12-18-16 PURE LOVE


December 18, 2016

     You heard three Scripture readings this morning.  Each of them was about love.  But each progressively described a deeper level of love, a level closer to the love that God has for us. 

     The first (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a) outlines characteristics of love.  How many of us stumble after even the first one?  Patient?  If we are honest, there are days we want to go out and choke the living daylights out of the next person that asks something of us, criticizes us, or even crosses our path.  Kind?  Sometimes it is easy to be kind to those who we feel truly deserve our kindness, but we will get to that one more in no. 3.  Does not envy?  The Sunday School children have been learning about that one as the 10th commandment.  We should be thankful for what we have and not want what others have instead.  And yet how many times are we smitten with jealousy when someone else's possessions, job, or even significant other, is deemed by us as somehow better?  Does not boast and is not proud?  Jesus, who is God Almighty, left His throne in heaven and humbled Himself to be born in a stable and executed on a cross, out of His love for us.  The greatest became the least.  And yet how often do we proudly boast of our meager accomplishments and earthly possessions, flaunting them in the face of those who have not been so blessed, and forgetting to thank the One who has given us all we are and all we have?  Does not dishonor others?  How many people have you thrown under the bus in the past year?  How many times have you gossiped about someone, or posted something on facebook that put someone else down?  All of us would like to answer 'never', me included, but sadly I don't think that would be truthful.  Is not self-seeking?  It is human nature to look out for no. 1.  Selfishness is inherent, a trait we are born with as the result of sin entering the world.  Don't think so?  Ever seen a toddler scream when they don't get their way?  Most adults just do it on the inside, but unfortunately some still do it out loud as well.  Is not easily angered?  We all have different triggers, but none of us can say we have never lost our temper.  And doing so never ends well. Keeps no record of wrongs?  We pat ourselves on the back when we forgive someone, at least in word, but we keep records.  We definitely keep records.  I'm not saying we shouldn't learn from evils done to us, or be cautious around those we know are inclined to hurt us, but we shouldn't use the past mistakes of someone as a weapon against them.  God nailed our sins to the cross as well as theirs, and He said He remembers our sins no more (Isaiah 43:25). Does not delight in evil?  The world delights in evil, more so every day.  We pride ourselves on being politically correct, but we call evil good and good evil, something the Bible warns us not to do (Isaiah 5:20).  Rejoices with the truth?  And that doesn't mean the sugar-coated truth.  This made me think of a line from the movie, "A Few Good Men" in which Jack Nicholson vehemently says, "You can't handle the truth!"  How many of us truly can, much less rejoice with it?  Always protects?  I did a bit of research on this one.  What the verb "protect" in this verse means is to cover, to pass over in silence, to keep confidential. It is used in the sense of a roof covering a building. When we want to stop discussion of something we may say that we want to 'put a lid on it.' Love throws a cloak of silence over what is displeasing in another person. Proverbs 10:12 says, "Hatred stirs up dissension, but love covers over all wrongs." and 1 Peter 4:8 says, "Love covers over a multitude of sins." Love finds a way to shelter the wrongdoer from exposure and condemnation. This is how God has treated us, as Psalm 32:1 says, "Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered."  Always trusts?  We live in an age of skepticism.  We say we trust God, but do we really?  Do we really trust that everything He does is ultimately for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28)?  Other people may disappoint us, because they are not perfect, but God is.  And His love for us is pure and perfect as well.  When we doubt that we are basically dragging Him off the throne and bringing Him down to our level.  Always hopes?  Our hope should always be in God, just as His hope will always be that we will love Him as He does us.  Yet even the best of us has days when we succumb to doubt and despair, and negativity sucks us into its dark chamber.  Always perseveres?  Jesus said we should always pray and never give up (Luke 18:1).  Yet how often do we so easily give up?  The old motto "when the going gets tough, the tough get going now seems to mean ˜get going out the door'!  And lastly, "Never fails".  Of course, that means the kind of love that we just talked about.  Pure love.  Not the kind we so often mistakenly call love.  Pure love is eternal.

     And now we are only through the first of the three levels - that of clarifying in our minds what pure love really is.  The second level is putting it into practice among ourselves.  In our second reading (1 John 4:7-11, 20-21) we heard that "Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen." (verse 20).  In our second hymn this morning we sang "Blest be the tie that Binds, our hearts in Christian love".  Everyone who has repented of their sins, and turned to Jesus for their salvation, is your brother or sister in Christ.  We are not only commanded to love them, but John even says we are a liar if we claim to be a Christian but do not love others Christians.  I won't argue that we, again myself included, are not always the most lovable people.  We should always reflect the love of Christ and thus make it easy for others to love us, but way too often we do not.  None of us are perfect as yet, but we should be encouraging each other in the faith and in our daily walk.  Paul said it this way, "Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Bear with each other and forgive any complaint you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which is the bond of perfect unity."  (Colossians 3:12-14). So now, if you think you are getting a grasp of what pure love truly is, and agree that you need to love your brothers and sisters in Christ and are resolved to do so, we can move on to number three...

     In our third reading (Luke 6:27-35) we meet the toughest challenge yet.  Loving our enemies.  It is hard enough to love a brother or sister in Christ at times, but love our enemies?  That guy that just cut you off in traffic¦ did you tell him to 'go to heaven'?  But that is nothing compared to loving a terrorist that just killed a dozen or more men, women, and even children.  And, like me, you might argue that the Bible also commands us to hate evil.  Even our first reading said that love does not delight in evil.  So just how do we reconcile loving our enemies but still hate evil?  I also did some research on this tricky subject...

     Pastor Jonathan Parnell wrote that "when Jesus said 'love' we should be clear that he didn't mean hollow good will, or some bland benevolence, or a flakey niceness that hopes our enemies stop being so cruel. Jesus never talks about love that way. A category for love like that - the anything-goes, pat-on-the-head, can't-we-all-just-get-along kind of love - is a phenomenon peculiar to our own day. When Jesus says to love our enemies, he means that we love them with a lay-your-life-down type of love - the type that comes from the heart and desires the other's good, and sacrifices for it, when no one else but God is watching.

     And it's the type of love that includes hate.  In fact, if the love is real, it must include hate. We've seen or experienced something like this before, though it might be more complex than we first thought. Love that rightfully includes hate needs to navigate between the two ditches of unhelpful generality and selfishness in disguise.

     In other words, to only say that we must "love the sinner but hate their sin" oversimplifies things, glossing over the inseparable connection at work in the evildoer and his evil. At the same time, to only hate the sin because of how it affects us is actually superficial virtue, not love. But real love, and therefore rightful hate, sails beyond these docks to drop anchor an extra mile down.

     On one hand, righteous hatred is expected because evil acts are morally repugnant and offensive to God (Psalm 97:10). Evil belittles God's holiness and evidences that his name is not hallowed. We hate evil because it is wrong. But on the other hand, if this hatred is part of loving our enemies, we must hate the evil of our enemies because of what the evil means for them.

     Expounding Jesus's love command, John Piper writes that we cannot claim to truly love someone while being indifferent toward what destroys them. If we love our enemies, then we must hate the evil of our enemies that makes them so. That evil  - the evil for which they are culpable and liable for eternal punishment - is therefore at odds with love's interest in their eternal good. "We do not hate God's judgment. That is just and wise. But we do hate the evil that leads a person to oppose God and incur his judgment (What Jesus Demands from the World, 224).

     To be sure, our enemies aren't mere victims of evil's tyrannical force, and we don't parse individuals away from their actions. ISIS does evil and is evil - and our love for them means we hate both. We hate that they are blinded by darkness, that they are trapped by Satan's schemes, that they are following the course of this world and ignorant of it all (Ephesians 2:2; 4:18).

     But that hate, if we are obeying Jesus, means that we hate them not only because of their disgusting injustice, but for what that injustice means for their souls. Piper explains, "There is a kind of hate for the sinner (viewed as morally corrupt and hostile to God) that may coexist with pity and even a desire for his salvation (222)."

     Love for our enemies means, fundamentally, that we hate our enemies for wholeheartedly joining in the evil that will ultimately cause their damnation (John 5:29). That is the kind of hate - the kind of love - that might look on them and say, in the spirit of our Savior, Father, forgive them for being so oblivious to what they're doing. Open their eyes

     So how does that translate to us?  Mazon hasn't been bombed by terrorists - at least not yet.  But there is a growing drug problem in the area.  Drug dealers who sell cheap, and often tainted drugs, to those desperate for any escape from the pain of living, who prey on the weak, on the poor, on the misguided, are definitely morally corrupt - evil.  They have ruined countless lives, enslaving them to a chemical addiction, and depriving them of hope and of love.  To love such a drug dealer, that has caused untold grief to someone you love, and torn your family apart, to forgive them and pray that their immortal soul would be saved - instead of hoping they rot in hell - that is the kind of love Jesus asks - no, commands - us to have.   But how?  Only through the power of the Holy Spirit that dwells within us.  Without the Holy Spirit it is impossible.  Remember, Jesus loved us while we were yet sinners, enough to die for us (Romans 5:8).  If we are to love others as Jesus loves us, then we must love those who still do not know Jesus, as well as those who do.  And pray that one day they will escape the clutches of evil and turn to Christ for salvation just as we did, and that He would forgive them just as He did us.  Plus we must be willing to do whatever it takes, whatever the Lord instructs us to do, to help those that are still lost “ remembering that at one time we also were lost.  But praise Jesus that he released us from the chains of sin and unbelief, and placed His Spirit in our hearts, so that we can be filled with hope, with peace, with joy - and with pure love.  Amen.