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Love is More Than a Feeling

For a word that we use so often, love is a very difficult word for us to define. I looked up love in the dictionary on my shelf, and found that it is both a noun and a verb. It has eleven different definitions. Love has to do with God. It has to do with sex. It has to do with romance. It even has to do with tennis. So there's a pretty wide range of what the definitions are.

I tried to picture a young couple, dating, attracted to each other. He schedules a romantic evening. They go to a restaurant that's really too expensive for him to afford. Afterwards they go out on a warm, moonlit night, and sit on a park bench overlooking the lake. He puts his arm around her and he realizes that tens of millions of times men have said to women "I love you." And somehow he is fearful that she would not get all that was meant and the full definition of what was said. And so he looks into her eyes, and having checked it out in the dictionary, he says, "I have tender and passionate affections for you as a member of the opposite sex." Somehow, it doesn't quite capture all that love is about, and it breaks the romance of the moment.

In English we have only one word for love. I think that unfortunate. The ancient Hebrews had the same dilemma. 'Ahab was the ancient Hebrew word, and all different shades of love had to be captured in that single term. The Greeks had far more. Storge was probably one of the most frequent uses of love that the Greeks had in their language. It referred to the love between a parent and a child, especially between a mother and a child.

But then they had a different word for the kind of love that two best of friends would have. Not a romantic love, but an attraction, a commonality, a compassion for the other. Phileo was the word that they used. I thought to myself, it's too bad we don't have another word like that in English. If you have a very good friend, someone with whom you share the ups and downs of life, we are so reluctant to look that person in the eye or write a note that says "I love you." We're fearful that it may somehow construe meanings that we do not intend. So, because we don't have a word for it, we don't bother to say it.

The Greeks had yet another word for a very strong passion of attraction: eros. Although they originally used it to refer to other than sexual attractions, that became the primary meaning of the word. Eros is a word of passion that means someone is drawn to another person sexually. We have, in a sense, a way of saying that because in our vocabulary we sometimes refer to sexual intercourse as "making love."

Agape loves as is.

They had still another word in Greek. The word, interestingly, was one that they didn't use very often, and is especially infrequent in Greek literature that we can read from those ancient times. It was the Greek word agape, and it was in many ways quite different from the other terms for love that the Greeks used. It wasn't really centered in the relationship to the other person or in the attractiveness of the other person; but was more centered on the person who does the loving.

While the others are very heavy on emotion, certainly agape has its emotional basis and part to it—but agape was more than feeling. When the Greeks used the word they talked especially about action, doing something that is for the benefit of another individual. Actually, all these types of love are gifts from God. Some people abuse them. Some people misunderstand them. But in original design and intent, every type of love was a gift that God gave for us to enjoy and for the enjoyment of others.

We love our children because they are related to us, because we bonded with them from the earliest days. We love our best friends because we get lots from friendships. We express love sexually because we're physically attracted to another person and because we receive pleasure and satisfaction out of a sexual relationship. All good, all designed by God.

agape is different. It is not based on whether the other person is attractive or not. He may be, she might be, but agape is more rooted in the person who is doing the loving. agape love is just great to get. And it is supernatural to give. I think that it is great to get because everyone loves to be loved. I do. You know, I sometimes stand in front of a group of people and I am fearful of making broad generalizations because I think to myself "there is someone here who that does not apply." But, surely, in the case of being loved, that is a universal.

Every single one of us wants it. Some of us just want to be held. Others of us will be glad just to be touched. Others of us want to be important to someone. We want it to matter whether we come in late or don't come home at all at night. We want to have someone who will stand up for us and believe in us. The problem with all of these things is that so much is dependent upon our desirability.

If we look good, we are sexually attractive. If we behave as we are supposed to behave then maybe we'll have friends who will like us and will hang out with us. If we meet our parents' expectations, or at least what we think to be our parents' expectations, then maybe they'll approve, then maybe they'll love us.

But wouldn't it be great to just to be loved for myself? I don't have to look good. I don't have to say the right things. I don't have to be in the right places. I don't have to have money, or power, or any of the things that other people want to get. Wouldn't it be great just to be loved for being me? Even if someone knew everything about me that I know about myself? Even when I say the stupidest things or when I'm inappropriate? Wouldn't it be great to just be loved any way, "as is"?

There is only one type of love that loves us "as is." That is agape love. It is a love that has, as its exclusive source, God himself. The New Testament says that "very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person. Though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this, while we were still sinners Christ died for us." That's right, you know. There aren't many of us that would die for somebody else. I don't know about you, but if I had to make a list, it would be a short list.

Every now and then you'll find a parent that will die for a child or a child for a parent. Every now and then you might find two very good friends, one of whom might be willing to actually step in front of a gun to take the bullet for the other. You'll find occasionally those storybook romances where he will die for her or she will die for him. Once in a while, but you know that's not typical. That's not normal. It takes an unusual love in an unusual person for a very good person to be willing to die.

If a parent has spent a lifetime of nothing but hassle with a child, if that child has maligned that parent and hurt that parent and left scars all over that parent's life—I'll tell you that parent is not very likely to want to die for that child. Two people have been very close friends, but one has betrayed the other. Maybe bankrupted the other. Ripped the other person off. Don't expect after that kind of behavior that the other person is going to die for you. Maybe a couple once was in love, all doe-eyed and romantic, but perhaps one spouse abused another, someone committed adultery, or it ended in divorce—hardly are they about to die for each other. It would be, I think, virtually unthinkable that someone would die for an individual who is bad.

Yet, that is exactly the way God has loved us. He loved us in spite of our rebellion against him. He loved us knowing every bad thing about every one of us. God demonstrated his love for us in this, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us, "as is."

Yesterday, I read through the classified section of the newspaper for used cars. There are a number of cars that are for sale "as is." It is just fascinating to read them. Things like "no transmission," or, for those that want to say things nicely, "good interior," which probably means that there's no exterior at all, that it was just completely rusted and blown away in the wind. Just nothing left. And I thought to myself, do people really buy these things? Do people buy cars that don't have engines and transmissions, or exteriors? What do they do with them?

Last December Charlene and I were shopping around for a minivan. We went to a Dodge dealership and there was a 1993 Dodge Caravan, used, terrific price, 3,000 miles on it. It was incredible. It was just wonderful. So I talked to the salesmen about it and he mentioned that the previous owners didn't really like the car and had made Chrysler Corporation buy it back under the Lemon Law. We didn't think long about this. We didn't drive it and we didn't even look inside it. It seems to me that over my lifetime I have already had my share of lemons. Why would I buy a car upfront that has lemon on the windshield? Sign a paper knowing that I was getting that kind of a car? So, we just had no interest in it at all.

The amazing thing about God is not only that he loves us, but that he loves us "as is." More than that, the amazing thing is not that God buys us, even though we are lemons. What is amazing is that God pays top price! Nobody pays top price for a car that is "as is." Nobody goes and buys a lemon knowingly and pays full book—much less pays above the sticker price. And yet, that is precisely what the love of God is all about. He knew that we were rotten inside and out. That we were lemons was written all over us, and he paid the highest price of all. He paid the price of his own son's life.

The best that we can give.

That is what agape love is. And it is outrageous. It is outrageous love. The agape love of God not only loves us "as is," but agape love is all about God loving us in what he does. It's not like the person who says I love you and then behaves in a contrary way. I think we've probably all been hurt by people like that. People who have said "I love you" but its just words. There's nothing to it. There is no behavior that connects. Of course, there has to be emotion. And who would not think that God has great emotion toward us?

But the wonder is that he acts. In 1 John 4:9 it says, "This is how God shows his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we love God but that he loved us and sent his son as an atoning sacrifice for us." That is not natural behavior. Not natural. It's not natural to love someone who doesn't love you. It's not natural to give your very best when you could get by with a lot less. It's not natural to love someone who doesn't even care. And it is not natural to give everything when there is absolutely no guarantee that you will receive anything in return.

It's not natural, it's supernatural. It is the best that we can get. God loves us. How then do we handle that? How do we respond? What do we do with it? What difference does that make in our lives? Well, this love that is the best we can get is also the best that we can give.

One day a very smart lawyer walked up to Jesus and asked him a clever, penetrating question. Jesus' answer in Matthew 22:37 was this, the best thing you can do is "'Love the Lord your God with all you heart and with all your soul and with all you mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'" So the best thing that we can do in life is love like God.

Loving others means loving them "as is." It means loving the lemons. It means loving them even if they hate us. It means loving them on the basis of the love that comes out of us rather than anything that is particularly attractive about them or their behavior. And it means loving them whether they want to be loved or not. It is the greatest opportunity that we can have. Because in this opportunity we can love like God. In this opportunity we can be like God. In this opportunity we can have the love of God completed in us.

1 John 4:12 says that "No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us." Fascinating! No one has ever seen God, but the way people can see God is when they see the love of God in us as exhibited in relationship to other people. And then the love of God is made complete in us. That is a line from the Bible that I expect most of us would skip over.

Near Christmas time many of us put up these lights that are wired in series. The electricity comes into the wire then comes into the bulb, the first bulb, and then goes up through the bulb and its filament and then back into the line on to the next bulb and so on through the entire chain of lights. And as it flows, not only into each of those lights but out of each of those lights, then the entire circuit is completed and the string of lights is bright. If there is a light that's loose or a filament that's broken then it receives the electricity but it doesn't pass it along to others.

There's a sense in which that is the way that God has wired us. He has wired us to receive the love of God but he has also wired us to pass it along to others. That's why this line is in the New Testament. His love is made complete in us. That's what's bright and great, and it's a wonderful opportunity. Our wonderful opportunity, not only to get the love of God, but also to give the love of God. Not only to be loved, but to love as God has loved us. Jesus said that getting and giving love is the greatest evidence that a person is a Christian.

Probably all of us at one time or another wonder if we're really Christians. It's a fairly frequent question for people to ask. There are people who, maybe thirty years earlier made some kind of verbal commitment to Jesus Christ, maybe they've been active within the Christian community all their lifetime, say to me, "You know I'm really not sure if I'm a Christian or not." Or I hear people say, "I'm getting into a business partnership" or "I'm thinking about marrying someone and I need to know for sure that other person is a disciple of Jesus Christ." You know it is not dependent on church membership. It's not dependent on any denomination. It's not dependent on money or a whole lot of things that a lot of people seem to think are all connected as evidence of a person being a Christian.

That's not what Jesus said at all. In John 13, Jesus said that we are to: "Love one another as I have loved. So you must love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples if you love one another." That's how you tell. That's how we tell about ourselves. That's how we tell about others. Whether or not this love of God flows out of us.

Let me tell you what I think is supposed to happen next. Now, with all this having been said, I'm supposed to tell people, "All right, go love somebody. That's what you're supposed to do." I'll give you some suggestions on how to do that, and you can write them down, or at least remember them. And then I'm supposed to say to you, "Who are you going to love? Who are the lemons in your life?" That's the easy part, most of us can think of several. Then there's this whisper inside of us that sometimes becomes a shout. It's says, "I've tried that. And I'll tell you I don't need the guilt. I don't need the guilt because I'm just not very good at that. Not very good at loving other people that aren't very lovely and aren't very lovable."

So, I'll tell you what, don't even bother trying. I mean that. Don't even try it because it doesn't work. It simply doesn't work to go and try this business of loving other people in this way—not if we don't have the love of God inside of us. I think that what has run so far amuck in our lives is that we, on empty, are trying to siphon off and somehow give this love to other people, and we don't have it to give.

Instead, I would suggest that you just get loved up by God. Get filled up with his love. Until you are so full of the love of God that it just oozes out all over everybody that is around. For that, I can make some suggestions. I suggest, if you haven't tried it before, to start reading the New Testament. Pick any place you want in it, start at the beginning or the middle. Instead of trying to get the story and figure out what everything means, just look for the love of God for you. Maybe even memorize some of the lines that there you find.

I suggest praying. Maybe sit down in a chair. I've done it, actually, lying down on the floor. Don't look at the clock in the beginning so you know what time it is. Hold your hands open and up. And just sense the love of God "as is." You don't have to pretend. You don't have to be anybody. You don't have to do anything. Just experience and receive that love in your life.

I suggest thanking him. Thanking God for the love that he has. No pretense. No measuring up. Just thank you. I suggest telling him several thousand times "Thank you. Thank you for the love. The love you have for me." Just let God love you. Love you. Love you.

In fact, I'd suggest starting it right now. Just start this very minute then make it a priority this week and the rest of life to value the love of God in your life. It's the best you can get. And when you experience that kind of love; understand what it really is. Then open up and let it fly. Let it fly and love others.

For Your Reflection

Personal growth: How has this sermon fed your own soul? ___________________________________________

Skill growth: What did this sermon teach you about how to preach? ____________________________________________________________________________

Exegesis and exposition: Highlight the paragraphs in this sermon that helped you better understand Scripture. How does the sermon model ways you could provide helpful biblical exposition for your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________

Theological Ideas: What biblical principles in this sermon would you like to develop in a sermon? How would you adapt these ideas to reflect your own understanding of Scripture, the Christian life, and the unique message that God is putting on your heart? ____________________________________________________________________________

Outline: How would you improve on this outline by changing the wording, or by adding or subtracting points? _____________________________________________________________________

Application: What is the main application of this sermon? What is the main application of the message you sense God wants you to bring to your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________

Illustrations: Which illustrations in this sermon would relate well with your hearers? Which cannot be used with your hearers, but they suggest illustrations that could work with your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________

Credit: Do you plan to use the content of this sermon to a degree that obligates you to give credit? If so, when and how will you do it?

Leith Anderson is president emeritus of the National Association of Evangelicals and Baptist pastor emeritus of Wooddale Church in Eden Prairie, Minnesota.

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Sermon Outline:


The Greeks had several words for "love."

I. Agape loves as is.

II. The best that we can give.


Instead of suggesting that you go out and love, I would suggest that you just get loved up by God.