What Love Is Not
When Jesus was preparing his disciples for life after his death, resurrection & ascension one of the most important things he said was:
John 13:33-35 “Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’ A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one and other.”
According to Jesus then, this is how his disciples are to be primarily recognisable – by their love for one another. This is the most important aspect of ‘Sharing Jesus’ there is. If we cannot embrace his costly love for us & extend it to one another, then we are in danger of hiding his love from others. This is really the final part of the ‘Sharing Jesus’ series as well as the first part of our new series – ‘Loving the Way Jesus Loves’. The last series highlighted Christ’s costly love for sinners... this series will highlight how we are called, changed & empowered to love as he loves.
Do we love the way Jesus loves? Do we love others the way Jesus has loved us? Is it even possible to do so? There must be a way we can if Jesus commands us to! (Focus on your own heart...) One of the aims of this series is to cut right into the depths of our hearts like a surgeon’s knife. Our motives will be challenged; our thinking on what love is & what it isn’t will be challenged.
The New Testament makes it clear that salvation results in a transformed life. We saw this last week in the story of Zacchaeus. Relationship with Jesus resulted in a transformed life, the fruit of which was repentance in both his attitudes & actions towards others. 2 Cor. 5:17 says; “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away, behold the new has come.” The fruit of New Life is described in texts like Gal 5:22-23; Eph 5:9 & Col 3:12-15. However at its most basic level it can be summed up in one word – LOVE. 1 John 4:7-21 underlines that love is the mark of genuine Christianity (cf. Rom 12:9-21). And of course we know the greatest commandments are to love God & our neighbour.
What is love? 1 John 3:16 NRSV answers; “We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.” This highlights again the words of Jesus we begun with; “just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”
This love that Jesus talks about & which he exemplified on the cross isn’t just any love. We’re not talking about friendship or romantic love, or charity as we understand it today. This is a love that goes much deeper. A love that transcends all other kinds of love & purifies them! This love Christ speaks of is the Mount Everest of Christian discipleship & from its peak we see the fullest view of the Christian life. In the Greek this love has a special name to identify it from lesser loves – agape. Agape is one of the rarest words in ancient Greek literature (which tells its own story), but one of the most common in the NT...
This agape love is the love Jesus commands us to love God & our neighbour with, to love one another with & to love our enemies with. Sadly however professing Christians & churches have seldom reached the dizzy heights of Mount Agape. It’s easier to climb Mount Doctrine, or Mount Activity, or Mount Position than to reach the highest peak of Mount Agape. Yet the supreme characteristic that God demands of his people is still agape love! The most famous verses on such love are found in 1 Cor. 13, this our primary text for the series. Let’s read verse 1-8 together:
“And I will show you a still more excellent way. If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”
This is one of the most famous parts of all of Scripture, mainly because it is often read at weddings. It is the Bible’s most complete definition of love & the chapter ends by declaring love to be the greatest of God’s gifts. As familiar as this chapter is however, it is probably not understood as well as it should be. When Paul wrote these words he was not giving us something nice to read at weddings. The love he writes of here is not romantic love (eros), but the selfless & sacrificial love of Jesus (agape). Instead of preparing people for marriage then, Paul was desperately trying to show a church which was divided by self-centredness, super-spirituality, & power hungry people that there is a more excellent way to do church – the way of selfless & sacrificial love.
These verses have been written to challenge our deepest motives. In reality they set a standard any honest Christian knows they fall way short of. None of us can claim to have loved like this... There is an easy way to prove it, read verses 4-8 again & this time insert your own name...
Interestingly these most descriptive verses on love say more about what love is not than what love is. Did you notice that? Verses 1-3 teach us we can have a lot of gifting & faith but not love. We can understand everything but still not love. We can even give everything away, including our very life, but still not love. Then in verses 4-6 we’re told what love does not & is not... In fact the only bits that describe love in positive are the first five words of verse 4, the first three words of verse 8 & verse 7. This is because understanding what love isn’t helps us to understand what love is. One of the aims of these verses is to highlight & remove the sins that stop us loving the way Jesus loves...
No one can hear the gospel clearly from the life of a loveless Christian. Let me put that statement a number of other ways. No one can hear the gospel from the life of an envious Christian. No one can hear the gospel from the life of an arrogant Christian. No one can hear the gospel from the life of a rude, or irritable, or resentful Christian. No one can hear the gospel from the life of a Christian who rejoices in what is wrong - lies, half-truths or sin of any kind - rather than truth. This is why these words are aimed at dealing with sins that stop us loving the way Jesus loves.
Love is so essential to Christianity it makes everything else genuine. Without love nothing else is genuine. That is the big point that comes through in the first three verses of this chapter. This is why it is so important to know what’ love is & isn’t. Listen to verses 1-3 again:
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.”
Note Paul is writing in first person, indicating he is preaching to himself as much as anyone. He needs his words to impact & shape his life & ministry. This is true for every preacher & minister. When Paul talks of tongues of men & of angels he is talking about every use of language, from great oratory of human languages to speaking in the most spiritual off languages. One could master a human language so to captivate audiences, another could speak in the most beautiful of heavenly languages, but if there is no love it is empty noise. There may be plenty of volume in a gong but there is nothing more. Anyone who is obsessed with saying at the expense of being is nothing more than empty noise. Gongs can produce a lot of noise but they do not make very good music. When Paul used the word gong here he was probably referring to what was used in the worship of pagan deities. They would go crazy beating gongs & banging cymbals in the hope of getting the attention of their god’s... Paul is basically saying that they could have the greatest orators preach & spend the whole worship time singing in heavenly tongues but without love they would be no better off than those crazy pagans in the temple down the road...
Likewise we could understand everything there is to be understood in science, business or philosophy & know the Bible & Christian doctrine inside out. But without love we are no better off than the person who knows nothing about anything. Or we could have the most impressive gifting & faith to produce the greatest of miracles but without love our ministries & lives amount to nothing. Paul is measuring all the things the Corinthians held dear against love & saying that in comparison to & without love they are of no value. For, it is only love that makes Christianity genuine... Then he goes on & says even if we give everything away including our lives – even if we get burned with the martyrs – but have not love we gain nothing. At this point let’s remember Jesus words:
Matt 7:21-23 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”
One of the biggest warnings Jesus ever gave, & it was for doers! Love is not measured by what we do but why we do what we do. Love is not measured by what we give, but why we give what we give. Love is not measured by what we have in terms of gifting, knowledge or faith but by how & why we use what we have. And love is not measured by what we say but by how & why we say it, & by if our lives back up what we say. Here is the bottom line; you can make the most impressive & outrageous of sacrifices with right or wrong motives... You can do it to build a reputation or get position for yourself, to impress others so they will tell you how great you are, to cover the sins & avoid the issues you don’t want to deal with. In fact it is even possible that every good thing you or I have ever done was from wrong motives. And Paul is telling us here that without selfless agape love everything else amounts to nothing. This is sobering thought, so much for a nice little poem to read at weddings.
Of course only God can see into our lives perfectly on this point. I cannot judge your life perfectly & you cannot judge mine... But the point is: GOD CAN SEE! PERFECTLY! Why we do what we do! Every motive & intention of our hearts is as clear as day to him. Hebrews 4:12-13 says
“For the word of God is living active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul & of spirit, of joints & marrow, & discerning the thoughts & intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked & exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”
Love is about doing the right things for the right reasons. No matter how impressive our spirituality, our grasp of doctrine, our social action or our sacrifice; if selfless agape love has not been our motivation is does not count... I want to emphasise at the beginning of this series that this is the love we are called to love one another with... God is calling us to do everything out of love. Otherwise we are wasting our lives. This is a hard & heart searching teaching.
I need to emphasise something else before I finish today. I don’t want what I say now to take away any of the challenge, but we need Gospel Hope if we are to truly rise to the challenge... It’s popular today to simplify the gospel by suggesting it is simply to love God & love people, as if this makes the Christian life easy... But the irony could not be greater when we analyze our own hearts under Paul’s description of love. We all know we continue to miss the mark by a long way. According to Jesus 'Love God, love people' is actually a summary of the law, not the Gospel. If we had to love God & people with the love described here to get right with God, we would have no hope of salvation. We cannot produce such love within ourselves; the law only reveals how loveless we are.
Trying to fulfil the law, which calls us to love perfectly, by ourselves is like trying to climb Mount Everest naked & alone. It’s impossible. Thank God however that the only One who ever reached the heights of perfect love keeps reaching down & lifting up sinners to where he is. This is our only & certain hope: Jesus fulfilled the Greatest Commandments for us, & for those who trust in him, the Holy Spirit has begun to write the law of love on our new hearts.
As always we only have one hope, we only have one place we can look if we are to find Good News & see this genuine love produced in our lives. We cannot look to ourselves; we cannot discipline ourselves to love like this... If we are going to love the way Jesus loves then we need to know his rescuing love for us. 1 John 4:19 says “We love because he first loved us.” Romans 5:5 tells us; “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Here we find the hope for our loveless hearts. Our hope of becoming agape lovers is the Person of Jesus & his promised Holy Spirit. Only Jesus can produce this love in us by his Spirit, this is the only way we can fulfil the new commandment given by Jesus. This is why the tagline on our website is not simply ‘Love God, Love People’... but instead; ‘Loving God & people through the power of Good News of Jesus’. For that is the only way it is possible!
Philip Ryken comments that; “Paul encourages us to read the Love Chapter in a Christ-centred way by the dramatic shift he makes between verses one to three, where he speaks in the first person, and verses four to eight, when love is personified...” Whenever we talk about loving, we always have to go back to Jesus. The love described in this chapter is really his love & only his Spirit can produce it in us. So as we study through this description of love in the coming weeks, we will turn again & again to Jesus in the gospels, to learn from the Saviour of our loveless hearts. We are his disciples. We will never learn how to love by working it up in our own hearts but only by having more of Jesus in our lives. 2 Cor. 3:18 says; “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” We behold Jesus & the Spirit changes us to be like him, that is it!
Earlier we saw how far off the mark verses 4-8 sound when we replace the word love with our own name. It reads very different, though, when we put Jesus in place of ourselves. That’s the Good News, Jesus in place of us! “Jesus is patient & kind; Jesus does not envy or boast; Jesus is not arrogant or rude. Jesus does not insist on his own way; he is not irritable or resentful; he does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Jesus bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endured all things. Jesus never fails.”
Let’s welcome his love into our lives afresh by fixing our eyes on the One who loves like no other. Admit you are not the lover you should be & ask Jesus to change your heart. Tell him ‘Jesus you are everything I am not, take my unloving heart & make me everything that you are.’
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