Saturday, February 10, 2018

1 Corinthians 13:7 - Lasting Love

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

As different as we are,
all of us have the same fundamental need.  

No matter how OLD or YOUNG… regardless one’s wealth or poverty - education or lack thereof

ALL OF US have the fundamental need

to be LOVED.

It’s written into our emotional and spiritual DNA - and whether or not we find it - has lasting results.

In 1944, an experiment was conducted on 40 newborn babies to determine whether individuals could thrive by having their basic physiological needs met WITHOUT affection. Twenty infants were housed in a special facility where they had caregivers who would feed them, bathe them and change their diapers, but would do nothing else.

The caregivers had been instructed not to look at or touch the babies more than what was necessary, never communicating with them.  

I cannot imagine how hard that must have been.

All their physical needs were attended to scrupulously and the environment was kept sterile, none of the babies becoming ill.

BUT - the experiment was halted after four months, because half of the babies - - - died.  

There was no physiological explanation for their deaths; they were all physically healthy.

But before each baby died, there was a period when they stopped trying to engage their caregivers, they stopped moving, they even stopped crying.  

Death soon followed.  
They had given up.

While this was taking place, in a separate facility, the second group of twenty newborns were raised with all their basic physiological needs provided ALONG WITH the affection of their caregivers. This time, however, no deaths occurred. Not one.

The conclusion???  Love is a vital need in humans.

But we already knew that, didn't we??

THINK about the great lengths we will go to in order to experience what we THINK is love… we will sacrifice almost anything,
  • our MORALITY - to our DIGNITY
  • From our relationships with others - to our most prized possessions
IF ONLY we might find TRUE … LASTING love.

The problem, however, is in our confusion over what REAL LOVE IS.  We confuse it with physical attraction.  We get attention from someone, even IF that attention is ILLEGITIMATE, our hearts flutter, and we take a ‘stupid pill’ to justify actions that are clearly wrong for us… that everyone can see but US!

If you want to know what real love is - look no further than 1 Corinthians 13.  It is known as the “Love Chapter” for a reason.  Paul - in an effort to confront the Church at Corinth for their selfish ways - paints a picture of true - AGAPE love.  It would be the KEY to MORE than just the harmony of the church… it is the key to the success or failure of the Gospel itself!

So many superlatives - so many lessons - we could spend WEEKS unpacking this chapter and STILL not do it justice.

But since Valentine’s Day was last week and we couldn't have service last week - we turn our thoughts to one verse - disclosing 4 characteristics of LASTING love.  And THEN I want to talk to you about HOW we can love like this… how we can get from here to there:

  1. FIRST, according to Paul, Love bears all things.”

Maybe you’ve heard of a “fair-weather-friend?”  A person who only shows up when everything is going well, but is nowhere to be found when you really need them?

You’ve probably had relationships like that - where you often felt usedabandoned… or like the relationship is all ONE-SIDED.  They may TELL YOU they love you.  But no matter what they say - the fact that they aren't there when you need them MOST - PROVES their’s isn't real love.  

Real love, according to Paul, shelters - that’s the image behind the phrase, “Love bears all things.”  It faithfully protects during the harshest storm.  It anticipates another’s weakness and defends them from attack.

That’s not to say that love is blind or gullible - because the Bible is quite clear - Love does not justify sin or compromise with falsehood.  It warns, corrects, exhorts, rebukes, and disciplines.  

If someone is leading you to sin against God in the name of love - understand - THAT ISN’T LOVE!!!  If someone is tempting you to disrespect your family or your church or disobey your God in the name of love - THAT ISN’T LOVE.  That’s lust.  That’s an immature, selfish, cheap imitation that often PASSES itself as love.  

But TRUE LOVE does not manipulate for selfish reasons.  It doesn’t cut and run when times are tough.  Though love is truthful and holy - it does NOT expose or broadcast failures and wrongs.  It covers. It protects.

If your home only sheltered you on clear, sunny days, but leaks like a sieve when it rains, you’d either hire a roofer or you’d move!  Why???  To borrow the words of famed culture-icon ⇒ Sweet Brown…

“ain’t nobody got time for that”

So why do you tolerate it from those who profess to love you?

Love isn’t for the fair-weather or the faint of heart.  It doesn’t look for a loophole or escape route.  Even IF it means jeopardizing one’s standing or reputation in the community.

Think of Jesus… the quintessence of love.  The sinners… the poor… the diseased who had been relegated to the shadows - THESE are the people Jesus surrounded Himself with.  

Remember the woman who was caught in the act of adultery??  How the Lord’s Bible-class was interrupted by an angry mob of self-righteous men wanting His blessing to stone her to death?  

What did Jesus do?  He sheltered her.  He protected her, diffused the situation and forgave her sin.

Why?? Because LASTING LOVE “bears all things.” Not just the fun, exciting things.  ALL THINGS.

2.  Second, Lasting Love “believes all things.”

The word “believes” comes from the Greek Word pis-TU-o which means “to think to be true - to trust.”  AGAIN, that doesn’t mean that love is gullible, but simply that it refuses to see the worst in people. It doesn't jump to condemning conclusions.

We see this idea in our legal system - we call it “due process” - people are “innocent until proven guilty.”  We want to hear both sides BEFORE we make a decision about guilt.  We have a Bill of Rights designed to protect the rights of our citizens.

It isn’t fair, it isn’t justice to RUSH to judgment.  There is information we need that might influence our opinions and decisions.

I’m glad that is the case - or at least - SHOULD BE the case.  Because anyone can say almost ANYTHING about another person, EVEN IF PATENTLY FALSE, and people are more than willing to act as their judge, jury, and executioner.  

People who don't know LOVE thrive on the salacious and the scandalous.  People crave gossip.  And so often, they don’t care WHO they, (pardon the expression), CRUCIFY in the process.

That isn’t love.  

Love believes the best in people… and even if it is proven that the allegations are TRUE - love won’t let us give up on the person… Love moves us to believe that the wrong can be confessed, forgiven, and the sinner restored.  

This was the approach of the Apostle Paul when he wrote the Galatians, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in ANY transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.  Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

Love is a harbor of trust.  And when that trust is broken, love’s first reaction is to heal and restore… not run away or condemn.

The Pharisees and Scribes didn’t understand this concept.  They believed the worst in everyone - EVEN Jesus.  When the Lord healed people, almost everyone would be in awe and wonder - and PRAISE Jesus and said things like, “We’ve never seen ANYTHING like this before!”  

But what did the Pharisees say?  “He only does these things by the power of Satan!”

Ugly… hateful… bitter - that’s what they were.  And that ain’t love.

3.  Third, lasting love HOPES all things.

True Love HOPES - Even when belief in a loved one’s goodness or repentance is shattered, love STILL hopes. When it runs out of faith it holds on to hope.

Love moves us to believe that as long as God’s grace is operative - human failure is never final. No matter WHAT the devil tells you - no matter HOW the world judges you - sin DOESN’T HAVE TO DEFINE a person.  Not where there is love.

God wouldn't take Israel’s failure as final. Think of how patient and long-suffering He was - how He pursued them, blessed and shielded them, even though they abused His love.  And beyond that, according to Revelation, He STILL has a plan for Israel - even after all these years.

Jesus wouldn't take Peter’s failure as final - but after He was raised from the dead, sought Peter out specifically to help him realize that he had forgiven him for the three times he denied the Lord.

Paul wouldn't take the Corinthians’ failure as final.  He could have thrown his hands up in despair… after all he had pastored that church longer than any other church - and STILL they were petty, argumentative, and questioning his authority as an apostle - some even wondered about the legitimacy of his calling as a preacher!! STILL -- he had hope.

There are more than enough promises in the Bible to make us hopeful. Amen??

  • The parents of backslidden children,
  • the spouse of an unbelieving marriage partner,
  • the church that has disciplined members who do not repent—

ALL of them HOPE that the child, the spouse, or the erring brother or sister will be saved and restored.  WHY???

Because Love refuses to take failure as final. As long as there is life, love does not lose hope.

And finally, not only does Lasting Love bear, believe, and HOPE all things,

4.  It also ENDURES all things

The Greek word for “endure” is HuPOmenĊ - a military term used of an army holding to a vital position at all costs.  When the enemy is fierce and the battle is hot… love doesn’t run to protect itself.  Every hardship and every suffering was to be endured in order to hold fast. Don't break ranks - we must not abandon our fellow soldiers when times are tough.  

Love holds fast to those it loves. It endures all things at all costs. It stands against overwhelming opposition and refuses to stop bearing or believing or hoping. Love will not stop loving because it endures.

Think of Stephen in the Book of Acts who lovingly bore the ridicule and rejection of those to whom he witnessed. Their taunts would not make him stop believing they would see the light and their stones would not make him stop hoping they would be saved. He died praying, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!”

Like his Lord, he loved to the end even his hate filled enemies who put him to death. His love endured.

Love bears what is otherwise unbearable; it believes what is otherwise unbelievable; it hopes in what is otherwise hopeless; and it endures when anything less than love would give up.

After love bears it believes. After it believes it hopes.  After it hopes it endures. There is no “after” for endurance, for true love never ends.

THIS, according to Paul - is what lasting love looks like!

Does it describe YOU???

Brandon Moody was attending his uncle D. L. Moody’s church one Easter morning to see what many regarded as ‘one of the most spectacular passion plays in the country.’  This is a HUGE church. Thousands call it 'home.’ so Brandon knew it would be good.

The final scene in the impressive Easter pageant was a depiction of Jesus’ ascension into heaven. And it did not disappoint!

The actor who was playing Jesus was being hoisted by stagehands through an opening in the ceiling.

But when he was halfway up, they lost their grip and down came the actor with a loud ‘thud!’

With amazing presence of mind, the actor hopped to his feet, never broke character, and said to the shocked congregation, as IF it were planned, “OH!  and ONE MORE thing. Love one another!”

“OK preacher - we get it.  We are supposed to love like this verse says.  But how do we get from here to there?  What 3 or 4 things can we do that will help us demonstrate Agape love?”  I’m so glad you asked...

  1. First - you’ve got to die to self.

Some people might think this statement is overused at Stonebridge, but there is no other way to love God and love others correctly, than to STOP living a self-centered, self-focused life.  Jesus must be your all.  You have to die to yourself, put Him first in your personal life… in your business decisions… in your marriage and family.  

DIE to self.

  1. Then you must commit your life to prayer and reading the Word.  

As God fills you with His presence, He will shave off those parts of your character that prevent you from enjoying true love and intimacy.  You will become MORE like Jesus as as His word transforms your mind. - - This is a slow, painstaking process, so don’t expect INSTANT results.

  1. You must practice good communication.  

Give and take.  Listen and share.  Spend time every day just listening.  Open your heart to the concerns and needs of the person you love.  You should talk every day - about something - about nothing.  But get in the habit of spending time together. It's an investment that pays great dividends.

And finally...

  1. Forgive - You must practice grace.

Forgive the petty things that drive couples apart.  Forgive those few slights which are intentional - and - those many slights that are UNintentional.  

If everyone here would believe the best about others, if everyone here would constantly remind themselves HOW OFTEN WE’VE needed forgiveness - how much WE have needed grace -  it will humble us and free us to demonstrate grace when we’ve been wronged.

In my time of pastoral ministry - in the hundreds of hours I have spent counseling couples - the common denominator usually comes down to a failure of those people to practice 4 things. (1) Dying to self, (2) Committing to prayer and the Word, (3) Learning the art of communication, (4) and practicing forgiveness.  If both of you will do those four things, I guarantee your marriage will thrive.  Guarantee!

Relationships are hard.  Get your head out of the fantasy novels and remember that relationships require work and grace.  Thank God for loving you and not only DESIRING your good, but making it possible - putting these good things within your reach.

SO ⇒ How’s your love, this morning?  Maybe the Holy Spirit is speaking to you about making some changes - - - changes that will be for YOUR good and HIS glory.  

Change is hard.  Truthfully, you can’t do it in your own strength.

So why not USE THIS TIME to ask the Lord to help you?