You probably noticed on the cover of your program that I’m starting a new series today entitled “The Great Divides.” I’m going to tackle four subjects that divide people, that stir up strong emotions: homosexuality, abortion, racism and divorce. I didn’t think we have enough controversy here at Life Center.
Well, that was the plan—but there has been a change of plans. I wasn’t able to do the research I wanted for these messages. I gathered the materials—you should see the stack of books and articles that I’ve got! And I scheduled time to read and study. But I’m embarrassed to admit that the study time got filled up with meetings and appointments, and by Thursday night, I knew I was in trouble. So I made a hard decision: I postponed this series because I felt it is too important to do a sloppy job. I want to help you think Christianly about these subjects, and I knew some half-baked, poorly researched messages wouldn’t help you. So I’m going to reschedule the series—and my study time—and I’ll try to do it right. Is that ok?
So you’ve got a free hour! No…I still managed to come up with something to say! It’s Valentine’s weekend, so I thought we’d talk about true love! In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul wrote about love—some of the most beautiful words ever written on the subject. And look! Here they are on the wall behind me! For the next three weeks, we’re going camp out here and think together about what true love really is. What does it look like to truly love another person?
ILL: One of my favorite movies of all time is “The Princess Bride.” Fred Savage plays a small boy who is sick and his grandpa comes to visit. Grandpa reads “The Princess Bride”, a story in which Wesley and Buttercup find true love. Here’s the opening scene. 00:17 to 05:17.
“This is true love. Do you think this happens every day?” Ah, true love! It’s everyone’s dream and desire…to find true love. What is true love? Is it to be swept off your feet in a rush of romantic emotion? Is it like Wesley and Buttercup, meeting that special someone who takes your breath away? When you are with that person, your heart beats faster, your pulse quickens, your palms get sweaty and you breathe faster. Hey, you can run around the block and feel that way! True love is much more than a feeling; it’s action and behavior. True love isn’t
something we feel as much as it is something we do. Love is doing what is best for others no matter what it costs you. Let’s read that together again. Love is doing what is best for others no matter what it costs you.
Love is doing. It is action more than feelings. Feelings are wonderful, but they are notoriously fickle. Our feelings can change with the weather, with time or circumstance or weariness, or even the time of the month. One of the reasons that divorce rates are as high as they are is that millions of people equate love with feelings more than actions. When their feelings change, they assume that love has died, and look for new feelings elsewhere. Great marriages are built on strong commitments, not strong emotions. Marriage rescues love from the tyranny of immature emotions, and allows love to grow and become strong over time. Because love is an action, something we do, we can learn to love, just like we can learn any other action or behavior. We can choose to do the loving thing, whether we feel like it or not. The good news is that the feelings will often follow the action.
ILL: Dr. George Crane tells the story of a wife who came into his office full of hatred toward her husband. “I not only want to get rid of him, I want to get even. Before I divorce him, I want to hurt him as much as he has me.”
Dr. Crane suggested an ingenious plan. “Go home and act as if you really loved your husband. Tell him how much he means to you. Praise him for every decent trait. Go out of your way to be as kind, considerate, and generous as possible. Spare no efforts to please him, to enjoy him. Make him believe you love him. After you’ve convinced him of your undying love and that you cannot live without him, then drop the bomb. Tell him that you’re getting a divorce. That will really hurt him.”
With revenge in her eyes, she smiled and exclaimed, “Beautiful, beautiful. Will he ever be surprised!” And she did it with enthusiasm. For two months she showed love, kindness, listening, giving. When she didn’t return, Dr. Crane called. “Are you ready now to go through with the divorce?”
“Divorce?” she exclaimed. “No way! I discovered I really do love him.” Her actions had changed her feelings. Action resulted in emotion.
So love is doing.
Love is doing what is best for others. Love is an others-centered thing. If love is primarily a feeling, it’s all about me. But if love is an action, it’s all about others. True love seeks what is best for another person. It is unselfish, it is giving, it is others-centered.
Love is doing what is best for others no matter what it costs you. Love is costly. It’s never easy to be unselfish. It’s never easy to put others ahead of yourself. Often, we don’t feel like doing the loving thing; we feel like being our own selfish pig. In those moments, love is hard. Love is costly.
How do we know that this is love? The Bible tells us what love is. 1 John 3:16 says, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.” How do we know what love is? We see it in Jesus, when He gave His life for us. 1 John 4:10 says, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” What is love? The best example of love is God’s love for us, expressed in Christ’s death on the Cross.
What is love? The Bible points to the Cross and says, “That is love.” On the Cross, Jesus did what was best for us no matter what it cost—and it cost Him His life. I don’t think that He felt a lot of romantic feelings there—I think He felt a lot of pain. But He was doing what was best for us. That’s love. Love is doing what is best for others no matter what it costs you.
ILL: You’ve seen the first scene of “The Princess Bride.” Now, here’s the last scene. See if you can spot “true love”. 1:31:50-1:33:32.
True love wasn’t the kiss that topped them all. True love was a Grandpa who gives up his whole day to read a book to his sick grandson—and promises to come do it again tomorrow. “As you wish.” That’s true love. Love is doing what’s best for others no matter what it costs you.
Well if love is action, what kind of action is it? What does love do? What does love look like? The apostle Paul described it in 1 Corinthians 13. The Corinthian church was deeply divided. Paul wrote to correct a number of problems, and in the midst of all the correction, he calls them to love each other, and describes how love behaves. In fact, he gives 15 characteristics of true love. Here they are.
1 Corinthians 13:4-8 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8 Love never fails.
For the next 3 weeks, we’ll look at 5 characteristics of true love each week, and ask God to help us become red-hot sizzling lovers! We’ll start with verse 4, at the top of your outline.
1 Corinthians 13:4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. (Memorize?)
1. True love is patient.
How does love act? True love is patient. The Greek word is makrothumia, which combines makro meaning “long” and thumos meaning “passion or anger.” It means you take a long time to get angry. You have a long fuse. You are slow to anger. King James translated the word “longsuffering.” You can put up with a lot and not get angry or blow up or strike back.
A couple months ago in the “Yea God” series, I did a talk entitled, “Yea God for being patient”, and it was this same word. God is longsuffering, slow to anger, patient. He has a long fuse with us. He can put up with a lot and not give up on us or blow up at us. God is patient with us! It almost makes you want to say, “Yea God!”
Paul now uses that same word and tells us this is how love behaves. Love is patient, slow to anger, puts up with a lot without blowing up or retaliating. Makrothumia is the word used of patience with people rather than circumstances. It was the ability to be wronged or hurt and not retaliate.
ILL: No one treated Abraham Lincoln with more contempt than did Edwin Stanton. He publicly called him names like “a low cunning clown” and nicknamed him “the original gorilla.” Lincoln said nothing. Later, Lincoln made Stanton his war minister because he was the best man for the job. The night came when Lincoln was assassinated in the theatre. Stanton stood in the little room where the President’s body was taken and said through his tears, “There lies the greatest ruler of men the world has ever seen.” The patience of love had conquered in the end.
When someone mistreats you, your natural instinct is to fight back. If you insult me, I’ll insult you back. If you hit me, I’ll hit you back. If you wrong me, I’ll get you back. And yet Jesus calls us to love our enemies and to return good for evil.
Luke 6:27-31 “But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.
This is true love. It is patient. It doesn’t retaliate. It does good to those who hate you. It blesses those who curse you. It prays for those who mistreat you. It turns the other cheek. It goes the extra mile. It gives to those who ask. It does to others what you want done to you. Love is patient, longsuffering.
ILL: Many years ago, one of Pastor Noel’s children went through a season of rebellion. She moved far from home, walked away from God and her values, and broke her father’s heart. Noel prayed every day for her. When she needed money, Noel sent her money. She called Noel often—usually collect—his phone bill was sometimes several hundred dollars a month. She would cry and pour out her troubles in these lengthy phone calls; Noel would listen patiently and then give her advice that she would sometimes ignore. This went on for a couple years. I thought Noel was way too patient, and told Laina that I wouldn’t accept her collect calls, or send her money, or give her advice. I’d tell her, “Sweetheart, you made your bed, you lie in it. Suck it up, buttercup.” As usual, Noel was right and I was wrong. Eventually, she made an about-face. Today, she is a devoted follower of Jesus and is doing great, and she attributes it to her dad’s love.
Love is patient.
2. True love is kind.
How does love act? True love is kind. A kind person is someone who does good for others. He is benevolent. He wants to help others, do good for them. A kind person always thinks of others: how they feel, what they need, and how he could help. It is interesting that the Greek word for kindness here comes from a root word that means “useful.” To be kind is to be useful and helpful. The early church leader Origen said to be kind means that love is “sweet to all.” I like that. Sweet!
What is the opposite of kindness? Meanness. I like the bumper sticker that says “Mean people suck.”
ILL: In the early 1980’s, I was asked to speak at a high school summer camp in central California three years in a row. Each year, on Thursday night, the students put on a talent show—it was a hoot! Many of the students, of course, shared genuine talents, and then there were the goof-offs who put together outrageous acts that were usually hilarious. The acts were judged by the entire audience—we applauded and our response was measured on a homemade “Applause-O-Meter.”
One year, there was a boy at this camp named Ron. Ron was mentally handicapped; physically Ron was a sophomore, but mentally, emotionally and socially, he functioned at about third grade level. Thursday night rolled around, and in the middle of the talent show, Ron was introduced as the next act. Ron told us in very serious tones that he wanted to sing a song for us; he had enlisted a couple of students to play the piano and guitar. I don’t remember the song, only that it was awful. Ron butchered it and worse yet, Ron was completely unaware of how truly bad he was. He not only sang the song off key and out of sync with the instruments, but he tried to imitate musicians he had no doubt seen on TV, leaning into his mike and swaying and closing his eyes and looking dramatic. You could tell that Ron fancied himself to be a great singer and performer, but was totally clueless.
When Ron started his song, you could hear a few snickers. I looked over my shoulder and saw other students who quickly shushed those laughing. The room grew very still except for Ron’s tortured singing. One hundred and fifty high school students sat on the edges of their seats until Ron finished and then as one person they all jumped up and started screaming at the top of their lungs, as though they had just heard the most incredible performance ever given. The Applause-O-Meter pegged out, as high as it could go. And Ron just stood there amazed at first, and then a huge smile filled his face and he began to wave at all his fans. For those few moments, Ron must have felt that he was the best singer in the world.
And I stood there cheering with tears in my eyes, so proud of 150 high school students who had just loved a boy—with kindness.
We can be so cruel and mean to each other—many students would have laughed at Ron and called him names and booed him off the stage. But these kids were kind. That’s true love.
How does true love behave? It’s kind, not mean.
ILL: One morning, a young lady darted her compact car from a side street in Washington D.C. into the stream of traffic, forcing the driver she cut off to brake sharply. He avoided hitting her by inches and was obviously furious. Within seconds, traffic stopped at a red light, and he pulled up behind the offender, leapt from his car, and strode angrily toward hers. Clearly, he intended to chew her out.
Seeing him coming, this very attractive young lady jumped from her car and ran to meet him–a big smile on her face! Before he could say one word or know what was happening, she threw her arms around him, hugged him tightly, and planted a passionate kiss on his lips! Then she was back in her car and driving away, leaving her antagonist standing in the middle of the street speechless, confused and embarrassed–but no longer angry!
Kill them with kindness! True love is kind.
3. True love does not envy.
How does love act? True love does not envy. Or as other translations say, it is not jealous. To be jealous is to be resentful and envious of someone’s success, achievements, or advantages. I want what you have, and I resent the fact that you have it and I don’t. Someone said there are really only two kinds of people in the world: those who are millionaires and those who wish they were.
Have you ever felt jealousy or envy toward someone? I have. I’ve been jealous of other people’s success. When I was just starting out here at Life Center, and I was learning how to pastor people and how to lead, it was slow going. And I had pastor friends who were very “successful” very quickly. Their churches were growing and mine wasn’t, and I was jealous. I wanted to be successful too.
Author Gore Vidal admitted, “Whenever a friend succeeds, a little something in me dies.” I understand that.
How about you? Have you ever felt jealousy or envy toward someone? You can’t truly love someone and be jealous or envious at the same time. You can’t want the best for them and then resent them when it happens! Can you see how love and jealousy or love and envy are at odds with each other? If you love someone, you want the best for them. If you are jealous, you resent them for having the best! Love is others-centered; jealousy is selfish.
So true love is not jealous. Instead, true love wants the best for others, and rejoices with them when they get it. Romans 12:15 says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” Many of us can do the second part; we can show sympathy and compassion to someone who is hurting. But it may be harder for us to do the first part, to rejoice with someone who is rejoicing.
ILL: Right after I graduated from college, a buddy of mine bought a new pair of downhill skis and boots. My friend came straight from the ski shop to my house and proudly showed me his new skis. He was so excited…and I was jealous. I had just started skiing and loved it, and wished I had a pair of skis like that. Because of my jealousy, I had a really hard time rejoicing with him.
Can anybody here relate to that? Rejoice with those who rejoice. Love is not jealous. When someone succeeds, when someone is blessed, when someone is rejoicing—rejoice with them. Love is not jealous.
4. True love does not boast.
How does love act? True love does not boast. It doesn’t brag. Why would this be a characteristic of love? Love is others-centered, not selfish. Bragging or boasting is very selfish—it is self-promotion, it is self-glorification, it is exalting oneself above others. It’s one-ups-man-ship. “Oh yeah? I’m better than you.”
ILL: Phil Donahue says,
“If you’re in a social situation, and women are talking to each other, and one woman says, “I was hit by a car today,” all the other women will say, “Oh dear, what happened? Where? Are you all right?” In the same situation with men, if one man says, “I was hit my a car today,” I guarantee you that there will be another man in the group who will say, “Wait till I tell you what happened to me.”
One-ups-man-ship. Bragging is talking about myself when I should be interested in you.
ILL: Just a couple days ago, Laina and I stopped by another church to pick up one of our kids who was there with a friend. While we were waiting, we struck up a conversation with a lady who was also waiting for her kids. I asked her if she attended that church. “Yes, I do.”
“Tell me about your church.” I hoped that she would be excited about it; I wasn’t disappointed.
“Oh, it’s the most awesome church. We’ve been here ten years and we just love it.” She went on to describe the youth ministry, and the children’s ministry, and the worship, and their Easter and Christmas services, and all the wonderful things they do. It was really fun to hear her enthusiasm for her church.
I deliberately didn’t tell her who I was or what church I go to for one reason: I didn’t want to spoil the moment for her. I didn’t want to do anything that might take the shine off her enthusiasm. I could have said, “We go to Life Center, and it’s bigger and better than your church. Nananana!” One-up-man-ship. But I didn’t want to promote myself or my deal; I wanted to cheer her on as she promoted hers.
Let me admit that I’m not always so noble. I’ve caught myself on many occasions dropping little comments into conversations that are really just thinly veiled bragging and self-promotion. I just slipped and got this one right—maybe because I knew I would be talking about it today!
If love doesn’t boast or brag, what does it do? Instead of promoting self, love promotes others. Instead of saying, “Let me tell you how great I am,” love says, “tell me about yourself.” Or even more, love says, “Let me tell you how great you are.” Love builds others up rather than puffing up itself. 1 Corinthians 8:1 says, “Love builds up.”
True love doesn’t brag about itself; it’s interested in others.
5. True love is not proud.
How does love act? True love is not proud. Love is not proud for the same reason that it doesn’t boast: love is others-centered rather than self-centered.
Spell “pride”. PRIDE. What’s in the center of pride? I. When we’re proud, we’re self-centered—it’s all about me!
Spell “love”. LUV. What’s in the center of love? U. When we’re truly loving, we’re focused on others, not ourselves.
The word “proud” here is a fun word in the Greek. It is phusioo, and it comes from the Greek word phusa. A phusa was a bellows, a device that pumps air. Phusioo means “to puff up”. It came to mean pride—to be puffed up with self-importance. To be proud is to have an inflated sense of your own importance.
When you love with true love you are not consumed with yourself, focused on yourself. You are focused on the one you love.
ILL: Sportswriter Dick Schaap writes,
In 1978, when Reggie Jackson rejoined the NY Yankees after serving a five-day suspension for defying orders from his manager, Billy Martin, I was among the army of reporters who attended his return. Before the game in Chicago, Reggie entertained the media in front of his locker, and I outlasted the rest of the reporters. Finally, when Reggie and I were alone with my camera crew, I asked him what thought was uppermost in his mind during the suspension. He considered the question for several seconds, then looked straight into the lens and said, “The magnitude of me.”
I could have kissed him. You can’t invent lines like that.
What thought is uppermost in your mind? The magnitude of me! If we were each brutally honest, that is exactly what is uppermost in our minds a good deal of the time. By nature, we all look out for #1. What do I want? What do I need? But love is doing what’s best for others no matter what it costs you. It’s the opposite, the antithesis of pride.
True love is not proud because it’s others-centered.