Exodus 3:1-15, Romans 12:9-21
September 4, 2005
When I started here on August 7th, I said something that probably went by so quickly you hardly noticed it. The scripture passage I was using that day was I Corinthians 13, which a number of you told me afterwards that it was your favorite. That’s the passage where Paul was writing about this “more excellent way” – the way of Love. And at one point I described that as a chapter where “he penned some of the greatest words ever written about that one most illusive word.” Do you remember me saying that? “..the greatest words ever written about that one most illusive word.”
I believe the word love is very illusive. And I don’t mean it’s illusive in the sense that people looking for it and not finding it. Though it is that, too! I say it’s illusive because I believe it is one of the most misunderstood words in our language. – Probably any language, for that matter! But a lot of people use the word! But too often, when they say, “I love you,” What they’re really saying is, “I want you to love me!” They have no clue about the idea of “self-less love” as Paul described it to the Corinthians. And of course, many people have thrown out the Bible anyway, so they don’t even know Paul’s words! Then they wonder why their lives are so empty of that one thing they are seeking most!
I think this is a huge subject in our world! So many people are looking for love “in all the wrong places,” as the song says. But the real problem is they don’t even know what love is and wouldn’t recognize it if they found it. And there are a lot of confusing messages out there! There are a lot of people using the word in a lot of different ways. And most of it is “feeling oriented.” Every once in a while I see one of those “cutsy” mugs. You know, the ones with cartoon pictures of little kids with the big puppy dog eyes looking at each other. And the caption says, “Love is a warm fuzzy feeling.” Maybe you have one of those mugs! Well, I go on record as saying that love is not a warm fuzzy feeling.
Now, don’t get me wrong! Love has warm fuzzy feelings that will often go with it. Or more accurately, love often elicits warm fuzzy feelings. Or love causes us to have warm fuzzy feelings. But love itself is not a warm fuzzy feeling! It’s not really a feeling at all! (Though, as I said, we can have feelings associated with it!) I’m sure you know that “feelings” can go up and down with our mood, with our circumstances, with our sense of well being, or the weather! We can “feel good” about ourselves one day, and bad the next. And all of those things can affect the feelings we have for each other! That’s why I’m glad love is not a feeling! I’m glad it’s something we can count on despite our feelings!
So what then is love, if it’s not a feeling? I think everything in the Bible tells us that Love is action. Love is what we do! Love is what we choose to do every day! It also tells us that love doesn’t happen automatically! Sometimes it’s a tough choice! What we do is we show our love for others by our actions. God showed his love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) Love is a word that you must put into action or it is not love at all!
People don’t understand that. Sometimes that’s the problem people have with us Christians. They don’t know what to make of us because we follow a Savior who said things like Paul said here in verse 14. “Bless those who persecute you. Bless them. Do not curse them.” How could he say that? Jesus said, “Love your enemies.” That doesn’t make sense to a world that thinks feelings are the only impetus in leading of our lives! We “feel like” getting even with our enemies! And that’s the thing we’re supposed to act on!
The problem is that people who live in a society that think love is a warm fuzzy feeling, then think “loving our enemies” means we are supposed to have warm fuzzy feelings about them! And that doesn’t make sense. But that’s not what Jesus and Paul are saying! Because they knew that’s not what love was! Both of them say instead that love means we are to “do things that show love to” those who persecute us. And neither of them pull any punches! They tell us that sometimes the way of love is going to be hard! Sometimes the sacrifices of love are going to causes us pain!
The other problem with the thought that “love is a warm fuzzy feeling.” is that sometimes we get to thinking that when there is not a warm fuzzy feeling about another person going on inside us, then there is no love! And that presents a real problem. How many marriages have suffered and even ended because people think, “I just don’t feel the same way I once did about this person.”
I’m told there is an actual greeting card – made by Hallmark, I believe. (Either that or I’m about to be sued by Hallmark!) And the card says this. “When I consider all the time we have spent together, and all we’ve gone through, sometimes I say to myself…” and you open the card and it says, “…What was I thinking?”
That’s a funny card if you think about it! But the reality is that just about everyone who’s ever been married has that thought from time to time. I tell young people who are about to me married that there are going to be times when you’ll look across the table at this other person and you say to yourself, “What was I thinking?” But that doesn’t mean you don’t love that person. There will be times when you’re dealing with friends, family, co-workers, even your brothers and sisters in Church, and you won’t have warm feelings for them! Love is the honor and respect and affirmation you give them despite the rise and fall of your feelings at any particular time!
I remember the story of the lady in my home church who was frustrated with one of her young children. And she was embarrassed in telling my sister about her feelings. She said she felt awful because she had gotten to the point where she was felling like she would give the child to the first person she saw walk by. My sister (who has a lot of wisdom) said, “You didn’t, did you?” Meaning, “Sure, you felt that way, but you didn’t act that way! We all feel like those things at time. But it doesn’t mean that we don’t love!
We read this passage for today, and it’s a great one. Paul starts by saying, “Let love be genuine.” (We should do a word study on that word, “Genuine.”) And he gives us a whole series of practical things we should do to show love to others. And notice that there’s very little “warm fuzzy feelings here!” He does sort of start off with a feeling, “Hate what is evil.” He says. And that’s kind of interesting. But we’ll leave that for another day. Except to say that we are supposed to have feelings! We are supposed to have passion in our lives! That’s important. But I want you to see the practical things he’s telling us. He goes on to say, “Hold fast to what is good.” Again, there’s’ a choice. You don’t ‘hold fast’ to something by “just feeling it.” It doesn’t “just happen.” Holding fast is a conscious choice. It is an action!
Look at some of the other things he tells us here. “Rejoice with those who rejoice. Weep with those who weep.” That takes making the choice to empathize with others! “Live in harmony with one another.” Again, that’s a choice, too isn’t it? Look at this one. “Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly.” That’s definitely a choice. But what a loving choice it is!
One of my favorite professors in seminary was very good at that one. (You’ll meet him at my installation!) He was a guy who was highly respected in the academic world. He was always teaching, going different places in the world, giving lectures and seminars, editing people’s books. But he was always very gracious. He lived humility. He would think nothing of striking up a conversation with the guy pushing a broom! As tough there was no difference between them! That to me was very impressive. That was love. I want people to think of me that way, too!
Paul goes on. “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” That’s a great one. Often we think, “Ok, I’ll show love for that person, I’ll live peaceably with them, so long as they live peaceably with me!” But that’s not what Paul is saying here. He says, “No. You do your part in living peaceably with others!” “Don’t wait for them!” “Don’t let that effort depend on whether or not they do so with you.” Now that’s not easy! But it is always better. It gives us peace of mind! It promotes peace. Remember the song “Let Peace Begin with Me.” And we are a great example of Christ’s love when we do so!
Remember the “Golden Rule.” It doesn’t mean “Those who have the Gold rule!” “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Part of that means “do your part in loving others – whether or not they show love to you! Because you would want them to afford you the same gracious attitude when you are not so lovable.” I know I would want that. Because sometimes I’m not so lovable! So I’m hoping – I’m counting on the fact that the more I show that grace, the more I’ll get it back!
Love is not easy, my friends! It wasn’t easy for God. It cost him his very son. But it is the highest form of action. It is the greatest bond between people. It is the greatest motivator. It is the greatest force in the universe. That makes it so much more than a “warm fuzzy feeling.” So let love be genuine! Choose to love, even when you “don’t feel like it.” “Hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Never flag in zeal. Be aglow in the spirit. Serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope. Be patient in tribulation. Be constant in prayer.” Be all those things. Put love into action!
Eternal God, we thank you that you chose to love us with an unconditional and sacrificial love that we can hardly comprehend. Help us to love each other with that same kind of love. We are weak, and we need your strength to make those hard but glorious choices to love one another. May the world around us know that we are yours by the way we choose to show that love to each other. For this we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.