By Pastor Glenn Pease
The best of Christians make their share of mistakes, but John Turner was apparently trying to get a large portion of his quota of mistakes out of the way all in one day. John was a conscientious pastor who got to his church early one Sunday morning, and he discovered that he had left his sermon notes at home. He thought it was no problem. There was plenty of time to correct his first mistake of the day. But when he got home, he discovered his second mistake. He had left his notes on the table right where his 18 month old daughter eats breakfast. The notes were sopping wet from a glass she had turned over. It was no problem he thought, for he could wipe them dry in time. The words were blurred somewhat, but still readable.
He finally left for church as he corrected his second mistake of the day, and all was still under control. Out of the house he bounded with all he needed, except for one thing. He left his car keys in the house, and also the key to the house on the same key chain. Mistake number three was staring him in the face. He didn't have time for mistake number 3. Church was about to begin and he was several miles away locked out of his house, and with no keys to the car, and his family had already gone to church.
Desperation drives one to desperate measures. They had a dog's door on the bottom of their back door that led to the back yard. It was for the dog to be able to come and go, especially to go. Pastor Turner was not so proud that he would not lower himself to getting into his house by Woofy's door. He shed his suit coat, and got on his knees and proceeded to squirm into mistake number 4. He was bigger than the dog, and when he got half way in he was stuck, and could not move either way. There he was half in and half out, and his congregation was probably already singing, "Stand up, Stand up for Jesus."
His dog was deeply impressed with the new game, and was licking his face the whole time. It seemed like an eternity that he was stuck there, but he finally was able to twist around and reach the door knob. He even eventually got to church, but due to his lateness he had to share the whole embarrassing story of his comedy of errors. His experience proves that reality can be funnier than fiction, and that there is always room for improvement in our lives as Christians. And not just in the trivialities of where we put our notes and keys, but in the tremendous areas of life like what do we do with our love?
Is it possible to ever make mistakes with our love, and foul up life with a poor use of the highest of all virtues? If not, why would Paul pray that the love of the Philippians would abound more and more in knowledge, and depth of insight, so they could discern what is best. The implication is that love can lack knowledge, and when it does it can chose what is less than the best. In other words, uneducated love can make foolish choices.
J. Vernon McGee in his famous Through The Bible Series tells of when he first became a pastor of a church in downtown Los Angeles. He did not know that there were people who loved to see new preachers come into the area, for they tended to be such suckers. One Sunday morning a man came forward in the service, and he refused to talk to anyone but the pastor. The personal worker told pastor McGee, and the pastor showed the man the way of salvation. He was so interested that tears came to his eyes. He got on his knees and prayed the sinner's prayer. Then he told pastor McGee that he needed money to get his suitcase out of a hotel. They were holding it until he paid for his room. McGee felt obligated to help him out and so he gave him the money for the hotel. He felt good about being such a Good Samaritan. But then, six weeks later, he saw the man's picture in the paper. He had been arrested. The article told of how he had been living for six months off the preachers of the city. His comment was, "They are the biggest saps in the world." McGee knew he was one of them, and he learned quickly that love has to be discerning, or it can be used for folly.
McGee focused on this verse for his own life, and he wrote, "Paul says to let your love abound more and more, but let it abound in judgment, let it abound in being able to discern. Over the years when I would drive to my study in Los Angeles, I use to say to the Lord, "I'm going to meet new people today, and I don't know them. Some of them I will be able to help. Others of them will put a knife in my back. Lord, help me to be able to distinguish between the two. Show me which I should help." Actually this verse rescues a Christian from being naïve and gullible. His love is to abound in knowledge and discernment."
Like most loving people, he had to learn by experience that love alone is not enough, for love can be uneducated, and when it is it can do stupid things. Love has to abound in knowledge. It has to get educated if it is to make wise choices that lead to the glory and praise of God. Feelings alone can set you up for a fall. A young boy wanted to go swimming but his mother said no because it is to cold. He said, "Can I just go and look at the swimming hole?" She said, okay to that. He came back and his hair was all wet. She said, "Did you swim?" "No, I fell in." "Then why are your clothes dry?" "I felt like I was going to fall in, so I took them off." His punishment made him realize that he allowed his feelings to lead him into making a wrong choice.
Paul's point here is, if love gets educated and abounds in knowledge, it will be able to discern what is best. Uneducated love chooses what is less than the best because it is not able to discern. Uneducated love goes too much by feelings alone, and this leads to unwise decisions. I love music, for example, but if I went by my feelings alone and decided to give my life to music, I may waste my life trying to do what I am not gifted to do. Wise love seeks for confirmation of feelings. If other Christians do not feel the same, then I have to recognize my feelings may not fit the evidence. If there is no abounding evidence to support my feelings, they must be seen as love on a very low level of education, and not mature enough to make major decisions. "It is not the calling of cats to plow, or horses to cat mice."
Every Christian needs to do for God what they are gifted to do, and it is growing in knowledge that helps them discover their gifts. My mother had less than an 8th grade education. She would be what many would call a non-gifted Christian. But at her funeral I was impressed by the service of my mother. For 46 years she did what she could. She loved other people's babies in the nursery at her church. There are all different levels of love, and all of them are good, but they are not all the best. Kindergarten love is good, for it is a loving feeling of caring about people, but it is like the tiny bean spout, and not the full grown bean ready for harvest. All love has to begin here just as all beans have to start as mere sprouts. Christian puppy love is positive, for all love has to start somewhere, but it has to press on and get an education is what Paul is getting at. Light is good, but there is candle light, moon light, and sun light. There is an enormous difference in the power and value in these different degrees of light, and so it is with love.
Paul is not knocking the love of the Philippians. Kindergarten love is not bad, but it is no place to level off and be content. A child who does not progress beyond kindergarten is greatly handicapped, and so is the Christian whose love does not abound more and more in knowledge. Why is it that Christians can do every stupid thing man is capable of doing stupidly? It is because their love has not abounded more and more in knowledge, and so they choose what is second best, third, or tenth, or even worse. If there is no limit to how wise love can be, then there is no limit either as to its lack of wisdom. If love does not go the way Paul prays it will, and abound in knowledge, it can become a drop out, and abound in ignorance or lethargy. This can lead to all the folly Christians have proven themselves capable of in history.
Christians have supported tyranny, persecution, intolerance, slavery, and every form of non-loving oppression you can think of. It was because they had a kindergarten love that did not abound more and more in knowledge. But to the credit of Christians, it was those Christians who did what Paul prayed for who did so abound, and who became the key leaders in history for the victories over oppression. Christians with educated love have given us a world with rights and freedoms that make us the richest and most blest of peoples.
Abraham Lincoln was opposed by many Christians with kindergarten love, but those who had abounded more and more in knowledge gave him their support, and he came to appreciate the church as his strongest ally in the fight to end slavery. The same thing happened to Albert Einstein in Germany. There were so many baby Christians who supported Hitler that Einstein hated Christians. But then he found out there were also mature Christians with a degree in discerning love, and he came to treasure the church as the key ally in fight against Hitler. He wrote, "I'm forced to confess that what I once despised I now praise unreservedly."
There were Christians who loved Hitler; Christians who loved slavery, and there have been Christians who loved every form of folly in history because their love was feelings without knowledge. In a previous message we saw that Paul was an affectionate Apostle, and the ideal Christian is one who, like Jesus, was full of affection and deep feelings that can be expressed. But now we see those feelings have to be guided and controlled by knowledge. So we have in the Bible the wedding of the heart and the head. Christians are forever trying to separate the two, and when they do they put asunder what God has united, and they create a monster.
Christians who stress emotion without the mind, and say that the heart is to lead, produce fanatics. Those who see this as folly, and reverse the focus so that the head leads without the heart, produce dead intellectualism which is an equal curse. What God has put together we should not separate. Just as God made it so that your body cannot be alive and well if both the heart and head are not functioning together, so he has made the body of Christ the same way. The heart of love must abound in the knowledge of the head, or there will be a very inadequate expression of the love and wisdom of God.
I love the suffering people of the world. I have some degree of pity and compassion, but my love is mere kid's stuff of feelings. But there are Christians such as the World Relief Organization who have abounded more and more in love with knowledge, and depth of insight, on how to choose what is the best way to meet the needs of these people. I give my money to them because I have not done the research to make a wise choice as to how to show love. I could go off and try something based on mere feelings, and give my money to someone who will spend 10 cents on the dollar to meet the need. I could give my money to con men all over the place, and be a sucker, and support evil rather than good. I would be operating on my feelings of love which is good and noble, but because it would not be informed love, it could end up being very ineffective in achieving the goals of love. By supporting a well-known, and reliable Christian organization, my love will be making a wiser choice.
The point is, my love has to be more than a feeling. It has to be informed by facts and knowledge of what is truly a wise way of loving. I can love foolishly or wisely, and the only way to love wisely is to abound in knowledge more and more. Love cannot just feel its way to right choices. It has to study and learn, and get educated as to what is the best way to love. The issue is not, do I feel right about people and needs, but do I care enough about people to find out what is the best way to express love. Do I take a hundred dollars in ones and throw them off the roof of an inner city building, or do I buy one hundred dollars worth of books on poverty, or do I give it to the Union Gospel Mission where they can get nearly two hundred dollars worth of goods and services to needy people. The first is a heart plan; the second is a head plan, and the third is the heart and head combined to do what is best for the people you claim to love.
Paul made it clear in I Cor. 13 that love is the greatest of all values, and without it nothing else is of value. But he does not intend us to conclude that this means that love needs nothing else as if it alone can be sufficient without all the other things that would be nothing without it. He says in 13:2, "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 have not love, I am nothing." This is not to say that prophecy, knowledge, and faith, are of no value. It is to say that their value comes from their being linked with love. But love which has not the gifts of prophecy, faith, and knowledge, is puppy love, and will not be able to make mature choices for the glory of God. Knowledge without love may be nothing, but love with knowledge is more than something-it is the best.
The history of medicine is full of examples. Doctors have always loved health and hated disease. They love to see people get well, but if this love is not coupled with knowledge, they can very lovingly kill the people they seek to help. In 1837 four out of every ten women died in child birth. Ignaz Semmelweis, a Hungarian lad at the University of Vienna, the most advanced center of medicine in the world of that day, was determined to find the cause for this fever that took so many lives. He gave his life to get the facts, and spent all his time seeking for an answer. What he learned was that doctors were spreading the disease by not washing their hands. He was thought to be a fool and a madman, but he persisted in his crusade to get doctors to wash. It took a generation to change things, but in 1906 his home town in Hungry erected a statue in his honor. His love had abounded in knowledge more and more so that doctors could choose what is best.
Their love and caring was just as real before their knowledge, but because it was ignorant love it hurt rather than help. It was knowledgeable love, or educated love, that made the difference. History is full of such examples, and so is each of our lives. We cannot know what is the most loving choice to make in many areas of life without a head that is willing to get all it can to help our love be informed. Christian education is simply helping Christian love know what is the best choice. The more you know, the more likely your love will make the best choice. The bottom line is, Christians are never done with their education. Christians are to be students all of their lives, and ever learning so they can be intelligent and effective lovers of the world, the church, their families, and themselves. Love motivate us to care; knowledge helps us care wisely.
Why did Paul have to pray that good Christians like the Philippians would abound in knowledge? Because there is nothing automatic about this. You don't pray for what is inevitable. You don't pray that sun will rise in the East, or that the river will run to the sea. You pray for what will not happen unless people choose to let it happen, or make it happen. If Christians say, I am loving enough, and I am content with the level I've reached, they will plateau right there, and growth is over. If 4th grade love is your bag, and that is what satisfies your ambition, you will stay right there the rest of your life. But it is a rejection of the biblical goal of never ending growth. We are to love God with all of our mind, and that means love is to grow in knowledge forever, for there is infinite room for growth.
Jesus healed a leper, and then told him not to tell any man of his healing, but the man was so happy, and so convinced that Jesus was the best thing that ever happened to him that he went out and told everybody. It seems like a loving thing to do, and it came from a grateful heart, but it was foolish love, for Mark 1:45 tells us that because of the publicity of this grateful man Jesus could no longer openly enter the city. His love was real, but it was self-centered and ignorant. He hindered the ministry of Jesus, and deprived others of the very healing that he experienced. The man was not bad. It was just that his love was not educated. An educated love would have recognized that Jesus had good reason for His request for silence. Educated love would have obeyed the Master, and would have been a blessing instead of a hindrance.
Paul does not teach that love is the greatest thing in the world. He teaches that educated love is the greatest thing in the world. Love alone is not enough. It is not enough in marriage; it is not enough in medicine; it is not enough in Christian service, and it is not enough anywhere. Men of God in the Middle Ages loved the people they served, and so when the great plagues struck they urged people to assemble in the churches to pray. The result was that infection spread with a greater rapidness. It was uneducated love, and it did great harm to the people. Love has to be educated, or it can be harmful, and that is why Paul prays for the Philippians, and why we need to pray for each other, that we will be a loving people whose love is abounding more and more in knowledge.
The reason the love of money is the root of all evil is because it is stupid love. It is immature love that does not grow. It is like a small child that loves a toy, and all of life revolves around that toy. But the child grows up and discovers there are greater things to love like God and people. The lover of money does not grow up, but goes on all his or her life locked into infant love. Any love that loves things more than persons is stupid love. Educated love is love that loves according to God's value system. Things are loved according to the measure of their value. Creation deserves to be loved, for it is God's gift, but when men love the creation more than the Creator they become fools. They are like one who falls in love with the pretty jewelry box, and throws the ring away, or one who falls in love with a letter, and rejects the writer of it.
If I love my car, that is fine, but if I love it to the point where it is more important than my mate, child, or even my neighbor, it is stupid love. It is uneducated love that does not go on to higher learning, but got to the 3rd grade and stopped. Smart love is ever moving on to be loving on a higher level. The degree to which your love grows in knowledge is the degree of your Christian maturity. The goal is to get love so smart and well educated that you can choose the best, and so be pure and blameless. The way to Christ likeness is the way of educated love. Educated love is love that loves everything and everyone with a measure of love that it deserves. That is wise living, for it puts all of reality into it proper perspective, so that God is loved supremely, and then mate, family, church, country, and things all fall into their level of priority where the best gets your best, and the lesser gets the lesser commitment of your life.
If we link love and learning we will have life with a capital L, for it will be the abundant life Jesus came to give us. Educated love will love according to priorities. If number 47 on the list of loves gets 80% of your time, that is stupid love. The purpose of every sermon and Bible study, and every discussion of Christian values is to educate our love so it can lead us to make the best choices in all areas of life. In heaven we will all get our doctor's degree in love, but in this life the goal is to get as many degrees as possible. We are to be love scholars for life, and that is why Paul prays that God will motivate us to be such.
Why? Because life is not a matter of choosing the good or the bad. Christians think that when they can do that, they can quit learning and growing in knowledge, but this is a major mistake. Choosing the good is not the goal of the Christian life, for there is also the better and the best. Having the knowledge to choose the best is to be our aim, and the only way we can ever get to love on this level is to have a love that abounds more and more in knowledge and depth of insight. Educated love is "more and more love." It is not content to just grow. It abounds in more and more knowledge, and more and more insight, so it is more and more able to choose the best, and be more and more pure, and more and more blameless, and thus, more and more fruitful, and, therefore, more and more productive of glory and praise to God. Paul prays for the Philippians, and we need to pray for one another, and for ourselves, that we might be abounding in educated love.