The initial aim of the early reformers in the movement was Christian unity. They believed that understanding and practicing the three principles enunciated in this slogan would inevitably lead to unity.
In the first instance, for those who accept the Bible as the Holy Spirit inspired, infallible, and authoritative word of God and their only and all-sufficient rule for faith and practice, unity can become a reality.
In the second instance, in matters of opinion, even though the Bible addresses that issue, that is usually, as the saying goes, “where the rub comes in.”
And the third, my subject, which is the key, is seemingly the most difficult to achieve because it relates to attitudes and spirit. But it is what makes the first two viable.
In the first instance, one can be doctrinally sound but still manifest a sectarian and a mean and nasty spirit. The Pharisees, you recall, meticulously crossed every “t” and dotted every “i”, they fasted and they tithed everything they got. Though one may be doctrinally correct, the Pharisaic spirit would negate any effort at unity.
In the second instance, with regard to opinions, when it be- comes “my way or no way;” when it becomes “the only way I know you’re listening to me is for you to do what I want;” or “you play the game my way or I’m taking my toys and going elsewhere,” and it ends up castigating those who don’t see it your way, that also negates any effort at unity. The attitude in both instances has split many a church.
The absence of love destroys unity. That is why this great slogan closes on this note, “In all things love.”
So seemingly, the most difficult to achieve is the last part of the slogan, “in all things, love,” which, if it could be implemented in all our relationships, would make unity achievable. No wonder love is such a broad subject and receives so much attention in God’s word. In God’s family, you and I are called to a life of love.
It was Tennyson who said: “In the Spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.” I’m certain this is not the type of love we’re talking about. For I know God’s love is not restricted to particular seasons. It is not a fickle love. It is not the kind of love seen in the two fellows where one turned to the other and asked, “Do you love me?” The other responded, “Man, I love you to the end.” Whereupon the first said, “Well then, lend me ten bucks.” The second responded, “That’s the end.” God’s love is constant.
I. What Is Love?
A preacher was trying to instruct his Bible School class of junior boys in the Biblical meaning of love. Noting that one lad was particularly attentive, he asked him, “If I saw a man beating a donkey, and I persuaded him to stop, what Christian virtue would I be demonstrating?” The boy replied, “You’d be showing brotherly love.”
The answer to that question is important if we are to experience the unity for which Jesus prayed in John 17:21 and to which the early Restorationists aspired. The difficulty is that so many who have been in church all their lives and who have been schooled in basic doctrine, still only have an elementary concept of Biblical love and to that can be attributed most of the difficulties that most churches experience.
When Columbus landed in America, he did not know he had discovered a vast continent. He knew nothing of its vast rivers, its great lakes, its valleys. What did he know about the wealth of minerals hidden in her mountains? Many Christians have never taken the time to fully explore the love of God and how it relates to our treatment of one another.
When that question, “What is love?” was posed in a junior boy’s Bible School class, a little lad raised his hand and said, “Before you fall in love, your heart goes lob-a-dob, lob-a-dob. But after you fall in love, it goes lob-a-squish-dob, lob-a-squish-dob.”
Another lad gave his observations when he wrote a composition on love. He wrote, “Love is something that makes two people think they are pretty when nobody else does. It also makes them sit close together on a bench when there is plenty of room on both ends. Love is something that young people have that old people don’t have because it’s all about dimples and star-like eyes and curls that old people don’t have. It is something that makes two people very quiet when you are around, also very quiet when you aint, only in a different way. When they do talk, it’s all about dreams and roses and moonshine. When I grow up, I’m not going to fall in love, but if I do, she’s got to let me say what to do and let me run the whole show, and that’s all I know about love, till I do grow up.”
Another teacher endeavored to elicit answers to that question from her elementary school children by asking a series of questions. Here are some of the responses. What is the proper age to get married? Judy, age 8: “Eighty-four. Because at that age, you don’t have to work anymore, and you can spend all your time loving each other.” (Why was I never told that?) Why does love happen between two people? Harlan, age 8,: “I think you’re supposed to get shot with an arrow or something, but the rest of it isn’t supposed to be so painful.”
What does falling in love feel like? Roger, age 9: “Like an avalanche where you have to run for your life.” Leo, age 7: “If falling in love is anything like learning how to spell, I don’t want to do it. It takes too long.”
What do you think about love? Bobby, age 8: “Love will find you, even if you are trying to hide from it. I have been trying to hide from it since I was five, but the girls keep finding me.” Regina, age 10: “I’m not rushing into being in love. I’m finding fourth grade hard enough.”
How do you make love last? Roger, age 8: “Don’t forget your wife’s name. That will mess up the love.”
These childish definitions of love may be cute and amusing. But they are also an indication of the impact our culture has made upon their impressionable minds and how far short they fall of the Biblical concept of love and of that considered in our theme.
The reason love is so difficult to achieve is because our culture’s concept of love is selfish and is the antithesis of the Biblical concept, and it has permeated the church. The culture’s concept of love has been glamorized by music, literature, and the entertainment industry. It can easily occur on “some enchanted evening.” It’s a very fragile type of love, “here today, gone tomorrow.” This type of love is not based on character, on commitment, or enduring values. It springs from one’s biological makeup. It survives only as long as needs are being met. There is nothing wrong with an erotic love, per se. God created us that way. But it does not fully serve its purpose apart from two other types of love. There is friendship love; a sharing, reciprocal love (phileo); and the love we are talking about (agape), God’s love, a self-giving love. It concerns itself with giving more than receiving. It is concerned with the welfare of others. It is interested in what is helpful, not detrimental. This is the love that Christians are to exhibit to others.
This love is unconditional. It knows no social, ethnic, or economic distinctions. Love is not based on what someone has or hasn’t done. It is not based on what someone is or isn’t. This type of love keeps on loving when it would be easier to walk away. This kind of love is commanded as the solution to all the problems in the world and in the church, because it deals with interpersonal relationships. As one has said, “Love is the most sublime capability one has because it is the most like God.”
II. The Basis For This Kind of Love.
We cannot know this kind of love apart from God. In 1 John 4:8 the apostle says: “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God because God is love.”
It is demonstrated in God’s love for us. Romans 5:8 states that love (self-giving agape love) loves whether its object deserves that love or not: “But God demonstrated his own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” When I reflect on that, it leads me to the words of the song, “I stand amazed in the presence of Jesus the Nazarene, and wonder how he could love me, a sinner, condemned, unclean.”
Christ’s own example is the basis for this kind of love. He loved the church because He chose to love her. There wasn’t anything romantic about it. And because He chose to love her, He gave Him- self for her. He submitted Himself to scourging and cruel mocking. He allowed sinful men to nail Him to a cross and hang Him up to die. His prayer had been, “Not my will but thine be done.” He did it because He loved. And this is the way God enjoins us to love one another. Because this kind of love has a kingdom perspective, an eternal perspective. It looks beyond self to others.
God. says, “I first loved you, in spite of what I knew about you, even when you were unlovely.” His mind was made up about you and me from the very beginning. There was this young man that came up to a lady friend and excitedly exclaimed, “I’ve got a great piece of news for you! I proposed to Betty last night and she promised to be my wife!” His friend responded, “You call that news? Four weeks ago she asked me to be her bridesmaid.” And so many do not know the amazing good news that the Lamb of God was slain for them from the creation of the world (Revelation 13:8).
III. This Love Is A Discipline.
Again, it is a multi-faceted discipline. It teaches. It trains. It has rules. It’s a way of life. It submits to properly constituted authority. It rebukes. It corrects. “This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3).
A lot of things today are paraded under the name of love that are actually a violation of it. Some think that love makes discipline unnecessary, that love and any rules or regulations are mutually exclusive.
Some parents think that indulgence and permissiveness is a sign of love. This is the modern and most destructive concept of love because it makes its recipient self-focused.
Love is not God giving us what we want. It’s God giving us what He wants and what we need. Saying “no” can sometimes be the most loving thing one can do. Love cannot overlook wrong because love is truth oriented.
Proverbs 13:18 says: “He who ignores discipline comes to poverty and shame.” Verse 24: “He who loves his son is careful to discipline him.” 15:32 - “He who ignores discipline despises himself.” Hebrews 12:5 - “Do not make light of the Lord’s discipline.” Verse 6 - “The Lord disciplines those he loves.” Verse 8 - “If you are not disciplined...then you are illegitimate children and not true sons.”
As a parent I loved my children unconditionally. But I had certain requirements of them. Even when they disobeyed me, even when they were unlovely on occasion, I still loved them, and that love exercised discipline.
The reason love demands discipline is because it is genuinely concerned about one’s welfare or well-being. Love is not subjective. It is a command. If love were based on feelings alone, we might never love, or at least it would be short-lived. Agape love is not something that happens to you. It’s an exercise of your will. It’s something you make happen in response to a command. Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 6:5 in Mark 12:28-31 when He was asked by a teacher of the law, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” Jesus said, “ The most important one is this ‘. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with
all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength, The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
In 1 John 4:21 the apostle says; “And this commandment have we from him, that he who loveth God love his brother also.”
2 John 6: “And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in his love.”
And in John 13:34 Jesus said, “A new command (note, not a “new feeling”) but a new command I give you. Love one another as I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Then John says in 1 John 3:14 - “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers.”
So we readily see that love is a lot more than feelings. I was visiting in the home of a farmer in Ocean View, Delaware, and talking to him about becoming a Christian. His response was, “I believe in Jesus. And I know what the Bible says. And I would like to be a Christian. But I have been waiting for a feeling and I have never had it. The Lord will let me know when it’s my time.” His eleven-year-old son was sitting on the sofa across the living room listening to our conversation. I said, “Suppose you were reading your newspaper one evening and asked your son if he would please go and get you a glass of water, and would go back to reading your paper, and suddenly became aware that your son hadn’t moved. And you would repeat the request and again go back to reading your paper. Noting that your son had not budged, you would lay aside your paper and say, “Son, did you hear your Dad?!” And he responded, “Dad, you don’t need to raise your voice. I heard you the first time. I’ll do what you asked me to do when I get a feeling.” I said, “I suspect he would get a feeling, but not the one he was looking for. You don’t need to wait for a feeling to do what God has asked you to do.” The light suddenly came on and he said, “Just to think, that all these years I have been wanting to become a Christian and have been waiting for a feeling, when all along, all I had to do was to obey the Lord and do what He asked me to do.” The man was baptized into Christ that night.
And then, love behaves. 1 Corinthians 13 is known as the love chapter and is used in almost every wedding. But it should be used in every kind of relationship, especially where disagreements can be potentially disruptive. Why? Because 1 Corinthians 13 describes a behavior. It cites eight things love does and eight things love does not do. And this type of love makes for, and maintains, unity.
IV. What Does Love Do?
St. Augustine said love has “the hands to help others; it has feet to hasten to the poor and needy; it has the eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That’s what Christian love looks like.” Of course, he got that from Jesus who said in Matthew 25:40 - “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”
The apostle John said in 1 John 3:18 “Let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.”
And note, John concluded, love should also be discerning, “love in truth.” It has become popular to say, “Love shouldn’t be judgmental.” That is true, only in the sense in which Jesus condemned it in Matthew 7:1. That is probably one of the most misquoted scriptures in the Bible because it is lifted out of the context in which Jesus was condemning hypocritical judgment. And in the same context He illustrated the necessity of proper judgment. Love must, by its very nature, discern the difference between right and wrong, good and evil, truth and falsehood.
Love speaks the truth. Truth is important but is not always spoken in love. Love and truth go hand in hand. Paul warns in 2 Thessalonians 2;10 people “perish because they refuse to love the truth.” So he who loves, loves sound doctrine. Love stands firm on the non-negotiables which makes unity possible. That’s why Jesus prayed for God to sanctify his disciples by the truth because His word is truth, and He prayed for all those who would believe in Him through their message because the inevitable result would be unity.
In matters of faith, love, a concern for others, requires the expo- sure of false teaching. If we love God, His word, His truth, we must hate everything God hates, for those things destroy relationships.
In matters of opinion, love is discerning enough not to equate those opinions with matters of faith and make them tests of fellowship. Love has the capacity to negotiate the negotiable in areas of those with whom you may differ without disrupting the unity of the church. A mother of seven was asked how she divided her love among so many children. “You don’t divide,” she corrected. “You multiply.” The many differences of opinions in a church should not divide our love. Rather, they should multiply it.
So, both in matters of faith and opinion, Paul admonishes us in Ephesians 4:15 to speak the truth in love because, as he says in 1 Corinthians 13:6 “love rejoices with the truth.”
Love respects and obeys the truth as Peter affirms in 1 Peter 1:22 “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth, so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply from the heart.”
Hebrews 13:1 admonishes “Keep on loving each other as brothers.” It’s a continuous thing.
A Kansas tornado hit a farmhouse just before dawn. It tore the roof off and lifted the bed out of the bedroom with the farmer and his wife still in it and set it down gently in a field in the next county. When they finally came to their senses, the farmer gave a sigh of relief and looked over at his wife and she was crying. “Don’t be scared Mary, we’re not hurt.” She kept on crying and said, “I’m not scared, I’m happy. I’m so happy.” “Happy?! Look what happened to our house. What are you so happy about?” “I’m happy because this is the first time we’ve been out together in twenty years.”
I hope it doesn’t take us that long to learn that togetherness brings happiness. Keep on loving, maintain that agape love relationship because, as someone has said, “The best way for a man to remember his wife’s birthday is to forget it just once.”
Unexpressed love is an oxymoron—a figure of speech in which opposite or contradictory ideas or terms are combined, like thunderous silence, sweet sorrow, pretty ugly, a working vacation, and we could add, unexpressed love.
Coach John Wooden, famous basketball coach who set all kinds of records at UCLA and who is a Christian, one day was interviewed with regard to his being a Christian and being known for sharing his faith. He said, “There’s a little poem I like-’a bell isn’t a bell until you ring it. A song isn’t a song until you sing it. And the love that is in us wasn’t put there to stay. Because love isn’t love until you give it away.’” He said, “That’s how I feel about people I meet.”
The story is told of this couple that was attending a Marriage Enrichment Seminar. He was the kind of guy that didn’t say much. His wife wanted to get him into this type of environment to help him become the kind of man she wanted him to be around her. The speaker talked about saying the right words and being romantic. He was a kind of bashful guy and wasn’t into that much. It came time for the lunch break and they sat down to eat between two other couples. He was trying his best to be the kind of guy the speaker had been talking about. So he listened to the guy on his left and heard him say to his wife across the table, “Pass the honey, Honey.” Boy, he thought. That’s pretty good. And then he heard the guy to his right say to his wife, “Pass the sugar, Sugar.” So he thought, Well, I guess I’d better say something. So he said to his wife, “Pass the tea - Bag.”
So let us as a people become better at learning how to express our love for one another. Let us begin to practice “in all things love.” This will happen when people’s hearts are corrected. Until this happens, the ills that affect our relationships will not be corrected. Selfishness and pride defeat love. And the converse is true. Love defeats selfishness and pride.
So Paul gives us the divine trinity: “And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13) And then he entreats in 14:1 “Follow the way of love.” Love continues to be the abiding principle that controls all that God and His redeemed people are and do.
In Carville, Louisiana, there is a leprosy hospital. A preacher went to visit to see what the disease does to a person. The hospital chaplain took him to see one lady. Her face was horribly disfigured. The chaplain said, “She sings in our chapel choir.” The preacher asked her, “Would you sing for me your favorite song?” Through disfigured lips she sang, “I sing because I’m happy. I sing because I’m free. For His eye is on the sparrow and I know He watches me.”
That the unlovely should be the object of love is foreign to human nature. But it is a miracle of Divine love! The capacity to bestow love upon that which is not beautiful, which is ugly, can only come from One Who sees beyond that which is visible. May we grow in our capacity, in all things, to love like that. And then we will truly be able to sing from our hearts as well as our lips:
Blest be the tie that binds Our hearts in Christian love.
The fellowship of kindred minds Is like to that above.
And let all God’s people say “Amen.”
Harvey C. Bream, Jr., preached this sermon as part of the C.R.A. Bible Symposium in 2008. If you would like to hear the actual presentation - click here. Sermons and other articles like this one are published each month in The Restoration Herald. To subscribe to the Herald, click here.