Sunday, February 13, 2022

The 7 Characteristics of the Perfect Way of Love

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” -Matthew 5:43-48

Today we consider the most perfect way of life that anyone can live, the way of love. And we’ll be addressing the 7 ways we can best understand and live out the way of love.

1 John 4:7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.

1 John 4:19 We love because he first loved us.

Point number one, and the most important is that we are only capable of any sort of love because God loves us, and pours His love into us through Jesus Christ. He fills our tank with love. And we pour out that love to others.

Before I knew Jesus, I loved my parents, I loved my friends, but the truth is, that love didn’t go too far. And it wasn’t agape love, love for the sake of the other person. It was a sort of selfish love.

We can’t love out of ourselves. That love will always be limited and empty, and ultimately useless.

But if you spend time with God daily, pray, read our Bibles, we’ll be poured into, with the love of God, that comes through the Holy Spirit into us.

If I try to drive my vehicle, and there is no gas in the tank. I can turn the key as many times as I want, but it will never go anywhere. We’ve got to make sure our tanks are full of God’s love, so we can pour it out to others.

Point number two, if you’re going to love you have to let yourself love. That means vulnerability.

C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves, “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even 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; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

Plain and simple, I’m trapped as a person between two difficult alternatives. One, I can love people, and those people will hurt me. And that will hurt badly. And do damage to my soul.

The other option is to cut myself off from people, put up walls, don’t let people get to close, and in that case, like Lewis wrote, my heart turns to stone slowly, and I become bitter, empty, miserable, and alone.

So, the only option, is to love people and keep loving people, and to be hurt.

That leads right into Point 3, to love is to endure emotional beatings. Some of us try to avoid these emotional beatings that love brings as much as we can. We’re always trying to prevent them from hitting. But we can’t really prevent them. Because to love is to be vulnerable.

And 1st Corinthians 13 says Love is longsuffering, it suffers through all things. And it keeps loving people through it all.

Can I become OK with the fact of emotional pain connected to loving others?

That has been a question for me, since beginning here in Owosso a few years back. Because, every person I saw walk into dinner church, or morning services, even once, I loved to some level. And people who came often, I learned to love them more deeply, and many of you, I learned to love very deeply, and hope for, and pray for,

If you want to avoid loving people don’t don’t don’t pray for them. Because if you pray for someone you can’t help but love them very very much with a spiritual love that is very powerful.

And believe me, it hurts so bad, when that person goes back to the ways of the world, disappears, gets snared again by the sins of the flesh. It’s brutal. It hurts bad. And it’s hard to avoid becoming jaded. Only God’s love can heal these repeated beatings. Only God can heal these repeated beatings.

This is really the height of self-sacrificial love. To take beatings for the sake of loving others, and refusing to close ourselves off. You just keep opening yourself up for more pain, so that love can flow out of you. And that love is worth it, it changes the world. But it also hurts when people return it with hate and rejection. That is your call, will you allow yourself to be tied to the whipping post, and beaten repeatedly for the sake of God’s love, flowing out of you, to others? For the first time? The second time? The third time? And more? That is your call.

Point 4, to love means to love people who are our enemies. This is not easy, is it? There are people who have done terrible things to us. People have soiled our names. They’ve slandered us. They’ve attacked us. But we aren’t allowed to hold a grudge. We aren’t allowed to hate them back. We have to forgive them, over and over. And even to love them, from a distance.

How do you do that? How do you love someone you have such strong negative emotions toward? Well, I think what’s powerful for me, is to look at them, and see what they could become. My mind does this automatically for some reason, and I always see all of you, in what you could become given God’s transforming love. So when I see someone, maybe a homeless man, I look at him and see what he could be, strong, faithful, a pillar of the church, an overcomer, healthy, battle ready, a prayer warrior. I see it in my mind. And for some of you here, I see you becoming what I saw you could become, and that’s just the most beautiful thing. It’s part of love, I think.

Can you care about someone who really can do you no good at all? It’s like a druggy who quits drugs, and realizes none of their friends want to see them anymore, now that they won’t do drugs with them. People we thought that loved us, didn’t really love us.

Point number five, love is an action. Frankly, it doesn’t matter how much we say we love people. It doesn’t matter how much we even “feel” love for someone or for a group of people, what really matters is when we take that love from theoretical and make it practical.

Am I practicing love in real tangible ways? What exactly does loving someone look like?

It looks like spending time with someone, I think. It looks like doing a good deed for someone, helping them with something. It looks like encouraging them with a good word from the Lord. It also looks like tough love, rebuking someone, or calling them out about something. Love warns someone who is going down the wrong path. Love is giving someone a gift. Love is physical touch. There is a great book on love languages out there by Gary Chapman.

But it’s clear I think, love has to be an action. Or it’s just a theory. Our God isn’t a God of idle theories, He is a God of action. And never is that more clear that the cross of Jesus Christ. He stepped up and did it, he didn’t just talk about it, he went through it. And achieved victory. That is love.

Point 6, we’re called to that same level of love. Jesus’ perfect love is that he began the rescue mission to Earth when we were his enemy. Jesus loved the people surrounding him at the cross participating in his crucifixion. He said Father forgive them, they don’t know what they’re doing.

The “love” of this world is rather different. People of this world use each other. Go on tinder, meet up, use each other for physical pleasure, and disappear. They call it ghosting. We develop “friendships” with people that we want something from, whether it’s a promotion at work, or to have cool friends to party with, or because we need rides from them around town, or because they buy us stuff, and when we get what we want, we move on. It’s sort of mutual using, back and forth, back and forth. It’s all pleasure driven. But that’s not what Christ calls us to. He calls us to love these people who live like that. Not to judge them, but to love them anyway. And they will burn us. But we will have opportunities to share Christ’s love. And it’s beautiful. It changes the world.

But it’s hard in these last days to love. Because as the word of God says, in the last days, very difficult times will come, when people are lovers are themselves and lovers of pleasure.

And the word says “the love of many will grow cold.” Is your love growing cold? Don’t let it grow cold. Because the next verse says, but he who perseveres to the end will be saved.” Persevere to the end. Keep loving the unlovable.

Point number 7, this mysterious fragrance of heaven, selfless, sacrificial agape love, is the perfection of eternity. Anything else, is transitory.

1st Corinthians 13:1-13 “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. 2 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. 3 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.

4 Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; 5 does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; 6 does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; 7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

8 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. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part. 10 But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.

11 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. 12 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.

13 And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

So many things will pass away once we enter paradise. So many things will change. But faith, hope, and love endures forever. And particularly love. Love seems to be the permanent state of the New Jerusalem. It seems to be that constant of heaven. Happiness, joy, love, always new, always infinitely shining beautifully within each of us. We will live in constant love among all humans forever in paradise.

Today it’s messy and hard. But never give up your love. If you sense it growing weak, ask God to renew it. Find practical ways to take an interest in others. Loving people often happens one on one. Learn to love. Be vulnerable. Take the beatings of love. Keep doing it practically. And that my friends is the perfect way of love. God, grow our love, build it daily, heal it when it breaks, heat up our love when it grows cold, help us to love just like Jesus loved, completely, and beyond all thought of self. Amen.