N ENGLISH, the expression love can mean one of several things because it is a mixed-up kind of word. When we want to worship God, we say “I love the Lord.” When speaking of our family, we say, “I love my family.” If we talk about our fondness for an institution like this, we say, “I love Lee College.” When the ladies talk about their clothes, they say, “I just love that hat.” And when we express our fondness for food, we say, “I just love to eat.” So, it is plain to see that love can mean one of several things.
It is obvious that this word is overworked. For example, if one should talk about the fourth marriage of a three-time divorced screen star, he may say that this person fell in love. This not only proves that the word has been overworked, but that the word has been misused. Our concepts of this word are foggy and muddy. I think it is a shame to speak of human passion-especially the illicit sort to which I alluded – and put it in the same sentence with the words of this scripture: “Behold, what manner of love thy Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God” (1 John 3:1). Or, to use the same word love in a sordid setting, for a meaning so noble as this: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3: 16).
One can see that there is a world of difference between these concepts. The problem is, the English language is poverty-stricken when it comes to this particular word. Now the Greeks had several words that they used to express love. Yet, we translate all of them to mean “love.” Not all of these words are found in the New Testament. One of their words for love is the same as the one which we translate “love” today. Used in the classical Greek period, it is eros. This word was unknown to the Apostle Paul, while at the same time the concept of agape was probably unknown to Plato, who knew something about the word eros. Eros may not have had a bad connotation then, for it was the word used in the classical sense; but today it is used to denote self-love or pride, or what we call eroticism. This word has come to mean something of the extreme on the one side, while another word on the other end of the pendulum is used throughout the New Testament to express God’s love for fallen humanity. That word is agape. It is used 218 times in the New Testament. God uses agape in referring to His love for lost humanity.
Agape is based then not on emotion; it is based on volition. This is God’s love to man. It is also man’s love for God. It is a believer’s love one for another. It is the Christian’s love for the lost sinner. As this agape-love increases, eras decreases, because they cannot coexist in the same heart. As love for God grows, love for self lessens. As love for God increases, love for self decreases. Some of you have read from the writings of one of the more interesting Christians of our time, Mr. C. F. Lewis. In his book Mere Christianity, Mr. Lewis says that pride is the greatest of all sins. He says, “As far as I am concerned, it is the essence of sin, because pride eliminates every possibility of true love and concern for the people. It is dangerous, this thing of self-love because it can fool you.”
THIS PRIDE, or self-love, is malignant; it is spiritual cancer that eats up the remotest possibility of one’s ever serving God successfully. Some persons appear to be very religious, when in actuality they are governed and motivated by self-love.
Whenever you, I, or anyone else gets to the place that he begins to feel that he is more spiritual than anybody else, or that he is closer to God than anybody else, or that he is more righteous than everybody else, rest assured that that person is not being motivated by the Holy Spirit. It is a fact that even if he is more spiritual than anyone else, chances are he will not know it. Chances are that the closer one gets to God, the more he will see himself as something very small and insignificant in the sight of God. This will cause a person to realize his need of the depth of commitment to the Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
Did you ever ask yourself how much pride you really have. Let me tell you a good way to find out. Ask yourself the question sometime, How do I like it when people snub me? How do I like it when other people refuse to notice me? When you find out how much you dislike it when other people do not compliment or notice you, you will find out that you have a great deal of self-love.
Now here is the reason: your pride is in competition with somebody else’s pride; the more you have, the more you see it and dislike it in other people, because essentially pride is competitive. When you get to the place that you cannot enjoy anybody else’s preaching, playing the piano or other musical instruments, or singing; when you find no pleasure in seeing some one else succeed for God-you can be sure that a lot of pride is being built up inside of you. You are in a very dangerous place in the Lord Jesus Christ. I repeat, Pride is essentially competitive.
We therefore have to crucify Pride, because it can live and breathe around the altar if it goes unrebuked. Sometimes it can live, grow, move, and expand even in orthodox circles. If we forget that we are small and insignificant, we may lift ourselves up and later find that we are heading for certain ruin, for pride is essentially competitive. It gets no pleasure out of having, only in having more than anyone else and in being above someone else.
The selfish man is not proud of being rich, he is not proud of being clever. The selfish woman is not proud of being good looking. You know what they are proud of? They are proud of being richer, or cleverer or better looking than someone else with whom they compare themselves. This is where pride creeps in. When we get to the place in God that we can have so much of the Spirit of God in our lives that it stamps out this lust and pride and cures us of this cancer that would eat away our souls, then we can have the free flowing love of God that can be shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. Only when we reach this place will we even know what the apostle was talking about when he said, “I want you to go down deep, let your roots go down deep into the soil of God’s marvelous love until you will be able to know the length and the breadth and the depth. and the height of the love of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Let me point out three things about God’s love. First, it is essential. There is no way to be a successful Christian without it. Luke 6:27-38 gives us a good picture of how important love is. There are four principles or laws of love. One, Jesus said, “Love your enemies.” This is the practical part; for we can talk about having it, but this is the real test. Second, He said “Do good to them which hate you.” That is a hard thing to do. But I am telling you this is the true word of God. “Do good to them which hate you.” Third, He said, “Bless them …. ” That word bless comes from the Greek word Eulogeo. You will recognize this as eulogize in the English which means “to say something good about them “-that is a hard thing to do. But Jesus said that when people curse you, say something good about them. If we could look at people who were cursing us-whether they were doing it by attitude and spirit, or doing it in words-would not it be wonderful if we could turn around to them and say, not with irony or sarcasm, but with the love of God in our hearts, “The Lord bless you, and keep you: the Lord make his face to shine upon you.”
I say, first of all, that God’s love is essential. Second, that God’s love is ethical. First John 3:18 says, “Little children, let us stop saying we love people, let us really love them and show it by our actions.” “I could not preach a more eloquent message than to read this, “Love is very patient and kind, never jealous nor envious, never boastful nor proud, Never haughty nor selfish nor rude. Love does not demand its own way, it is not irritable nor touchy. It does not hold grudges and will hardly even notice when others do it wrong ” (1 Corinthians 13: 4, Living Letters).
NOW PAUL HAD a lot more to say about this. I could not go into all of it. But he does say, “Don’t just pretend that you love others: really love them ” (Romans 12: 9, Living Letters). And then in verse 13 he says, “Get into the habit of inviting guests home for dinner; or, if they need lodging, for the night.” I would like to preach that all over the Church of God and have a little more fellowship.
This is pretty good. Paul said, “Work happily together. Don’t try to act big.” That is good gospel for anybody, isn’t it? “Don’t try to get into the good graces of important people, but enjoy the company of ordinary folks. Don’t think you know it all. Never pay back evil for evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honest clear through. Don’t quarrel with anyone. . . . feed your enemy if he is hungry. If he is thirsty give him something to drink and you will be ‘heaping coals of fire upon his head’ ” (Romans 12: 16-20, Living Letters). Now what is Paul saying when he talks of coals of fire?
Many people have a philosophy about expressing love. They say, “I don’t want to harm anyone, but I am going to return good for evil by heaping coals of fire on my enemies’ heads; that will pay them back.” And that has been about the only interpretation we have had on this scripture-“I will treat them good for spite.” In other words that is the way they plan to pay him back. But there is no love in that idea.
I like what Dr. Weust had to say about this. He said that in Bible times people had to keep their hearth burning and a fire going all the time, because they did not have any matches. If they lost their fire, they lost something very valuable. If the fire went out they would have to go next door and borrow coals from a neighbor. When they borrowed these coals, they always put them in a pail and carried them in oriental fashion on their heads, walking erectly.
Now Paul is saying here that if anyone has done you damage-if he has been your enemy and hated and cursed you, and you know that he will harm you the next time he sees you-if his fire goes out and he comes over to borrow some fire, just fill his bucket full of coals so that he can start his fire and cook his food. Heap coals of fire in the bucket-not to burn him, like a lot of people think they will do when they heap coals of fire on their enemies’ heads-but heap coals of fire on his head, intending to keep him warm and to feed him. By doing this, you will be showing the love of God to all those round about you.
The Word of God, when it expresses God’s love, knows nothing about retaliation. It only speaks the language of forgiveness. It only speaks the language of love. It only speaks the language of compassion. It only speaks the language of understanding and this, my friend, is the totality of the Christian message. I do not care how far to the left you go, nor how far to the right you go, you will have to come back to the center: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind …. And … thy neighbour as thyself ” (Matthew 22:37-39 ). Let me show you that the Bible not only tells us but it shows us an example of how God’s love works.
THERE WAS A man in jail. He was a criminal and he was a slave. He had stolen. He had run away from his owner. In jail he met another man who, after witnessing to him, had won him to the Lord Jesus Christ. This man who won him to the Lord put a letter in his hand and said, “Now I want you to go home to your master and when you go home I want you to return to him as a brother and as a slave.” So he put a letter under his arm and sent him home to be reconciled, to straighten out his misdeed.
The slave left with the letter in his hand. He was determined to go back and make things right. He was taking an ultimate risk. And so it is with us when we decide to love people. We have to risk a lot. We have to risk a lot of face. We will have to risk a lot of personal things. Sometimes we will lose face when we love people. But if we really love God and totally love the Lord we do not mind losing face and being embarrassed every now and then, if we can do something that will lift up some brother who is stumbling.
So this slave took this letter in his hand. (Let me use my imagination, let me tell you this story as I feel it might have happened.) As he neared his hometown, he knew that he might be killed. But he bravely walked up to the house and knocked on the door. When the master saw him, he was filled with anger. He perhaps started to rail upon him. But the poor slave looked at him and said, “Just a minute, before any conversation passes between us, I want you to read this letter I have in my hand.” Reaching in his cloak, he pulled out a letter and turned it over to his owner. It read something like this:
“This is from Paul who is in jail for preaching the good news about Jesus Christ. I am writing to Philemon, our much beloved brother. Now I want you to receive Onesimus. He has done you wrong, but I want you to receive him. I could demand it in the name of Jesus Christ, because it is the right thing to do, but I love you and prefer just to ask you to do it. I, Paul, am now an old man here in jail for the sake of Jesus Christ. And I plead that you show kindness to my child Onesimus whom I have won to the Lord· while here in my chains.
“Onesimus means useful and he has not been of much use to you in the past; but now he is going to be very useful to both of us. I am sending him back to you with my own heart. I could have kept him but I did not want to do it without your consent. I did not want you to be kind because you had to. I wanted you to release him from slavery because you wanted to. So no longer will he be a slave, but something much more. He will be a beloved brother, especially to me. Now he will mean much more to you also. If he has harmed you in any way, or if he has stolen anything from you, just charge it to me and I will take care of it. I have written you this letter, because I am positive you will do what I ask and even more. Please keep a guest room ready for me, I am hoping that God will answer your prayers and that I will soon be out of jail so that I may come to see you.-Paul.”
No matter what you have been, when Jesus saves you and the love of God is shed abroad in your heart, you stand equal with every man before the cross of Jesus Christ. We are all the same no matter what our names are, and no matter where we come from. This slave was a new creature in Jesus Christ. He was coming home, forgiven-coming home to love the Lord and to live in kindness. God’s love is ethical. God’s love dwells within the hearts of men and women to help them do the right thing.
Finally and briefly, God’s love is eternal. The values of this world are changing, but God’s love will never change. This is something one can have and always be in style. The journey into the love of God has just begun. It has been a few thousand years since this world came into existence, but the journey into the love of God has just begun; we will never be able to fathom it. Paul says that one can never go to the depth, nor the height, nor the breadth of it, but he said that we should try. No matter how spiritual we are, or seem to be, we are only spiritual to the extent that we would care for our brother, for the hungry, the lost, the prisoner, and the down-and-outer. I do not mean that we should just love their souls. While this is admirable, it is sometimes a vague way of shirking responsibility. We should become concerned about them as a person, as well as the soul.
Paul said “This love that I have preached about to you will outlast all things. Heaven and earth will pass away, tongues will cease, prophecies will cease, but this love will never fail. Now we see through a glass darkly, but then face-to-face. Now we know in part, but then shall we know even also as we are known. This love will lead us into the eternality of God until we can someday see Him face-to-face and rejoice. But then we will be able to understand it all, because we will understand Him in His fulness.”
At Christmastime a little newsboy pressed his nose to the window of a toy shop. Every afternoon he wanted to see the toys inside, which he loved so much. One afternoon after he had finished selling his newspapers, he stepped off the street and a truck hit him; he fell to the ground. Two nurses who had observed him as he looked in the window picked him up and took him to the hospital. After he had been treated and put in his room, he finally regained his consciousness. While he was in a state of subconsciousness, the nurses went out and bought all the toys they could afford and filled his room with them. When the little fellow woke up, he looked around and saw all these toys. He thought he was in a boy’s heaven. As they bent close to his lips, they heard him mumbling to himself. Looking at the toys with bright eyes, he said, “Now there’s no glass between. I have been looking through a glass at these toys, but now there is no glass between.”
I want to tell you that there are some things in life we will never understand. Sometimes there are spiritual things we reach for and cannot grasp. We don’t understand it! Sometimes friends do things we do not understand. Sometimes God does things we do not understand, but we should not let our love for Him fade or our faith dim. One of these days the glass will be torn away. One of these days the veil will be torn away, and we will step into His presence where we will no longer look through a glass darkly, but we will see Him face-to-face. We will no longer know in part, but we will know even also as we are known.