There is so much false information being circulated in our culture that we need to know the truth about love. No word in the English language has been more tortured, twisted, or perverted. On a daily basis, the truth about love is being buried deeper and deeper in an avalanche of selfishness and confusion.
We see false love all around us and the danger is that we are getting used to it. A friend of mine was watching The Bachelor and he said, “The man had a bunch of women to date, but he had to eliminate them as he went along. The first one was eliminated and she was sobbing. The host asked her, ‘Why are you crying?’ She said, ‘I just love him so very much.’ She had just met him!”
I am sad for this generation, but I am very concerned about the next generation. How will they be affected by a steady diet of this confusion and distortion?
By the way, believers are not immune to this confusion and distortion. Anyone who feeds on this stuff will begin to view love through a distorted lens. Sooner or later, our core belief becomes that anyone who really loves us will do what we want them to do—including God.
Several years ago, a young woman came to me and said, “I have been dating a man and he told me last week that if I do not marry him he will kill himself.” She was carrying around a huge amount of pressure and guilt. Well I am going to let you guess what I said to her.
A couple of years later I saw her and I said, “You obviously did not marry him. Did he kill himself?” She said, “No, he is married to someone else now and has a child.”
That type of threat is not love—it is pure selfishness. This is an extreme example, but it is one of many examples of how very few people understand what biblical love is all about. Let me tell you about biblical self-giving love.
Self-giving love demands something of us, not the other person. Self-giving love is more concerned about giving than about receiving. Self-giving love is about sacrificing for others. Self-giving love is more about the will than feelings. Self-giving love puts the welfare of others ahead of our own welfare. Self-giving love has no room for pride and self-conceit.
Beware. As you hear me talking about self-giving love you will be tempted to think, “I am going to try to love that way.” Let me be upfront and tell you that if you try it naturally, you are going to fail because it is impossible for you to sustain this type of love in the long-run. The best of our natural efforts to love selflessly will only go so far. Self-sacrificing love is supernatural.
You may be asking, “How do I love supernaturally?” The Apostle Peter tells us in 2 Peter 1:4 that everyone who is in Christ Jesus is a partaker of the divine nature. The very Jesus whom we claim to know as the Savior and the Lord of our lives has already promised to pour His love into our hearts.
In Romans 5:5, Paul writes, “God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given to us.” You see, we do not manufacture love—we only share what we have been given. You cannot manufacture self-giving love. You can only share that which God has already poured into your heart.
So many books talk about how much hard work marriage is. Marriage is hard work when you are trying to do it in your own strength because you are trying to follow someone else’s program. Love is not, cannot, will not, be manufactured. Love can only be shared, because Christ has already poured it into our hearts.
When you come to the great love manifesto, 1 Corinthians 13, the Apostle Paul actually does what Hebrew scholars would say is an exaggeration. In the Hebrew language known as hyperbole, he goes to an extreme just to make a point. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3. “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor, and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing” (NIV).
There are three things in those three verses that the Apostle Paul wants every believer to understand and to take to heart and to practice. First, he is saying that eloquence is no substitute for love. Second, he is saying that expertise is no substitute for love. And third, he is saying that extravagance is no substitute for love.
Eloquence is no substitute for love. The Corinthians, at the time when Paul was writing to them, were bragging about how they could speak in tongues—that they could speak in different languages, but they had loveless hearts. That is why Paul addressed this problem and wrote, “If I speak in every known language in the world and if I speak like the angels speak, but don’t have love, it is just an annoying noise.”
Beloved I want you to read me right. The best of our witnessing, the best of our evangelistic techniques, the best of our teaching and preaching, the best of our programs, the best of our abilities—if they are not motivated by love, according to the Word of God, they are simply annoying noise. Eloquence is no substitute for love.
Second, expertise is no substitute for love. We often ask the question, “What makes a person tick?” What we are really saying is, “What is their motivation?” Several years ago the Lord taught me not to ask that question of others, but to ask it of myself, “What is my motive?”
Why do I do this? Because I honestly believe deep in my heart, that if my motive is self-interest or if my motive is to take advantage of any kind, in the long run I will not be effective for the Lord. You see, anybody can start out right and keep it going for a while. But I am more concerned with finishing right than starting right. Just because I am gifted in some area does not mean that I can exercise that gift in an unloving way and expect things to happen.
Whatever area of giftedness you have— and we all have at least one area of giftedness—unless it is done and executed in love, it will not produce fruit over the long run. Paul said that even if I have faith that can move mountains, even if I have faith that can perform miracles, it will amount to nothing without love.
Let me point you to one person in the scripture who had faith. He trusted in the word of God, but because of his loveless heart he ran away. Jonah believed God, he really did. He believed in the word of God and he trusted in the Word of God. When God told him to go to Ninevah and preach, the people would repent and He would forgive them. Jonah replied that he trusted God’s Word, but he was not going to go. He believed God. He had faith in God. But he had a loveless heart and that is why he tried to run from God. Eloquence is no substitute for love. Expertise is no substitute for love.
Third, extravagance is no substitute for love. The problem is there are some people who confuse sacrificing things with sacrificial love. Why do I say that? Because giving things can be a way to ease one’s guilt. Beloved, I want to tell you something and it took me a long time to really understand this—the greatest gift that you can give someone is yourself.
Men, there are many of us that find it a lot easier to just pay for things. We buy things for our wives and our children when what they want and need is us.
We hear people say, “Well, I would die for you.” You know what is harder than dying for someone? It is living for someone. It is dying to self. It is much harder to die to your ideas, to your opinions, and to your way.
I wonder in my spirit if there may be some people who would say, “Michael, you are right. I have really tried to practice sacrificial love on my own. I have tried to practice it in my own strength, but I am finding myself failing all the time.”
Today, very simply say, “Lord Jesus Christ, You promised that when I invite You to love others through me, You will. Will you please do that today?” Then, ask Him again tomorrow morning and every day after that, and you will see Him express true love through you.