Michelle and I met 23 years ago in the library at Regent University. I was a seminary student, and she had recently moved back to the U.S. from Germany where she had been in ministry working with military teenagers. My sister who was a friend of Michelle’s brother introduced us. If you were to guess that this is one of those stories where the guy was clueless, you’d be right.
At Regent there was always something going on, new people to meet, beach time to be enjoyed, in addition, of course, to working very hard on studies. I didn’t think much about the fact that she might be interested in me until one day months later when her brother, Kevin, and I left the beach one Sunday afternoon to catch a movie. We were about a block away from the beach when we heard this voice, “Hey wait for me.” It was then that I began to think that she might be trying to hang out with me.
Still it wasn’t until May 13th that I began to see the light. I hosted a birthday party for Kevin at my apartment, and afterwards the gang of us decided to head off somewhere, probably to see a movie since that’s what Kevin liked to do. I stayed back to clean things up, and so did Michelle. She didn’t have to, and that’s when I began to think that I should find out more about her.
Once my eyes were opened and I began to “see” her, all I wanted to do was spend time with her. From that time on we rarely spent a day apart. I wanted to know what she liked and disliked. I wanted to know about her life growing up and what her hopes for the future were. I wanted to share life with her, talk with her about my day or just be with her not saying anything at all.
Soon I began asking the Lord and those trusted people in my life if she was the one. We were engaged on February 5th, Michelle’s birthday, and married on July 22nd because we just didn’t want to wait very long to start our life together.
Love is a powerful force. It is powerful in whatever relationship it shows itself whether that’s a marriage relationship or family relationship or friendship. When you love someone you want to be with them. You miss them when they are gone.
Many years ago I heard a pastor describe love as a passion for oneness. Does that resonate with you? Real love, the kind that comes from God, is not merely an emotional desire but heart, soul, mind and strength actively working towards togetherness, unity, oneness in heart and mind and purpose.
1 Corinthians 13 is known as the love chapter, and it is often read at weddings. In fact, I am leading a couple now through pre-marital counseling, and they would like to have the love chapter read at their wedding. Did you know that the context of 1 Corinthians 13 has nothing to do with marriage? The context is actually the work of the Holy Spirit through the family of God.
The apostle Paul’s emphasis on the character of love in chapter 13 is to highlight that God’s work always displays the qualities of love: patience, kindness, humility, etc. It is the character of God’s love that God’s people should always have in common even though their differences are many. You will have different spiritual gifts, different experiences, talents, perspectives than your fellow believers in Jesus. However, because of the presence of the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Love, in every one of you who have trusted Christ you have unity. It is the love of God which draws you together whatever obstacles may keep you apart. It is love that overcomes all things and endures all things. How do we know these things? Because God has shown us His love through Jesus Christ.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son…” (John 3:16)
There are lots of kinds of love in the world, but if we want to understand God’s love we have to look closely at the gift that He gave to us through Jesus Christ. That gift was the most precious thing that God could give. The God who owns the universe did not give something of His own creation but rather He gave Himself. Many times when we think of Christ giving Himself for us or when we hear preaching about His sacrifice, we are burdened with the weight that Jesus had to suffer for us. But today I want you to think about it from a different perspective.
He so loved the world means that He was willing to go to extreme lengths to make it happen. The emphasis here in this verse is not on the sacrifice of Jesus but on the love of God. This Love wanted to give Himself for us. This Love, who created everything, wanted to let go for a time of His majesty and glory. He wanted to humble himself to be the lowest of his creation – the one man on whom all of the sins of all people from all time were placed. He deserved not one of them, but He willingly took them all and suffered the consequences of them as if He was the one that needed to be saved.
I wonder if we truly grasp how greatly God loves us. This God knew before He created us that He would have to humble Himself and die for us. He knew that in order to demonstrate what steadfast, unconditional love, in short His kind of love, was He needed to move the greatest obstacle of sinful rebellion against Himself out of the way. The God who existed in perfect unity as Father, Son and Holy Spirit from eternity past, for a moment on the cross was separated because of our rebellious sin. He knew all of this ahead of time, and yet He gave Himself because that’s what real love does. It willingly, gladly sacrifices on behalf of those it loves. God’s kind of love is not willing to stand idly by but instead makes every effort, no matter how much it costs, to bring about reconciliation, unity, oneness, togetherness, fellowship. Isn’t this what God demonstrated by Jesus Christ giving Himself as a sacrifice on our behalf?
Last week I talked about the first church. They had someone going on that was special. They had all things in common, and the reason was because they had One Thing in common – Christ. Each one of them had placed their life and their eternity in Jesus’ hands. They trusted Him, and because of that they were one in mind in spirit and in purpose.
They spent time studying the teachings of the apostles together, they prayed and worshipped together, they ate and shared their life in the Lord together. When Love Himself comes to live in your heart, then you start to display the characteristics of love. You are unwilling that anything should keep you apart. You don’t just have a desire to share life together. You make sure that no obstacle will stand in the way of it – just like your heavenly Father made sure that no obstacle would stand in between Him and the children that He loves.
The unity that we read about in the first church and the love that they shared together was tested. It wasn’t always a bed of roses. I’m sure that your experience of church life is the same. The love that God places in us does not always gain the upper hand. There are times when they do not know we are Christians by our love. Instead of being like the example that Jesus gave us, we allow the many obstacles which the evil one and the world throw in our path to keep us from loving God and loving each other.
Last week during our worship at Wakonda the VBS kids recited their camp verse. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27) We can even read that verse and memorize it and yet not realize that we have allowed things to get in the way of loving God and loving others. What are some of those things?
What have you allowed to come between you and the Lord? Perhaps you’ve been angry because of circumstances in life. You’re mad at God because, being God, He could have prevented the pain that you or others have gone through – or at least that’s what you’ve been thinking.
Perhaps you’ve allowed an addictive behavior to be in charge of your life. Now you are stuck in a hole that you can’t get out of. You may want to, in your heart, to be free of it, but it will not let you go and you are powerless to do anything about it.
Perhaps you’ve allowed bitterness and unforgiveness to drive a wedge between you and someone God has placed in your life. That wedge is a big one because unforgiveness and bitterness against others is really against God. As the Lord said, “if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:15)
Whatever it is that has come between you and the Lord, it is not bigger than the love which God the Father has deposited in the hearts of everyone who trusts in Him. When Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15), He was talking about this truth. Love doesn’t allow anything to come between us and God. If a sinful behavior has you in its clutches, then loving the Lord with all your mind and strength will lead you down a path where you will be free from that behavior. If you didn’t love God, you wouldn’t care.
If a relationship is broken because of bitterness and unforgiveness, then the love of God is bigger than allowing that bitterness to continue to control your life. Good Christians fall into this trap of unforgiveness, but to stay in that trap means that something is not working right. There needs to be healing and repentance. There needs to be courage. There probably needs to be some tears and perhaps some yelling into a pillow or into the woods. But God’s love which He placed in your heart is not ever going to be satisfied with unforgiveness. Love is a passion for oneness.
I’ve talked with a few people this week, not part of our church family, who have stopped going to church because of hurts that have happened on account of church people. They are upset at the Lord. They are mad, if they are really honest. How could God allow this to happen to me?
Maybe your anger at the Lord is because of things that have happened to you, children who have made decisions that hurt you deeply, finances that don’t ever seem to be in the black, health problems that are really, really scary. You have a hard time trusting God because you are not feeling the love from Him.
Remember that the Lord is not the one who causes these things. We live in a world that is on a path to destruction. The Lord is the one who rescues us from our own rebellion, the rebellion of others, and simply bad stuff that happens. Not everything that is broken can be fixed in this life. This is why we have hope. Although our bodies fade away and things that are broken don’t always get fixed, remember the Lord’s plan covers this life and eternity with Him.
Love for God doesn’t allow even harsh difficult realities to keep us from remembering what great extreme lengths God went to in order to rescue us from the path of destruction we were on. The trials do not cross out the love of God. We shouldn’t let them do that either. Love is a passion for oneness. Not even depth or height, the present or the future or anything in all creation can keep us from God’s love for us. If that’s the love that He put in us, then that love will continue to press us on through the pain of trials. Our hearts and souls are drawn to Him because of the love He’s given.
What would we be like if we really lived out the kind of love that God has showed to us and has put inside of our hearts? How would life be different if we were devoted to removing the barriers between us and God and between us and others? What would life be like if instead of living to measure up to a standard of goodness we began to live according to the love of God which He himself deposited in our hearts at the very moment we believed?
In case it has been unclear, let me offer a moment of clarity for us. Those who don’t know Christ and don’t trust that what the Bible says is true will know that we belong to the real God because of our passion for oneness, because we love each other.
Because we love each other we will not let petty squabbles ruin friendships.
Because we love each other we will hope for the best even when the worst is staring us in the face.
Because we love each other we will share good things about each other that build each other up instead of tearing each other down.
Because we love each other we will work with the Lord in our own lives to not be selfish, to not do things that will hurt those we love, and to seek out healing so that we may be set free from the things of our past that hold us in spiritual bondage.
Because we love each other we will get to know and allow ourselves to be known so that we may share in true fellowship.
Because we love each other we have common unity. Jesus and the presence of the Spirit we have in common. Therefore we are drawn together to share in one heart for the Lord and each other, one mind in our high regard for God’s Word of truth, one strength as we work together as a team for the glory of God, one soul as we share the passion of the Lord for those whose eyes have not yet been opened to the light and the glory of the gospel of Christ.
What’s in your heart? If you’ve trusted Christ then the love of God which He demonstrated by giving Jesus, that’s what’s in there. Don’t squash that love. Let it out. Live it out. Allow that love to overcome any obstacles that threaten to come between you and the Lord or you and your family in Christ.