of our discipleship. Did you know that?
In John 13 it says, "By this shall all men know that you are my disciples". These are the words of Jesus. And what is the rest of it? "When you have love one for another". So, how can you diligently add to your faith love? Here is the first thing I would say to you. Remember, first of all, again, that you are loved. We love because he first loved us. Don't ever forget that, 'cause if you try to love and you don't know that the love comes from God, you're gonna fail. You cannot mimic God's love without God. You can't manufacture a love that looks like God's love.
I remember reading a story about a guy who was writing an article about what he noticed among Christians, and he said, "I watch these Christians, and they help the homeless and," he said, "they put bandages on people that are hurt. They go to the mission field. They go into rough places to work. They go to the prisons". And then this man, who was not a Christian but he was a real agnostic, he said, "I used to think that you should be able to be as good a person without Christ as you could be with him". But he said, "After all these years I've been studying this, I realize that the Christians have something the rest of us don't, and there isn't any way to do what they do without having what they have".
And that's true. What we have is our relationship with God. If we try to do the work of God without a relationship with God, it will fall flat on its face. But when you love God and you let the love of God that's been shed abroad in your hearts motivate you to serve God, it's a thing of beauty. It's a wonderful thing to watch.
So, remember that you are loved and don't ever, ever question that, because if you question God's love for you, you will never be able to love anybody else. Number two, re-imagine your relationships. Call them on the phone. Write them a letter. Text them. All kinds of ways to convey to them that you love them and listen to me. Don't assume that they know it. Make sure they know it. Instead of asking what others have to offer you, reimagine your relationships and ask what you can do to help them. And then, reorganize your priorities.
I think sometimes you don't love simply because it's not on your mind, not a priority, so how can you make love a priority in your life? Just like you make anything else a priority in your life. You schedule it. You say, "You schedule loving people"? Here is one way to do that: on your calendar or your to-do list just write down John 13:34 and 35 next to all your assignments. Ask yourself, "How can I love like Jesus today"? After all, that's your job. You say, "Well, where do I start"? Just ask the Lord to show you. Crown all the qualities in life with the love of Jesus Christ.
I tell you, men and women, the world is so thirsty for it. The people around you are starving for love. Your family and friends, your neighbors and coworkers, your brothers and sisters, they all need someone to wash their feet and strengthen their courage. And when you find it difficult to follow in the steps of Jesus, just remember this: it all starts with Jesus's love for you. He gave you everything you need so that you would have everything that is needed by the people who are waiting for your words of love. Love is the last quality that Peter highlights.
I wanna leave you with these words from 1 John. "Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. And if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love has been perfected in us". How do you love God? You love God by loving people. How do you say, "God, I love you"? You say it with your words, and then you go show it with your works. To love God you have to love others. You say, "Well, can't I just pray and tell him I love him"? Yeah, you can do that, but you'll never sense the real connection of love that God means for you to have, amen? Okay, go find somebody to love. Amen.