And the greatest of these is love
The Bible says we are to love one another. Sounds good, but can we do it? Whoever said, "I love mankind; it's people I can't stand," was about right. People are just irritating. I agree with the guy who said, "To live above with those we love, oh, how that will be glory. To live below with those we know, now that's another story. Even people at church can be difficult to love. Theres a chorus which goes: "I'm so glad you're a part of the family of God," and then we look at the person beside us and think, "I'm surprised you're part of the family of God." Sometimes it's hard enough to love our own family. One unwise man once told his wife that if she had really loved him she would have married someone else. How do we make love a dominating characteristic of our lives? I. 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, 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 Cor. 13:3). Even though we have the freedom to set our own priorities, Jesus made a point of defining certain priorities 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 neighbour as yourself'" (Matt. 22:37-39). Love, then, is not a grey area 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 "Strength to Love", Martin Luther King, Jr., encouraged us to realise 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? II. 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 neighbour. Love, therefore, is the fulfilment of the law" (Rom. 13:10). This may sound irrelevant to our generation that depends on police, violence, and force to uphold and fulfil the law. Yet Jesus' simple command requires greater strength than any of us naturally possess - more power than any man-made weapon. The logic of Paul's interpretation of Jesus' command that love fulfils the Law seems equally simple. For if one loves his neighbour, he will not commit adultery with his neighbour’s spouse. If he loves his coworker, he will not lie to him. And if loves his enemy, he will not slander him. Love fulfils the law, because if we truly 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. III. 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 a WWJD bracelet, 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, when we become purveyors of love. It is as though Jesus has given the entire world the right to judge whether or not one is His follower simply on the basis of their love for fellow human beings. The virtue of love distinguishes the Christian. 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). Believers are God's advertisement to a watching society as to how individuals could best live in that society. In fact, Christian love will always be the best apologetic that the church has. When Ira Gillett, missionary to 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's 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. IV. 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? A. Love values the other person Let's 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. Dr. W.A. Criswell, former pastor of First Baptist Church, Dallas, Texas, officiated at a lot of weddings. The nervous groom would always say, "Dr. Criswell, how much do I owe you for this?" And he'd always smile and look at the groom and say, "Aw, just pay me what she's worth." Dr. Criswell made a lot of money from weddings, because to each man his new bride was of extravagant value. 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. B. Love is vulnerable to the other In other words, love opens up 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). Can you imagine being away on a business trip for a week, coming home, and your family not recognising you? That's similar to what Jesus experienced when he came to earth. Surely that must have hurt. 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. Christian love is the most costly investment you will ever make. C. S. Lewis, in The Four Loves, describes the vulnerable nature of love. "To love 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 to an animal. Wrap it carefully round 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. Instead, it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. C. 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. I recently read a moving story about the founder of World Vision, the international Christian relief agency. Bob Pierce had advanced leukaemia, but he chose to visit a colleague in Indonesia before he died. As he and others walked together through a small village, they came upon a young girl lying on a bamboo mat next to a river. She was dying of cancer and had only a short time to live. Bob was indignant. He demanded to know why she wasn't in a clinic. But his friend explained that she was from the jungle and wished to spend her last days next to the river, where it was cool and familiar. As Bob gazed at her, he felt such compassion that he got down on his knees in the mud, took her hand, and began stroking it. Although she didn't understand him, he prayed for her. Afterwards she looked up and said something, "What did she say? Bob asked his friend. His friend replied, "She said, 'If I could only sleep again, if I could only sleep again.'" It seemed that her pain was too great to allow her the relief of rest. Bob began to weep. Then he reached into his pocket and took out his own sleeping pills, the ones his doctor had given him because the pain from his leukaemia was too great for him to sleep at night. He handed the bottle to his friend. "You make sure this young lady gets a good night's sleep," he said, "as long as these pills last." Bob was ten days away from where he could get his prescription refilled. That meant ten painful and restless nights. That day his love cost him greatly. But even in the midst of his suffering, God infused him with a supernatural sense of satisfaction that he had done the right thing. I'm not saying that we should constantly abuse ourselves or become passive doormats. But Christian love inevitably carries costs. Even when the cost is high, we can nevertheless count on God to bring fulfilment to His followers. True love always costs. If there is no cost there is no love. Conclusion In the end, the goal of the Christian life is love. The measure of our maturity is our love for God and our love for others. If we fail in our love we have missed what it means to be a Christian. But there is hope for the one who has failed in love. At the beginning I asked the question, "Can we do it?" Can we love others in this way? The answer, I'm afraid, is "No." We cannot love others like Christ - without Christ. The Lord, who forgave even those who crucified Him, stands ready to forgive you of your lack of love. He wants to show His mercy toward you today, to cleanse your loveless heart and fill it with His loving Holy Spirit. Receive His mercy. Place your trust in Christ and let Him teach you how to love as He has loved you.