Love Supreme

Scripture: Deuteronomy 6:5, 1 Corinthians 13:1-13
Date: 02/11/2012 
What are your dreams? What is in your bucket list? What would you like to do before you die? The most important thing you can do before you die? Love. God is love and nothing is more significant than to love like God loves. Pastor Batchelor talks about the different words for love in the New Testament.
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Note: This is a verbatim transcript of the live broadcast. It is presented as spoken.

I always feel like I’m treading on holy ground when I have the audacity to talk about the subject of love. I do it not because I feel like I’m an expert, because the longer I’m a Christian, I actually become more painfully aware how little I love. So as time goes by, I think like I am the least qualified to talk about it, but what’s really happening, the better I get to know God, the more majestic and pure and incredible I realize love—and His love—really is, I realize how far I am from it. But I need to talk to you about this because it is, as the sermon implies, the supreme thing. I titled the message today “Love Supreme,” not to be confused with something like Burrito Supreme. I could have called it “Supreme Love,” but I wanted love to be the first word.

If you read the Conflict of the Ages series—you know what I’m talking about? I’m talking about the books Patriarchs and Prophets, Prophets and Kings, The Desire of Ages, Acts of the Apostles, The Great Controversy. The first word you’re going to find in the first edition is “God is love.” You read through that entire inspired commentary, and you get to the end of The Great Controversy, and you know what the last three words are? “God is love.” It’s all about the love of God. The primary thing for us as Christians is love, and that really is what I want to talk about.

I learned something interesting this week. I was looking at amazing facts, and I haven’t used this one yet. You’re going to get it first here. Sometimes you get them after I recycle them on the radio program, but I came across this; talked about Nola Ochs. May 14, 2007, she graduated from college at age 95. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, she became the oldest person to graduate, and she received her bachelor degree from the Governor Kathleen Sebelius at Fort Hays State in Kansas. That was 77 years after she took her first class in 1930.

That’s a long time to be in school. No, I think she went back. She shared the adventure of graduating next to her 22-year-old granddaughter Alexandria. What would you feel like if you graduated from college with your grandma? That would be unusual. Then, after taking some time that summer to help with the family’s wheat harvest (she’s in Kansas), Nola continued her education to pursue her master’s degree in liberal studies, and she started that in August 2007 at the age of 95. She then received her master’s degree on May 15th, 2010, making her the oldest recipient of a master’s degree in the world, as far as we know, at age 98. Nola was born in 1911. She commented, “I’ve led a long and interesting life. We went through the dust storms in Kansas. We had some difficult times in our marriage and financially. But it’s been the Lord’s will that I’ve lived this long, and I thank Him kindly for it.” Something she always wanted to do is get her college degree, and so she set her sights on it and would not give up.

Have you all heard about a bucket list? I didn’t know what that was until a few years ago, and someone had to tell me. You always think, “What do I want to get done before I die?” A lot of college students are doing this now, and sometimes as people get into their 40s and 50s, they get restless and they think, “I’ve been chained to this desk or this workstation for years, or my job, or my family, and I’ve never traveled, and there are things I want to do.” So sometimes people say, “You need to make a list and start checking off those things you want to do,” and it’s amazing how many different things people might put in their bucket list.

Some say, “I want to climb Mount Everest.” I have a friend. She’s a member of this church, and when she was 60 years old, she said, “I want to climb Mount Kilimanjaro,” and she flew to Africa and did it. That was something she just wanted to do. Other people say, “I really want to see Hawaii before I go.” Other people say, “Before I die, I want to jump out of an airplane with a parachute on.” As a matter of fact, some decide to do that the last day of their life. How many of you remember when President Bush Sr., he jumped out of an airplane? Of course, he was a pilot in World War II, and he had to parachute when his plane was shot down to save his life. But then several times subsequently he jumped out of airplanes in a parachute, and I think he was 85 the last time. That’s pretty gutsy. But you would think the longer you live the less you have to lose. If you are going to jump out of a plane, you want to save that till the very end.

Do you have anything on your list? Part of what I think, the way my mind works, we’re going to live forever in heaven. Compared to heaven, what’s this world? But then I also think, since this world won’t be around anymore once Jesus comes and He’s going to make an earth made new, there might be some things I’d like to see that are there now that you may not see later, unless it’s some heavenly DVD that they have for you to look at. So I have a few things I’d like to do.

I used to have a goal that I wanted to go visit all of the 50 states before I died. Now I have been stuck on 49 states for years. Alaska was one I had never been to. Karen and I finally went to Alaska, and I’ve never been to North Dakota, and I just can’t find a really good excuse. I keep trying to find some reason to go, and I’m not going to buy a plane and just get off the plane and say, “Okay, I’ve been here now.” If you’re from North Dakota, please don’t take that personally, but it’s really cold there and it’s kind of out of the way. I don’t usually fly to any place through North Dakota. I have a lot of places I stop. Do you have some stuff on your list? How many of you have a few things you’d like to do? Renee, you want to share with us?

[Renee: Sure.]


[Renee: I want to go to Africa and see…]

You want to go to Kilamanjaro?

[Renee: Yes, I do!]

I’ve never seen that. I’d like to see Victoria Falls. Anyone else? What’s on your list? Tell me really quick. Yes, Elizabeth?

[Elizabeth: I want to drive a semi truck before I die.]

You want to drive a semi truck? You all stay off the sidewalk. Well, that’s great. That’s a great thing. If you want to do it, then bless your heart! We’re going to have to try and make that happen for you!

[Unnamed 1: I have one in the parking lot.]

You have one in the parking lot? How’s your insurance?

Anyone else? What’s on your bucket list really quick? Joe?

[Joe: I would like to develop something for the Holy Land.]

You want to do something for the Holy Land like an evangelistic program?

[Joe: Like an evangelist program for the Holy Land.]

That’s kind of on my list. That’s not really my bucket list, but I’d like to do a meeting in Jerusalem someday. That would be fun to do some meetings there. But I thought you’d have something more exotic. I have a friend; he wanted to go to Antarctica, and he made it. What do you have?

[Unnamed 2: It’s not exotic, but I want my Radio Flyer so I can go pass out socks.]

You want to get a Radio Flyer wagon? So you can go pass out socks? Well, that should be achievable. Some things are harder than others. For instance, part of the thing on my list you’ve heard me share before, I want to go to space. That’s a little more expensive. But I always thought I’d love to go up on the shuttle, the Space Station. That to me sounds like it would be so much fun. They’re working on developing a program for space tourism. What’s on your list?

[Unnamed 3: I’d like to read to children again.]

You want to read to children again? Well, that’s something you should be able to do. That’s easy I think. There are a lot of things. What’s on your list?

[Unnamed 4: I’d like to fly with you.]

You want to fly with me? Well, it depends on who the pilot’s going to be. (He’s a pilot, I know.) What’s your dream?

[Unnamed 5: I would like to see a Seventh-day Adventist clinic here in Sacramento through the health ministry.]

You’d like to see a clinic here in town through the health ministry. That’s a noble goal. So we all have these dreams. Go ahead, Jan, one more; you’re it.

[Jan: I’d like to go on safari.]

You want to go on a safari. All right. Can that be like the American River, or you want it somewhere more exotic than that? Oh, in Africa! When everyone says “safari,” they think Africa, but it could be the Amazon. I knew what you meant.

So when you think about, “What do I want to do in my life? What are my goals? What’s the most important thing I can accomplish?” What’s in your bucket list?

A lot of people think, especially when they’re young—you go do weeks of prayer, and you talk to the young people and say, “What are your dreams?” Some have very average things. They say, “I want to get married, have a baby,” and that’s the dream. The Lord sort of puts those things, and others say, “I want to make a lot of money. I want to be rich.” Let’s face it. You’ve probably run into people, that was their dream—some young people. Buy all the toys. Others think, “I want to have a fast car” or “I want to have a penthouse apartment in New York,” and everyone has all these different dreams of what they want and what they want to achieve and what they want to own or do or see or meet before they die.

Well, let me tell you what I think the most important thing is. Well, it’s in the title of the sermon. It’s to love. If you say at the end of your life, and you look back over the course of your life, and you say, “What have I done?” what is the most important thing that you might achieve in your life? Alfred, Lord Tennison wrote that poem, and part of the poem says, “I hold it true, whatever befall; I feel it, when I sorrow most; 'tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” The most important thing is love.

If you go through your life, and at the end of your life you can say, “I’ve been to all 50 states…” I know one person, their goal was to climb the seven tallest mountains in the world, and they did it. Some have died trying. Other people’s goals are, they want to go to all seven continents, and some people want to sail in all the major seven seas. A lot of people have tried to achieve different goals, and they’ve done it. Some have wanted to make a lot of money. Some have wanted to own their own Mercedes or Bentley or Bugatti or Lamborghini—pick your car. But at the end of your life when you think about what you’ve achieved, whether it’s to have a loving family or to have a good job or to own your own home and have it paid off, and that’s your goal, I think that you have a pretty sad bucket list, unless your supreme goal is the supreme thing according to Jesus.

The most important thing is that we can learn to love like God. We must experience God’s love because that’s why you were made. You were created, not to climb mountains, though you can. You were not created for the purpose of flying, though that’s fun. We were not created for making money per se, or any of these things. We’re created in God’s image, and God is—what is God? God is love. And if we’re made in the image of God and we don’t have the love of God, then we are missing the most important thing we were created for. But most people in the world miss it. How sad to go through your whole life and miss the supreme thing—to love with God’s love.

I’m not talking about the kind of love that parents have for their children. There’s sort of an instinctive love. It’s almost like loving yourself, really, because they’re a part of you. Even animals, let’s face it; chickens will—and chickens are called chickens because they’re fraidy cats. People will say that you’re yellow because it’s like a chicken, not that all chickens are yellow. They are supposed to be frightened of things, but a mother chicken will lay down its life to protect its young. So it’s even natural for a chicken to love its chicks. We’re not talking about that kind of love.

I was just yesterday walking across the Bel Air parking lot to pick up some pants that had been adjusted at the cleaner’s, that I’m wearing right now. I hope they’re okay. A lady and a man were crossing the parking lot who I’ve never met before, and she said, “Don’t you love it?” She said it very directly to me, and I’m trying to be friendly. I said, “Yeah, what?” And her husband said, “She meant your car.” They had seen me just get out of my Audi station wagon. Her husband said, “She’s got an Audi. She just loves it. Don’t you just love it?” And I said, “Well, yeah, I love it,” and then I went on down to the cleaner’s. And I thought to myself, “We use that word love… I don’t love my car.” If you were to give me a new BMW, I’d probably trade you. So it’s not love. I’m not going to trade my kids for a new one. So it’s a different kind of love. We use that word pretty loosely, don’t we? Some people say, “I love pizza. I love this, I love that.” The word love, when God talks about His love is a very different thing, and the more I read about it and the more I look at the life of Jesus, the less I realize that I understand what it is.

There are more than 400 times you are going to find the word love in the Bible, in the Old and the New Testaments. Especially in the New Testament, there are four words that are typically used to describe love. Let’s talk about them for just a minute. We’ve done this before. You have philia, and it’s not like Fillet of Soul, I’m talking about phileo, or brotherly love. You’ve heard of Philadelphia. It’s supposed to be the City of Brotherly Love, they say. Here’s the definition. Phileo means “friendship or an affectionate love.” It’s a dispassionate or a virtuous love. It includes loyalty to friends and family and community. It’s kind of a civil love. It requires virtue, equity, and familiarity. In the ancient texts, philos denoted a general type of love used for love between family and friends, a desire or enjoyment—an activity. You might say, “I love volleyball.” You might use that word. You only find that word a few times in the Bible. By the way, the last time the word love is used in the Bible, in Revelation chapter 3 in one of the messages to the church, it’s the phileo word that’s used.

Then you have the word eros in the Bible for love, and that’s a more of a passionate, romantic love between a man and a woman. It often has a connotation of a sensual desire or a longing, and by the way, that’s when you think of the word erotic, it’s connected with that Greek word eros. But it wasn’t used in a negative way so much in the Greek writings. It can be interpreted as a love for someone who you love more than the phileo kind of love. It might refer to the love, for instance, in a dating relationship as well as marriage.

Then you have the word storge, which means “an affection” in modern Greek. It’s a natural affection like that felt for parents for their offspring, and it’s almost exclusively a descriptor of relationships within family.

Finally, you get to the most common word employed in the New Testament for love, and that’s agapeo or agape. We’ve talked about having Agape feasts. It’s the Greek word for love that is frequently used. It means an unconditional love or a divine love. It refers to a general affection or a deeper sense, the true love, rather than the attraction of eros or even phileo. Agape is used in ancient texts to denote feelings of deep love for children or a spouse that goes beyond anything that might be romantic. Before agape love, there was no other word to express that love. Agape is used in the biblical passages in the love chapter. 1 Corinthians 13, when you find the word love there, it’s agape love.

I want you to know that the Bible tells us that the supreme objective of our lives is to love. The purpose of the plan of salvation is to restore in us the image of God. God is love. The devil has come to erase love from us. If any objective in your life is more important than your loving like God loves, then it’s inferior. God wants us to learn to love like Him. Why? Because He wants to be loved? No, because you will never be happy unless you become what He created you to be. God is love; He wants us to love. The whole purpose of the cross is—what are the great commandments? Love the Lord and your neighbor. As a matter of fact, let’s go to that, the supreme directive.

Matthew 22:36, someone came to Jesus and, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” Tell us the most supreme thing. “Jesus said…, ‘“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the first and great commandment.’” There’s a second one, and He says “‘the second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.’” The Law and the Prophets doesn’t just mean the Ten Commandments. The Law and the Prophets is the Word of God. It’s all the writings of the law and the prophets. All of it hangs upon this central, supreme truth that the great commandment is to love God the way He commands us to love Him—a love that is a love with all.

We often become discouraged because we don’t feel like we’re obeying God the way we ought to obey God. You know why? We don’t love with all. We don’t love the way He wants us to love. We have problems in our relationships. It’s not only among church members, but it’s even more severe sometimes in marriages. Why? Because we don’t have that love of God. Because if we have the love of God shed abroad in our hearts, it’s a whole lot easier to love each other at that point. This is the central thing that we should all be pursuing.

Of course, Jesus was quoting Moses. Deuteronomy 6:5, he said, “‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God … is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul….” If you really love the Lord with all your heart, do you have any love left for your car? If you love the Lord with all of your heart, then what else is there room for? Love for anything else first has to go through your love for God, because that takes all the room up. Everything else you do is going to be governed by your love for God if you love Him with all.

Matthew 10:37. Now this is where it gets a little bit scary. Jesus said, “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me.” He didn’t say you can’t love your father and mother. He said, If you love them more, you’re not worthy of Me. You can’t be My disciple.” You have to know the love of God has to be top. “He who loves son or daughter…” That means generationally, you can look up at your parents, you can look down at your children, you’re somewhere in the middle. I suppose it’s true you can look sideways at your cousins and siblings, and Jesus is saying, “If you love anybody more than you love Me, you are not loving them correctly.”

Does that make sense? Do you get that? If there’s anybody that you love more than God, and I’ve heard people say, “Pastor Doug, I would be in church more, but I know God wants me to honor my husband, and he doesn’t want to go, and because I love my husband…” or, “My parents don’t really want me to go, and so because I love my parents, I have to…” Well, you’re not loving them right because if you love anybody more than you love God, you don’t love them correctly. You’re not only doing a disservice to yourself, you’re doing a disservice to the ones you claim to love, to love them more than God. That is loving the gift more than the One who gives you the gift. Isn’t it kind of materialistic to love a gift more than the one who gives it? Who made everybody? Then, to love the thing more than the Creator is backwards. Love for God needs to be the top thing. Above everything else should be love for God. Let me read this to you.

“Above all things…” There’s a song, “Above all power…” That’s all I remember. “Above all thrones…” We sing it in our family worship sometimes. But that actually comes from some scripture. One of them is 1 Peter 4. Do you have your Bibles? I’m not putting these on the screen. I want you to look them up so you can find them again later. 1 Peter 4:7, 8, “But the end of all things is at hand.” Is that true today? “Therefore be serious [be sober] and watchful in your prayers.” And here it is. This is from the Apostle Peter. “And above all things have … love,” no, “have fervent love for one another.” Above all things is love. Fervent love. I’d like to think I love you. I don’t know that I can say I love you fervently. I want to, I know I need to, and I don’t feel bad telling you that because I’m not so sure you love me fervently, either. But it’s a kind of love that we’re supposed to have for each other. It’s a fervent love. The Christian father Tertullian remarked in his writings (he lived back in the days shortly after the apostles), and he said that the pagans declared of the Christians, “Behold how they love each other!” There was a fervent love they had for one another. “Above all things have fervent love for one another, for ‘love will cover a multitude of sins.’”

If you’re going to do anything that you think could enhance your salvation… We are saved by faith through grace, but if there’s anything additional you could do for extra credit… Here God is telling us, “If you want some extra credit, love each other.” Love will cover a multitude of sins. By the way, that’s not only talking about yours. Love also overlooks the sins of others. Does God show patience with our sins? He wants us to love the way He loves. That means we have to try to look past the annoyances and the sins of others. That’s hard, isn’t it sometimes? But that’s what He wants us to do, above all things.

Let me give you another one. This is Paul. Colossians 3:12-14, “Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved.” This is what you were talking about, brother. The supreme thing, being holy for God. “Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.” If he stopped there, that would have been plenty. How can we even do all that? Put on “[mercy,] kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another,” and how? “If anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.” Let’s just stop right there and digest that. That’s too much. But it doesn’t stop there. It says there’s something more important than all that. Did you read on? “But above all these—” What? We have to go beyond all that? “Above all these things put on love.” It’s above everything else.

So what’s in your bucket list? That really should have been the name of the sermon. I didn’t know I was going to say it so much. In your life, do you spend your life dreaming and planning how you can love like God loves? That’s what ought to consume us every day. Am I loving like God loves? Those are the great commandments that He’s given us, because if you love your neighbor as you love yourself, you’ll fulfill the Great Commission, you’ll be going to all the world because you love the lost the way that Jesus loves them.

Love is the uniform by which Christians are identified. Love is, you might say, a badge. Love is the uniform that we wear. That’s how people know that Christians are Christians. John 13:35, “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” I thought it was because we wore a cross or we go gather under steeples in churches, and that’s how they know we’re Christians. Our names are entered on a registry as members of a religious club, and that’s how we tell people we’re Christians, or we sing Christian songs. What is the prime way that we are identified as Christians? You have Christian parents? You belong to a denomination? You know what Jesus said, the way that people are going to know that you’re real? That you love each other. And you can’t love each other the way you’re supposed to love each other unless you first love Him. That’s why the first commandment is to love God, because if you love God the way you should, then it will flow out horizontally, and you’ll start loving each other.

Another one, Galatians 5:22. Notice the priority, and there are so many verses I could look at. Galatians 5:22, 23, “But the fruit of the Spirit is…, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” I left one out. You know why I left it out? It’s at the top of the list. You know why it’s at the top of the list? Because it belongs in first place. It is the supreme thing. Love supreme. “The fruit of the Spirit is”—what’s the first evidence that you have the Holy Spirit? Love. Some of the other things you can maybe try to counterfeit. But the fruits of the Spirit cannot be counterfeited.

How do we experience this love? Isn’t that what you all want to know? If we have to love like God loves, and this may actually be one of the most important and one of the shortest sermons I’ve ever preached, because I want to make the point, and then I want you to think about it, and that’s going to be it. I just want you to get this. How do we experience that love? 1 John 4:19, “We love Him because He first loved us.” When we see God’s love for us, then it does something within us.

I’ve been doing some personal reading lately about great Christians (and I think I’ve told you this already) and their experiences and how they went through radical conversions, and one of the common components that they all talk about, and they use different words, and the experience sometimes came to them in different ways, but it was almost always because they were focusing on Christ and His life through prayer or in His Word or doing His work. So three things were happening when people experienced an overwhelming awareness of God’s love. Isn’t that what you want? Wouldn’t you like to just get knocked over by God’s love? Maybe I shouldn’t word it that way. Enveloped, swallowed up, saturated by, baptized in—pick a word. They were doing the three primary Christian disciplines. We’ll be talking about this in the discipleship program later.

They were looking at Christ in His Word. They were talking to Christ in prayer, seeking Him through communion. They were working for Christ in touching His people, and something happened that was supernatural, because the love that I’m talking to you about today, you’re not going to get it like studying for a driving test where you’re going to just say, “Okay, I understand it now, and I think I can pass the test.” It’s something God has to give you because it’s supernatural. God is a Spirit, and those that worship Him worship Him in spirit and truth, and you can’t even worship God the way we’re really supposed to worship God unless you love Him perfectly. How can you say you love God who you cannot see if you can’t love your neighbor who you do see? When you really do have the love of God shed abroad in your heart, something changes.

Came to Peter after he denied Christ for the third time and he saw Jesus crucified on his behalf, it said Peter went out and he wept bitterly. He went through a radical communion. He got an understanding of the love of God. I think it happened for the Apostle John when Jesus was washing their feet because when all the apostles forsook Jesus and ran, John followed Him right into the judgment hall. I think he got a glimpse of the love of God. But what it is, is it’s a revelation of the love of God. It’s something that God has to give us. It comes through the Holy Spirit. For you to say, “I have read everything I could possibly read on the love of God. I understand it now,” apart from being baptized in the Spirit, you don’t have it. It doesn’t matter if you go to Love University for 50 years, and you pass all the tests, and you have all the knowledge, and you can define it in all the languages, until it is given to you by God’s Spirit, you don’t have it. So it’s something that is to be pled for. Is love worth pursuing?

Not only among humans, but even in the animal kingdom, you can see that animals sometimes try to get the attention and the affection and the love of the other creatures. I remember watching one of these nature programs. There were these birds of paradise. The males are the really pretty ones, and the females are festooned in sort of a drab way, but the male has all of these beautiful colors and feathers that are doing weird things, and they were almost rendered extinct because they killed them all for their feathers for ladies’ hats in Europe for years. You watch the male birds, and they go out in the jungle and the forest floor, and they do these most exotic, beautiful dances, just carrying on and on and on to try to get the attention of the female. They’re trying to win the love. Their lives depend on it. At least procreation depends on it.

Our life depends on it. God wants us to want His love. That means you have to seek for it. He’s the One that can give it. It’s not going to come from reciting something 10 times. It’s not going to come from saying that I’m going to pray this many hours. There’s no guarantee that if you pray four hours, all of a sudden you’re going to get it, but you’re going to be a whole lot more likely to receive it if you are spending time in His Word, looking at Christ. We love Him because He first loved us. How can we love Him with His love, except we spend time looking at Him? You are transformed by beholding. We are changed by what we look at. As the apostles walked with Jesus through those years and they beheld Him day by day, it changed them so that they were all filled with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. They were able to receive God the Spirit, which is the love of God. If God the Spirit isn’t the love of God, what is it? They received the power of God, the love of God, and the world was changed by that power of love when they preached because if they were preaching without the love of God, it wouldn’t have had the same effect. The people saw that that love was there. We’re changed by what we behold.

As a matter of fact, John, who was the apostle of love, in 1 John 3:1 says, “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!” “Behold.” He can’t find words to describe it, so he just says, “Look at it.” What did John the Baptist say when Christ was anointed with the Spirit? “Behold the Lamb of God.” What did Jesus say is going to lead to our being transformed? “If I am lifted up”—His being lifted up means a position of visibility so we can look at Him. “Look unto Me all ye ends of the earth and be saved.”

What brought about the conversion of the thief on the cross? He saw Jesus lifted up. What brought about the conversion of Paul, who was Saul back then? He saw Jesus on the road to Damascus. What brought about the conversion of Zacchaeus? He wanted to see the Lord. We are changed by beholding. We are transformed into what we look at. Our souls are something like the old photographic plates. I guess they still work in digital cameras where you expose it to light and it captures the light that it sees. Our souls are that way. That’s why it’s very important for us to choose, be discriminating, what you look at because you become like what you worship. That’s why idolatry is forbidden by God because you become like what you worship, and we are to worship Him in spirit and truth. “Behold it,” he’s inviting us.

I want to jump over to the second letter of John really quick. What apostle more than any other talks about love? That would be John. It’s not a trick question. Go to the second letter of John, chapter 1. There’s only one chapter. Let’s look at the first verse. “The Elder, to the elect lady [that’s the church] and her children, whom I love in truth.” Big emphasis is love and truth all through this. You go to verse 3. “Grace… and peace … be with you from God the Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love.” Notice that. Verse 6, “This is love, that we walk according to His commandments.” All through these letters of John, he’s continuing to talk about the love of God. The love of God, that is the emphasis.

As a matter of fact, I want to go really quick to Romans. Love is not just a word. It’s doing something. Go with me to Romans 13:8. “Owe no one anything except to love one another.” Do we owe love? According to God. Now, don’t go up to somebody and say, “You had better love me.” That’s not the way to do it. Let them choose. “Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law.” Here you have it again. “For the commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not bear false witness,’ ‘You shall not covet,’ and if there is any other commandment,” he’s saying, including the first four, they “are all summed up in this saying, namely, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” Those commandments between man and man are summed up in loving your neighbor. “Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” The whole thing is summed up in love, and it’s the most important thing to have on our list.

Jesus illustrates this in a parable. Go to Luke 7:41. You remember when He ate during the feast at Simon’s house and Mary was washing His feet, and Simon began to mumble, “If this Man was really a prophet, He’d know who and what manner of woman this is that’s touching Him, for she has a bad reputation. She’s a sinner.” And Jesus, knowing what he’s thinking, shares a parable. And He says, “‘There was a certain creditor who had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing with which to repay, he freely forgave them both. Tell Me,’” Jesus asks Simon. “‘Tell Me, therefore, which of them will love him more?’ Simon answered and said, ‘I suppose the one whom he forgave more.’ And He said to him, ‘You have rightly judged.’ Then He turned to the woman and said to Simon, ‘Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has washed My feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head. You gave Me no kiss, but this woman has not ceased to kiss My feet since the time I came in. You did not anoint My head with oil, but this woman has anointed My feet with fragrant oil. Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.’”

Here’s one of the keys to loving much. Go out and do what Mary did, then repent, then you’ll love like she did. No, no, no. I’m being sarcastic. Did you catch the sarcasm there? Just want to make sure. Some people miss a little something. Some people write us letters because they turned on the TV and they heard half a sentence, and they got totally opposite understanding because they didn’t hear the whole thing. No, God is not saying the reason Mary loved more is because she sinned more and God forgave her, than Simon. She recognized how much she had been forgiven. We don’t have to go out and worry about building up a big list of sin out there, then get forgiven, and then be loving the Lord better. You already have a big enough record to love the way Mary loved. Everybody can love like Mary loved. You just have to realize the way she realized how much you’ve been forgiven. If you’d like to love much, then appreciate how much He paid for your sin. If you realize Christ is suffering for your sin, not just the sin of the whole world, everything He went through because He loved you so much, how can you love Him so little? When I look at how I obey God, I often think I must not love Him very much because He said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” If I loved Him better, I’d obey Him better. “If you love Me,” He said, “keep My commandments.”

What was the big thing Jesus asked Peter after Peter denied Him three times? He said, “Peter, are you treacherous?” Did He say, “Peter, can I trust you in this organization?” “Peter, you’re on probation”? What did Jesus really need to know from Peter? Three times, He sums it all up with one question. “Peter, if you want to be My follower, here’s the bottom line.” I’m in John 21:15. “When they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to [him],” “Peter, will you buy My breakfast?” No, that’s not what He said. He said, “‘Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?’” Peter had just been bragging, “Lord, we love You. We’re never going to forsake You. We’ll never betray You,” and he’d done it three times. He wouldn’t compare himself to his friends. He said, “‘Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.’ He said to him, ‘Feed My lambs.’” Then He doesn’t wait very long, and He asks the same question, or similar, again. “He said…, ‘Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?’ He said…, ‘Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.’”

I want to stop right here before I go any further. Do you like to hear that someone loves you? How frequently? I won’t ask that. My father almost never told me that he loved me, but I’ll bet I’m not the only one. I won’t ask for a show of hands. Some of you probably had those staunch, old-school fathers that—[gruffly] “I love you.” They always felt a little uncomfortable saying it, and you believe they did, but they had a hard time saying it. Later in our lives, while my dad was still alive, he became more aware that people need to say it, and I realized I needed to say it. It was probably just as hard for me to say, “I love you, Dad,” as it was for him to say it. Finally, I mustered the courage and said, “You know, I love you, Dad,” and he said, “Well, since you said it, I’ll say it. I love you, too.” People have a hard time saying that.

I know wives like to be reminded that their husbands love them. We have worship with our kids at night, and now we only have one left. We tell Nathan when he goes to sleep at night, “I love you.” “I love you, Dad. I love you, Mom.” It’s always good to say that. You become especially more conscious of something like that when you have a last conversation with a person. Sometimes you don’t know you’re having the last conversation with a person, and you wish you had said, “I love you” at the end of the conversation. So you want to tell them while they’re alive. Why? Because it’s the most important thing. When everything is settled, if you at the end of your life can’t say, “I loved” or “I’ve been loved” (of course you know God loves you—I’m talking about each other), then it’s sad, because it’s the most important thing.

“He [asks] him the third time, ‘Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?’” And it says “Peter was grieved…. He said…, ‘Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.’ Jesus said,” “Okay, prove it.” “‘Feed My sheep.’” He says it a little differently each time. He says, “feed My lambs,” “tend Me sheep,” “feed My sheep.” The way we show the love of God is by loving each other, by caring for each other.

God’s love is a never ending love. He could never love you more than He loves you right now, no matter what you do. While we’re yet sinners, He loves us. Jeremiah 31:3, “The Lord has appeared of old to me, saying: ‘…I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you.’” It’s the goodness of God that inspires that love within us. Romans 8:35, (you know this), “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: ‘For Your sake we are killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.’ Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” Paul doesn’t say we’re conquering because of our love for Him. We’re conquering because of His love for us. “For I am persuaded,” Paul said, “that neither death nor life, nor angels,” good or bad, “nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

In other words, when Jesus came… Do you know how much dirt they have to melt to get gold? And they’ll melt a whole lot of it to get a little gold. You can still see around Sacramento where they did some of the Placer mining (that’s where you get the name Placer County and Placerville), where they would blast the dirt out of the hills, and they would process mountains of dirt for a little bit of gold. When God wanted to process the universe and send His love into our world, all of the love of God and all of the creation of God through infinite space was coalesced into a pure drop of divine gold that came down to our planet, and that was Jesus. Jesus was the essence of the love of God in flesh. Do you believe that? Totally selfless and good and pure. And then He asks us to be like Him. Wow. How can you be like Him without being loving? How can you love like that without a supernatural gift? Is there any way in the world we could love the way Christ loves without God’s Spirit in us doing it?

What do you yearn for the most? That exotic safari? That flight in space? That perfect job? Or perfect spouse? What’s in your bucket list? What’s the supreme thing for you? What do you really think that is the most important thing you could have before your time is over?

Go with me to 1 Corinthians chapter 13. Paul sums it all up for us here. “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal.” I understand that in many of the pagan temples back in Paul’s day, they used to go in the morning. The priests would bang these big gongs and cymbals to wake up their gods so they could hear their prayers. That would be pretty sad if you’d have to use a gong to wake up your god. It says if my love is just noise, “if I speak with the tongues of angels,” long, eloquent prayers without the Spirit of God, it’s just clanging in the ears of God. It’s just a cymbal going, “Bang!” Noise.

“And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries,” it doesn’t matter how spiritually in tune we might be with the mind of God and the mysteries, “and [have] all knowledge, and though I have all faith…” These are important. I want to understand prophecy. I’d like to have that knowledge. I’d like to have faith so I can move mountains, wouldn’t you? Paul is not saying there is anything wrong with having the tongue of an angel. There’s nothing wrong with having all knowledge or having all kinds of faith. But if I don’t love, “I am nothing.”

“And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love…” What greater love is there than that a man lay down his life for a friend? If you’re a martyr for the faith… Do you know it’s possible for some people to die because they think that God is right and true, but they still don’t love Him? But just out of a sense of principle they die a martyr’s death, but they still don’t do it because they have the love of God? Are there people who die for their faith that aren’t Christians? Sure. Don’t other religions die for their faith? Does that automatically save them, because a person is a martyr? “Though I give my body to be burned.” I often thought that you automatically have to be saved if you say, “Yes, I’ll die for Jesus.” That’s maybe a dangerous presumption. “Though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor.” It is possible to give without loving, but it is not possible to love without giving. Just want to clarify that. “It profits me nothing” if I don’t have love. Dying for your faith without love is no profit? It’s what he said.

“Love suffers long and is kind.” “Till death do us part,” love suffers long. It’s not that your marriages should be endured. They should be enjoyed, but so many give up so quickly. It “does not parade itself, is not puffed up,” it’s not proud; “does not behave rudely.” Love ought to be a little bit refined. It “does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth.” It’s like what we just read there from 2 John, love in spirit and in truth.

It “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things.” It bears all kinds of abuse. It believes as optimistically as it can. It “hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease.” We’ll all speak the same language someday. “Whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away.” All of our hard drives will someday melt, all that technology and knowledge we have. “For we know in part.” No matter how much knowledge we have, we don’t know what God knows. “For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.”

“When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” Know what he’s telling us here? I’ll tell you what I think he’s saying. There are a whole lot of immature Christians. They approach the Christian religion in a childish way, and if we’re going to grow up as Christians, then we need to know what the most important thing is. It’s to have the love of God and to live it out in our lives, and if you don’t have it, you ought to do your best to look at Jesus and fake it as well as you can. I’m serious. I wasn’t being facetious. Shouldn’t you act like you love like Jesus even if it isn’t feeling like it? In your marriages, though you may not feel like you love like Jesus, shouldn’t you try to act like you love like Jesus? I think it’s okay to do the right thing even if it’s for the wrong reasons; don’t do the wrong thing. But be mature about it. Know that that is the most important thing, to model the life of Christ. But now it’s time to put away childish things and realize that the most important thing, love, is supreme.

“For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face.” Someday we’re going to see God. Are we then going to understand that God is love? “Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known. And now abide faith, hope”—hope springs eternal, can’t be saved without faith, and then finally “love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” The most important thing we can pursue is to have the love of God.

Friends, I just keep wishing I had the tongue of an angel so I could make that more clear, but it’s been impressed on my heart that if there’s any one thing that I need to really plead for, pray for, look for, study for, witness for, strive for, seek after, God says, “You’ll search for Me, and You’ll find Me (you’ve heard me quote this many times) when you search for Me with all your heart.” When He says “You have found Me,” if you were to announce one day in church, “I have found God,” I hope what you’re saying is, “I’ve found His love. I’ve found out what it means to be filled with His Spirit.”

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