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Love - as Christ loves the Church

Love – as Christ loves the Church

…earnestly desire the best gifts. And yet I show you a more excellent way. 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.

Introduction

Earnestly desire the best gifts, and yet…! Agape, and philanthropia, the latter being a word that is almost English, we all know, and agape, or its rendering as a verb is that which we will discuss today, the love or agapao of God. It is better than all the gifts that God has on offer, if one wishes to claim a life that God wants for you. Love is the key, the pivotal point of not only accepting Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord, but that of being Christ like in our day to day lives.

Note what our opening verses tell us. You can sell everything you have, and become the greatest philanthropist – yes love type two; you can tell people exactly what will happen to them; or nations, as did Isaiah, Jeremiah or Daniel; you can move a mountain to wherever you want to (remembering the consequences of doing that); and if you die a martyrs death by being burned at the stake for your beliefs; but if you have no relationships with yourself, others or God, have never shown an ounce of love, or compassion, or given time for anyone else, because you have been too busy memorising scripture, praying for the next prophesy, and other Christian looking pursuits, look what it says! There is no profit in it! In fact you are in debt, empty, hollow, a resounding gong.

So what is this type of love – agape (αγαπη)?

It, I think is probably the hardest thing ever to develop, maintain, and live – a life of love. We may fall in love easily, we may love someone, but how much of that is agape? Much of the so called love in the world is that of infatuation, lust, sexual attraction; eros. None of these have anything to do with today’s message. It is very easy to love a visual image, the external looks of a beautiful woman, a double chocolate berry and cream desert – they are both on par. But to love as Christ loved us, now that is something very, very different, and another ‘diff’ word, difficult. Why do you love your wife? Agape will be part of it, but how much? How much is eros, how much is what you get from the relationship. The latter is an interesting point, as it has a question buried in it. If your wife stops doing those things that you enjoy, maybe she gets ill, then does that loving feeling become that of duty of care? Or responsibility, a hope that things will return to normal, the flow will be both ways again, you get your little rewards for being there in the relationship, so you hang around? Tough questions!!

Jeremiah, in chapter 31 tells us this:

2 Thus says the LORD: "The people who survived the sword Found grace in the wilderness––Israel, when I went to give him rest." The LORD has appeared of old to me, saying: "Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore with loving kindness I have drawn you.

This is talking of the last days, after all is said and done. Grace in the wilderness is what God will give the survivors, and at last, a long rest. Look at Israel today, is there any rest there? Read the Old Testament, did they live a life of rest? Why not? It could have been theirs for the taking. But they were disobedient, they did not stay with God, they neglected His precepts, and paid the price. But God still loves them with an everlasting love, despite God getting, in all reality, nothing in return, He still loved them.

Can we love like that. Absolutely! Why? Because, Romans 5:5 tells us:

Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

If we allow the Holy Spirit to be active within, we have all the love we ever need to give, to whomever we meet. God has poured out in our hearts His love, that of agapao. It is there for us to tap into and use at will. I suggest that some may ask the question - is this true? this interpretation of that verse? Or is it God’s love being poured in us, for us to feel and feel good about? Again, as one must do, using Scripture to answer questions about Scripture I note in 1 John 4:7-8: Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.

The reason we can love one another is that love is of God; He pours it into our hearts through the Holy Spirit. This love is everlasting, despite our lives taking huge plunges into darkness, as we know from God’s own example of His love for Israel.

We can love others as Christ loved the Church

So the first point we have today is this – we can love others as Christ loved the Church, because He has given us an unlimited quantity of love to use. A great point, but you hear me say – where is mine? Why is it that I do not feel a love like that for others, and what is this love stuff anyway if it is not an attraction thing, or duty, or protecting a weaker person – I am a mentor, guardian, protector. And there is my problem, and it lies in the one, single, lonely, skinny letter – I. The love that God wants us show no "I" in it. You say, "I love you", the I has spoilts all. There should be no need to say this, if living love as God wants us to live.

(NOTE: this has nothing to do with telling your wife, children, family that you love them).

Loving others therefore is a silent action. This is born out in a verse of our passage today: love does not parade itself. So, where is that loving feeling, or more to the point that love action in my heart? Am I being like the folks in Acts chapter 7:51: "You stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you?"

We cannot tap into the love that God has provided us, if we resist the Holy Spirit. Ephesians 4:30-32 tells us: "And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you". Bitterness – it is so easy to become disillusioned and bitter about something, someone, a sour relationship or an ugly workplace. What about anger? Do we remember the proverb - "Be angry, and do not sin": do not let the sun go down on your wrath (Ephesians 4:26)? This has its companion verse in Matthew 6:34 - "Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble." If you don’t fix the problem that is causing the anger today, and yes there is a verse about that, tomorrow is going to be overloaded with the leftovers, plus the new problems. So the verse to remember here, to enable anger to go away is this:

"For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. "But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (Matthew 6:14-15).

Lacking in forgiveness, even if I know it is NOT my fault, severs my relationship with God, and the love connection also goes away. I cannot love with God’s perfect agapao.

So where is my loving feeling – I am burying the work of the Holy Spirit, blocking my ears to His words of wisdom, doing my own thing, harbouring ugly feelings towards someone. Am I remaining angry, so the original righteousness of the anger has been lost in my own response? Love for others are snuffed out as quickly as a candle goes out in a cold wind. Lesson two therefore is this. Love is something about everyone else but me. My lesson for myself is twofold - learn the Lord’s Prayer, especially the two extra lines found in Matthew, and be not stiff-necked and rebellious.

Now, we are heading from tough territory to really tough territory. Consider these verses:

Leviticus 19:18 You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbour as yourself: I am the LORD.

This is important enough to be repeated in the New Testament. We shall return to this point shortly.

Galatians 5:14 For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: "You shall love your neighbour as yourself."

Matthew 5:40-42 "If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. "And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. "Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away.

Romans 12:20-21 Therefore "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

1 John 3:16-18 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. But whoever has this world's goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.

Love Yourself

I could keep quoting verses for the rest of the sermon. There are enough verses that tell as the how to love, especially, the actions. First though, let us start with the first one. Love yourself. Note the verse is not ‘Be self indulgent’, or ‘let me be the number one’. But it does bring an interesting point, and in a different topic, though makes the point that we can use, to have the love of God pour from Him, through us, to others. That is what it is all about. How do we make our brother or sister’s life a little better? But before we go there, let us examine briefly this point of loving one’s self: Revelation 12:10 says this most amazing statement: "Then I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, "Now salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night, has been cast down." God tells us in Hebrews 8:12 that he remembers our sins no more. But look, the devil is telling God about how bad we really are. The devil then reminds you and I how bad; how unworthy; how much of a failure we are as well. And then we begin to believe it. Sure, I fail, day after day, usually the same old sins revisited. The more I study the Word, the more the devil pokes a finger into the newly forgiven cracks, and self loathing starts. "How can God love me?" we may cry. But, He says two things – He does not remember the sins that we have confessed, and to love ourselves, or in other words, love that which God has bestowed upon you, the face, the height, the hair colour, the personality. If you want the latter changed, allow the Holy Spirit to reshape, but forget the rest, it will sag, fade, wrinkle, wear out. But it is still the body God gave you, so love it! If you cannot love yourself, how can you express a feeling, and do an action for someone else?

Love your neighbour

Don’t forget that the verse has an ending to it, it does not say love yourself, full stop. It says love your neighbour as well. Don’t forget that you are a work in progress, you are being sanctified, and when you reach heaven, you will be glorified. God loves you enough to promise a complete transformation, so you to need to show yourself some compassion, within the terms – holy, humble, merciful and godly.

But, I ask you, have you ever met my neighbours? Loud music, blasphemy, and other godless language, and living. They are impossible to love. What was that verse we just read? "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head." Sure, I would love to burn his head. But look, I am told to do it by being nice! Take them food – but they used their last pennies on buying cigarettes and booze. The rainwater is getting low, can’t they drink that slightly brackish bore water? Is God asking too much?

Maybe, we can learn to like a few brothers and sisters in the church first. Practice after all makes perfect. But why not love my neighbours first? Maybe because ‘I’ has gotten in the way of agapao, and maybe we are confusing loving as an action, with that of being best buddies. Jesus hung out from time to time with sinners and publicans, as well as a few Pharisee’s – remember Simon. But his best friends - his closest relationships were with his disciples. He still healed, he still eat with them, and he still died for all. However, I ask myself, what is my relationships like in this assembly. Who do we reach out too, if we see a need, and provide the love in action that God has demanded of us? I pray for you and your problems. Isn’t that a start? Maybe, but is it only for the problem, or is it to be a real friend, reliable, there, able to express that – silently, without the person really noticing? Tough act.

A blog writer[1] noted that in Isaiah 6:5 where Isaiah, when he sees the Lord, recognizes his sinful condition and cries out…"Woe is me for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips…" In response to his cry an angel flies to him having in his hand a coal of fire from the altar. The angel touches Isaiah’s mouth with it and declares that his "iniquity is taken away and his sin purged". Burning coals of fire have the purpose of cleansing from sin. Therefore, to heap burning coals of fire on someone’s head is to bring them to repentance so that their sin may be forgiven. When someone sins against us, it is not vengeance we are to seek but rather seek to ‘overcome evil" with good deeds that will make our enemy ashamed and burn his conscience, filling him with ‘godly sorrow that leads to repentance and salvation’. (II Cor. 7:10)

Loving even the worst neighbour may lead to another soul in heaven. So, it has nothing to do with being friends, it is demonstrating the Friend that you hold dear to your heart, who has given you the Holy Spirit, and filled you with enough love, that they too may change their ways, and become a friend of God’s as well. Loving ones self, that leads to selfless love of the neighbour, may lead to an outcome that was never dreamt of. It has its rewards. Lesson three then has a two pronged approach – don’t let the accusation of the devil make you a self loathing being, it will destroy you. Use the power of loving ones self, as expressed in the Bible, to love your neighbour, and in doing so, another soul may make the decision for heaven.

Love one another; as I have loved you,

Let us move towards an even tougher gig, that of selfless, sacrificial love.

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. "By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another."

Love one another as Jesus Christ loved his disciples. But that led to His death, and the disciples all fled, and Peter, though he said, "I will lay down my life for you’ a verse or so later than this one, he didn’t, and Jesus knew that he wouldn’t. However, Peter changed as we can see when he wrote in 1 Peter 3:10-12: "For "He who would love life and see good days, Let him refrain his tongue from evil, And his lips from speaking deceit. Let him turn away from evil and do good; Let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the LORD are on the righteous, And His ears are open to their prayers…"

One has to have some qualities before one can embark on loving one another as Christ has loved us (or the disciples). Refrain from evil – and specifically the tongue. This means to watch every word that comes from the mouth, to ensure the words we speak do not harm, damage, offend, or in any other way displease God, and in this context, it is the same context in how we relate to others. Another point is this - God always wants us to be righteous as well. Note the word is righteous – that is right with God, not self righteous, right with only oneself!

Example from marriage

We all know about the verses in Ephesians, and we will move there, when discussing husbands and wives. The question, we who are married, must ask ourselves – "Do I love my spouse in the same way, if not deeper and stronger, than when first married, or whilst dating?" Is doing the ironing for the wife, or putting the loo seat down, loving one’s wife? That is, is loving one’s wife or husband, doing those acts of kindness that she would not expect you to do? The answer you will have guessed, or known is a firm no, though it will help the relationship to be kind. But do we expect something in return – I’ll wash the dishes, but tea had better be ready when I get home, or thoughts like this reveal the often too real motives. However, today I wish to share seven words of a Peter verse that I have never stopped to consider. 1 Peter 3:7 states this command: Husbands, likewise, dwell with them with understanding…!

The Ephesians’ verses state this: Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. Yes, yes, we know this, love the wife as Christ loved the church – impossible! but something to work towards. But wait, how does the 1 Peter verse fit with this? Husbands, likewise, dwell with them with understanding…! The latter part of the Ephesians verse marries (yes a pun) itself completely to this section. Christ loved the church so He might present her to Himself a glorious church…We are to assist our wives become the glorious wife, fully meeting her potential as a wife and person, so she does not have gaps, regrets, issues.

So, let us put the two together – "sanctify" and "cleanse" are not used alone in describing the physical church that the Lord is building. These must fit with the preceding statement, otherwise why would the two be together. God does not waste words, nor does He string a sentence together without meaning. How then can I, or any one of you, assist your spouse, in particular husbands to wives, to be perfected. Peter says that we must dwell with them with understanding. That is how the love works. One must understand and know his wife, in order to help her to be perfected. That folks takes time, energy, and sacrifice. That takes discipline and energy. It is a two way street. The lesson for this section then is this: ‘love one another’. Ephesians shows that the focus is different for a husband and wife, but for both, the self sacrifice is there, not just washing the floors, but taking time out to dwell with her in understanding, and through that attitude, she will respect and love in return. But the Bible is not single street, and I believe that the role of the woman is just as much in understanding her husband, and together they will grow in God. For this whole process is impossible if one does not love God, allow the Holy Spirit to work within, and to take the love God pours into our hearts and use it.

Deuteronomy 6:5 states: You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. In chapter 11, an addition is made: …and keep His charge, His statutes, His judgments, and His commandments always. And Luke adds: and `your neighbour as yourself."

So, it is God, with everything we have; it is the neighbour as we love ourselves, and it is our partner, as Christ loved the church, and it is loving each other as Jesus loved His disciples.

Loving God

We hear, I think more often, the saying, or something similar, God is Love. God has love for us, but how often is the statement asked - do we have love for God? How do we love God? It is not such a tangible thing. Does God tell us how to love him? Obviously, we just read it – keep His charge, His statutes, His judgements, and His commandments. What does this spell out? Obedience! To show God we love him we walk as he wants us to walk. How does one do this? It is the same as the husband loving their wife instruction – know God. This is a life long commandment, because, the more you think that you know God, the less you’ll realise you actually know, and the greater the topic to study.

Knowledge of God, leads to love of God. But there is one other step, and we find it in John three sixteen, the verse we all know so well: "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." But you may argue, you just said that we know about God loving us, and little about us loving God. I think that we can quite legitimately take the way that God demonstrates love and apply it to how we need to love God. We can take a verse like this, therefore, and understand what God did to love us. He gave Jesus Christ to be a living sacrifice, to die for us. Note those two little words, "He gave". God gave up His most precious thing – His Son. What do I hold precious? What is important in my life, that is not God’s?

Is sacrifice really that important? Can’t I study and learn, and memorise, and be able to preach and teach God’s Word, without really sacrificing the very greatest thing that I own or possess? God has anticipated our selfish selves and gives us tough verses: "And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My name's sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life (Matthew 19:29). What does this mean, we should not have family? A wife – leave her and go and evangelise. It does not appear to say this, as other verses tells us to stay with our wives, even if she is unsaved, if they are willing to stay with you. But, it does say that God must come first, and if anyone in your family is taking you away from the things of God, sacrificial choice is needed to be sure that you are following the way of God.

John 12:24-26 "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain. He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.  "If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honour."

Our love for God must be a sacrificial love, all the way to death if need be. But, to reach this point in our spiritual journey we need to return to the theme of knowing God. For without knowledge and without being immersed in Him deeply, without old man dead, the fruit that God has purposed us for, will not be there. Knowledge of God is precious, the Word tells us this: "Receive my instruction, and not silver, And knowledge rather than choice gold; For wisdom is better than rubies, And all the things one may desire cannot be compared with her." (Proverbs 8:10-11)

So, how do we gain knowledge? "Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love." Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place––unless you repent. (Revelation 2:4-5) First, one must never forget one’s first love – God. One must repent every time we sin, repentance comes through conviction by the Holy Spirit, and through confession. Proverbs 28:13 says: "He who covers his sins will not prosper, But whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy" and James 5:16 tells us: "Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much". After repentance comes works - not works to gain salvation, but of the type that is covered in the verse: "And let our people also learn to maintain good works, to meet urgent needs, that they may not be unfruitful." For fruitfulness, displays love, love for God, and love for your neighbour as in Galatians 5:22-23: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self–control. Against such there is no law. But most of all, as we read in Psalm 119:97-98, knowledge comes from reading, meditation, and application (doing) of the Word. "Oh, how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day. You, through Your commandments, make me wiser than my enemies; For they are ever with me." The lesson here is to know how much we love God, and that will be measured in how much time we give to Him, versus ourselves.

Conclusions

So, in a quick summary, love is the lynchpin to all that God wants for us. He wants us to love only Him, the one true God, He wants us to take of His love and share it with our neighbours, He wants us, through our love for Him, to be sacrificial of ourselves, towards our families, towards our neighbours, towards those we don’t even know, to go out on a limb to satisfy someone’s need somewhere, wherever God leads us. Love comes to us through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and the only way to have more, is to use what we have, in knowing more of our God, through sacrificial study, meditation, and application of His Word, so our minds are filled with His glorious thoughts, not our rubbish that we so easily collect. Then we take that love which God has given us to spread around, in, and a most salient point, in a silent, quite, humble, holy way, where our lives express the love, not though our voice and ego, saying look at me, aren’t I good today, I was nice to those nasty neighbours!

 

Stephen B Simon (CCC 30 January 2011)
\Corinthians\1 Corinthians 12 & 13 Love 30 Jan 2011 (SBS)