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Learning to Love

We often base the success of our marriages on the feelings of our relationship, but we need to rely more on God’s sacrificial love to make marriage work.

I'm going to speak about learning to love. What I have to say may pertain to many of you who are married, but if you're not married, hang in there, because the principles we're talking about apply not only to marriage but all relationships.

People experience misery in marriage for 4 reasons.

Let me begin by asking this question. Why do marriages begin so well and often end so badly? I've been a pastor for a number of years, and no one has yet come to me to say, "Pastor, our great desire in life is to have a miserable marriage. Would you please tell us how we can live in real misery?" No one has ever said that. Amazingly there are some couples whom I have married who are living today in a good deal of misery. Why? Let me give you a few reasons.

First, they are miserable because of unrealistic expectations. Some people actually think marriage is going to make them happy. Here's a young woman who says to herself, "I am going to marry a man whose responsibility is to make me happy." She marries him, and he has responsibilities other than that responsibility. She begins to chip away at him to make him into the kind of man who will make her happy.

It's been said that a bride thinks of three things on her wedding day: the aisle, the altar, and him. Actually it's this: "I'll alter him. I'll make him into the kind of man who can make me happy." I just want to say this: if you are miserable as a single person, it's entirely possible you're going to be miserable married. Marriage does not automatically produce happiness. Some young women don't marry a man; they marry a dream. When the dream shatters, they're shattered, too.

There's a second reason, and that is the myth of the greener grass. J. Allan Petersen has a good book by that name. Some people always live on the slope of a question mark: "If only." A woman thinks to herself, If only I had married another man. If only we had more money. If only we had not had five children in four years. Surely things would be better if . . .

I'm going to tell you very plainly: No marriage is ever happy, no marriage is ever fulfilled for those with "if only" in the back of their minds. If you're married, you're married to that person, and there is no use trying to think of what might have been. No marriage is happy with the myth of the greener grass.

A man walked into a mental institution one day and was taken on a tour. The tour saw one cell where the man was beating his head against the padded walls. He kept saying, "Linda, how could you do it? Linda, how could you do it?" The guide explained that the man was in love with Linda, and when Linda jilted him, he drifted off into the ozone. He couldn't handle it.

They went to the next cell, and there was a man saying, "Linda, Linda, how could this happen? Linda, Linda."

The visitor said, "Who's he?"

The guide said, "He's the man who married Linda." That's the myth of the greener grass.

Number three: Many marriages fail because they misunderstand the role of conflict. Couples get into their first argument, and they think they must have married the wrong person. They thought their marriage was going to be all sweetness and light.

I once met a man who said, "In the forty years we've been married, my wife and I haven't had an argument."

I said to him, "Well, my marriage has not been quite that boring, personally."

I kind of like what that Britisher said when he heard that in the United States there are many divorces because of incompatibility. He made an amazing statement. He said, "I thought incompatibility was one of the purposes of marriages."

That may be true. What if you take two people and bring them together? What else can you expect except incompatibility? God wants us to grow through our incompatibilities.

There's a fourth reason why some people live in misery. their failure to distinguish divine and human love. For this I ask you to turn now to Luke, chapter 6. Jesus is speaking in the Sermon on the Mount.

What I'd like to do is to give you three statements regarding love.

Statement one: If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? (Luke 6:32)

Statement number one:

"If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' lend to 'sinners,' expecting to be repaid in full."

Human love depends on the person who is loved. You do good to those who do good to you. You do a favor for someone who has done a favor for you. As long as he is nice to you, you're nice to him. That's human love. Human love is therefore an attitude or a disposition. It is often laden with heavy feelings because you can't help but liking some people for what they do for you.

There are two ways to be impressed by people. First is their personality. There are some people who just exude love and openness. We've all met people like that. Someone will say, "Oh, you'll just love John, because he's just such a wonderful fellow." A person who has that kind of openness may have other weaknesses, but it's true that everybody loves John. We've all met people to whom we are instantly attracted because of their personality.

The other thing that impresses us about people is appearance. Some people are strikingly beautiful. The minute they walk into the room, every eye is on them because of the magnetism of their looks. Put beauty and magnetism together and you have a tremendously powerful package. Look at people like that, and they make you feel good. They may stimulate you sexually. You're attracted to them. That's human love.

You ask, "Is there anything wrong with human love?" No. It makes the world go round. Some of you should think back to the days when you understood human love a little better. There's only one problem with it. Even though Jesus calls it love, he says sinners love those who love them.

Someone once challenged me, "You should not talk about human love as being love." Jesus does. He says sinners love those who love them. It's human love. The problem is that human love is not strong enough to weather the storms of many marriages. That person no longer may do something for you. Perhaps he's changed and not the person you married.

I was preaching in the Midwest one day, when a woman came to me with a little girl at her side. This woman showed by the cast on her arm and some scars on the side of her face that she had been in the hospital. She said, "I was in the hospital because of a very serious fire. There were burns over of my body. My husband walked into the hospital room, took one look at me, and said, 'You're not the woman I married.' " He left her to marry someone younger and more beautiful.

Human love says, "As long as you stimulate me, as long as I can be proud of you, as long as you're beautiful, I can love you. If you change, my love for you changes."

I heard a song on the radio not too long ago. Here are the words:

I don't love you anymore.

To waste our lives would be a sin.

Please release me, let me go.

Release me and let me love again.

We could say that again and again and again, trying to find somebody who makes us happy. That's human love.

Biblically it is important to marry the right person, but the Bible doesn't say much about that. It stresses being the right person. I know we must seek God's will regarding a mate, but being the right person is where it's at.

Statement two: Love your enemies (Luke 6:27).

Here's a second statement. I told you that human love depends on the one who is loved. Divine love is based on the lover. Look at what Jesus said in verse 27: "But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you."

Jesus is talking about the kind of love that loves enemies. It's not a feeling or a disposition. You can't make yourself feel happy and excited about an enemy. You can't turn feelings off and on like a faucet. Jesus' love is strong enough that you may even love your enemy. Jesus said it involves sacrificial action.

Notice what Jesus said you should do for such a person. It is a kind of love that is divine. "Herein is love; not that we loved God, but that he loved us long before we loved him." That's divine love. It is based on the lover. Notice what the text says divine love does for those who are your enemies.

Perhaps you read the story about a woman and her husband who came to a pastor and said, "We're going to get a divorce, but we want to come to make sure that you approve of it." There are people who come to the pastor hoping that when they say there is no feeling left in their marriage, the pastor will say, "Well, if there's no feeling left. then, the only thing you can do is split."

Instead, the pastor says to the husband, "The Bible says you're to love your wife as Jesus Christ loved the church."

He says, "Oh, I can't do that."

The pastor says, "If you can't begin at that level, then begin on a lower level. You're supposed to love your neighbor as you love yourself. Can you at least love her as you would love a neighbor?"

The husband says, "No. That's still too high a level."

The pastor says, "The Bible says, Love your enemies. Begin there."

Notice what Jesus said we should do for our enemies. This is divine love. In verse 27 he says, "But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you. Give yourself to their legitimate needs. If your enemy thirsts, give him to drink. If he hungers, feed him. You do good to him."

That's important in all relationships and certainly with those who are difficult to love. You should do good to them. It says, "Bless them who curse you." That means you say good things about them rather than bad.

I've been a pastor for a number of years, and I know women often live with men who are really hard to get along with. There's no question about that. Some men are just egocentric and insensitive. They are and difficult. But the temptation is for the woman to tell other people how awful her husband is. I think there is a legitimate place to discuss that with a pastor or a counselor. Often though, she is not blessing her husband. She is speaking ill of him in certain contexts to people who are neither a part of the problem nor a part of the solution. Therefore, she may be undermining something that God wants to do, because the Bible says what you should do is bless him.

A woman came to a lawyer and said, "I want to get a divorce. I really hate my husband, and I want to hurt him. Give me some advice." In addition to wanting to get the gold and give him the shaft, she was wondering about some other way that she might do him in.

The attorney said, "Look, you're going to divorce the guy anyway, so for three months don't criticize him. Speak only well of him. Build him up. Every time he does something nice, commend him for it. Tell him what a great guy he is, and do that for three months. After he thinks that he has your confidence and love, hit him with the news and it will hurt more."

The woman thought, "I can't go wrong on this. I'm divorcing the guy anyway. Why should I speak badly about him anymore? I'm going to speak only well of him."

So, she complimented her husband for everything he did. For three months she told him what a great man he was. You know what happened to that relationship? After three months, they forgot about the divorce and went on a second honeymoon.

Jesus says, "Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who mistreat you." Do good to them. Bless them.

How should we pray for our enemies? Should we pray that God will bring them into judgment? I don't think that that's the kind of praying Jesus wants us to do in relationship to our enemies. What Jesus wants us to do is to be able to say in prayer to him, "O God, I pray that you might mightily bless this person. I pray that he might be led to worship you. I pray for his spiritual growth." Uphold them positively in prayer, because God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy. That's what the text says we should do to our enemies. We should do them well.

Let me say to those husbands who are listening. I talked about divine love involving sacrificial action, doing good, blessing, praying. Do you know what else it may mean in relationship to your wife? It may mean giving that sacrificial action, answering her need for communication. You know that women are made by God to desire a man who communicates with them. They need time, love, and appreciation. They need to feel wanted.

I remember counseling a young woman involved in an immoral, sexual relationship. She said, "It wasn't because I enjoyed that relationship so much. I just wanted to mean something to somebody." That's the cry of many marriage partners today, of both men and women. They want to mean something to somebody. Wives desire to mean something to their husbands. The question for those of us who are married is whether we are willing to give the time, the love, and the sacrificial action to recognize that our first responsibility is to our spouse, in maintaining that love relationship. That is divine love.

Divine love says, "I may not need this, but you need it, and I put your needs and your desires above my own." That's very difficult to do, but that's what God expects us to do for one another: sacrificial action. That's divine love.

Human love is based on the one who is loved. I can love you because of what you do for me, but divine love is based on the lover. Divine love says, "I can be sacrificially involved in your life even at high cost, and even if I don't get anything in return."

Even the Mafia have a code of ethics that says if you do something for me, I'll do something for you. That's human love. Divine love says, "I can go on loving even if you don t reciprocate."

Statement three: Love your enemies you will be sons of the Most High (Luke 6:35).

Here's a third statement: Divine love is based on the nature of God. Look at what it says in verse 35: "But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked."

We all pray, "O God, make me ." When people come into our lives who are difficult to love, we don't see it as an opportunity to grow in . We want to get rid of them. I hope that's not true in your marriage or in your work relationships where there are people who are hard to love. What you should say is, "Oh God, thank you for this opportunity for spiritual growth."

Now, let's bring this down to concrete terms. There are a lot of things when we talk about divine and human love that impinge upon reality. Forgiveness, for example, though not stated explicitly in this text, is certainly implied.

I know a young woman who got married but found she could not relate to her husband. As a child, her stepfather sexually molested her for a number of years. That experience had made it difficult to have any kind of physical love. A molested child may not like to be touched, even though the thing that they need the most is to be touched and to be hugged.

But this young woman was transferring all of the revulsion and the hatred for her stepfather toward her husband because of the depths of her shame and bitterness.

She came to a pastor, and he pointed her to Luke 6. He said, "What does the Bible say that you should do to your enemies?"

She looked at verse 27 and said, "Love them, do good, bless them, and pray for them."

The pastor said, "That's what you have to do about your stepfather. Until you release all of the feelings of bitterness and you are free in your relationship with him, you will never be free to love your husband."

Every fiber of her being revolted against such advice. She thought to herself, Why should I forgive him? Why should I love him when all of those awful things were done to me?

Yet this young woman decided to apply this text of Scripture. She decided to bake her stepfather a birthday cake. Rather than speaking evil of him, she decided to speak well of him. Upon further reflection, she realized that there were many good things she could say about him. In spite of this horrible sin against her, the fact was that in many other ways he was a good father. She began to think about those ways and speak well of him rather than evil. She decided that she would pray for him three times a day, that God would bless him, and that's what she did.

Several weeks went by as she continued to obey the Scriptures and to forgive the man who had so severely wronged her. She told the pastor later that she saw her stepfather leave a supermarket and walk across the parking lot with a bag of groceries in his arms. For the first time in all those years, there were actually feelings of love toward him rather than revulsion. She said that except for their previous relationship, she could have gone and put her arms around him.

Then she made the crucial statement that was very important to the survival of her marriage: "Now I'm free to love my husband."

The Bible says that the fruit of the Spirit is predominantly love. You may find that you are absolutely unable to love. That is not too serious if you see the love of God as being shed abroad in your heart by the Holy Ghost. You can tap supernatural resources to enable you to love the unlovable and the unlikable.

Jesus said, "By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." We do not have it naturally, but supernaturally God gives us the ability to love with divine love—to love as God loves.

I'm sure there are hurting couples with torn relationships and emotions in a state of convulsion. I urge you in the name of Jesus to confess and forsake hatred; by God's grace and strength learn to love.

Dr. Erwin Lutzer is senior pastor of The Moody Church in Chicago. He is also the featured speaker on "The Moody Church Hour" and on the popular evening program "Songs in the Night."

(c) Erwin Lutzer

Preaching Today Tape #99


A resource of Christianity Today International

Erwin Lutzer is senior pastor of Moody Church, Chicago, Illinois

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Sermon Outline:


I. People experience misery in marriage for four reasons

II. Statement one

If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? (Luke 6:32)

III. Statement two

Love your enemies (Luke 6:27)

IV. Statement three

Love your enemies?you will be sons of the Most High (Luke 6:35)