My heart and my mind were spinning. I was sitting in a pub having dinner and a pint with a wise and trusted friend. And no, in case you were wondering, it wasn’t the alcohol that had my heart and mind spinning. We were both involved in a ministry where something had gone wrong. I was confused, disturbed, grieved, and unsettled. It was hard for me determine exactly when things had gone wrong. More than that, it was hard for me to determine the root of what had gone wrong, I only knew that something major was not right. In searching for the root, my mind automatically went to aspects of theology and to practical application—surely something went wrong in one of those things. When I asked my friend what she thought, her answer was love, gospel love--1 Cor 13 love, to be exact. I remember the first thing that popped into my head when she said it, “Isn’t that a little simplistic? I mean, after all, this is a complicated situation.” My proud and foolish first instinct was to dismiss her suggestion—after all, there must be more to it, right? Although I would not have seen through my own thinking at the time, in retrospect the heart behind it was this: “I know the Bible is God-breathed and that all of it is important, but isn’t 1 Cor 13 ‘baby Christianity’? Isn’t it simply the verse that gets thrown out at every wedding?” My friend simply and humbly reminded me: “If I SPEAK IN THE TONGUES OF MEN AND ANGELS, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have PROPHETIC POWERS, and UNDERSTAND ALL MYSTERIES AND ALL KNOWLEDGE, and if I have ALL FAITH, SO AS TO REMOVE MOUNTAINS, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I GIVE AWAY ALL I have, and if I DELIVER UP MY BODY TO BE BURNED, but have not love, I gain NOTHING.” 1 Cor 13:1-3
Wow, when I really thought about it, those were some pretty note-worthy, impressive, and even noble talents and achievements that all ended in… NOTHING.
As I pondered what my friend said to me over the next days and months, a light went on in me. I realized that my heart and mind had wandered from the main thing. The gospel is that God loves! The heart of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is LOVE. The Father and Son love each other by the Spirit of Love. Because of the GREAT LOVE with which He loved us, God paid the ultimate sacrifice of incarnation and the cross (see Ephesians 2:4-10)! Worship is loving God and loving others (see Mark 12:28-34). Love is the marking characteristic of a Christian. John 13:35 “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Without this love, NOTHING else matters.
Jesus is all about love—love for the Father, love for the lost, and love for His Bride. Jesus’ love does not look like the worldly love we find in our own hearts. The worldly love in my heart tells me to love when it is convenient to me—when I receive affirmation, when I don’t have to go too far out of my comfort zone, and when it doesn’t cause me pain. Worldly love tells me that people are a means to an end and when people are no longer useful, it is time to part ways. Worldly love tells me it is all about my feelings—that love is a drug and when the euphoria fades, the commitment should also fade. Worldly love tells me that I am to love the lovely and influential, not the unlovely and nobodies of this world.
Jesus shouts to me in the middle of this, in the middle of my confused heart—“Beloved, this is not love!!!” He tells me instead:
“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never ends… “1 Cor 13: 4-8
Jesus shows me that real love involves loving the unlovely (while I was yet a sinner, Christ died for me—the ungodly. Romans 5:6). Jesus shows me that loving someone means being motivated by seeking their good through actions that cost me dearly—it means laying my life and my interests down for them (John 15:13; Philippians 2:1-11) . Jesus shows me that loving someone means persevering with them and for them (Philippians 1:6). Jesus shows me that love involves loving not just the strong, talented, and influential but also the weak, marginalized, and least influential (Samaritan woman, woman caught in adultery, disciples, woman who touched his cloak, etc.) Jesus shows me that love is personal and not abstract (One of the most powerful examples of this to me is the fact that Jesus was making arrangements for his mother’s care even as he was literally hanging on the cross bearing the sins of the world—see John 19:26-27.) Jesus shows me that loving someone means actively loving the person who betrays and abandons me (what Jesus did for me at the cross!). Jesus shows me that love is intentional pursuing devotion, and not something that fades away when it becomes inconvenient (see the whole Bible—God’s pursuit of His people!)
I am grateful that God used my friend to speak to me in such a powerful way. I know that God’s heart for me is to be rooted in His love—to be so aware of his scandalous, beautiful, personal love for me and to be so satisfied by it that it becomes part of my being—who I am, what motivates me, how I interact with others, what I say, and what I do—so that others would be drawn to the same Source and be filled and satisfied by Him as well!
And so I am fervently praying this prayer for me and for you:
“14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. 20 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”