Volume 36, Number 1
We sing lots of hymns about love.
The Scriptures are full of admonitions about love: In John 14:15 we read, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” In Romans 13:8 we are instructed: “Owe no one anything, except to love one another, for one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” Hebrews 10:24 says, “And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds.” (The word “provoke” means to stimulate, not to irritate.)
Christian love is not the shallow syrupy love that Hollywood talks about. Christian love is not a cheap pat on the back, affirming all kinds of activity and conduct, whether it is in keeping with New Testament principles or not.
The word “love” is often used carelessly and incorrectly. Sometimes it is used romantically to describe lust–a sexual experience is called “making love.” Sometimes “love” is used to state a preference–”i just love black raspberry ice cream.” Often “love” simply means being nice to people–a feeling that overtakes you when you are in the presence of pleasant people. The major problem in dealing with the subject of love, centers around the fact that there is no agreement about what love is.
The world’s definition of love is a temporary feeling at best, and a euphemism for sex without commitment at worst. But if we look carefully at the Scriptures, we will not be left to our own feelings to determine what love is. True love is tougher than most people imagine.
The New Testament speaks of “agape love” which is “shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit” (Romans 5:5). Agape love suffers, sacrifices, endures, hangs in there. Agape love means staying with a husband or wife when things go wrong, and when your spouse doesn’t seem to be as perfect as the person you thought you married. Agape love means loving enemies, not just being nice to people who are nice to us. It is important not to hold a distorted view of the love ethic, and apply it in such a way as to condone sin.
Love is not only benevolent and magnanimous. There are other elements which help us define love:
Love can bring on correction and punishment. In Revelation 3:19 Jesus says, “As many as I love I rebuke and chasten.”
Jesus severely upbraided the disciples who doubted. He said, ‘How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all the prophets have declared” (Luke 24:25).
Jesus denounced hypocrites. He said, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!–for you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 23:13-33).
Jesus spoke sternly to His disciples. He said to Peter, “Get behind me Satan! You are a stumbling block to me” (Matthew 16:23). These words and actions of Jesus seem hard, but they were intended for the welfare of those whom He loved. There is something like tender love, but there is also something like tough love.
Love seeks to be faithful to God’s Word, and uncompromising toward all that is evil. If the Scriptures teach that certain kinds of conduct are wrong–greed, slander, hypocrisy, sexual immorality–then we cannot ‘paper over” that fact without declaring God’s moral will regarding the sin. We are not to condone the actions of covetous persons, and idolaters, and rapists, and fornicators, and homosexuals–all under the guise of love; instead, we are to declare God’s standard and issue a call for repentance!
On the other hand, just because there is something like “tough love” does not mean that we are to go out and attack people. We must tell the truth to each other in a loving way. There need not be any raised voices; no character assassination; and no false insinuations. All of us have known situations where persons were as clear as ice on what they believe, but were as cold as ice in the way they related to those who disagreed with them.
Truth telling is more important than peace keeping. We harm people when we don’t stand for the truth. The well-being of the other person is more important than maintaining the comfort level of one who is involved in unethical or unbiblical conduct. For many of us who are given to “tender love,” a voice will say “Don’t tell the truth; remain silent; he won’t receive it; it will cause too much hurt; it will only make matters worse.” Tenderhearted people will shrink back and say, “All I want is peace, tranquility, harmony, handshakes, hugs, and happiness.” But if we are going to really learn to love, we are going to have to “speak the truth in love.”
Some will say, “But what is truth? How do know what is true in a given setting?” Truth at least two facets of meaning: 1) Truth is the quality of being in conformity with experience, fact, or reality. That water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit is true because it can be verified by experience. 2) Truth is a particular belief or teaching that is regarded as true because it is based on an established principle or source. That a sinful human being can be justified (declared righteous) by faith in Jesus, is true because the Scriptures say so.
Tolerance has become the cardinal virtue of our society. The only absolute that many people believe in, is tolerance.
Tolerance used to mean “to recognize and respect the beliefs and practices of others, without necessarily agreeing or sympathizing with them.” The attitude was that everyone has a right to his opinion.
Tolerance today means “to consider every individual’s beliefs, values, and lifestyle as equally valid.” And so–not only does everyone have an equal right to his beliefs, but all beliefs are equal. All values are equal. All lifestyles are equal. The new definition Of “tolerance” goes beyond respecting a person’s rights. The “new tolerance” demands praise and endorsement of that person’s beliefs, values, and lifestyle.
Tolerance (by today’s definition) says, “You must approve what I do.” Love responds: “I must do something that is more difficult; I will love you, even when your behavior offends me.”
Tolerance says, “You must agree with me.” Love responds: “I must do something more difficult; I will tell you the truth, because I am convinced that the truth will set you free.”
Tolerance says, “You must allow me to have my way.” Love responds: “I must do something more difficult; I will plead with you to follow God’s way, because I believe you are worth the risk.”
Those who practice “tough love” may be called intolerant, and labeled as bigots–but if truth tellers act justly and exercise lovingkindness–such faithfulness to God will be rewarded .
Biblical love is both soft and hard. We must be willing to demonstrate the whole range of love–if we are to be faithful Christians. Read Eric Brubaker’s thoughtful essay on “The High Cost of True Love” for unique examples of how true love is devoted, honest, and sacrificial.
The High Cost of True Love
1 John 3:11-18
by Eric Brubaker
The title of this message indicates that there are two kinds of love and that there are two price tags for love. True love is very costly and false love is very cheap. This contrast is seen most clearly in two people who were with Jesus in the last few days of His life. Six days before Jesus’ final Passover, Mary of Bethany and her sister Martha and brother Lazarus, hosted a banquet in His honor. While Martha was serving and the guests were mingling, Mary took a jar of costly perfume and anointed Jesus’ feet with it. Scripture says that the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. Jesus understood the depth of love with which Mary acted, and He received her expression as preparation for His burial. According to Mark’s gospel, Jesus said “She has done what she could” (Mark 14:8). But Judas Iscariot was also present that night to witness Mary’s costly gesture. And instead of showing his own gratitude, he complained about Mary’s poor judgment. Mary and Judas were at two opposite ends of the spectrum. Mary expressed costly devotion to Christ and Judas later betrayed Him with a kiss. In these two people are seen the high cost of true love and the cheap expression of hatred.
TRUE LOVE EXPRESSES DEVOTION
An expert in Jewish law questioned Jesus as to which was the greatest commandment. Jesus replied, “Thou shalt love the Lord, thy God, with all thy heart and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (Matthew 22:37-39/KJV). Love is consuming. It requires total commitment: heart, soul and mind. Love is not passive but active.
The story is told of a man named Marcell Sturnberger who used to get into a train every day at 9:09 on the Long Island railroad. He would go to work every weekday, get into that train, and then later get into a subway train and continue on the way to work. One day he was in the middle of the first train ride when he thought of a friend of his who was rather ill, and he thought he should really not go to work that day and instead visit his sick friend. So he got off at another station, took another train and headed in the direction of his sick friend’s home. But as he entered that subway train, it was very crowded. He knew he wasn’t going to get a seat until a man suddenly realized that he had just missed his station and got up from his seat and Marcell Sturnberger made a beeline and sat down in that seat even though there was very little space.
The man next to him opened a Hungarian newspaper and started to read it, and Marcell Sturnberger could read Hungarian. So he looked at the man and said, “Are you looking for a job sir? Is that why you’re reading this newspaper?” And he said, “no. He said, “The truth of the matter is that I am looking for my wife.” He said, “You’re looking for your wife?” “Can you explain to me what you mean?” He said, “Yes sir, but you’re not going to believe why I still think there is a possibility that I might find her.” He said, “My hometown is in Debrecen in Hungary. And he said, “During the war I was taken away by the Russians to the Ukraine to bury the German dead. But while I was gone the Nazis invaded our town and when I returned, they told me my wife along with many others were taken to the concentration camps and probably to Auschwitz. But there is a small thread of hope in my heart that the Americans who came in may have rescued her. And if she was indeed rescued, my hope is that she came to the United States. So every day I’m looking in the newspapers to see if there may be an announcement of my wife wondering if I am still alive too.
All of a sudden Marcell Sturnberger’s heart began to beat faster. It beat very hard because he remembered that he’d been at a gathering some months ago where a woman sitting next to him said her name was Maria Paschan. She said she came from Debrecen and that her husband had been taken away to the Ukraine by the Russians to bury the German dead and that she’d been taken into Auschwitz and had been rescued by the American soldiers. And as he began to listen he began to wonder if there was a distinct possibility that they were talking about her. He put his hand into his wallet and took out the name because he had kept her name, planning to get together in the same gathering of people. And Marcell Sturnberger took out that card and saw the name Maria Paschan with the telephone number and put it back rather covertly and he looked at the man and said, “Sir, what is your name? He said, “My name is Bella Paschan.” He said, “What is your wife’s name?” He said, “My wife’s name is Maria Paschan.” He said, “Mr. Paschan, I do not know whether I should tell you any more than this, but I’d like you to get off at the next station with me, I think I may have some help for you.
They got off at the next station and Marcell Sturnberger began to dial the number while Bella Paschan stood outside. After several rings a voice responded and he said, “Is this Maria Paschan?” and she said, “Yes.” “Maria,” he said, “this is Marcell Sturnberger.” “Do you remember me?” She said, “Yes I do.” He said, “Maria, can you tell me the name of your husband?” She said, “My husband’s name is Bella Paschan.” He said, “Maria, just a moment.” He took the phone and gave it to Bella Paschan and said, “Sir, you are about to witness one of the greatest miracles of your life.” And he took that telephone and said, “Hello.” And it was not more than thirty seconds until he sobbed and sobbed uncontrollably. And all he could say was, “Maria, Maria, Maria, I don’t believe it, I don’t believe it.”
The article ends with these words by Maria: “Even now it is difficult to believe that it happened. We have both suffered so much. I have almost lost the capacity to be not afraid. Each time my husband goes from our house I say to myself,’Will anything happen to him before he comes home again?”‘ Skeptical persons may doubt the events of that memorable afternoon and attribute it to mere chance. But was it chance that made Marcell Sturnberger suddenly decide to visit his sick friend and hence take a subway line that he had never been on before? Was it chance that caused the man sitting by the door to rush out just as Sturnberger came in? Was it chance that caused Bella Paschan to be sitting by Sturnberger reading a Hungarian newspaper? Was it chance, or did God ride the Brooklyn subway that afternoon? True love expresses devotion. The love of God is a love of devotion and those who know Him will express the same ardent affection. The cost for ongoing devotion is very high.
TRUE LOVE SPEAKS THE TRUTH
Honesty is a virtue that is not often found except among the closest of friends. An honest word, a straightforward evaluation, or a true statement can often be uncomfortable. Therefore, we often settle for less than honest relationships. But Scripture plainly says that speaking the truth is a cornerstone in a loving relationship and is a key ingredient for spiritual growth. Ephesians 4:15 states, “Speaking the truth in love we will in all things grow up into Him who is the head, that is, Christ.” A mark of the Christian is a commitment to honesty. In a 1998 article of the Wall Street Journal, Alan Wolfe, a sociologist at Boston University, was quoted as saying, “The unwillingness of Americans to judge one another is one of the great triumphs of the 60s.” But not only are Americans unwilling to judge each other, so is the church. On the one hand we have a Scriptural mandate not to judge one another or we too will be judged (Matthew 7:1). And yet on the other hand Scripture also says, “Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life” (1 Corinthians 6:3).
One of the greatest signs of spiritual collapse is the unwillingness to hear the truth. God told the prophet Isaiah, “These are a rebellious people, deceitful children, children unwilling to listen to the Lord’s instruction. They say to the seers, ‘See no more visions!’ and to the prophets, ‘Give us no more visions of what is right! Tell us pleasant things, prophesy illusions. Leave this way, get off this path, and stop confronting us with the Holy One of Israel!’” (Isaiah 30:9-11). They were free to do their own thing. They were liberated to walk their own path. They had broken loose from the shackles of God’s commands. But we know that in the end a people left to themselves will go astray. Note what happened in the days of the Old Testament judges. “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit” (Judges 21:25). Each did what was right in his own eyes! David said, “Let a righteous man strike me — it is a kindness; let him rebuke me — it is oil on my head. My head will not refuse it.” (Psalm 141:5)
For the Christian the truth must be spoken in love, but it must nonetheless be spoken. The truth without love can be brash and cold. Love without the truth can become mushy and spineless. Flattery should be flat out avoided. Some men came to Jesus and said, “We know that you speak and teach what is right, and that you do not show partiality but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth” (Luke 20:21). Scripture says, “For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten son… (John 3:16). God loved and in that love He spoke the truth. Jesus was the greatest expression of love and yet He came speaking the truth to such an extent that it cost Him His life. The writer in Proverbs says, “He who rebukes a man will in the end gain more favor than he who has a flattering tongue” (Proverbs 28:23). Flattery is nice for the moment, but in the end the truth is more helpful. Flattery is non threatening and nonconfrontive. It avoids failure, and it gives false hope. In fact the Bible says that flattery works ruin (Proverbs 26:28). Flattery is nice for now, but in the end it is a false wall on which to lean. In the end you will find that you have taken the wrong path. In the end you will find out that you have been deceived.
Malcolm S. Forbes said, “Too many people overvalue what they are not and undervalue what they are.” Speaking the truth has a price tag. The truth may cost you your reputation. You may be labeled as cold and insensitive. The truth may cost you a friendship. Speaking the truth may result in rejection. Flattery is self-serving; speaking the truth in love is God serving.
TRUE LOVE IS SELF-SACRIFICING
An article in Reader’s Digest tells the story of a young thirteen year old girl, Dana Bienenfeld, who was on a class trip to Yosemite National Park. And there, as the youngsters fanned out, going their different directions, Dana began climbing the mountain. She climbed steadily for nearly half an hour until she finally realized that she was alone. Being a determined young girl she decided to go it alone. She stepped carefully from rock to rock until she came to a boulder strewn ledge, nearly 15 feet across, that tilted back toward the mountain. She hopped onto the ledge, landing on a melon sized rock. The rock skidded under her foot and she fell face down in a small depression. Trying to get up she felt a sharp pain in her back and legs that took her breath away. Unbeknown to her, she had jostled the rock that was holding a boulder in place and was now trapped beneath its weight. Panic began to seize her as she realized that she was trapped and could only move her head, left foot and right hand. At first she could barely utter a whisper, but finally the boulder settled and she could breathe. “Perhaps,” she thought, “death won’t be so bad.”
She began screaming and was heard by a teacher, and within 20 minutes, Graham Pierce, the Park’s medical clinic administrator, was notified. As Pierce raced through Yosemite Valley, he was strangely tense as he remembered the outcome of a crush victim some months ago. A young man, in his 20s, was trapped under a heavy trailer. He had comforted the victim for over an hour waiting for the equipment to free him. But only seconds after the trailer was lifted, the young man experienced heart failure and died in Pierce’s arms. He climbed to where Dana was trapped and he grimaced when he saw her. She lay headfirst on the downward slope of the ledge with the boulder covering everything but her legs and head. The five ton rock was teetering at an alarming slant. If it rolled even slightly it would crush her skull.
Pierce knew the situation was very grave. By this time other rescue crews had arrived on the scene along with Kieth Lober, the director of the park’s search and rescue team. Trapped for nearly an hour, Dana was reaching hysteria. She screamed for them to get her out. And as Pierce checked her vital signs he tried to reassure her that everything would be okay. But both Pierce and Lober knew that the slightest movement of the boulder in the wrong direction could be fatal for Dana and anyone else around her. The team worked trying to keep her vital signs stable and to slowly secure and lift the boulder. Holes were drilled into it and anchor bolts and ropes were used to hold it in place. A hydraulic tool was positioned under the boulder along with air bags. The team worked with utter precision, knowing that a wrong move could prove deadly.
Within a few minutes everything was in place and the command was issued to pump a small amount of air into the air bags. The boulder rose about a quarter inch, and then began to wobble. Pieces of wood were jammed under the rock and it steadied. The project continued very slowly, each time the boulder moved it was on the verge of rolling. More than three hours after Dana trapped, the rock was finally raised one inch. As the rescue workers gave a gentle tug they felt Dana’s body move. In one last attempt the boulder was raised and Pierce and Lober pulled her out and she was rushed to the Doctor’s Medical Center of Modesto. Dana suffered no broken bones or internal injuries in the ordeal. (This story is recorded in the Reader’s Digest, September, 1999.)
True love is self-sacrificing. Jesus said, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). The greatest test of true love is the extent to which one is willing to sacrifice for another. Words of love are proved with actions of sacrifice. You will remember what God said to Abraham after he had raised the knife to slay Isaac. He said, “Now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me” (Genesis 22:12). Abraham proved his loyalty with his actions. True love is self-sacrificing. The greatest expression of love, where devotion, truth and sacrifice met, was at the cross. The ultimate expression of love is found in Jesus of Nazareth, who left the ivory palaces of heaven to come into this sin cursed world. He made himself of no reputation, taking the form of a servant and humbling himself, became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross (Philippians 2:7-9). This is the high cost of true love. And Scripture says, “The one who says he abides in him ought himself to walk in the same manner as he walked” (1 John 2:6). “We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3:16). Devotion, truth, and sacrifice are found in Christ, and hopefully, increasingly more in us.