Sunday, February 11, 2024

What is Biblical Love? How to Walk in the Way of Love

Dave Simmons shared in his book about being a dad a time when he and his two kids went to a mall, and the mall had a petting zoo there. He had given each of his children, Brandon and Helen a quarter to enter, and then went to continue shopping. Soon he saw his daughter hadn’t gone in. He went to ask her why.

She said sadly, "Well, Daddy, it cost fifty cents. So, I gave Brandon my quarter." Then she said the most beautiful thing I ever heard. She repeated the family motto. The family motto is in "Love is Action!"

She had given Brandon her quarter, and no one loves cuddly furry creatures more than Helen.

What do you think I did? Well, not what you might think. As soon as I finished my errands, I took Helen to the petting zoo. We stood by the fence and watched Brandon go crazy petting and feeding the animals. Helen stood with her hands and chin resting on the fence and just watched Brandon. I had fifty cents burning a hole in my pocket; I never offered it to Helen, and she never asked for it.

Because she knew the whole family motto. It's not "Love is Action." It's "Love is SACRIFICIAL Action!" Love always pays a price. Love always costs something. Love is expensive. When you love, benefits accrue to another's account. Love is for you, not for me. Love gives; it doesn't grab. Helen gave her quarter to Brandon and wanted to follow through with her lesson. She knew she had to taste the sacrifice. She wanted to experience that total family motto. Love is sacrificial action.”
-Dave Simmons, Dad, The Family Coach, Victor Books, 1991, pp. 123-124.

Today we’re talking love in the context of the Bible, referred to in the classic chapter from 1st Corinthians 13. But it’s super important that we understand that love is like Dave Simmons indicates, a sacrificial action.

It’s not a feeling. It’s not something we do when we feel like it. It’s a mindset of service to others. And let’s be very clear, we pay a price when we love. We give something. It’s not about receiving. It’s about giving.

The Apostle Paul is writing to a community that has a lot of knowledge. And he is reminding them that love has to be first as a Christian.

But what is love exactly? That’s what we’re going to be examining today. 

But I think as Americans we assume love is “niceness.” The American 1st Corinthians 13 is: "Love is niceness. Love does not make waves. Love does not disagree. Love always affirms. Love goes along to get along. Love accepts everything. Love never judges. Love says anything to make someone feel good. Love never points out a wrong. Love seeks the security of self, rather than the benefit of the other. Niceness never confronts, never disturbs, never speaks a hard truth. Niceness says, "you do you."

But that is not biblical love. That kind of love is not love at all, but niceness. And niceness isn’t actually really loving. Niceness wants to be liked. Niceness doesn’t want to have to call someone out on something bad they’re doing. Niceness is just letting someone float on down the river toward hell without saying a word. Niceness is more about wanting to be liked. It’s selfish. And niceness isn’t what we go for as Christians. We go for sacrificial agape love.

Jesus modeled perfect love for us, by dying for his enemies, dying for people who rejected him, in the hope they would one day receive the forgiveness he offered.

Love says, “Father forgive them they don’t know what they’re doing.”

Love says, “I do not condemn you.”

Yet Love also says, “Go and sin no more.”

And Love also says, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.”

Love also says, “If your hand causes you to sin cut it off, because it’s better for you to lose your hand than to go with both hands into the everlasting fire.”

Biblical love is willing to say a hard truth to someone in love, knowing that we may lose the friendship, but loving their soul more than their companionship. That’s real love. Niceness is a joke and a sham, compared to the glory of agape love.

It says in 1st Cor 13:1-3, “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.”

We can do a lot of great things with our spiritual gifts, but if we don’t honestly love people, it won’t matter. Our message will be ugly if it doesn’t come with love. Have you ever known a Christian who had a lot of giftings and knowledge but didn’t have love? The message is toxic. It’s dead. It drives people away.

So we come to our structure of faith for today, which is the heart shape. And in the depiction of love in 1st Corinthians 13, we’re going to see categories, first, character traits that are loving. And character traits that are not loving. So we get a list of things to do, and a list of things not to do. Pretty simple.

Let’s dive in. First, in verse 4, “Love is patient.”

Now I know this scripture is often used in association with romantic relationships, but the context is actually speaking about loving your neighbor. I think we can also apply it to loving God as well.

Love is patient. How is your patience? Are you patient with someone who you are trying to win to Christ? Are you patient with friends and family? Patience is waiting on God. Patience is listening to someone when they’re talking.

We want to add this characteristic to ourselves, in the heart. How? Pray and ask God for patience. Then learn to practice patience. Sometimes it’s helpful to speak the word, “I’m going to be patient in this situation.” Just remind yourself of that.

Next, second part of verse 4, “Love is kind.”

What is kindness? I like the 1828 Webster’s dictionary definition for kindness, it says, “Good will; benevolence; that temper or disposition which delights in contributing to the happiness of others, which is exercised cheerfully in gratifying their wishes, supplying their wants or alleviating their distresses.”

Delighting in contributing to the happiness of others. As my grandma Monica always said, “It’s nice to be nice.” Niceness isn’t always bad either, as long as it’s seen as part of a bigger whole of what it means to be loving.

Does it make you glad to contribute to help someone else? I know it does for me. That’s part of love.

Next, third part of verse 4, “It does not envy.”

Envy appears outside the heart shape, to remind us, this is something we want to avoid. What is envy? Being envious is seeing someone who has a nice car, nice house, nice watch, nice smartphone, and instead of being happy for them, we envy them, we want what they have. We get envious, jealous, angry that they have something we don’t.

Envy is a nasty emotion. We want to pray if we struggle with envy, ask God to help us with that. Put off envy. Replace it with gratitude for what we do have.

Many envy the rich in our country, want to get their money for themselves, that’s not wisdom. Be grateful for what you do have.

Next, still verse 4, “it does not boast.”

We also want to avoid bragging. I did this, I did that, I’m so great, look at me.

I remember at my Grandma Bernie’s funeral, all of these people kept coming forward talking about how Grandpa had mentored them, how he had prayed with them, given them something, led them to the Lord, and Grandpa had never told anyone about all those things he did.

That’s how we should be. We should not be bragging, look at what my ministry did. Look at all these people we helped. Look at how close to God I am. That isn’t helpful to anyone. We do want to shine our light. But we don’t want to brag about how great we are. That’s filthy before God.

Next, similar to boasting, “It is not proud.” Pride is thinking highly of ourselves. Pride is thinking how great we are at what we do. Pride is looking at ourselves constantly and being impressed. Lord save us from pride! Pride is what caused the angels to fall and become demons. Pride leads ministers and great Christians astray, thinking they are something, thinking they are great. Replace pride with humility. Stay humble. Know you are merely a servant of God, nothing more.

Next in verse 5, ‘it does not dishonor others.”

In the original Greek of this phrase, aschēmoneō, it means to “prepare disgrace for someone.” It’s like setting someone up to look stupid or setting someone up to be criticized. I see this in social groups all the time, one of the guys tries to make the other guy look stupid, tries to manipulate the conversation to make the other guy look bad, and make himself look good.

Biblical love of course doesn’t set others up for failure or try to push others down to promote ourselves or make ourselves look good. Guard against that.

Next, still verse 5, “it is not self-seeking.” What a great phrase, self seeking is talked about a lot in 12 step fellowship groups. It’s the concept of taking your own selfish desires and pushing your own way in every situation. It’s very ugly. Self-will run riot is a great phrase that describes that.

Being self-seeking is something we want to avoid. We should instead seek God’s will for our lives. Not what we want.

Next, “it is not easily angered.” Love is not easily angered. Do you have a bad temper? Do you get angry too quickly? I know it’s something I had to fight in the past. And a lot of the time it had to be with a deeply rooted insecurity in me. So if you’re struggling with anger, find out what’s underneath the anger.

Is it a bad memory? Is it a way you were mistreated in the past? Sit down and talk about what the feeling is connected to. Let it out. Heal from the pain. And next time, the anger won’t be as strong.

Next, “it keeps no record of wrongs.” How often do we see this in romantic relationships or friendships? One person keeps a record of every wrong thing that was done by the other. Then the other person brings up the record they have of the other person. We’ve got to get rid of these records, forgive each other, and move forward.

Then again, if you do notice a pattern of mistreatment or abuse, you should recognize that and deal with it with the other person. But once it’s been dealt with, let go of the record. Don’t keep bringing it up. We’ve got to forgive those hurts, and move forward.

And then it says, verse 6, part 1, “Love does not delight in evil.” This is one of those aspects of love that distinguish it from niceness.

Niceness says oh I love you just the way you are. Love says, I love you my friend but I notice something in your life isn’t right, God can help you be free from that sin. Niceness just says oh you do you. Do whatever you like. Love says what you’re doing my dear friend isn’t right, God has something better for you then that. Notice niceness just goes along to get along, it just wants to be liked, love brings up a hard truth to help the person, but in so doing, they risk the relationship. It’s sacrificial.

Love doesn’t delight in evil, it can’t.

So we see here the first eight aspects of what it means to not be loving, and the first two aspects of what it means to be loving.

Paul is now going to get into the remaining six characteristics of a loving person.

Next, so love does not delight in evil, but, it rejoices with the truth.

What does it mean to rejoice with the truth? It’s as simple as hearing something at Bible study or at morning church and you say, “Amen!” Because the Holy Spirit in you rejoices and says, “that’s true!” I love the truth so much. And I hate lies. We will rejoice in truth in the way of love. And lies and evil will make us sick.

Next, love always protects. The word here is rendered by some translations as bears. The Greek word gives the picture of someone setting aside slights and disagreements and problems and arguments, covering over those things, and instead focusing on the good.

That’s something I think we’re good at, seeing the good in others, looking for the good things, and papering over the bad.

When I have a disagreement with a loved one, family, with my fiancée, or a friend, I will tend to try and overlook it, ignore it, focus on the things I love about them. Let’s try to do that too, when others hurt us, cover over the bad, focus on the good. Bear up in difficulties. Anyone in a marriage knows that we have to bear up with the faults of our loved ones.

Notice the word “always” is appearing. It gives us a picture of constantly repeatedly over time, repeating the character trait. Repeat it, repeat it again. Repeat the good thing.

“it always trusts.” For our relationship God we want to “always trust.” For our relationship with friends and family, we want to “always trust.” Does that mean that we trust a stranger necessarily? No I don’t think so. But we do trust that God’s word can do something in their lives. Always trust I think primarily is a mindset of being a trusting person who trusts God and trusts others, and isn’t prone to bitter mistrust.

Next, Love always hopes. A characteristic of being a loving person is being hopeful. Hopeful for the other. Hopeful for the future. Hopeful for the promises of God. Hopeful in general.

I know that’s hard for many of us here who have been through many hardships and have mental and physical health issues, but we can obey this to always be hopeful. Don’t be a pessimistic, don’t be a negative person, cultivate hope.

That may take healing for some of us here, to foster. I confess I battle bitterness, negativity. But God is helping me. I pray about it, and he helps.

Next, love always perseveres. Love doesn’t give up. Love keeps going. Love stands the test. Love continues through the difficulties. Don’t give up friends.

And the eighth characteristic of love is that love never fails. Does that mean we never make a mistake? No. Love never fails means that love doesn’t fall to the ground, love doesn’t end up powerless. Love will continue always in our hearts, if we are living out these principles of what it means to be loving. The result will be, love never fails. But it’s also an attribute. It’s believing that love will not die out. Love will continue.

Next in verses 8-12 the Apostle Paul reinterates that love is the most important of all the giftings of the Spirit. It says, “8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”

Then in verse 13, “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

When all the giftings fade in the next life, love remains as the greatest truth.

I think the first part of 1st Corinthians 14:1 tells us what all this means.

It says, “Walk in, or “Follow the way of love.” -1 Cor 14:1

So, if we are in fact putting off the eight negative characteristics that we want to avoid, and putting on the 8 positive characteristics of love, we will then be fulfilling the command in scripture which says to “follow the way of love.”

This is the way of love.

Last slide, the white arrows represent the actions of the Holy Spirit we take in cooperation with the Spirit, we actively put off the old ways, the anti-love ways. And then the Holy Spirit also helps us to put on the new ways of love which come from above, from God.

To Review:

1. Put off pridefulness, bragging, being easily angered, & Envy

2. Put off Dishonoring others & keeping a record of wrongs

3. Put off self seeking, & delighting in evil

4. Put on patience and kindness

5. Put on rejoicing in the truth

6. Put on Protectiveness, Hope, Perseverance, and Trusting

7. Believe that Love Never Fails

8. In all this, believe you can & will walk in the way of love