Love is Proactive and Protective

February 23, 2017

by Pastor Steve

During the month of February our sermon series has been titled “What Kind of Love is This?” We heard from Pastor Leonard that “Perfect Love Casts Out Fear”, and from Pastor Lynn that “Love will cost us”.

I must say that is refreshing to be addressing the topic of love and I say this not only because we just celebrated Valentine’s Day. I say this because seminary students can sometimes be absorbed by discussions about issues that become tangential to the main thing. You might hear discussions about topics like: soteriology, eschatology, pneumatology or how do we decode secret messages in the Dead Sea Scrolls?

It’s not that these topics are unimportant, but they are not the main thing.

Love, however, is a theme that permeates the Bible. The Greek and Hebrew words for love have been translated in different ways in different Bible translations, but the word “love” appears 686 times in the New International Version. This is significantly more than other words like faith, hope, or judgment. “Love” is a word that appears in every book of the New Testament with only one exception. And often times, when the word love is used in the New Testament, it is expressed as the thing that matters above all else. It is, in other words, the main thing.

Every Gospel testifies to Jesus exhorting his listeners to practice and live-out love; saying that the highest priority for those of us who are his disciples is to Love the Lord our God and to love our neighbors as ourselves. We are exhorted to love one another, and yes, even to love our enemies.

The echo of Jesus’ teaching is found in all of the Epistles attributed to Jesus’ apostles:

In 1 Peter (1:22) “…love one another deeply from the heart”

In James (2:8) “You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

In the Epistle to the Galatians, the apostle Paul wrote that (5:6), “In Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love”

And in 1 John (4:8), “Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.”

In other words, if one claims to be a Christian but yet does not love, then they have utterly missed the point. In fact, I am well within the bounds of the New Testament to say that if someone claims to follow Christ but they willfully have no intention of loving their neighbor, then they are only deceiving themselves in their profession of faith.

So, it is imperative for those of us who not only want to talk the talk but actually walk the walk of the Christian life that we prioritize love: Love for one another, love for our neighbors, our enemies, and, of course, love for God.

This probably sounds nice to everyone. Don’t we all love being loved? Don’t we love the idea that we ourselves are loving people? But love, as it is portrayed by Jesus, is a demanding call. As Pastor Lynn pointed out last week: love will cost you.

So, what is this demanding, costly love that Jesus spoke of? Or, another way of putting it: what kind of love is this?

I think of us at Oxford Circle and all committed followers of Jesus around the world as embarked on the quest of answering this question. We are journeying towards the way of love, which the apostle Paul called “the most excellent way” (12:31). This love has several dimensions and it is talked about in different ways in different Christian circles.

In the late 1990s there was an organization called “True Love Waits”. They inspired thousands of teenagers to make commitments to save sex for marriage. This is important work. True love does wait! The apostle Paul wrote that “love is patient”. If the only thing we hear about love is that “love waits” we may think that love is passive. ….. We might think that we only love when the time comes around for our love to be called on.

But there’s more to the story. What I want to suggest this morning is that true love doesn’t just wait. True love initiates.

True love is active. It doesn’t simply wait around in the way we wait at a bus-stop. It actively seeks ways to express itself. Roughly 1600 years ago the North African Bishop, St. Augustine of Hippo wrote:

“It is love
that asks,
That seeks,
That knocks,
That finds,
And that is
To what it finds.”

In other words: True Love Initiates.

As was read this morning, 1 John (3:17) reminds us that love demands action, it says, “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?”

This rhetorical question is followed-up with the answer: “little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and in action”.

But on the other hand, Paul wrote to the Corinthians that “If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.” (1 Cor. 13:3)

One might think that love is straightforward and easy. But love is not simply being nice. Nor is it even doing good deeds. Apparently, one can give all you have to the poor, even sacrifice one’s own body, but at the same time lack love.

According to John, we cannot love without actually giving up something. But according to Paul, there is a way in which we can give things up–even our own body– and still not love.

So what is Paul cautioning us about?

Evidently, our motives matter when we give.

Action is necessary, but we must act for the right reasons, even if we are truly acting out of love.

Last week Pastor Lynn talked about the parable of the good Samaritan. This story was used by Jesus to answer the question of “who is my neighbor?”. And Jesus challenged the assumptions of the lawyer to whom he told the story.

He showed that it was some who this lawyer held prejudice against–a Samaritan– and not the devout religious leaders, who actually showed real care for the guy who was beaten-up on the side of the road. But the story also conveys a sense that the Samaritan was moved by compassion and genuine love for this injured man. It was out of that love that he went out of his way to provide for him. He was reacting to this man’s situation.

But is there a way in which love can be proactive? Can we work towards even protecting people from getting beat-up on the side of the road.

To answer this question, I would like to consider a Christian woman from the middle of the twentieth century, who proactively worked towards protecting her neighbors. Her name was Corrie Ten Boom.

During the Holocaust in Europe, while Jews were being annihilated by the Nazi regime, Corrie Ten Boom made her home in the Netherlands a hiding place for Jewish people and Nazi-resistors. She was motivated to do this by a sincere love for the Jewish people-even Jewish people who she had not yet met. But this love for the Jewish people came from her love for God; her father had taught her that the Jews were God’s chosen people, as it is written in the Old Testament. Although she had not yet met the refugees that she would secretly hide, Corrie Ten Boom went and sought help from one of her friends who was a civil servant. He was responsible for distributing food-ration cards. These cards were needed because of food shortages during the war, and every week, a person was only entitled to a certain amount of food. When the man asked Corrie Ten Boom how many cards she needed, she intended to say “five” but to her surprise, the answer that came out of her mouth was “One hundred”.

He gave her the cards and she was able to provide these cards to every Jewish person that she met. She risked her life and eventually she and her entire family were arrested by the Nazis. But she was compelled by her love for God to care for people who God loves. And because of this, she serves as an example of how true love initiates.

My wife told me last night that she is deliberate about protecting people by making a conscious choice not to react out of anger or use hurtful words if someone messes up her order at a coffee shop or a restaurant. This is a protective love and it is a proactive, deliberate commitment she has made.

When we pray “may your kingdom come, and may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” God may use us as the means to answer our own prayer. Our donating blood can be an expression of our love for God. Not because we are indebted to God or need to do good works to earn salvation, but because out of our love for God we are compelled to care for the people who God loves. So, there is a way in which we can donate blood, or donate money, or volunteer time and energy towards serving others, even when we haven’t met them, without merely being the “resounding gong” or a “clanging symbol” that Paul talks about. We can actually be compelled by the love of Christ.

Have you ever had an experience where you felt the love of God?

I mean, really? Where you were overwhelmed with the presence of the Holy Spirit? Almost exactly two years ago, on February 21, 2015. I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit in a way that I hadn’t in a long time. I was alone and for several hours, I felt a reassurance that I was loved by God. It was a personal revival. And it was out of this sense that I was loved, that I felt like no matter who I saw, I had an unconditional love for them. I felt a glow, a warmth without my heart has anyone that I hadn’t in a long time. Has anyone had this kind of experience? Where you feel overwhelmed by the loved of God, and you can’t help but love other people?

I think that this is what 1 John 4:19 is talking about: “We love because he first loved us”. Notice that this is not a command, but it is written as an observation. Love towards others naturally flows from the experience of God’s love for you.

Sometimes, love may not be affection for another person. Not all love is affectionate or based on feelings. But it may require us to be deliberate. To remind ourselves of our experience of God’s love for us, and to live with benevolence towards other human beings, made in God’s image, even when we may never meet them or see them. It is a proactive, deliberate love: if we love God then we will care for the people that God loves. After all, Jesus said that “whatever we do to the least of these we’ve done to him” (Matthew 25).

We may not know the names of the men, women, and children who have been devastated by civil war in Syria. But true love doesn’t just wait to meet them, true love initiates what is necessary for us to meet them.

The BBC had a report on the refugee crisis and they identified the county in the United States that has taken in more refugees than anywhere else in the US. Does anyone know what county that is?

Lancaster County, PA. Since 2013, Lancaster County has taken in 20 times more refugees per capita than the rest of the country. Thanks, in large part, to organizations like Church World Services and Bethany Christian Services who help refugees get resettled. This is great and I’m encouraged to see faith expressing itself through love in Lancaster County.

But what should we do when the very notion of welcoming refugees is legally threatened by the United States Government? True love is proactive to make it possible for refugees who are fleeing from war-zones to find safety.

About a year ago it was becoming trendy for governors across the country to announce that they would not allow refugees to come to their states. One such governor, was the governor of New Jersey, where may family and I are currently living.

I wrote a letter to Governor Christie, explaining that Christians are called to welcome the stranger. I suggested that he reconsider his position on refugees. I wrote, Governor Christie, please keep religious freedom in the state of New Jersey. Please allow Christians to practice their faith by allowing us to welcome Syrian refugees into our state.

We live in a time in which it the very freedom to see faith to express itself through love, requires proactive initiatives on the part of Christians. It is only proactive action that will enable vulnerable people to experience protection.

Proactive love does not simply seek ways to welcome the stranger or to give blood.

Some of you hear today may not feel the love. I can completely understand this. It is not everyday that I feel overwhelmed by the love of God. But I believe that the kind of love we are talking about today we cannot be persuaded into. It has to be experienced. It cannot be proven through a logical argument. It is only out of experiencing love that we are able to love.

I want everyone to stand-up.

Close your eyes. and say “I am loved”.

Did that feel awkward to you? Do you really believe what you just said? If it did, why?

Keep your eyes closed.

It may be the case that there are people here today who need to reach out in love to someone nearby. Maybe you’ve noticed that someone hasn’t said “hi” to you lately and you wonder what’s going on. Or maybe you came away from an interaction with someone feeling like something was off.

A love that is proactive doesn’t wait for the other person to say hi when you feel slighted. Sometimes love requires speaking the truth to the other person and telling them ways that they hurt you. As Jesus himself taught,

“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen, you have won them over” (Matthew 18:15). Elsewhere Jesus says, “If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24)

Maybe you need to reconcile with a friend, or a family member, or even someone in this church. You may have been waiting for them to apologize to you, or maybe you need to apologize to them. Either way, consider that love may be calling you to initiate the reconciliation. Maybe you’ve been enticed by worldly things and you’ve quenched the Holy Spirit’s fire.

Maybe someone needs your help, not because of anything you said or did, but they are simply having a tough time. Maybe they need you to initiate offering them the help they need.

No matter your circumstance, I want to pray for you this morning:

“Lord, I want to lift up everyone here to you today. We thank you for your boundless love for us, for your grace towards us, that while we were still sinners, you reached out to us in love and extended grace. I pray today that you would awaken us to that grace. And that nothing would separate us–nothing–would keep us from knowing, seeing, and experiencing your love. Speak to each of us today. If we need to reconcile with someone, move us towards reconciliation. If we need to humble ourselves in some way, I pray speak to us. I ask that you would empower us to love just as you have loved us. Let us go from this place, soaked in your contagious love and may we share it with the world. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”