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POSITIVE ATTRIBUTES OF LOVE

Notes & Transcripts

By Pastor Glenn Pease

The theme of love has been associated with the Lord's Supper down through the centuries. The early Christians had what came to be known as an Agape feast before they partook of the Lord's Supper. This was a time in which they ate a full meal together in an atmosphere of Christian fellowship. It was a great contrast to the pagan parties which were held on behalf of false gods. Most of the Corinthian Christians had been involved in this corrupt pagan celebrations before their conversion, and some of the self-centeredness of those began to creep into the love feasts of the church. The result was that the outgoing concern for others in agape love faded, and eros love came in, which is a love that is more concerned about self and what pleasure it can get at the expense of others.

It was a constant battle to keep the love feast a time of true Christian fellowship. After New Testament days the church changed the feast and held it after the Lord's Supper, but there was still problems of corruption. In times of persecution the agape meal was had in prisons with condemned Christians before they were martyred. It soon became a custom to have a love meal after weddings and funerals, and so our modern days receptions after such events are nothing new in the church. During the Middle Ages, however, the practice became so corrupted by non-Christian influence that the Council of Trullan in 692 A. D. ruled that those who held love feasts in the church should be excommunicated.

The agape feast is still practiced in the Eastern Church just as it was in New Testament days. A small group in England called the Peculiar People also have the love feast. They demonstrate that the practice does not have to be corrupt. The only trace of the idea left in most churches today is the practice of taking a benevolent offering after the Lord's Supper to be used to help the needy. The result is that few people today connect love with the Lord's Supper. It is appropriate, however, to consider the theme of love before we commune with the Lord of love. We want to focus our attention on the attributes of love that are first mentioned, and they are patience and kindness.

I. LOVE IS PATIENT.

Patience is the first attribute that Paul mentions, for this is essential in all the relationships of life. If God was not patient, He would have destroyed the earth long ago, and there would be no plan of salvation. But God is love, and His love is patient, not willing that any should perish but that all come to repentance. God is exceedingly patient with people. Jonah even became angry at God when He did not destroy Nineveh but forgave them, and gave them a second chance when they repented. God is patient because He is love, and if the love of God is in us, we too will be patient with people.

This means that we must have the capacity to forgive. This word always means patience with people, and not just with circumstances. In verse 7 Paul deals with enduring all things, but here at the start he puts first things first and says that the first attribute of agape love is the ability to be patient and forgiving of people. Martin Luther King Jr. said, "He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love." The Corinthians desperately needed to learn this, for there were weak Christians and proud Christians, and Christians of every type of personality all mixed together with different convictions and likes. If there is no patience in such an atmosphere, there is bound to be trouble, and there was. Some were of Paul, others of Apolos, and others of Cephus. At their love feast some would have steak, and others would have just vegetables. The rich would not share with the poor. Some ate meat offered to idols, and others thought it was a sin.

The church has the hardest task in the world. It has to take people of all walks of life with endless differences in background, convictions, and personalities, and unite them in one unified mission of extending the kingdom of God on earth. The task is not difficult, it is impossible unless the unifying power of agape love is present, only agape love can bear patiently the conflicts in human personalities. Someone said, "To live above with the saints we love, Oh that will be glory! But to live below with the saints we know-that's another story."

It is the basic ingredient in the unity of every church. In any church business meeting you will find differing opinions and convictions. In any group of Christians you will find varying viewpoints on many practical issues, and how to deal with them. If the patience of agape love is not present the result will be division and conflict which is neither for the glory of God nor the good of man. If love does not reign in the church, it ceases to be the light of the world and, as one has said, "Only adds deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars." Love alone can dissolve the clouds of darkness and let the light of God shines through.

Abraham Lincoln had a bitter enemy when he was seeking to become President of the United States. Stanton was his name, and for some reason he hated Lincoln. He did everything possible to degrade him in the eyes of the public. He use to call Lincoln, "The original gorilla." On one occasion he said that a certain Frenchman was a fool to be wandering about in Africa trying to capture a gorilla when he could find one so easy in Springfield, Ill. In spite of Stanton, Lincoln was elected. Lincoln ten began to select his cabinet of men to work close to him, and the man he chose to be his Secretary of War was a shock to everyone, for it was none other than Stanton. His advisors warned him, but Lincoln, knowing all the things he had said about him, still felt he was the best man for the job, and so he was appointed.

Such an act of love, forgiveness and patience in the face of hate made Stanton a great servant of his country, and a great friend of Lincoln. When Lincoln's body was laid in a little room after he was shot, it was Stanton who stood over him and said through tears, "There lies the greatest ruler of men the world has ever seen." Maybe not all felt like Stanton, but then not all men experienced the power of Lincoln's longsuffering love. Likewise, only as we recognize the longsuffering love of God for us can we be patient with others. It was while we were yet sinners that Christ died for us. It was while all the hate of sin was being poured out on Him that He said, "Father forgive them for they know not what they do." Only after we have entered into, and experienced that forgiveness, can we forgive those who trespass against us.

That is why love is linked so closely to the Lord's Supper, for it is our remembrance of His longsuffering love that endured even the death of the cross that keeps us conscious of our obligation to be patient with all others for whom He died. It is this attribute of patience that enables us to love even our enemies as God loves His. The Christian destroys his enemies by making them his friends, even as Lincoln did with Stanton.

Longsuffering agape love is the basis on which Martin Luther King Jr. waged his war against those who hated the blacks. He demonstrated in an historical crisis that love can conquer hate. Here is a paragraph from his book titled Strength To Love.

"To our most bitter opponents we say: We shall match your

capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure

suffering. We shall meet your physical force with soul force.

Do to us what you will, and we shall continue to love you. We

cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws, because

non-cooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is

cooperation with good. Throw us in jail, and we shall still love

you. Bomb our homes and threaten our children, and we shall

still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into

our community at the midnight hour and beat us and leave us

half dead, and we shall still love you. But be ye assured that

we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. One day we

shall win freedom, but not only for ourselves. We shall so

appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you

in the process, and our victory will be a double victory."

The wicked weeds of hate and prejudice will eventually wither in the brilliant light and blazing heat of such longsuffering love. Little did a young lady in England many years ago realize how important longsuffering love is in teaching Sunday School. She had a class of 4 ragged boys, and they seem to be hopeless, and especially Bob. It was a struggle just to keep him coming. The Sunday School superintendent gave him a new suit of clothes so he would not feel out of place, but after a couple of Sundays he was gone again. The teacher went after him and found the clothes all torn and dirty. She invited him back and he came. The superintendent gave him another suit of clothes, but after a week or so his seat was empty again.

The teacher was so aggravated when she found him again and the clothes were a mess. She reported to the superintendent that she was utterly discouraged and felt she must give him up as hopeless. He asked her to give him one more chance, and he gave more clothes to him if he would promise to attend regularly. Bob promised, and he was won by this persistent effort. Later he accepted Christ as Savior and went on to study for the ministry. He became the famous Dr. Robert Morrison. He became a missionary to China, and he translated the Bible into the Chinese language. Agape love never fails because it never admits defeat. Longsuffering love found a way to redeem my soul, and it will find a way for me to bear with those who aggravate and discourage. He loves us with patience at our slow growth in grace, and we must pass on to others this same patient love.

Sometimes people are melted into one by the fires of affliction. We see this in the classic musical tragedy set in South Africa called Lost In The Stars. The moment of anguish has arrived. The white son is dead, and the black son is about to be executed for his death. The two grieving fathers are together, for they have worked through their grief and bitterness together, and in spite of the calamity that has fallen upon them they come to this moment with something beautiful as the black father, whose son is about to die, says, "I have a friend," and the white father, whose son is already dead, responds, "I have a friend."

It is one of the great paradoxes of history that people you suffer with you get to know quickly, and you tend to care about more deeply. Suffering produces an atmosphere conducive to love. Anyone who has ever had a loved one go into the hospital with a crisis, and who has sat with others in an intensive care unit room knows the truth of what I am saying. Suffering brings people together. It breaks down walls, and people who are total strangers become like family over-night. People can instantly identify with others in their common bond of suffering, and so they have a oneness built into their relationship however diverse they might be apart from their suffering.

There is a clear cut relationship between suffering and love. This is a side of love that we seldom explore. It is like the dark side of the moon. We prefer the light side of love, and so we tend to conclude that love always feels good, but when we probe deeper we discover that sometimes love hurts. If God would have been guided by the principle that if it feels good do it, do you think there would have been a cross? God so loved He gave His only Son, and that gift linked together forever the bond of love and suffering. For it was the greatest love ever expressed, and it was expressed by the greatest suffering ever experienced. The cross brings these two together and shouts the message down the corridors of time so that we cannot escape it-love can hurt! We like the love can help message, and the love can heal message, and the love can give hope message, but we prefer to listen less intently, if at all, to the message that love can hurt.

Longsuffering means to suffer long, and to put up with what you do not enjoy. You do not have to be patient and endure pleasure. It is pain that you have to endure. It is irritation that you have to patient with. Longsuffering is that aspect of love that enables it to relate to a fallen and imperfect world. It is that part of love that can hurt and not cease to care because of the hurt. Eros love only functions as long as there is pleasure. It cannot survive pain. It ceases to exist when it has to endure. Those who love only on this level are totally self-centered, and do all they can to avoid pain. Did it hurt God to love man? Yes! Did it hurt Jesus to love man? Yes! The cross is the answer. Yes it hurt, and all love that is truly of God will be willing to hurt. It does not hurt all the time, however, for Jesus was not always a man of sorrow. He was not so until the end of His earthly life, and He never will be again for all eternity. His love just had to hurt until His purpose was accomplished.

Any love that ceases to be when it costs pain is not agape love. It is pure self-centered love which says I love me, and like you, for you make me feel good. When you cease to make me feel good, I don't like you anymore. This is the love that leads to the weak commitments of our day in all realms of life. Agape love says that even when it hurts to love you, and even when it costs me pain, I will be loyal to you. This is the love that is the fruit of the Spirit. The essence of this love is the being willing to suffer for and with another.

II. LOVE IS KIND.

Love does not just patiently put up with people. It also positively puts out for people. In other words, it is not enough to just turn the other cheek. You must also walk the extra mile. Agape love is not satisfied with the avoiding harm to people. It must also desire to be of help to people. The Roman Stoics had a longsuffering patience that enabled them to avoid getting angry if someone aggravated or injured them, but the emotion of sympathy and kindness which would motivate them to help others was absent.

The Christian has a motivating factor in his life that no one else has. He has experienced the kindness of God's love, and so by God's grace he is able to express that kindness to others. We must always remember that agape love is not automatic. It operates only when we consciously will to allow the love of God to flow through us. That is why Paul can write in Eph. 4:31-32, "Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, with all malice, and be kind to one another, tender hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. When we remember what Christ did for us, let us also remember what He expects us to do for others. He expects us to love with the kindness of His love, and His loving kindness is supreme. Jesus said that if we love even our enemies our reward will be great, and we will be sons of the Most High, "For He is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish." (Luke 6:35).

Why does God love His enemies, and why is He kind? Paul tells us in Rom. 2:4, "Do you not know that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance." God's kindness is not to encourage His enemies, but to erase them by making them sons through repentance and acceptance of Christ. So we are to be kind to all men that we too might destroy our enemies by making them friends, and part of the family of God. God grant that we will be able to give the testimony of Lord Shaftesbury who said, "During a long life I have proved that not one kind word ever spoken, not kind deed ever done, but sooner or later returns to bless the giver and become a chain binding men with golden bands to the throne of God."

There is real danger in a sermon like this. It is so easy for people to think of it as a mere moralistic message. He has told us what all good people already know-that we should be patient and kind. The same counsel can be gotten from a Buddhist priest, a Christian Scientist, a PTA lecture, or a government pamphlet on social adjustment. That which makes it a distinctively Christian message is agape love. Only those who know the love of God through Christ can practice this kind of patience. Only those who have been enlightened by the flame of God's kindness can be kindled with this kindness to others. In other words, only those who have experienced agape love can express agape love. God so loved He gave His Son, and only if we have received that gift can we so love.

Sometimes people are melted into one by the fires of affliction. We see this in the classic musical tragedy set in South Africa called Lost In The Stars. The moment of anguish has arrived. The white son is dead, and the black son is about to be executed for his death. The two grieving fathers are together, for they have worked through their grief and bitterness together, and in spite of the calamity that has fallen upon them they come to this moment with something beautiful as the black father, whose son is about to die, says, "I have a friend," and the white father, whose son is already dead, responds, "I have a friend."

It is one of the great paradoxes of history that people you suffer with you get to know quickly, and you tend to care about more deeply. Suffering produces an atmosphere conducive to love. Anyone who has ever had a loved one go into the hospital with a crisis, and who has sat with others in an intensive care unit room knows the truth of what I am saying. Suffering brings people together. It breaks down walls, and people who are total strangers become like family over-night. People can instantly identify with others in their common bond of suffering, and so they have a oneness built into their relationship however diverse they might be apart from their suffering.

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