“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.” –1 John 4:7
Many years ago, I heard a sermon given by a wise pastor who said that when you are deciding whether or not to do something, and you feel pushed and anxious about it, that this is not from the Lord. His prompts are more like a draft horse pulling a plow. His powerful love leads us. After all, the Bible says that, “For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God.” (Romans 8:14) The Greek word for led used here is agō, which means to lead out or guide.
In the context, Paul is talking about our battle against our flesh. When we are led by our flesh, we pursue our own pleasure over and above what God’s Spirit desires. But in another place, he says that if we “by the Spirit put to death the deeds of the flesh,” we will overcome. We will allow the Holy Spirit to lead us into ever increasing holiness. But it can be applied to everyday decisions, too, like job choice, what charities we give to and how much, our choice of close friends–things like that. And that was this pastor’s point: to not be badgered into, guilted into, or in any way, shape, or form coerced by man. So I’d like to talk a bit about motives today. They are SO important and what the Lord looks for when we do anything.
Not too long ago, I saw a quote from a church sign that said, “Forgive your enemies. It messes with their minds.” Now, I think our first reaction to this would be to smile, maybe even laugh…worse yet, to follow that line of thought because it would make our flesh quite satisfied to lay our enemy in the dust. However, Satan is subtle. If he can get us to pick up this kind of spirit of payback, the Lord will not honor our “forgiving.” We are to be imitators of God, not the world. The Lord forgives us because He loves us and wants to restore our relationship with Him. He does NOT want to “mess with our minds.” We are to forgive our enemies with the same motive in mind–to mend the relationship, to somehow draw them to Christ. That is why the directive is: “repay no one evil for evil;” rather, “overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:17;21)
There seems to be three major motives that cause us to act when serving God: duty, fear, or love. For example, we may go to church every Sunday, tithe, or live a moral life out of a sense of duty, a sense it is expected and has been practiced for as long as one can remember. These same things can also be prompted by fear–that God will not love us if we don’t give ten percent, that God will not forgive confessed and repentant moral failings, that we’ll go to hell if we don’t (fill in the blank here). Then there is love. God is love, and in all things, the Lord is after our hearts to do, say, think, and live motivated by love:
When Jesus was asked by one of the teachers of the Law what the greatest commandment was, he replied, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40)
See? Love “pulls” the plow (in my analogy). The Word often refers to Christ’s teaching as a foundation, and that Christ is the chief Cornerstone. He holds up the entire structure being built by God. And Jesus lived love perfectly. Notice Jesus said that the foremost desire of God is to love Him? In what other religion throughout the history of the world does a deity desire love from its followers? Servile worship, fulfillment of rituals, a laundry list of rules in minutiae, a sense of always needing to placate its anger–these are the norm for the world. And sometimes it creeps even into Christian denominations. But the only true God says first and foremost, “Love me.” This is at the top of His list. It is true it is a command, yet our Lord commands and demands it for our good, because He is the source of all things good. If we love Him first, preeminently, all love and goodness will flow from Him, to us, and then to others. If we love Him first, we will in our hearts be seeking His desires and favor, and will not be caught in the snare of pleasing ourselves or others before pleasing Him. And all of the Lord’s commands, wisdom, and counsel should bring us joy, because His motive is always to love, protect, and bless us.
Now, the reason we all love is because God has loved us first. He modeled it to the world in Jesus, and displayed it on the cross in full public view so that we would not misunderstand or be tempted by the enemy when life gets tough that, somehow, God does not love us or always do what is right. The enemy is a liar, the father of lies, and speaks falsehood fluently. Satan’s first temptation of Adam and Eve painted God as someone who would withhold good from His creation. He maligned God Almighty, our perfect Heavenly Father. He has continued this tactic to this day. But the Word says that God’s love is so expansive, that it is as high as the heavens. I once tried to put that in some sort of mathematical illustration, but I think I failed. The best I could come up with is that the known universe is so big that you could travel around the world trillions of times to exponential powers to match its breadth, creating numbers I could not relate to! The LORD himself tells us He loves us this much. So, because God is our Source, our Model, and our Savior, because we are born again by the power of the Holy Spirit, we love, too. His Word says:
“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” –1 John 4:7-12
Even the second command in God’s list of priorities is love for one another in the body of Christ and for our unbelieving neighbors. The bible says that this proves our love for God. The Lord wants us to be kind, tenderhearted, and freely forgiving toward others, because it is His heart that we imitate Him, that we be conformed to the image of Jesus. If we do not love others, we cannot love God, because God showed us so clearly that He loves others, even His enemies. This is not a Kool-Aid, New Age, or hip sixties free love kind of thing. It is a strong and deep love rooted in seeking the best interest of the other. God’s love is hard. It is hard because it is different. The world is always trying to remake God’s love, to dress it up, prop it up, and talk it up to suit people, not God. Who is the Creator, and who is the created? Should the child tell his parent what he can and can not do, what is good and what is not?
The 1960s saw a lot of self-seeking lifestyles, and the New Age movement tells us that we need to “accept” each other, meaning if a lifestyle does not agree with God’s Word, we should keep silent and not “judge.” The problem is that such worldly reasoning does not submit to Divine authority. It thinks all our ideas are made up in our own minds and by our own standards. No, God’s love is not negotiable. When He tells us “no,” that is love, too. We are not “judging” our children when they do something wrong, are we? We are teaching them and protecting them from harm. And our love, which is like some base metal, is not superior to God’s love, which is like a precious metal. How can we set down guidelines for our own children, but reject any standard of right and wrong from our own Heavenly Father?
This second command is so important that the Lord tells us not to worship Him at the altar before seeking reconciliation with someone we have sinned against and offended! Jesus said, “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:23-24) In modern English, we could say, “Do not give your offering when the plate is passed if you know you’ve sinned against someone. Your Heavenly Father will be most pleased if you go and reconcile with that person first. No amount of tithes and offerings can compare to or make up for the evil that results when you do not seek the good of your neighbor or brother. When you have reconciled, come back to my Father’s house and He will accept your gift and will take delight in you.” So much of God’s paradigm is a complete one-eighty in importance and order from the worldly take on life! And our flesh gravitates to those false ways of doing things because it is just easier. Isn’t it easier to write a check to your local church than to humble yourself, admit your sin, and ask for forgiveness?
The apostle Paul’s eloquent praise of love in the thirteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians tells us that, without love, no spiritual gift, no vast sum of knowledge, no great sacrifice benefits us. He point blank states it amounts to zilch. He says such things, even seemingly godly things like supernatural gifts, giving all your worldly goods to the poor, even moving a mountain or two, done for show, selfish-gain, or any fleshly motive, leaves us noisy, of little esteem, and unprofitable. And it impresses God not one iota.
Can you see how easy it is to want to impress people? Because it pleases our self. The world clamors after fame, recognition, and respect from people for one’s own sense of self-worth and importance. God’s children should be about the desire to bring Him fame (glory), recognition, and honor. Paul was a good example of this. He is known now as a great man of faith. But back then he suffered disrespect, slander, accusations of poor leadership ability, reproach…you name it. But he overcame because his motive was always to please God, not man. The bible says we are but dust. Why do we then try to impress one another?
We need to seek our self-worth and praise from God alone. Only then will we be truly confident and content. Love seeks to please the object of its desire. Praying for the Lord to help us love Him more is, in my opinion, one of the best prayers you can pray. It is the solution to all besetting sin and a foundation that will withstand any temptation or tempest. And it is the Holy Spirit who pours out God’s love in our hearts. (Romans 5:5) Jesus said, “If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13)
If we apply this lifegiving principle to all we do and pray, we will bear so much fruit. I sense such pleasure from our Lord when I ask Him to help me love in difficult situations and even in the day to day stuff we experience. For example, is our giving done because we feel guilted into it, or has the Lord led us to love the church body, both local and worldwide? Are we moved by compassion to help the homeless man, or a down-and-out family member, or folks who do not have access to human service organizations? Or would we rather give only because it is tax deductible? Do we have a set amount in mind, or do we listen to the Lord’s prompting? Would we give more than ten percent if the Lord would direct us? Would we be obedient enough to give less than ten percent if the Lord would direct us to pay back a a bad debt first? Is it loving to file bankruptcy on our creditors because our church is asking for more money?
Another way to apply love is when we judge another. Is our heart to restore and correct, or condemn? So many times a person’s story affects the severity of the rebuke. For example, I had a friend, a believer, who committed adultery many times over. I didn’t know how to pray, I couldn’t understand. But I counseled them against such things, and prayed for the Lord to help them walk in the Spirit. I found out later that they had a mental illness and physical reason for the behavior. The behavior is still wrong, yes, but the correction is meted out with more mercy because their mind was not right.
There is a beautiful example of how God views a person’s motives, what is in their heart, in Mark 14:3-9:
“While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.
Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly.
“Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”
The disciples wanted to reprimand this woman for “wasting” the expensive perfume she poured on Jesus. Can you imagine giving something worth so much to Jesus only to be judged as wasteful and foolish by others? Perhaps they were offended because she didn’t ask them what to do with the perfume? But Jesus said what she did was BEAUTIFUL, and He was so touched by her act of love that He promised her example would be repeated wherever the gospel was preached in perpetual memory of her. He saw the great love in her heart for Him. Some of the other disciples, preoccupied with procuring a more “righteous” purpose for the perfume, missed the preciousness of her act. So in most everything, when we have a holy love for Jesus in mind, it brings His heart joy.
The most obvious application of being led by love is our choices in life. We are called to be holy, and “love does no harm to a neighbor.” (Romans 13:10) God’s moral requirements are meant to protect us and others. We are told not to have sex outside of marriage because it represents a close intimacy that is a lifelong commitment. Sex outside of marriage requires no commitment, no promise of faithfulness, an easy out for our fickleness. We are commanded not to commit adultery because it wrecks our dignity, hurts our spouse and children, and can even lead to jealous fits of anger–things that will scar our life for years and years to come because of some momentary imagined “fix” or fleeting pleasure. We are commanded not to get drunk, because it leads to debauchery when our inhibitions are lowered. Addictions ruin entire families when a job is lost because of it or funds to care for one’s own children are spent on the desired drug. We become unloving when we let our flesh rule our bodies and lives. Our flesh produces rotten fruit. When we walk in the Spirit, we bear His fruit–love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control. Good fruit that will last throughout eternity.
On a final note, I’d like to add something. The Lord wants an emotional kind of love from us, the feeling of tender affection. But He looks for proof of it in our actions. He always has. In Ezekiel 33:30-32, The Lord says of His people, “Come and hear the message that has come from the Lord.’ My people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before you to hear your words, but they do not put them into practice. Their mouths speak of love, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain. Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice.” Do we lack preaching in our age, in this country, or has everything become entertainment, too? Jesus said, “If you love me, you will obey my commands.” (John 14:15)
In the Apostle John’s first letter he writes:
“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” (1 John 3:16-18)
I have heard of congregations angrily splitting over politics, ministry approaches, building projects–even carpet colors! Really? Does our opinion matter so much that we stubbornly resist one another to the point of what looks like a broken up teenage romance? Remember little old Clara Peller who is famous for her line in the 1980’s Wendy’s commercial? She’s holding a competitor’s burger, stares at the lack of bun coverage, and with an unimpressed quip asks, “Where’s the beef?” I wish she were still around to ask the Church, especially here in the United States and in more affluent countries, “Where’s the love?”
Oh, how we need to clothe ourselves in love! Love covers a multitude of sins. (1 Peter 4:8) Love always protects, trusts, hopes, and perseveres. Love never fails. (1 Corinthians 13:7-8) God never fails. (Isaiah 55:10-11) “And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love.” (2 John 1:6) He who walks in love follows Christ. If we suffer illness, poverty, death of a dear one, ridicule, scorn, false accusations, imprisonment, even death–the Holy Spirit will fill us with His love so that we will not ultimately fail. He will lead us to His heavenly victory. “Do everything in love!” (1 Corinthians 16:14)
I write this to challenge and encourage. God’s spiritual children mature over time, just like physical children. Do not let the enemy steal your hope. Hope always in the Lord. He is our ever present help and merciful redeemer. He is patient and kind. He offers His good gifts freely. We need only ask.
Jesus said, “…On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not overcome it.” (Matthew 16:18) Amen.