- The Power of Love
- Galatians 5:13-14 & Psalm 63:1-5
- Lyndol Loyd May 12, 2019
I met Joni when we were both students at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. My last year of school was Joni’s first year of school. That Fall, we started by doing lots of different things together with a large group of single students on campus. By January we had a DTR conversation (Determine The Relationship) and decided that we were officially dating.
Then May came, and I graduated. It was time for me to go off into the real world and start my first pastoral appointment which meant moving to Arkansas. Joni still had another year left on her counseling degree.
We had been dating for just under five months and felt like things were heading somewhere, but we weren’t at the point of being ready for engagement and marriage.
Many of you are familiar with that old adage, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.” The fact that I was in Arkansas and she was in Kentucky, ten hours away, was hard to accept. If I wasn’t ready to be engaged and married before I left Kentucky, it didn’t take me very long to realize I was ready once I was living in Arkansas.
Looking back I have to laugh about how we were back then. We used to have the longest telephone conversations. This is in the days before free long distance calls on your mobile phone after 7:00 p.m. This was even before video chat, texting or e-mail. I hate to think about how much money we spent talking on the phone. We would talk as long as we could afford and then neither one of us would want to hang up the phone, but we knew that we had to do so.
Fortunately for us, Southwest Airlines started service to and from Louisville, Kentucky, the same month I graduated and along with that came some cheap promotional flight rates. So Joni and I decided that she would fly to Arkansas once a month for the weekend so that we could be together in the same place.
I would pick her up at the airport on Friday afternoon, and we were so excited to be together that the rest of the world just seemed to fade away. I’m embarrassed to tell you this, but the first time I picked Joni up at the airport, we were driving back to Arkadelphia where I was living and working; we were so engrossed in each other and our own conversation that I drove right past not one, but two interstate exits for the town. We had to drive another five miles down the road until we could reach an exit to turn around and come back to Arkadelphia.
We would have a great time together on Saturday, but then we would spend all day Sunday dreading the fact that Joni was going to have to get back on an airplane on Monday morning and fly back to Kentucky for school.
If you’ve ever been in love then you know what I’m talking about here. Love can cause you to do some pretty interesting things that you might not otherwise do. When you are truly in love, you will go to great lengths to be with the one that you love. You’ll go without buying things you would otherwise like to have so that you can talk on the phone longer. You’ll do everything you can to rearrange your schedule so that you can have even a brief amount of time together.
When you are apart from each other, it hurts. When you’re together, it is the best. You find your thoughts totally consumed with the person that you love. It is quite a phenomenon to experience. Love is indeed a powerful motivator.
Fear is also a powerful motivator. Create enough fear within another person, and likewise, he or she will do things they wouldn’t normally do under other circumstances.
As a child sometimes I would spend the night at a friend’s house on a Saturday night and then on Sunday morning I would go to church with him instead of going to my own church.
I might have been young, but it didn’t take me very long to realize that his church was really different from mine. The pastor would talk really loud, wave around the Bible a lot. I remember more than once how he would say things like, “If you died tonight would you go to Heaven? Do you know where you would spend eternity?”
Quite frankly, he scared me. Evidently, he scared a lot of other people as well. Because at the end of his sermons people would trot up to the altar to pray and usually cry while the rest of us were forced to sing 57 stanzas of the hymn, “Just As I Am.”
What I also noticed was that the lives of these people I saw going down to the altar at this church were seldom changed. The reality of living in a small town is that you pretty much know everyone else’s business whether you want to or not.
It became clear to me that actions driven by fear and guilt do not produce lasting results. These people were looking for what my friends and I used to refer to as “fire insurance.” They just didn’t want to go to Hell.
Don’t get me wrong, I believe that there is a Heaven and a Hell. I believe that once we die we go to one place or the other. I also believe that the Bible teaches that the only way to Heaven is by asking Jesus Christ to be your Lord, the leader of your life, and your Savior, the forgiver of your sin.
The only way that I’ve ever seen that kind of relationship with Jesus stick is when it takes place out of love – not out of fear. The answer to lukewarm, selfish, comfortable living isn’t to guilt or scare people into a relationship with God.
Instead, God calls us to love. God says, “I love you.” Isn’t that what God wants from us – to crave a relationship with Him, just as we all crave genuine love relationships? Isn’t that what brings God glory – when we desire Him and are not merely slaves who serve Him out of obligation?
Galatians 5:13-14 says, “13 For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love. 14 For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Paul is saying that when we love, we are free. Do you get that? Do you live as though you understand the freedom of love?
When we love, we are free. We don’t worry about a bunch of dos and don’ts. God’s love sets us free from all of that stuff. Because we are busy loving God, we don’t have time to be out there sinning.
Here is the key question for the day: Do you feel free in your Christian life?
In Galatians 5, the Apostle Paul also teaches that what is important is faith expressing itself in love.
- Is loving God and loving people what you are about in life?
- Is loving what it really means to be a Christian to you?
- Do we live as though faith, demonstrated by love, is what really counts?
Let me be perfectly candid and vulnerable with you this morning and say that I know that I haven’t always lived that way. I would love to tell you that has always been the case, but it has not been. Let me explain why and I think you might be able to identify with this as well.
Here is the process that at one point in my life I repeated over and over again. I would decide that what I needed to do was try harder, but then the next thing I knew I would fail even in my attempt to try harder. This would lead me to a cycle where I would try harder, fail, try harder, fail, try harder, fail… I think you get the idea by now.
This cycle of behavior can be bruising and discouraging, and pretty soon you can begin to really beat yourself up. It’s why some people throw in the towel in all together. Who wants a faith in Christ that is absent of joy, peace, or hope?
Fortunately for us, this isn’t God’s plan for us either.
Jesus didn’t die merely to save us from going to Hell. God sent Jesus into the world so that we might be set free from our sin.
In John 10:10 Jesus says, “My purpose is to give life in all its fullness.” As a matter of fact, why don’t we all read that together, “My purpose is to give life in all its fullness.”
When Jesus said this, He wasn’t indicating that this was something that might be able to happen for us someday. Jesus was indicating that this was something that is available for each of us right here, right now. Not just in Heaven, but in this lifetime, here on Earth.
The truth is that we need God to help us know how to love. We need His help in knowing how to love Him and we certainly need his help in knowing how to love other people.
Think about this for a moment, we need God’s help so that we can love Him, a Holy God, a faultless, perfect being. We certainly need God’s help if we are going to be able to love other human beings, with all of their faults and shortcomings.
This functions as a cycle as well: Our prayers for more love result in love, which naturally causes us to pray more, which results in more love. You get the idea.
A few years ago I read the book Crazy Love by Francis Chan. In it, the reader is asked to imagine going for a run while eating a box of Twinkies. Besides being self-defeating and side ache-inducing, it would also be near impossible – you would have to stop running to eat the Twinkies.
In the same way, you have to stop loving and pursuing Christ in order to sin. When you are pursuing love, running toward Christ, you do not have the opportunity to wonder, “Am I doing this right?” or “Did I serve enough this week?”
When you are running toward Christ, you are freed up to serve, love, and give thanks without guilt, worry or fear. As long as you are running toward Christ, you are safe.
As we begin to focus more on Christ, loving Him and others becomes more natural to us. As long as we are pursuing Him, we are satisfied in Him. It is when we stop actively loving Him that we find ourselves restless and gravitating toward other means of fulfillment.
Sometimes it happens so slowly, so gradually that we don’t even realize that it is taking place. We wake up with a long list of things to get accomplished, so we decide to put off time with God until later on in the day.
Later on in the day, in the midst of our business, we become forgetful and don’t carve out any time. Before you know it we have made it all the way through the day, and God has been given a couple of token nods, or worse yet, He has been completely squeezed out.
So we think to ourselves that it was just one day, no big deal, I’ll do better tomorrow. The problem is that tomorrow becomes today and presents us with another full plate of things to get accomplished, and we end up repeating the same actions as the previous day. The end result of day two is little or no time for God.
Day two becomes day three, and after three days a habit is formed. We have found that we can get by on the reserves of previous encounters with God. That works for a while, but pretty soon the reserves get used up, and we find ourselves operating on fumes.
Then we begin to see loving Christ as work. It can become something that we do out of guilt or fear of consequences. When we relate to God out of obligation, it feels like work. But when we truly love Christ, our work is a manifestation of love, and it feels like love.
If I merely pretend that I enjoy God or that I love Him, He knows it. I’m not sure why we ever believe that we can convince Him otherwise. We cannot fool Him, so we shouldn’t ever really try to do so.
If you are here this morning and you are struggling to love God why not take an entirely different approach. Why not just tell Him how you feel. Be honest and acknowledge that He isn’t the most important thing in this life to you.
Then go one step further and tell Him that you are sorry about that. Own the fact that you have been lukewarm or half-hearted. Maybe it is a statement like, “I’m sorry that I have chosen _______________________________ over and over again above you.”
Ask God to help change you so that you begin to enjoy Him in ways that you never have before. Tell God how you want to experience a true sense of being satisfied in life because of your relationship with Him.
Talk to God and tell him that you know you need to love Him more, more than anything on this Earth. Be honest with Him and pour out your heart.
Tell Him what you like about Him, what you appreciate about Him, and what brings you joy in life.
Jesus, I need to give myself up. I am not strong enough to love You and walk with You on my own. I can’t do it, and I need You. I need You deeply and desperately. I believe You are worth it, that You are better than anything else I could have in this life or the next. I want You. And when I don’t, I want to want You. Take all of me. Have your way with me. Amen.