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Characteristics of Christian Love (Part 4 of 4)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg
The Truth Network Radio
February 15, 2021 3:00 am

Characteristics of Christian Love (Part 4 of 4)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg

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February 15, 2021 3:00 am

Many of us are familiar with 1 Corinthians 13’s description of love: it always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres, and never fails. We might’ve memorized the words, but are we putting them into action? Hear more on Truth For Life with Alistair Begg.


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When the Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, he described a kind of love that is very different from what we see in our self-absorbed world. His words are both timeless and familiar, but are they the qualities we possess? Today on Truth for Life, Alistair Begg continues a message titled Characteristics of Christian Love in 1 Corinthians 13.

One of the things that I think would become apparent to us in the course of studying these most strategic verses for a church is that what we enter into when we open these pages and immerse our minds in the truth of Scripture here is a whole realm about which secular man knows very little. It is increasingly apparent that so much of what is addressed as love, both in terms of poetry and certainly in the lyrics of songs, is far removed from love. Indeed, if it is anything to do with any of the Greek words for love, most of it has to do with eros.

At best, phileo, from which we get Philadelphia, our city of brotherly love. Maybe storge, which is the kind of love you would expect familiarly between good friends, but certainly not the agape love that we've been considering in these evenings. Indeed, the culture in which we're living is a culture that is increasingly consumed by sex and by selfishness. It only knows about taking. It only knows about getting.

It only knows about that self-absorbed satisfaction level which begins with me and my needs. It is out of that kind of world that God has called a people for himself. And out of that world we come, redeemed in Christ, with all those residual factors in our background—things in our past that are a source of shame to us, issues from before that are frankly a disappointment. And it is vitally important that we continually are seeking the help of the Spirit of God to apply the Word of God to our lives, and it is only as God is at work within our lives to transform and change us that we can ever begin to put our toe, as it were, in the water of this great, vast ocean of God's goodness. We have said on each occasion in beginning that where these characteristics between verses 4 and 7 are not displayed in a local company of God's people, that local church will begin to drift and will ultimately, unless reclaimed, end in disintegration, so that it is no small matter for us to ask ourselves quite honestly, as we've sought to do on each occasion, whether there is any realistic sense in which we would be able to replace the word love either with our own names or with the name of our church. I have found this—I continue to find this—one of the most searching chapters that I have ever turned up in all of Holy Scripture. Now, we left it last time with the phrase, verse 7, love always protects.

We pick it up at always trusts. What is the characteristic of this love expressed in the life of an individual, manifested in the company of God's people? It is a trusting love. If you're using a different version, it may read in your Bible, Love believes all things. Now, that does not for a moment mean that love is easily deceived by wrongdoing. But what it does mean is this, that genuine love is always prepared to give the benefit of the doubt. And that is an obvious and a practical expression of genuine Christianity, because it means, for some of us particularly, that we have to ruthlessly and definitely say no to that which rises most easily in our lives—namely, cynicism and suspicion. For if love always believes the best and my natural reaction is one of cynicism and suspicion, then I need the Spirit of God to transform my mind and to change my heart in the way in which I respond to people and to issues that I face. It means that if this love becomes evident in my life, in the life of our church, in your life, then what will happen is that I will cease to believe that the motives of my brothers or my sisters are as warped as my motives often are. What else does it mean when Paul says that we should prefer one another above ourselves? It has to mean something. And it doesn't mean some kind of false modesty.

Why do we do that? Oh, says somebody, because love is supposed to prefer others, consider others better than yourselves. I don't think that's what it means at all. I think this is what it means.

When we see into our hearts and we see our motives, and we know the motives of our hearts are not what they might be, and then we see somebody else doing something, love, when it pervades and invades and transforms, looks at that individual and does not assume that they are motivated from the same warped standard that often is true in our lives—the reason being that love always believes the best. You see, turn with me for a moment to the book of Job, would you? Because there's a wonderful illustration of this in terms of Job's friends.

Here you've got a man who's in a dreadful predicament. You know the story of Job, don't you? How there was a man in the land of us whose name was Job, and he was blameless and upright, and he feared God, and he shunned evil, and he had seven sons and three daughters. You can read this wonderful little biographical prologue there at the beginning of the book. And how he was placed under the most severe form of testing as that which was precious to him in his life was increasingly taken away from him, until both in terms of family and resources and personal health and even his own looks were so devastated in him that when his three friends come upon him at the end of chapter 2, in verse 12 of chapter 2, we read, when they saw him from a distance they could hardly recognize him, they began to weep aloud and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights, and no one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was. The first guy to speak is Eliphaz. He begins in chapter 4. And this is essentially what he says to him. Consider now, he says, who being innocent has ever perished.

Where were the upright ever destroyed? As I have observed, those who plow evil and those who sow trouble reap it. What was the problem? They were his friends, but they didn't love him. Because love always trusts. It always trusts and believes that the best is the case until it is proven wrong.

And if they'd really loved Job, they would have been coming at it from a different angle, and Eliphaz is no different from the others who follow. This is a great challenge to many of us, especially those of us who have perfectionistic tendencies, those of us who demand that everything is right, always right, all the time. And that if it isn't right all the time and not best all the time, somebody's got a problem inside of them. They just don't want to do it right or whatever it is.

In point of fact, they may do them, and they may be doing their very best. But because we don't believe the best, we bring them down. What this speaks to, then, is a community of mutual trust. William Barclay, who was professor at Glasgow University in New Testament for a number of years, tells in one of his writings the story of a man named Arnold who became the headmaster of Rugby School. The school had been driven by a kind of iron rod, a tyrannical rule, for most of its history.

And when this man Arnold became the headmaster of the school, he called all of the boys together, and he told them, boys, as of today, since I became your headmaster, there's going to be a lot more liberty and a lot less flogging. And he said to them, he said, boys, I want you to know that you are free, but you are responsible. The boys were absolutely bewildered by this. They couldn't believe it. They found it difficult to believe. And when they had been guilty of some misdemeanor and they came before him, they brought their same lame excuses from before—the kinds of things they used to say to justify themselves, and as a result of which they usually got a beating. But when they came into the headmaster and gave their lame excuses, the headmaster would reply by saying, If you say so, it must be true. I believe your word. As a result of which, it is recorded that after a short period of time, the boys began to say to one another, It is a shame to tell Arnold a lie.

He always believes you. Now, let me say a couple of things. First of all, he really wasn't too smart in the unregenerate world. That is a difficult road to go. Okay?

So we're not going to hold him up as a pattern of excellence. But certainly within the world of professing faith, it is the right road to go. It is actually the only road to go. It is the loving way to go. And some of us as parents find this a great challenge—how to implement this kind of trusting love with our children.

Because we want the best for them, we want to hedge them, we want to protect them, we want to believe them, and it's tough. But love always believes the best. Also, will you notice that love always hopes? Love is always looking forward.

This is not some vague notion of optimism, but rather it is a realistic appraisal of things which refuses to take failure as final. This is the kind of love which is expressed in a friend who, when you blow it, doesn't make you feel as though you've blown it for good. It's the kind of love which in a parent recognizes failure in their children but sees failure not as final. It is a love which hangs on. It is a love which hopes. It is a love which anticipates. It is a love which never gives up. It's the kind of encouragement that God consistently gives to his people throughout all the pages of Holy Scripture, despite all the rebellious wanderings of his folks as they have charted their course and turned their back on God.

God speaks to them through his servant in 2 Chronicles 7, and he says to them, If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, forgive their sin, and heal their land. You see, the love of God has the forward look. It does not simply look at where we've been, but it looks at where by his grace we're going. That's wonderful!

Because for some of us, where we've been is not good. But God looks down upon us, manifests his love to us. How else did Jesus have such a wonderful meeting with Peter on the shoreline there after he made him his breakfast? Talk about a breakfast meeting that we might have attended!

That was one not to miss. You can read it before you go to sleep at the end of John chapter 21. You remember the last time their eyes had met? It had been at the moment of Peter's denial. And it says in one of the gospel records that in that moment Peter looked across and saw Jesus, and their eyes met, and he had denied him, even as Jesus predicted he would. And it says that he went out and he went bitterly.

It was after that, indeed, at the very beginning of the scene that ends with a breakfast meeting, that he had said to his friends, Hey, I'm going fishing. Within that context, Jesus comes to him walking along the shoreline, and he asks them the question, Hey, Peter, do you love me? And Peter replies, Lord, you know that I love you. Jesus asks them, actually, do you agape me? And Peter replies, Lord, you know that I phileo you.

I love you with a brotherly love. And Jesus asked them a second time, Peter, do you agape me? And Peter replied, Hey, Lord, you know that I phileo you. And a third time, Jesus asked him, Do you really even phileo me? Do you love me with a brotherly love? And Peter was grieved that the Lord asked him a third time, and he affirmed again, You know how much I love you. And Jesus said to him, You go and feed my sheep.

What was he saying? Failure is never final. Where love exists.

Why? Because love always hopes. You see, this is one of the great distinguishing marks of the believer in our day. Because Paul tells us in Ephesians 2 12 that outside of Christ, men and women are without God and without hope. They have no hope. They are hopeless.

But when God invades our life, one of the things that he creates within us is a godly anticipation which, fueled by love, has this as its hallmark. Can I ask you tonight, as I ask myself, are there any of my brothers and my sisters in my physical family or in my spiritual family who have begun to wander? Have I given up on one of them? Have I given up on an unbelieving spouse, a rebellious, backslidden son? And if I gave up on them, when did I determine it was legitimate to do so?

And why? When James writes at the end of his letter, he says, My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth, and someone should bring him back, remember this, whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins. Has there ever been anyone of whom you or I have said, It's over? There's no chance. There's no possibility of restoration. There's no possibility of reconciliation.

That may be nothing other than an absence of love in our lives. Now, the hope matches what is essentially the last one. Because love not only trusts and hopes, but it always perseveres. Listen to how Phillips paraphrases these three that we've just been mentioning. Tremendous work in that little paraphrase by Phillips.

Everyone should have one. Love knows no limit to its endurance, no end to its trust, no fading of its hope. That's good. No limit to its endurance, no end to its trust, no fading of its hope. The word here is hupomonai, which means fortitude. It doesn't mean acquiescence. It's the picture of a soldier who, when the battle is at its toughest, he launches into it with renewed energy. It is not the picture of a marathon runner who knows that he has long since passed his potential time for victory, and all that he is now doing is sucking air in the hope that he can finally get across the finishing line. In the one, it is fortitude and vision.

In the other, it is grim perseverance and acquiescence to the circumstances. Not in this kind of love. This kind of love always perseveres. I can't remember who sang the song. It was somebody like Dusty Springfield. That certainly dates me. But it went like this. I can't stop loving you, I've made up my mind.

I don't know if you remember that song. I can't stop loving you, I've made up my mind. In other words, there has been a determination, and as a result of my determination volitionally, in my will, I'm gonna love you. It's not to do with the ebb and flow of feelings.

It has to do with a consecrated commitment, and in the Christian context, fueled by the power of the Spirit, the love of the Lord Jesus. That is how a husband loves his wife. That is how a wife loves her husband. I recently heard of an individual who had gone for counsel to five different people because his marriage was messed up. He'd gone to these different Christian people asking them for help and wanted to analyze them and talked about his past and what had happened with his own mother and father, and someone else had tried to suggest that if he took a temperamental analysis test that this would be helpful and so on.

One individual, in the course of the conversation, asked the person, Would you say to me again your marriage vows? The person was going through it, came to the phrase, For better, for worse. The fellow said, Stop!

Say that again. He said, For better, for worse. The chap asked him, What is it right now? The guy said, Worse. The guy said, Right. Now, in your vow, what did you say you would do when it got worse? The guy said, I said, I would love my wife. The guy said, End of counseling session.

I had a telephone call from this man who told me that out of the period of time that he was wandering around, the only thing that brought realism to him was the one guy who said that to him, and that sent him home and away from a potentially adulterous relationship. It was an expression of love. Jesus, his love for his disciples—John chapter 13 and verse 1—it says of Jesus, He who had loved those who were his own in the world, he then loved them to the end. Jesus says of those who are his own, I can't stop loving you.

I've made up my mind. That brings us to the final little phrase at the beginning of verse 8. Love never fails. Love never fails. We can either regard this, incidentally, as the sixteenth facet—although we said there were fifteen—or, to mix metaphors, we can see this final little phrase at the beginning of verse 8 as the capstone on the whole building of love.

Phillips again, Love, he says, is in fact the one thing that stands when all else has fallen. You see, Parkside Church can become known for a lot of things. And it is known for a lot of things.

And it will increasingly be known for different things. But it would be wonderful for our church family to be known as a family that seriously humbly, realistically, was asking the Spirit of God to write the thirteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians into our hearts and minds and relationships. A wonderful challenge from Alistair Begg to be people who genuinely love others. This is Truth for Life with the final part of a message titled Characteristics of Christian Love in a series called Love in the Local Church. One of the things we love here at Truth for Life is being able to provide so many free resources along with at-cost books so that everyone has access to clear, relevant Bible teaching. And all of that is made possible because of a special group of listeners we call Truth Partners. These are folks who make regular monthly donations that offset the cost of our resources so that Alistair's Bible teaching is widely available to anyone who wants to learn more about God's Word. We are so grateful for the support of our Truth Partners.

And we want to invite you to join this important team today. When you do, we'll say thank you by inviting you to request a book that I've been mentioning the past couple of weeks. It's a devotional called An Ocean of Grace. This is a collection of daily readings that explores all that Jesus' death and resurrection has accomplished. It's unique in that it includes reflections from authors from across the centuries, well-known Christian writers like Augustine, Martin Luther, Charles Spurgeon, just to name a few.

And the original language that the authors used has been translated and updated for easy reading. Today is the last day An Ocean of Grace is available, so don't delay. Request your copy when you sign up today to become a Truth Partner or when you give a one-time donation to support the ministry of Truth for Life. We invite you to visit our website slash donate.

Click on the book image you see in the mobile app or call 888-588-7884. I'm Bob Lapine. Thanks for joining us today. Tomorrow, Alistair takes a closer look at the genuine marks of spiritual maturity in a message titled, Love is Forever. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life, where the Learning is for Living.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-12-24 16:51:21 / 2023-12-24 16:59:39 / 8

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