Preparing to Live
Living Requires a Foundation of Love (2)
A man was standing on the bathroom scale clearly sucking in his stomach. His helpful wife, thinking he was trying to weigh less, said, “John, I don’t think that’s going to help.” He replied, “Sure it is. It’s the only way I can see the numbers.” The point is – if we are going to live a truly Christian life, rooted and grounded in love – we have to get self out of the way. To help with that, we’re in a series entitled “Preparing to Live” – so named because it is a study of that great prayer by Paul at the end of Ephesians 3 given in anticipation of the practical exhortations he is about to lay on them in chapters 4-6 aimed at bringing their practice into comformity with their position. He wants their conduct to reflect their calling which will require spiritual preparation. So – he makes audacious petition for five elements – five rungs to a ladder -- that will take them from their old worldly, pre-Christ lifestyle to living a heavenly existence right here on earth.
He prays for inner strength to be able to bear all that their Lord will ask. They he prays that Christ be comfortably settled in their hearts – free to move about at will removing all that is sinful, selfish or extraneous to make room for His will. Last week we began to look at the third rung found in the latter half of verse 17, “that you, being rooted and grounded in love.” “Rooted” makes us think of that which is fundamental and basic. “Grounded” reminds us of the Empire State Building – standing high and mighty because of its 5-story foundation. Paul’s point – you must have a strong foundation and the foundation for Christian living is one simple but profound thing – it is love.
I heard of one longtime basketball coach who became a track coach. “It’s the easiest job of all,” he said. “All you have to do is tell them to turn left and get back as quick as they can.” The exercise of self-giving agape love brings this same kind of fundamental simplicity to our lives. How is love foundational? We saw first that love is strong – defining every other Christian discipline. Without love, no spiritual gift, no methodology, no ministry, no effort of any kind can succeed. Love is primary; it’s strong!
Second we saw that love is sustaining; it nourishes our souls. Without love we will become gnarly, shriveled up vestiges of what the Lord intended for us. Love nourishes. Now today, two more elements of love’s foundation.
III. Love is Selfless
Next, we see that love is selfless. A foundation is unseen. You don’t even know that it’s there. So Christian love is selfless. It’s focus is twofold – God and others. Jesus answered a question from one of the Pharisees in Matthew 22:36-40: “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37) And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38) This is the great and first commandment. 39) And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40) On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” Most of us have heard this statement since we were children and we believe it. But isn’t it true that even as Christians we are much closer to loving ourselves with all of our heart, soul and mind than we are God? In all honesty, how much time did we devote in the past week to communing with God, as compared to say, the amount we spent watching TV or browsing the internet or pursuing our own hobbies, interests, work and concerns? God can be in any of those with us, but the question is, was He? The foundation of selfless love focuses on God and it focuses on others. Let’s examine more closely.
A. It Focuses on God
A four-year-old girl, hugging a doll in each of her pudgy little arms, looked wistfully up at her mother and said, “Mama, I love them and love them and love them, but they never love me back.” I sometimes wonder – does God ever feel that way? We have no higher calling than to love God, but so often we are AWOL. Got better things to do; worlds to conquer; money to be made, perhaps even ministries to perform. See you on Sunday morning, God. May I say – that’s not being rooted and grounded in love. So, how do we love God? How do we know that we are loving Him? Let me give you five ways this morning taken right out of His Word.
1. Love spends time with Him.
When you love someone, you desire to be with them, and with God that certainly means a devotional time of Bible reading and prayer. If that is not happening, we cannot really be claiming to love God. At the very least our love has grown cold. Devotions are critical – but they are just the start. Allow me to get radical this morning.
The time to spend with God is -- all the time. That’s the wonder of God. We can take Him with us anywhere, anytime. I used to travel a lot and what I hated most was it took me away from my wife. She joined me for one, maybe two trips in 30 years and several million miles of business travel. But God is different. When our young adult group studied Don’t Waste Your Life, we came upon a section in I Corinthians 7 where Paul is urging that people incorporate God into their daily lives. He says in verse 17, “Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. We all think of pastors and missionaries as called, but did you know that your life is equally a calling from God? It truly is, and he is urging you to lead the life that He has assigned to you. Bu the clincher is in verse 24, “24) So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God.” Isn’t that good? Whatever you are doing, wherever you go, remain with God. Truth is God is always there. Question is, are we remaining with Him.? Is He in our mind? Are we checking signals with Him? Committing our way to Him? Looking for guidance from Him? Are we sinking deep roots into this foundation of selfless love by being with Him? If not – probably don’t love Him.
2. Love Gladly Keeps His Commandments
Don’t miss the word gladly. It is crucial. Listen to Jesus in John 14:15, “15) “If you love me, you will [not might, not could, not sometimes, but will] you will keep my commandments. Now skip down to verse 21, “21) Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. Now skip down to verse 23, “23) Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word.” Those who love God will naturally keep His commandments and His precepts. Those who love God love His words.
It’s not a matter of saying, “Oh man, I really want to paint the town tonight, but I can’t because then I wouldn’t be loving God. But, boy, I sure want to.” Listen, you might as well paint the town because in your attitude and in your heart you already have. See – we miss the point. We think that we love God by keeping his commandments. That’s what I grew up thinking. But that’s backwards. Frontwards is, We keep His commandments because we love Him. That’s why we’re glad about it. Keeping God’s commandments out a sense of obligation and legalism is an affront to Him and to us. We gladly obey because we love. Love is first; obedience follows. That’s the only way it can ever work.
I saw a cartoon one time showing Moses, on Mount Sinai, looking upward: “Maybe I should deliver just the first five now and see how it goes down.” That’s not a true believer. A true believer loves God’s law because he loves God. The soldier in Iraq gets a letter from his beloved. Does he read it once and toss it? Not if he really loves her. He reads it and re-reads it and studies every nuance. He breathes in her perfume; he reads between the lines. And if he really loves, being true to her is not a burden; it is a privilege. He loves first; faithfulness follows naturally. Learn obedience because you love God and you will build a rich, foundation for your life.
David failed of God’s commands in a major way; he suffered the consequences, too. But he had a repentant heart and he could honestly say in Psalm 119, verses 47 and 48 that he loved God’s commands. And he capped it off by saying in Psalm 119:127, “Therefore I love your commandments above gold, above fine gold. 128 Therefore I consider all your precepts to be right; I hate every false way.” Can you say that and really mean it? You say, “You know what, Dave, I’m not sure I can. I try to keep God’s commandments, but I do find them restrictive and onerous sometimes.” So what’s wrong? One of two things. Either you are not truly a believer at all – or you have left your first love. Within 40 years of the time that Paul wrote this letter to Ephesus, they were in that exact boat. John wrote Jesus’ words to them in Revelation 3: But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. (So what’s the soloution?) 5 Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If we don’t love His Word – don’t love Him.
3. Love Treasures Forgiveness
Love grown cold? Here’s the solution. It’s found in Luke 7:36-50. We must remember who we were and from whence we have come. Let’s read,
“36) One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. 37) And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner (probably a prostitute, but at the least recognized for a dissolute lifestyle), when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, 38) and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment (her intention had been to anoint. The weeping was an involuntary expression of her love and devotion. She was overcome at the significance of the moment). 39) Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” 40) And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.” 41) “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42) When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” 43) Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” 44) Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet (that would have been the most remedial courtesy in that society and Simon had not provided it), but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45) You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. 46) You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47) Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” I love this story. It touches my heart. Do you know why we do not love God and want to do His commands? It is because our sense of sin has been dulled by a world that makes light of sin. Jesus was not implying that this woman was any worse sinner than Simon. But she recognized her sin and it caused her to love much, having been forgiven much. Simon had no such sense of sin and could not love. The world will not teach us sin. Only His Word will. But it also teaches: “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Rom 5:20). That should fill our hearts with love. If we don’t treasure forgiveness, probably don’t love Him.
4. Love Keeps Money as a Servant
Now, there’s another interesting indication of our love for God. It’s found in Luke 16:13, and it says this, “13) No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” Isn’t that an interesting comparison? I venture to say that most of us believe that we can love both money and God. That’s why money is like having a viper in your clothing. You cannot serve both God and money. And by the way, you don’t have to be rich for money to be a problem. Wanting it and not having it is just as damning as wanting it and having it. Doesn’t matter. Jesus says you can love God or you can love money, but you cannot love both. You cannot say, I want money to do God’s work. At that very moment, you are serving money. If we are longing for it, for whatever good reason we have in mind, it has got us and we are serving it.
We are like the lady who was on the outs with her husband. They had been unhappy with each other for weeks and she had given him the cold shoulder all that time. Finally, the unhappy husband confronted her: “Admit it, Linda. The only reason you married me is because my grandfather left me $10 million.” “Don’t be ridiculous,” she replied. “I don’t care who left it to you.” Is that us? Don’t care where it comes from just so we get it? Then it has got us and we are not selflessly loving God and we are not rooted and grounded in love. Listen, I pray for God to raise up and prosper men and women in our church who can be trusted with money, but be very careful, folks. If we love money, we don’t love Him and foundation has crumbled.
5. Love focuses on Him, not on His gifts
One more indication of our love for God. Look with me at Deuteronomy 13:1-3, “If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, 2) and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, ‘Let us go after other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us serve them,’ 3) you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the Lord your God is testing you, to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.
Now that is kind of a strange passage of Scripture, don’t you think? Here comes a new fellow along and behold, he performs a miracle or two – verifiable – the real McCoy. I mean, isn’t that proof? But God says, “No, no. Wait a minute. Check out his message. Does it conform to my Word? Is he truly representing the gospel, or does he have a different take on things?” This person may be speaking of “God.” “Jesus Christ” may roll off his lips like honey, but what if what he is really teaching is a prosperity gospel, where the god is really money? What if he is teaching a form of emotionalism where the real god is the miracle. This can be so misleading? Like the Corinthians we looked at last week. Enamored of the gifts and not the Giver. God is warning us – Look out. Make sure then when someone says God, they mean the real thing – even if a miracle is involved – especially if a miracle is involved. Love focuses on Him, not on His gifts.
Jesus himself never trusted much in people who rallied around the miraculous, did you know that? There’s an absolutely fascinating passage in John 2 beginning in verse 23. It tells of a time early in the ministry of Christ and it says this: “ Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. 24) But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people 25) and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.” Fascinating! See that little word “entrust” in verse 24. Now get this. That is exactly the same word that is translated “believed” in verse 23. So you would literally read, “many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing, but Jesus on his part did not “believe” in them.” What is that all about? It is about false belief, folks. Jesus did not trust those who followed only because of the miracles, what they could get out of it, and He was right, for you will remember that by the time we get to chapter 6, most turned back from following him when it became apparent he was not going to perform miracles at will and feed them. Love God for Who He is, not for What He can give you. Love God, love His word, love his commands and the rest is relatively insignificant. Do we love Him? Are we rooted and grounded in selfless love for God?
B. It Focuses on Others
Selfless love focuses first and foremost on God; that is its vertical orientation. But there is also a horizontal aspect to selfless love. John says in I John 4:12) “No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.” He goes on in verse 21) “And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.” Not hard to get this picture, is it? It we truly love God and have the vertical going, we will also love others – particularly believers. Notice, it’s a command – and we love His commandments, right? So, we welcome, we embrace, we are thrilled that He has asked us to love Brother Grump or Sister Catty. See, it’s not just a question of loving those to whom we are attracted. That’s good, but that’s eros. Agape says, “Man I can hardly wait to do something of my own volition to show my love and my Father’s heart to this one who I really don’t like from a human perspective.”
Picture this priceless moment. A parent – unobserved – watching their children when one of them out of the blue shows love to a sibling by sharing his candy or giving up her turn on the swing. Priceless. Don’t you see, that right in the middle of our heavenly Father’s heart is the same thrill when we truly, honestly, diligently love one another?
In one of his many books, John MacArthur tells of one of the most encouraging and memorable letters he ever got as a pastor. It came from a USC coed who was teaching a class at Grace Community church. She wrote, “I have a class of junior–aged girls. I kept telling myself I loved them, I loved their little curls and I loved their little smiles and I loved their pretty dresses. I just loved the fact that they were sweet little girls. And then one day I came to the realization that I was spending about ten minutes preparing my lesson and I realized that I didn’t love them at all because I made no sacrifice to bring them the greatest gift that I could bring them, which was the truth of God’s Word. I got on my knees before God and confessed my unloving attitude. I had emotional feelings for those sweet little girls. I didn’t love them. Love means preparing diligently to give them my best, even if it meant I couldn’t go to the football game, or some other campus activity. She got it. That’s the heart of love. Selfless giving.
But, now the tough news. The ultimate test of love goes far deeper and is far more demanding than caring for other believers. Jesus said this in Matthew 24:43 “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,” See, the Pharisees had taken the Law to love one’s neighbor – part of the Ten Commandments, as you will recall – and they had added their own little addendum (so dangerous to begin to add to God’s Word, is it not?) – they added their own little escape clause – “Love your neighbor but hate your enemy.” Isn’t that cute? Isn’t that human nature? Wouldn’t we all agree? But Jesus says, “But I (the divine “I” – meaning, here’s what I and God the Father think of your appendix) – I say to you, Love your enemies and [further] pray for those who persecute you,” I suspect He lost a few followers right then and there, don’t you? But true love is just that selfless – and in practice, it is powerful.
A few years ago, a man named T. Roland Philips wrote a book called God Hath Spoken. In it he tells how during the Korean War, a South Korean Christian, a civilian, was arrested by the communists and ordered shot. But when the young communist leader learned that the prisoner was in charge of an orphanage caring for small children, he decided to spare him -- and kill his son instead. So they shot the nineteen-year-old boy in the presence of his father. Later the fortunes of war changed, and the young communist leader was captured by the United Nations forces, tried, and condemned to death. But before the sentence could be carried out, the Christian whose boy had been killed came and pled for the life of the killer. He declared that as Christ forgave, he forgave and said, “Give him to me, and I’ll train him.” The United Nations forces granted the request, and that father took the murderer of his boy into his own home and cared for him, led him to Christ and that young communist became a Christian pastor.
Now, may I ask in all candor, would we have done that? Or would we have been standing back in self-righteous condemnation saying, “Give him the death penalty. That’s what the Bible requires.” Had my son been brutally murdered by someone like that I cannot say for sure that the desire for revenge would not overtake everything else in my life, but that father had it right, and look – folks, look, not only is his son in heaven, but so will be this other young man plus anyone else who comes to know the Lord as a result of his preaching. We must Jesus says, love our enemies. A foundation of selfless love.
IV. Love is Steadfast
Finally, love is steadfast. It is immovable and it is forever. A good foundation is intended to outlast the building and so love is forever; it is steadfast. We read in I Cor 13:8 “Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.” All these gifts of which you are so enamored, gifts like prophecies and tongues – they will all go away. They are not forever. But love – love is forever and what you do in love now will have eternal worth and value. What he is doing is appealing to them to give worth to their actions by making sure they are done in love – that love is the basis for every move they make, every decision they take, every thought in their mind. When we decide to love (agape), we invoke eternity.
A man named David Ireland wrote letters to his unborn child while dying of a neurological disease – a child he would never hold or play hoops with or go to movies with: “Your mother is very special. Few men know what it is like to receive appreciation for taking their wives out to dinner when it entails what it does for us. It means that she has to dress me, shave me, brush my teeth, comb my hair, move me out of the house and down the steps, open the garage and put me in the car, take the pedals off the chair, stand me up, sit me in the seat of the car, twist me around so that I’m comfortable, fold the wheel chair, put it in the car, go around to the other side of the car, start it up, back it out, get out of the car, pull the garage door down, get back into the car and drive off to the restaurant. And then it starts all over again. She gets out of the car, unfolds the wheelchair, opens the door, spins me around, stands me up, sits me in the wheelchair, pulls the pedals out, wheels me into the restaurant. Then she takes the pedals off the wheelchair so that I won’t be uncomfortable. We sit down to have dinner and she feeds me throughout the entire meal. And when it’s over, she pays the bill, pushes the wheelchair out to the car again and reverses the same routine. And when it’s over, she’ll say with real warmth, ‘Honey, thank you for taking me out to dinner.’ I never quite know how to answer,” he says. Love is deathless. Can you imagine that unborn child reading that letter someday, learning that indeed love is special and it reaches across the generations and it builds bridges across time, and it echoes out into eternity. That’s a dramatic example, but, Beloved, dear congregation that God has so honored us to be a part of, we can do this same thing by our active decision to love. Love is steadfast.
Paul says that as a result of Christ dwelling within we will be rooted and grounded in love – love that is strong, sustaining, selfless and steadfast. Remember – this is agape love. It is not a worked up emotion or reaction to something attractive in the object. It is a decision, a decision motivated by the Christ within on a daily basis. In fact, every minute of our lives, we decide anew to love or not to love.
James Buchanan, a wealthy bachelor, who became the 15th president of the US. He wasn’t known for much other than foolishly handling some of the events leading up the Civil War. Buchanan was a serious but controlled drinker. When he was living in Lancaster, PA, just prior to his presidency, he liked to use his Sunday drive to church as an excuse for a trip to Jacob Baer’s distillery to pick up a ten-gallon cask of "Old J. B. Whiskey," a brand he thought to be the finest. "The Madeira and sherry that he has consumed would fill more than one old cellar" wrote John Forney, editor of the Lancaster Intelligencer. At the White House, Buchanan once asked a supplier not to deliver champagne in small bottles "as the article is not used in such small quantities." You know what my prayer is today? I mean this in all sincerity and I believe it’s possible. My prayer is that although I believe we are a loving church, my prayer is that Christ will not deliver love to us in small bottles “as the article is not used in such small quantities” among us. Will you join me in that prayer and that resolve?