How to Love

One day in south America, Maria the anteater was taking a walk with her two sons. Luis, the younger of the two, often asked questions of his big brother, Jose. This day, he asked "Jose, Mama is always telling me 'I love you.' What does that mean?"

"It means many things." replied Jose. "Look at the way she holds her tail so that its shadow falls on you to protect you from the sun. That is love."

A few minutes later, the anteaters came to a termite mound. Maria placed Luis in a prime spot to find the biggest, juiciest termites. "That is also love." said Jose.

After eating, the family continued walking and came to a road. Luis ran out into the road. Maria quickly herded him back and scolded him severely. "That is also love." said Jose.

By now, Luis was thoroughly confused. How could love mean so many vastly different things?

Leter that day, as Luis was playing in the tall grass, a jaguar appeared out of a nearby clearing. Luis was so terrified that he could not even hoot for help. The jaguar leapt closer, licking its chops at the sight of the tasty morsel he would soon be dining on. Like a bolt out of the blue, Maria ran in and placed herself between the jaguar and her son. The cat sprang and sank his teeth deep into Maria's arm. But as soon as he tasted the poisonous anteater flesh, the jaguar ran away crying and retching.

Once Jose discovered what had happened, he brought some soothing moss for his mother's arm.

"Was that love, too, Jose?" asked Luis. "Yes, little brother." replied the older sibling. "That was the biggest kind."

This sermon almost didn't get written. It's not that I didn't want to, or that love isn't an important topic. I simply wondered if it was really necessary with our particular group. There really isn't a significant lack of love here. Nor is there a shortage of expression. That's the nice thing about our particular subculture- we are encouraged to demonstrate affection for one another. So it seemed good to me not to simply preach about the importance of love as one would normally do with such a new congregation, but rather HOW to love.

The Greek language, which is the language of the New Testament, has four words for "love". There is friendly love "Phileo", familial love "Storge", sexual love "Eros" and the one we'll be talking about today, "Agape". Agape is defined as "The best for you, regardless of the cost to me." When you hear me say "Love" at any given time, this is probably what I'm talking about.

I think we'll all agree that the essence of Agape is meeting one another's needs. If we have agape for one another, we'll feed each other when we're hungry, house one another when homeless, comfort one another when sad.

What else does it mean to have agape?

One thing it means is to obey the Lord. John 14:15 "If you love me, you will obey what I command." This is true not only for God, but for all those placed in positions of authority over us. If we do not obey our parents, the police, our employers, our government, we make it impossible for them to serve by leading and frustrate whatever good they may be trying to accomplish. That's not to say that we always have to blindly obey every edict we're given, but we should be expected to honor and respect the things those in authority tell us.

Honor and respect, by the way, are two more manifestations of agape. We can see this in Romans 12:10.

Love does no harm. Romans 13:10 Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. This doesn't simply mean leaving your neighbor alone. It means you don't keep any records or wrongs or prceived wrongs. You don't brag and make your neighbor feel small. You don't act proud. You don't ermbarass your neighbor. You don't even do the things which seem perfectly all right to you if you offend your neighbor. That is what it means to cause no harm.

Love is forgiving. 1 Peter 4:8 Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.

Love is patient, as we see in 1 Corinthians 13:4. It endures hardship, accusations, strife, envy and all manner of wrongs, and continues to love the one who has inflicted hurt. Not only does it resist fading, it actively continues to do good. This verse says "love is patient, love is kind..." Agape is both patient and actively kind at the same time! Does this mean that we are to actively do good to those who are inflicting damage upon us? ABSOLUTELY! Is that not what Jesus did?

The same verse tells us that love is humble. It is not self-serving. It seeks to serve the other first. How then CAN it be prideful? If we love one another, we do so with honest humility, not counting ourselves above one another, just as Jesus, though he would have been well within his rights to claim an earthly throne, contented Himself to live as the simple son of a carpenter. Jesus demonstrated that love is about service, as in this verse.

Galatians 5:13 You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature ; rather, serve one another in love.

Agape love is a love which requires work. (1 Thes 1:3) It is a love of action. (1 John 3:18)

Agape also bolsters emotionally. It encourages by its very nature, as Paul writes to Philemon in Philemon verse 7- Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the saints. It builds up the one who is loved as well as the lover. (1 Cor 8:1) Not in an artificial way, but in a real, true and lasting way.

The one who has agape loves the truth. 1 Corinthians 13:6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. He practices only sincerity. (Romans 12:9) He would rather see you momentarily stung by a painful truth that permanently damaged by a lie.

Some of you just learned, I'm sure, in the opening fable, about the fact that anteater flesh is toxic. It gets this way because they eat ants, which contain formic acid. This is the ants' weapon. As the anteater feeds, the ants sting him, and it hurts, but because he endures the stinging, the acid builds up in his body until he himself becomes poisonous. Truth can be like this. It hurts for a little while, but as we take it in, it changes us and makes us very difficult to attack.

The best thing a loving mother anteater can do for her child is to encourage him to eat all the ants he can, despite the stinging, helping him build up the poisons in his body. The best we can do for one another is to embrace honesty and truth, helping one another to become holy and blameless.

God does this for us. Rev 3:19 Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent.

This bears out Romans 8:28, which many of you know by heart, I'm sure... And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

Loving parents do unpleasant things to their children. They make them eat vegetables, force them to go to bed on time, punish them when they're bad, forbid them to go to certain parties, and even make them dress properly. And yes, scold them when they dart out into the street. While we might not like it, this is still an expression of agape, because it is for our ultimate good.

But while the one with agape is willing to cause the loved one a little pain, he is willing to place any cost upon himself. Maria the anteater sacrificed her arm to save her baby, yet I'm sure none of us think that if it were necessary, she wouldn't give her very life for her son. This is the ultimate expression of agape. This is also the love of Jesus.

Romans 5:8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

In my humble opinion, this verse is still a drastic understatement. I've heard it said that Jesus didn't really sacrifice anything since He came right back to life anyhow. I'm sure the person who said this would have been willing to die if they were brought right back to life. But I wonder... would they have been willing to be beaten? To be punched and kicked and spit upon? Would they have been willing to have their back flayed open? Would they let someone jam a crown of poisonous thorns into their scalp? Would they submit to the taunting as Roman soldiers put a cape over their back, then after the blood had congealed, ripped it off? Would they like to be forced to carry their own cross to their own excecution? Would they willingly submit to being nailed to that cross? Would they think it of no consequence to be stripped naked and made a spectacle of as their blood flowed away, they baked in the hot sun, dehydrated, and slowly suffocated as well, suffering the most agonizing death mankind has ever contrived? I think not.

My challenge to you, if you have not accepted Christ, is the same as always. Understand how much He loves you, and return that love by asking Him into your heart.

If you have, then my challenge is to look over all that we've heard today and ask yourself "Is there anything I can do to love those around me more?"

Pastor Oren Otter
September 17, 2005