Long before (like 15 years before) Saturday Night Live in 1991 made famous a regular skit called “Da Bears” (about the Chicago Bears), there was a very cool group of guys at a college in Philadelphia who called themselves “Da Boys.” Comprised of a group of guys from the college’s basketball and baseball teams, they were the coolest dudes on campus – at least they believed that they were! Once in a while a girl was willing to cross the social barrier to be associated with one of “Da Boys,” but it was quite a leap – just ask my wife Diana about that gap! But trust me, believe me, we were so cool that we were even “groovy!”
We are soon going to have a reunion of the dudes … doing it at my son’s wedding/activity venue in the Harrisburg area. This was stimulated by the life-threatening drama of one of Da Boys beating pancreatic cancer this past year, and we are going to celebrate that and our old-time friendships.
Among those coming to the reunion is a guy who never really fit with this crowd. He was an athletically awkward sort of fellow who would’ve gotten killed on a basketball court in the first two minutes. Though obviously a good guy, he was not one whom you would especially reach out to include in your new group of collegiate social relationships. His manner of dress was decidedly out of the norm, wearing clothing of a type and style you would rather have expected to see on someone in their elderly years. He talked and talked … a lot! And that, along with his loud laugh, was awkward also.
He very much attached himself to me … here, there, and everywhere on campus. We were in the same major, lived on the same dormitory floor, and had similar schedules. When he found out that we were born on the exact same day, that convinced him we needed to be besties.
Without being unkind, I did try to cool this enthusiasm and keep it at a distance. But that didn’t work. He persisted in genuine care for me as a brother in Christ until I finally came around and included him in my inner circle of relationships. He challenged my rough edges, and I was enriched by his regular association. He was even in our wedding party, has been a lifelong friend, and he’s a pastor now as well … though still not as cool as his “lit” friend in Hagerstown. AND, he’ll be at the reunion of Da Boys. And that’s the ultimate affirmation!
Love wins; it always does, and that’s because it is the best and greatest thing ever. You really don’t have a choice – you’ve gotta do it. This is something that is in the “command” category, not the optional feelings category.
Our theme and statement for this week are …
Theme – the responsibility to love others, apart from natural attractions
Statement – Love is a verb from the head more than a noun from the heart.
I think we can identify five summary statements about living as people who love intentionally, meaning “you’ve gotta, gotta love” …
- The surpassing value of love – 1 Cor. 13:1-3
Of course, when we think of the subject of love, it is to 1 Cor. 13 that our minds go … to probably the greatest written word ever on the subject …
1 Corinthians 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. 2 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. 3 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 may not think of love as a thing of value, viewing it rather as a simple emotion. But Paul writes of it as the greatest possession ever; and we anticipate the end of this chapter where he says that of the three timeless, abiding possessions – faith, hope, love – the greatest is love.
But look here at what Paul says is the actual value of love as compared to some pretty big things …
- It is better than the most amazing gifts and abilities.
Of course, the Corinthians were all about spiritual gifts, especially the ones with the most prominent and public expression. And that was the content of the previous chapter 12 – expressing the value of all the gifts, affirming their interdependence upon one another in the body of Christ. And then, leading into this verse 1 of chapter 13, the final words of the previous chapter are: And yet I will show you the most excellent way. So, knowing of their high value upon the noisiest of the gifts – tongues – Paul says that if you could speak in all the languages known to mankind, and not only that, but also the languages of angelic beings, that would be pretty amazing! We’d have to agree. But intentionally valuing love and expressing it faithfully is greater yet. Without it, speaking all those languages is just making a bunch of noise.
- It is better than the greatest knowledge and deepest faith.
The Corinthians also valued the gift of prophecy – the ability to receive a message from God and proclaim it to the people. And that was indeed a great thing of immeasurable value. Beyond that also was “knowledge” of truth and its application, along with understanding complicated matters of the juxtaposition of the spirit world with the physical world. Grand stuff! But this all amounts to a big zero if there is a lack of love.
- It is better than even the most extensive sacrifices of wealth and lifestyle.
So Paul looks away from possessions in verse 3 to the idea of giving away. Surely that is more honorable and of greater true value. But even here … even if a person gave away all of their possessions for the poor … or beyond that, gave themselves away sacrificially, these could be done in a self-aggrandizing way that is devoid of love. So even this, without love, is void of any gain or value.
So, love is a big thing of big value. What else can match it? Nothing really.
- The committed labor of love – 1 Cor. 13:4-7 … so what does love really look like and how is it genuinely expressed? …
1 Corinthians 13:4-7 … Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Just think about how easy it is to be just the opposite of this list of 14 descriptors of the genuine ways that love either is, or is not. Let’s just pick out a couple of these and consider how easy it is, even in the church family, to not follow in this way.
Patience: Some people can wear you down with their issues or personality quirks. For example, I had this older fellow in my NJ church years ago who just did not understand how loud and abrasive his speech often was. If he saw a woman whose dress was bunched up and the hem of her slip was showing, he’d yell down the hall at her – with dozens of people all around (including visitors) – “Hey Mildred, your slip is showing; pull your dress down!” But at the same time he was our most faithful servant, he cared deeply about the cause of missions around the world, and he loved the kids of the church and was forever reaching in his pockets to give them candy and tell them how great it was that they were there in the church. But he did require some patient love!
Keeping records of wrongs: When people repeat annoying or offensive behaviors, it is easy to begin to keep a mental score of the times they’ve acted poorly.
Love always hopes and perseveres: Think how easy it is to get discouraged and give up on other people to whom we are not attracted or who don’t naturally gravitate toward us with warm interrelationship.
Disclaimer – Yes, there comes a time with some folks where the way to best love them is to help them understand certain deficits that cause pain in their lives. Yet even with this, there is a winsome and caring way to go about this confrontation – seeking earnestly for the better good in that other person’s life.
Wow! All of these things sound like a lot of work! You might think that you only have to do it when you feel like it or it comes naturally, but we see that, instead, it needs to be an active commitment from the brain more than merely a feeling from the heart.
- The maximum extent of love – 1 Peter 1:21-23, 4:7-8 … so just how far do we have to go to be people of love? The answer is: very far … very deep.
1 Peter 1:21-23 … Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God. 22 Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart. 23 For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.
This is saying that, now that you have a faith relationship with God through the work of Jesus Christ, you’re a person with a new life that is governed by the stuff that is eternal. And this will be most evident by an obedient love that is sincere toward one another… it is deep… from the heart, because it is a commitment to do that which comes from the brain… from the truth. The word in Greek (a hapax – used only once in the NT) for this fervency is literally “to stretch out the hand.” The meaning is to actively/intentionally take the initiative. Again, Peter tells his readers …
1 Peter 4:7-8 … The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.
If the end of all things was near in the mind of Peter 2,000 years ago, how much closer must we be now? And what does he say is the most important thing to do along with having a clear mind and prayerful dependence upon God? Yes … to love each other deeply. And in the family of faith there is nothing more significantly effective for corporate family health than being committed to deeply loving one another. The verb here in the Greek language is a word that speaks of an effort with great straining, most often used of an athlete straining to win and compete at the highest level. If everyone in a church was committed to love like that, a lot of silly annoyances would be overlooked and a healthier atmosphere would ensue.
- The contextualized New Testament application of love – Eph. 2:11-14,19,22 … This is a sort of excursus from the other points, giving an example of the challenge of loving intentionally in the context of the first century church …
Ephesians 2:11-13 … Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)— 12 remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
Imagine the complications for the early New Testament church of the coming together of people from disparate backgrounds. ILLUS>> What would it be like for us today if we had to merge our church with a large group of Saudi Arabian immigrants who had become followers of Christ from an Islamic past? There’d be excitement on one hand, but inevitable clashes of cultures and backgrounds. And that is what was going on in the New Testament era with the coming together of Jews and Gentiles into this new entity of the church. Paul goes on to say …
Ephesians 2:14,19,22 … For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility … Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household … And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
Living here in the Western Maryland/Tri-State area, we are at once in the distant “football fan boonies” of the Ravens to the east and the Steelers to the west. Every Sunday in church I see the mix of yellows, purples, and blacks.
Imagine if there was a restructuring of the NFL and the Ravens and Steelers were merged together into one new team called the Steel Ravens! And, imagine the color of the new team was designated as blue and silver! (Some others of you might have to imagine a Cowboys/Redskins, Packers/Bears, or likewise odious admixture of traditions.)
Could you make the shift? Think about all the office people with whom you’ve argued over the years because they were too stupid to see it your way! Think about how you are now going to be sitting in the stands with those same people, wearing blue and silver together. Think about how your favorite players are going to have to work together with their former enemies on the other side of the ball! Who will be the new quarterback – Mason Rudolph or Lamar Jackson? Or does Rothlisberger deserve the first shot next year?
Don’t you suppose the whole thing might be just a little bit awkward? YEP!
And that is the sort of environment that Paul is writing about in this Ephesians 2 passage. He is writing (in terms of our analogy) to the one former fan base – the Gentiles – as he talks to them about how through the work of Christ they have been merged together with the Jews into a new team called “The Church.” He reminds them as to how they were seen as total outsiders, without hope, and completely foreign to all the promises of God in his covenants with the Jewish people. But now, that has all changed, they’ve been brought near and made one through the blood of Christ.
For you see, Jesus and what he has done is bigger than the things that divided the two groups previously. The old laws of the Jews have been done away with, and the wall of hostility that separated everyone has been broken down. Christ has truly made them into one new people – one new team – the Church of Jesus Christ. Now there is a new peace, as each has the same access to the same Father God.
So what is the practical result? It is that they all are to no longer act likes enemies and strangers. They are rather to see one another in a variety of illustrative ways: as fellow citizens of the same country, as brothers together in the same household, as building blocks who together with Jesus Christ as the cornerstone now form the greatest building ever constructed.
So, there is no room in such an arrangement for the old squabbles to break out! There is no more yellow on one side and purple on the other, because there is only one new entity that exists. And the health and vitality of that new team is contingent upon the mutual support and love of previously disparate people now coming together to work together as one. Their need: to intentionally express: Gotta, Gotta Love.
- The ultimate goal of love – completeness – Eph. 4:14-16 … So what does it look like in the family of faith when love is working as it is supposed to?
14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
Love is the atmosphere, the oxygen, the fuel that makes unified success happen in the church, and beyond that to a world that needs the truth of the gospel message – lived out in front of them in a way that gives a hearing to the greatest good news of all good news.
Imagine you own a home construction company, comprised of various specialist teams – framers, plumbers, electricians, drywallers, finish carpenters, etc. They all need to work together on a regular schedule for everything to go well. But imagine that the plumbers are always late to work, slow to get the pipes done, difficult to get along with, and self-righteous that they were the most important workers on the job. That would make for a difficult environment, the schedules would be thrown off for everyone else, houses would not be done in time nor finished as well, and the reputation of the company would be diminished in the eyes of prospective clients.
And that is how it is in the family of faith when there is any lack of commitment to mutual love and support as each one contributes with the part that they have been given to play by the master builder: God.
What it comes down to is that we just don’t have time to have people in the family, in the church, who just are not committed to an intentional disposition to love others, remembering how we were loved by God in Jesus Christ at a time when we did not deserve it. We need each other, we need to love each other whether or not we always feel like it from the heart. We gotta, gotta git ‘r done.
For the second topic, there was no time in the service to talk about it. The plan was to only briefly discuss it. The title is: “Getting Comes from Giving”.
Theme – the Christian life principle that those who give the most, relatively speaking, tend to get the most in return
Statement – God is the best bookkeeper ever; and having given us gifts and resources – all that we have – He will be faithful to reward us for using these for others, after the model of Christ.
This really is an outgrowth of the first topic. Love motivates us to be generous toward what God cares about … stuff like, the church, the gospel, people in need, etc. We are able to do this through the abundance of what God has first given to us. Yes, there are times in life when we are more able than other times. But the principle is that God will be faithful to us as we are faithful to Him. We’re not going to be forgotten by Him nor end in a dangerous place where needs are not met.
Here are several major Scriptures on this topic …
Hebrews 6:10 – God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.
Hebrews 13:15-16 … Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. 16 And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.
2 Corinthians 9:6-11 … 6 Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. 7 Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. 9 As it is written: “They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor; their righteousness endures forever.” [from Psalm 112:9]
10 Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. 11 You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.
So, the concept that “getting comes from giving” is not to be understood, as it has been wrongly preached by the prosperity crowd, that you give in order to get. Rather, we can have confidence in exercising generosity because the God who sees what we are doing is also the gracious source of whatever we possess. And we have assurance that this loving Father has promised to keep us sufficiently secure. I have witnessed this truth over and over in my life, in my extended family, and in the church communities of people whom I’ve been around these many years. God is faithful.
Week Seven Items for Discussion
- What are some of the components that make it so difficult to love everyone else, even in a church situation?
- Why might some people find that the command to love everyone is “over the top” and unreasonable? Might some feel that it promotes weakness or a lack of standards in holding others accountable for deficiencies?
- The Bible talks about confrontation of an errant brother. How does the command to love others balance with this?
- Could you share a story as to an instance when you have chosen to love someone about whom you would not naturally be warming disposed? Was the person disarmed or softened by your caring demeanor? Did they change in the way they treated you? Or did they take advantage of your kindness?
- What comes to mind as some practical ways that the content of this theme of love might be applied in your world and sphere of influence and connection?
- Regarding the giving theme, what issues lie at the heart of a reticence to be boldly generous?
- Have you ever given toward God in a sacrificial way and then found that your needs were met in some surprising way?