The Gift Of LoveErwin W. Lutzer | May 13, 2007
Selected highlights from this sermon
Human love is based on the person being loved. Divine love cannot be shaken by time or changing circumstances. While Christ is the ultimate example of this selfless love, our mothers are often the people we associate with sacrificial love.
Today is Mother’s Day and it is also the fourth in a series of messages entitled, “What gifts do we have to offer the city of Chicago?” Today the topic is love. Isn’t it wonderful that we can blend these two together? After all, who can teach us best to love? The quintessential example of love is of course our mothers.
How do you know when you are a mother? When you count the sprinkles on each kid’s cupcake to make sure they are equal or as you cling to the high moral ground on toy weapons and your child then eats his toast to be the shape of a gun. I wish we had written down all the cute things that our kids said and did. We didn’t do that and we have forgotten most of them.
I heard a story once that I loved and would like to share today. A mother was preparing pancakes for her sons, Kevin, age five, and Ryan, age three. The boys began to argue who would get the first pancake. Their mother saw this as an opportunity for a moral lesson. She said, “If Jesus were sitting here he would say, ‘Let my brother have the first pancake, I can wait.’” Kevin turned to his younger brother and said, “Ryan you be Jesus!”
Sometimes we hear that loves conquers all, but don’t believe it. If love conquered all we wouldn’t have so many divorces and we wouldn’t have so many people walking away from their families. Supposedly it all begins in love but love does not conquer all unless it is the right kind of love.
Jesus made a distinction about that kind of love in Luke chapter six, and I invite you to turn to that passage. In Luke chapter six we have a distinction between divine love and human love. If you do not understand that distinction you may find yourself giving up no matter how much you have chosen to love.
First of all, Jesus taught in this passage that human love is based on the person loved. Verse thirty-two says, “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.” That is human love. Even among thieves there is a certain amount of respect and “love.” It goes on to say, “And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount.” That is human love.
Human love says, “I love you because of what you mean to me and what you can do for me.” If I can scratch your back and you can scratch mine and if I get some benefit, I will love you. Almost always human love is based on two things, particularly with romantic love. First of all it is based on appearance. There is no doubt that women who are beautiful or men who are striking or handsome in their appearance get all of the breaks in life. We are attracted to people who are good looking. If you have a cute kid in a supermarket people are going to stop and give you compliments and they are going to want to play with your child. We are attracted to people who are beautiful.
We are also attracted to those who have the right kind of personality; we could even say a magnetic personality. One husband said to me, “My wife has a magnetic personality.” I said, “How do you know that?” He said, “Virtually everything that she wears is charged.” Maybe you have met a charmer. There are some charmers who turn out to be abusers but there are also those who are the real deal.
If you put a charming personality and physical attraction together you have a powerful package. Human love says, “I love you because of what you do for me and the way in which you stimulate me and encourage me. I am proud to be with you.” That is human love.
Jesus would say that there is nothing wrong with human love. In fact, when it comes to marriage there is a whole book in the Old Testament, the Song of Solomon, which is devoted to human love. Just listen to what this man had to say: “Behold, you are beautiful, my love, behold, you are beautiful! Your eyes are like doves behind your veil. Your hair is like a flock of goats leaping down the slopes of Gilead. Your teeth are like the flock of shorn ewes that have come up from the washing, all of which bear twins, and not one among them has lost its young.”
Are you enjoying this? You should; this is what makes the world go round. “Your lips are like a scarlet thread, and your mouth is lovely. Your cheeks are like halves of a pomegranate behind your veil. Your neck is like the tower of David, built in rows of stone; on it hang a thousand shields, all of them shields of warriors.” Here is a man who had it really bad and was madly in love and there is nothing wrong with that. Human love is experienced by all of us and it is important.
The problem with human love is simply this: sometimes it isn’t strong enough to weather the storm. Human love is based upon the person who is loved and that person says, “When you change I will no longer love you.”
Thirty years ago I was preaching in a church in Peoria, Illinois. A woman came to me and she seemed to be attractive, but I did notice that part of her face was scarred. Later I learned that part of her arm and much of her body was scarred. She was in a terrible fire and much of her body was burned. In fact, there were times when she didn’t think she would survive. Her husband walked into the hospital, saw his wife, left her and the kids and said, “You are not the woman I married.” He could not handle it and so he divorced her and married someone else who was more beautiful. Human love says, “When you stop being lovable I will no longer love you and I will find someone who will do for me what you should be doing for me but aren’t.” That is human love.
Human love is transferable. It is okay, but it can’t weather the big storms. Thirty years ago there was also a song that said, “Please release me dear, to live with you would be a sin, so please release me so that I might love again.” We might say, “And again, and again, and again.”
Have you ever wondered why in Hollywood there are so many divorces and the marriages don’t last? It is because they live with the mythology that marriage is supposed to make you happy. When somebody doesn’t make them as happy as they think they deserve to be with all of their money and fame, they get divorced because they think they should be with someone else who will make them happier than their spouse. On and on it goes and human love ends up failing. There is nothing wrong with human love but it is not strong enough to weather the storm.
Contrast this with divine love. Divine love is strong because it says, “I can go on loving you even if you change, even if your body is burned and scarred. I can go on loving you when you have Alzheimer’s disease and when the going gets difficult, when the romance has to be over because reality has set in and all of the difficulties of old age and marriage break upon us.” Divine love says, “I can go on loving you even if you don’t do all the things that in my heart I think you should.”
Look at what Jesus said about divine love. He says in verse thirty-five, “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great.” That is divine love. I want to go back to verse twenty-seven where he explains it in even more detail. It says, “But I say to those who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.”
I need to pause here and say that all divine love involves action. Every once in a while people say, “I just love the whole world and I just love all the starving children.” No you don’t! You have some sentimentality because of their situation, but if you loved them you would do something about it. Love always involves sacrificial involvement. For God so loved the world that he gave.
Jesus is telling us that there is a kind of love that is so strong that with it we can love an enemy and he goes on to say exactly how we should love our enemies. It says that we should, “Do good to those who hate you.” What you do is you think to yourself, “There is this person who hates me. What I want to do is to do something good for him.” What if there is a standoff and you say, “You hate me and I hate you and we aren’t going to do anything for each other. As a matter of fact I am going to do all that I possibly can to torpedo your career because I hate you.” Can you imagine what that does? That is the way in which the world lives.
Yet Jesus is saying that is not the way you treat your husband who has not done you well. You do good for him. I could tell you stories of children who have been abused who have done good to the parent who abused them. You say, “Well you can’t expect that because I don’t feel like it.” This kind of love is stronger than feelings. This kind of love is a choice that is so strong that with it you can love an enemy who hates you.
Notice that the text says you do good and bless those who curse you. If there is somebody at work who wants to see your downfall, somebody that would be delighted to see you destroyed, what do you do? Do you treat them in the very same way? No, you think of ways to bless them.
If you can’t think of ways to bless them then you do what the text says and you pray for those who abuse you. You do not pray that God will heap vengeance upon them or vaporize them. What you do is you say, “God, this person has deeply wounded me but I want you to bless them in ways in which they will see your love, your compassion, and your concern and they will turn from their ways and be converted.” That is the way in which you bless those who curse you and pray for those who despitefully use you.
That is what divine love is all about. Love costs everything. There was an advertisement I saw on television once that said, “Love costs you nothing.” Are you serious? Love costs you nothing? Love costs you everything! This kind of love is so divine that if you see it in the life of someone who is not a believer, and there may be in some cases particularly among mothers and their children, you know it is because a divine image has been stamped upon that person.
All creatures still have the divine image. Even though it has been effaced it has not been erased. Due to common grace you sometimes see love in the most unlikely places. It is the kind of love that is divine, the kind of love that sacrifices and the kind of love that says, “I can endure this even if you are not to me what I think you should be.”
The Bible says in Romans chapter five that, “The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who is given unto us.” In the same chapter there is another example of the divine love when it says, “While we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” When we were his enemies he died for us. That is divine love. Divine love says, “I can go on loving you even if you don’t like me and even if you are my enemy. I have resources to know that it is dependent upon me and not you.”
We as a church would like to be able to say to the city of Chicago that this is a place where you can find a sense of love and acceptance. We want to have ministries to parents and their children, like in our Sunday Schools and other programs for children. We have a program called MOPS for mothers of preschoolers. We want to be able to reach out to those who are single mothers because they are the ones who should be of special concern as they try to be both mother and father to their children.
With the new Christian Life Center we have more room than ever to welcome the city of Chicago, to connect with people and to become a part of their lives. We want to be able to say, “If you want a place where there are people who love one another, this is the place where it happens.” It also happens beyond these walls. It happens in our small groups and it happens wherever we find ourselves as evangelists in our work and around the city of Chicago. May it be said that this is the place where love exists.
You have heard me say before that when it comes to the world, they can out finance us and they can out entertain us, but may it never be said that they can out love us. The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who has been given unto us.
If we want models on how to love then no one can provide a better example than mothers. There are mothers in our congregation, mothers whom we have known and mothers whom some of you are right now who are still loving in the midst of difficult circumstances. Divine love is giving you the grace to love.
The other day as I was preparing this I thought of three different kinds of mothers. I have known many mothers in each of these categories. First of all, there is the mother who has to love a child born from a relationship with a man who mistreated and used her. Some of you are in that predicament. You developed a relationship with a man and a child has been born. The man has walked out of your life and is not contributing to the welfare of the child and he is not connecting with the child. Maybe he’s the kind of person you do not even want to connect with your child.
As you look into the eyes of that little child you see in his face the very image of his father; the man who wronged you and did you injustice and used you. Some mothers are in that situation and you are loving that child. I say from my heart to yours, your responsibility is to love that child as if he were Jesus. You are to give him what he desperately needs - the love, the acceptance, and the attention of a parent who cares. We go on loving because love says, “I can endure anything because of who I am and because of the ministry of the Holy Spirit in my heart.”
I think also of parents who love special needs children. That is very difficult to do, and as we learned today it may take years to accept. We have a story about one of our own relatives, a child who has a skin disease that only 800 other people in the whole world have. What a burden that has been placed upon these parents. Yet through it all, through times of anger and misunderstanding, the scheduling and the ruining of plans, they can look back and say, “Surely God has led us and surely this child is a gift from God.”
I was in Dallas this past week for my 40th reunion from when I graduated from Seminary. I didn’t intend to say anything about it, but now it is out. I woke up in the morning and I said, “Rebecca I am scared because I don’t know whether I will recognize any of my classmates and I don’t know if they are going to recognize me.” I’ll tell you that forty years has done a number on some of those folks. I probably told you I looked into the mirror the other day and I said to Rebecca, “Honey, I don’t look 65 do I?” She said, “No, you sure don’t…but you used to.”
Recently a man took me to the airport and for the forty minutes I heard about his child that was born deaf. He told me that he learned sign language, his wife learned sign language and their other daughter learned sign language. He told me that if a child is born with a hearing disability, in most cases the father never learns sign language and therefore can’t communicate with their own son or daughter. He told me all the good things that have come as a result of this and the difficulty of acceptance and also the knowledge that this child was given to them by God. She has now graduated from college and she has just accepted a teaching position to teach the hearing impaired.
Here is another story. One mother gave birth to a girl names Ella with a very rare syndrome that causes physical deformities and mental retardation. She struggled for years to accept her daughter’s disabilities. When her daughter was eleven she paused and reflected on her daughter’s life. She said, “When I went to buy my daughter a card for her 11th birthday I paused to read all of the cards for daughters in the supermarket. I realized that I would never find a card with the right words on it to tell my daughter what she means to me. I stood in the crowded, noisy store and fought back tears, hoping that no one would notice me.”
“There are no cards to say, ‘Happy Birthday to my special girl, to celebrate that she is alive and so unique.’ How different other mother-daughter relationships are compared to mine. Mine is based on love, not to say that the others aren’t, and love is enough; it has to be. The relationship I have with my daughter is complex and all consuming. What I feel for my daughter is the greatest pain and the deepest love. This dichotomy greets me in the morning when I awake, it sleeps with me as I dream, it sits with me as I work, and at times the pain that I experience is so great that I experience it physically. This child has taken away much that I thought I needed but she has also brought me a great gift: she has taught me the meaning of unconditional love.” That is divine love.
There is another category of mothers. There are those of you who have children who are grown now who have hurt you deeply. Perhaps they have turned to homosexuality, perhaps they have left home, or perhaps they are some of the prodigals that we have been praying for who are way out there. Some of you, God bless you, you don’t even know where your children are and you have to go on loving and caring.
Many years ago there was a woman dying in a Boston hospital and she told the nurse before she died, “I sold everything that I had in California and I have gone from California to Boston stopping in various cities, going to hospitals and police stations trying to find the son who left home. I haven’t found him, but if you should ever hear his name or know of him, let him know that there were two people who didn’t give up on him. The nurse said, “Who?” She said, “His mother and God.” She died seeking her son.
I have one more story to share with you. In Whales there was a woman who was walking along with her little child and they were caught in a terrible snow storm. In the morning as they were searching for her they discovered her dead body. She had died in the storm. Her outer clothes were gone because she had taken all of her clothes and wrapped her little child in them and to the astonishment of everyone the child was alive. That child turned out to be the Prime Minister of Great Britain because his name was David Lloyd George who served from 1918 to 1922. The mother was gone but she had no idea whom she held and whose life she spared.
Isn’t that exactly what Jesus has done for us? Has not Jesus Christ come to this earth and has he not died for us and shown us unconditional love? In effect he says, “I am taking off my robe of righteousness and I am giving it to you to spare you.” It says, “God did not spare his only son, but delivered him up for us all, and with him freely gives us all things.”
If you are here today and you have never trusted Christ as Savior, this is the gospel. Jesus is in our place suffering and Jesus is in our place giving us what we do not have, namely his righteousness by which we must stand before God. He is giving it to us as a free gift if we are willing to humble ourselves, admit our sin, and put our trust in him alone. That is the gospel and that is unconditional love. “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friend, and you are my friends if you do what I command you.”
Let us bow together in prayer. “Our father in this world that is so starved for love, we ask that you shall make us ambassadors of love. Who is Jesus Christ for us? The biracial child, the child without parents, the trauma that exists in some homes, can we help? Can we be aid? Can we be there? Even in our good homes we pray that there would be love and acceptance and the ability to reach out beyond our own boundaries to touch the world and to touch the city. Thank you, Father, for the mothers who teach us how to love, to sacrifice, and the meaning of unconditional love. Grant, oh God, that we might follow them and hold them up as examples of your grace and mercy, in Jesus name we pray, amen.”