Developing Christian Love
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The law is not against such things.” (Galatians 5:22–23, CSB)
Our focus today is on love, which is preached about in a lot in churches. The danger here is that because love is such a well-known topic you may be tempted to check out. I hope you don’t.
While love is a common theme, it’s not always easy to define or describe it. We can learn a lot by listening to the perspective of children.
Here’s what Greg, who is 8-years-old, said about love, “Love is the most important thing in the world, but baseball is pretty good too.”
Mae, age 9 remarked, “No one is sure why love happens, but I heard it has something to do with how you smell. That’s why perfume and deodorant are so popular.”
When asked what falling in love is like, 9-year-old Roger said, “It’s like an avalanche where you have to run for your life.”
Leo, age 7, isn’t all that interested in love when he says, “If falling in love is anything like learning how to spell, I don’t want to do it. It takes too long.”
And finally, Bobby, who is 8, recognizes the power of love and the inevitability of being ambushed by it when he declares, “Love will find you, even if you’re trying to hide from it. I’ve been trying to hide from it since I was five, but the girls keep finding me!”1
“Love is patient, love is kind. Love does not envy, is not boastful, is not arrogant, is not rude, is not self-seeking, is not irritable, and does not keep a record of wrongs. Love finds no joy in unrighteousness but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Corinthians 13:4–7, CSB)
Paul gives us a series of characteristics that love inhabits. Jesus gives us a set of directions in which I should develop that Christian love.
7 DIRECTIONS THAT I NEED
TO DEVELOP CHRISTIAN LOVE
Those who are UPWARD from me.
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:30, CSB)
My first allegiance is to God. I love Him with all of my being. If I am going to develop Christian love, it means that I need to start loving God.
Those who are OUTWARD from me.
“The second is, Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other command greater than these.”” (Mark 12:31, CSB)
There are people in my sphere of influence, my neighbors as Jesus called them. I don’t just love God. I share God’s love with those around me.
Those who are FORWARD of me.
““If you love me, you will keep my commands.” (John 14:15, CSB)
If I am going to move forward, then I need to follow Jesus by following His commands. His commands are all related to love. Jesus wants me to love God, love Him, and love others. Some of those others include people whom I love who follow Jesus. The first person who is leading me is Jesus.
“Therefore, since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every hindrance and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith. For the joy that lay before him, he endured the cross, despising the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1–2, CSB)
But you and I were introduced to Jesus by someone. This person is someone who is further along the faith than me. The Christians before me are people who love Jesus and who have mentored me. I continue in a relationship with them as I grow to be more like Jesus. I spend time with people who love me just like they love Jesus.
Those who are BEHIND me.
““This is my command: Love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this: to lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:12–13, CSB)
There are people who are following me as I follow Jesus. These are people who I disciple. These are people who follow me as I follow Jesus. These are people who learn how to love like Jesus as they learn that love from me. No one is perfect. But you and I have the opportunity to share the love of Jesus with others who follow Jesus.
Just as someone is following Jesus and mentors me, I give back by sharing my life with others. Jesus called the disciples His friends and He was willing to lay His life down for them. Jesus shared an example for others.
What kind of example and I showing those who are following Jesus behind me? How can I show them the love of Jesus?
Those who are BELOW me.
““See to it that you don’t despise one of these little ones, because I tell you that in heaven their angels continually view the face of my Father in heaven. What do you think? If someone has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, won’t he leave the ninety-nine on the hillside and go and search for the stray? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices over that sheep more than over the ninety-nine that did not go astray. In the same way, it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones perish.” (Matthew 18:10–14, CSB)
There are “little ones” who are below me. They are little and they look up to me as a Christian. Children need my love that shows them that I love Jesus.
Jesus takes the way that I relate to little ones seriously. How does someone who first believe and love Jesus leave Him? They fall away by example. It should be a natural form for me to love Jesus once I follow Him. It is a natural reaction for children who love Jesus to follow Him. But it takes someone to CAUSE a little one to fall away. An adult can fall away on their own. A little one (a child) leaves Jesus because an adult causes that to happen. Jesus warns that this act of causing a little one to fall away is so an unloving act that it would be better if that person were dumped in the sea with a stone around their neck. In essence, it would be better if that person were caught and drowned as punishment.
““But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to fall away—it would be better for him if a heavy millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.” (Mark 9:42, CSB)
Drowning is a horrible way to die. It is extreme, and Jesus points to this as a consequence for people who are so unloving and evil. The Southern Baptist Convention has just released an action plan to deal with the unloving and evil forms of child abuse and sex abuse in the churches.
There is no place in the church for people who don’t love children. We are called to love the children, all the children who come our way.
Those who are AGAINST me.
“But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” (Matthew 5:44, CSB)
“But love your enemies, do what is good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High. For he is gracious to the ungrateful and evil.” (Luke 6:35, CSB)
A woman and her husband came to the pastor and said, “We’re going to get a divorce, but we want to come to make sure that you approve of it.” There are people who come to the pastor hoping that when they say there is no feeling left in their marriage, the pastor will say, “Well, if there’s no feeling left, then, the only thing you can do is split.” Instead, the pastor says to the husband, “The Bible says you’re to love your wife as Jesus Christ loved the church.” He says, “Oh, I can’t do that.” The pastor says, “If you can’t begin at that level, then begin on a lower level.
You’re supposed to love your neighbor as you love yourself. Can you at least love her as you would love a neighbor?” The husband says, “No. That’s still too high a level.” The pastor says, “The Bible says, ‘Love your enemies. Why don’t you start there.’”2
Whether it is someone who is close to you or just someone you meet at work or at the gym, there are going to be some people who won’t like you. Even if they don’t like you, or even hate you, as a Christian, one learns to love them.
Jesus reminds me that I can even learn to love those who are against me. I learn how to love my enemies by following the words of Jesus. He says that I should pray for my enemies. I should even do what is good to them.
The reason that you and I can love others, even others who hate us, is because we have other Christians who are beside me.
Those who are BESIDE me.
““I give you a new command: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”” (John 13:34–35, CSB)
How do I love other Christians? This doesn’t just apply to Christians in my own church, or my own denomination, or my own country. I love other Christians, no matter what tradition they follow. I need to love my brothers and sisters in Christ. Jesus said the way I love other Christians is a testimony to the world. It reveals the love of Christ to lost people.
Love is the first fruit of the Spirit for a reason. Jesus commanded love out of His disciples. Love is the hallmark of the Christian life. It is the best way to witness of God’s love. It is the most important quality for the Christian to possess.
“Love is patient, love is kind. Love does not envy, is not boastful, is not arrogant, is not rude, is not self-seeking, is not irritable, and does not keep a record of wrongs. Love finds no joy in unrighteousness but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put aside childish things. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, as I am fully known. Now these three remain: faith, hope, and love—but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:4–13, CSB)
1 Brian Bill, “Learning How to Love,” sermon, 30 May 2003, Internet, SermonCentral, https://www.sermoncentral.com/sermons/1-learning-how-to-love-brian-bill-sermon-on-jesus-teachings-58733, accessed on 6 June 2019.
2 Bob Joyce, “Pay It Forward,” sermon, 4 August 2011, Internet, SermonCentral.com, https://www.sermoncentral.com/sermons/pay-it-forward-bob-joyce-sermon-on-christian-love-159308, accessed on 7 June 2019.