Toward the end of W.C. Fields' life--in fact, while he lay on his deathbed--a friend stopped by to see him and was rather surprised to find him reading the Bible. As you probably know, W.C. Fields was a lot like the rascally, drunken character he often portrayed. The friend asked, "Why in the world are you reading the Bible? Are you looking for answers?" W.C. Fields said, "No. I'm looking for loopholes."
When we read the words of Jesus, we sometimes catch ourselves looking for loopholes. He made some hard statements. Probably one of the most difficult for us to follow is his command, "Love one another as I have loved you"(John 13:34). If he had just said, "Love one another," we could try to water it down. But the clause "as I have loved you" makes it absolutely clear what Jesus meant.
God takes love seriously. He loves us, and he expects us to love one another. I doubt if anyone here needs to be sold on the importance of love. We are already convinced this is the lifestyle God wants for us. From cover to cover, the Bible teaches how important it is. Here are just a few of the injunctions in the Scripture that call us to love one another:
Leviticus 19:18 (NKJV) 'You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.
Romans 13:8 (NKJV) Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law.
Colossians 3:14 (NKJV) But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection.
1 Peter 4:8 (NKJV) And above all things have fervent love for one another, for "love will cover a multitude of sins."
The reason the early church made such a difference in their world was because they loved one another. In fact, even their critics marveled at their love for one another.
How much you love is determined by how much you do. Biblical love is something you do. Therefore, you can only say, "I love you" by your actions.
1 John 3:18 (NKJV) My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.
Contrary to this, our society teaches love is a feeling, it's a mystical sensation that sweeps over you one day and may disappear the next. As long as you feel a certain way, you're in love. When the feeling goes away, you're not in love. Of course, you can't be expected to act a certain way towards someone when you're not in love, can you? Commitment is required only as long as the feeling remains. That's because love is a feeling--according to our society. The Bible teaches just the opposite. Love is not a feeling. It's an action. It's something you do.
How much you love is determined by how much you do because love is an action. So, how do we learn to love as Christ loved us? What does that involve?
An expert in Jewish law once came to Jesus and asked him how to inherit eternal life. Jesus asked him what the law said. The man answered, "Love God with all your heart; love your neighbor as yourself." Jesus said "You are correct." Then, like W.C. Fields, the man fished for a loophole. He asked, "And who is my neighbor?" You get the impression he was hoping Jesus would say, "Only people in your immediate family, or people of your race, or people in your same economic group." Instead, Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan. It teaches us, among other things, that our neighbor is anyone we have the opportunity to help.
1 John 3:16 (KJV) Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.
Now, let's be realistic. The chances are practically nil that you'll be called on to die for anyone. Face it, our lives just aren't that adventurous. We won't get the chance to die for someone, but I can guarantee something that might be more difficult. We will get the chance to be inconvenienced.
When it happens, how will you handle it? Will you do what you can, even when it's not easy? What if a friend needs a ride to work every day for a week? What if your neighbor needs help fixing his lawnmower? What if the boss asks you to work late? What if the church needs you to help in the nursery, or do an activity with the youth group, or visit someone in the hospital? This is not laying down your life--it's worse, because you live to tell about it. Loving others means that you share yourself, your resources, your time, your talents, wherever you have the opportunity.
How much we love is determined by how much we do. That's because love is not a feeling, it's an action. It is something we do.
How do you think it would affect your life, and the relationships in your life, if you took some steps toward being a more loving person? Would it improve your home-life? Would it make a difference at work? Would it have an impact here at church? Of course, the answer is obvious.
A big obstacle in living a life of love is that many people simply buy into the "me-first" mind set. This condition doesn't happen by "accident" it is the result of a sinful choice to put your needs and interests above others.
A tragic example of this was seen recently in the story of David Cash. You probably heard about it. David and his friend, Jeremy Strohmeyer, were in a Las Vegas casino late one evening, and Jeremy molested and murdered a seven year old girl. David didn't participate in the murder, but he was aware of what was happening and he did nothing to protect the child. Refusing to help the girl was not a crime-- David will face no legal consequences-- but he has become the object of public outrage. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, David said, "I'm not going to get upset over someone else's life. I just worry about myself first."
This is an extreme example of a malady that inflicts us all, the tendency to put ourselves first above the needs of others. I doubt any of you could be as cold-hearted as the young man in this story, but we're talking about degrees of selfishness here. We all struggle from time-to-time with the "disease of me." David Cash's story reminds us how far that type of thinking can take someone.
There are times when we want to love those around us and sometimes we even try, but we seem to fail. Maybe it's because we don't know how to love. This is evident even in our families. The first test of Christian love is the home. Let me ask you married people, "Are you loving to each other?" "Children, are your loving to you parents? Parents, are you loving to your children?"
Elton Trueblood, the Quaker, has said, "The family can be the scene of wonderful affection, and it can also be the scene of debasing friction... A successful marriage is not one in which two people, beautifully matched, find each other and get along happily ever after because of this initial matching. It is, instead, a system by means of which persons who are contentious are so caught by a dream bigger than themselves that they work through the years, in spite of repeated disappointments, to make the dream come true."
A woman expresses the lack of love in her home in writing to Ann Landers. "Dear Ann Landers, my husband doesn't talk to me. He just sits there night after night, reading the newspaper or looking at T.V. When I ask him a question, he grunts 'huh, or Uh'huh.' Sometimes he doesn't even grunt, 'uh'huh.' All he really needs is a housekeeper and somebody to sleep with him when he feels like it. He can buy both. There are times when I wonder why he got married."
I think it is sad but true that many Christian homes are like this, there is a real absence of love. Love is vital to our Christian witness and the place to learn and practice love is in the home.
Are you loving those in your home? Do they feel loved? There are two sides to love, giving and receiving. Giving love is the action side, receiving is the feeling side. God made us rational and emotional creatures. He gave us the capacity to feel loved and, equally important, the ability to choose to demonstrate it. The question we need to answer is, "How can I say, 'I love you?'" Or to put it another way, "How can I love in action so that the person I am directing it toward actually senses love?"
Dr. Gary Chapman, a leading family and marriage therapists, has described in his book, The Five Languages of Love, five unique love languages men and women utilize in relating to one another.
A love language is the ability to express love and concern to another person in the primary emotional language of the other person.
Have you ever been around people who were speaking a foreign language that you did not understand? You know they are communicating with each other but you have no clue as to what they are saying. If you don't know the language they are speaking, their words are meaningless to you. What happens in foreign languages occurs with emotional languages. We may speak our emotional language, but it often comes across to other people as an unknown tongue. We say, "I love you" in our language, but they don't understand our language so they have no clue as to what we are saying. As a result, our efforts to demonstrate love are frustrated. To avoid that frustration, we must learn the primary love language of those in our family. Your primary love language is evident in two ways: You speak it more often than other languages, and you feel most loved when it is spoken to you.
There are five ways of expressing love in action to our mate, our children, and anyone else so that they actually feel loved.
Affection is a great need of both men and women. Affection is one of the greatest needs that a person is born with and one that we never outgrow. Affection symbolizes security, comfort, and approval. When a man has someone in his life who truly loves him and who will freely express that to him, it sends a powerful message of affirmation, trust and commitment. Not all of us had the privilege of growing up in a loving home. However, I believe that any one of us can learn to be more loving. As we go over these five love languages, see if you can determine which of them is your predominate love language.
1. WORDS OF AFFIRMATION
Mark Twain once said, "I can live for two months on a good compliment." If we take Twain literally, six compliments a year would have kept his emotional love tank at the operational level.
One way of expressing love is by building up others through verbal encouragement. Taking the time to verbally pat someone on the back is a way of saying, "I love you." Solomon wrote:
Proverbs 18:21 (NKJV) Death and life are in the power of the tongue, And those who love it will eat its fruit.
Proverbs 12:25 (NKJV) Anxiety in the heart of man causes depression, But a good word makes it glad.
For some there is no greater way to express love than by words of legitimate praise and recognition. How do you think Timothy felt when Paul wrote this to the Philippians?:
Philippians 2:19-22 (NKJV) But I trust in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you shortly, that I also may be encouraged when I know your state. 20 For I have no one like-minded, who will sincerely care for your state. 21 For all seek their own, not the things which are of Christ Jesus. 22 But you know his proven character, that as a son with his father he served with me in the gospel.
Some of us need to improve a bit in learning how to verbally express affection to the significant people in our lives. It has been suggested that the reason women have a greater imagination is to be able to tell men how wonderful they are.
In 1 Corinthians 13:4 Paul said, "Love is kind." If we are to communicate love verbally, we must use kind words. That has to do with the WAY we speak as well as what we say. The manner in which you speak is exceedingly important.
Proverbs 15:1 (NKJV) A soft answer turns away wrath, But a harsh word stirs up anger.
Does the WAY you speak stir up anger or does it turn away wrath?
2. QUALITY TIME
Quality time means giving someone your full attention. Sitting on the couch together watching television is not quality time. It means looking at each other while talking. This requires that you invest yourself in the other person by listening carefully to what they are saying. It involves two people who are actively participating in the conversation and going beyond the fact level of communication. Some ways of doing that are through participating in similarly enjoyable activities at the same time. It may be working in the yard, it may be walking in the neighborhood, it may be traveling, it may be playing a sport or working on a hobby. However it is translated, it means having quality time to interact together. A central aspect of quality time is togetherness. Togetherness is not just a matter of proximity, it has to do with focused attention. Quality time occurs when we are giving our full attention to the other person. In marriage, this is so crucial to the long term health of your relationship. One recent study indicates that the average married couple spends less that one hour, per week, doing something together. When you consider the fact that there are 168 hours in a week, that's not much time together.
One of the less obvious but more critical need that many people have is for someone to listen to them. They don't need our advice as much as our attention.
3. GIFT GIVING
Impromptu gift giving (not obligatory holiday gift giving) sends a message, "I was thinking about you, I care for you." It is providing something that you can hold in your hand and say, "This person was thinking of or remembering me". It may be a gift of something you purchased, it may be a gift of something you made; or it may be a gift of yourself, your time and attention. Christ gave us the gift of himself.
Ephesians 5:25 (NKJV) Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her,
4. PHYSICAL DISPLAYS OF AFFECTION
Numerous research projects in the area of child development have made the conclusion: Babies who are held, hugged, and kissed develop a healthier emotional life than those who are left for long periods of time without physical contact.
Some people find the predominate way that they sense affection is by touch. It may be a hug, it may be holding a hand, it may be just an arm around a shoulder. For the married, this would include sex, but sex is only one dialect in the love language of physical touch, there are many more.
Have you ever noticed that almost instinctively in a time of crisis, we hug one another. Why? Because physical touch is a powerful communicator of love. In a time of crisis, more than anything, we need to feel loved. Crises provide a unique opportunity for expressing love. Your tender touches will be remembered long after the crisis has past. I can remember sitting in my kitchen with Cathy and a girl that had been in our youth department. This girl told my wife that on her first visit to the church, my wife hugged her. It was in my home about ten years later that this girl told my wife that was the first time she was ever hugged. That hug that Cathy gave her was an expression of love that she never forgot.
Jesus demonstrated love when he touched a man with leprosy.
Matthew 8:1-4 (NKJV) When He had come down from the mountain, great multitudes followed Him. 2 And behold, a leper came and worshiped Him, saying, "Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean." 3 Then Jesus put out His hand and touched him, saying, "I am willing; be cleansed." Immediately his leprosy was cleansed.
A person declared by a priest to be a leper was banished from his home and city. He had to cry, "Unclean" when other people came near. Anyone who came in contact with a leper was also considered unclean. Lepers were not permitted to travel on the roadway, nor could they have any social contact with "clean" people. Therefore, lepers were isolated from the rest of the community so that the members of the community could maintain their status as worshipers. The leper was sent to live in a community with other lepers until he died. Lepers were social outcasts.
So this man not only had a terminal disease, but he had been separated from his family and friends. He was ceremonially unclean, he was unfit to worship God. He was dying and he had no comfort from family or friends or church. He was truly hurting. Some of you know that the pain of rejection alone can be devastating. He was dying and rejected. What love he must have felt when Jesus touched him.
Hugs have all kinds of positive benefits for our lives. Studies have shown that a man cannot get too many hugs. A survey from a study by life insurance companies found that women who kiss their husbands every day before they go to work have fewer accidents on the freeway. They also discovered that men who kissed their wives the last thing before they go to bed at night live longer than any other men. They also found that the same group of men earned more money at their place of employment. If you want to avoid an accident and live long and see things pay off, begin and end the day with a kiss. Be sensitive to each other's needs for physical displays of affection.
A boy was courting a girl and took her out for a long drive around his farm. He stopped the car where two of his cows were nuzzling one another, licking each other around the lips. The boy looked at the girl and said, "I sure would like to do that". She said, "Go ahead, it is your cow."
5. ACTS OF SERVICE
Galatians 5:13 (NKJV) For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.
Jesus gave us a profound illustration of expressing love by an act of service when he washed the disciples feet.
John 13:14-15 (NKJV) "If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. 15 "For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.
Another way of saying that is, that actions which express an understanding and willingness to meet legitimate needs are love. It may be helping around the house, preparing a hot meal, taking the trash out, seeing that the house is a warm and inviting place to come to.
1 John 3:18 (NKJV) My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.
We communicate love by serving others, doing things for them that will help them out or that we know that they will appreciate. Whenever you do something for another person beyond the normal course of events, you are saying "I love you" in action.
This is my wife's primary love language and if I want to show her that I love her, I do it by acts of service. Helping her with chores or doing things for her. Whenever I do an act of service for her, I am saying, "I love you."
I think that we are afraid to do too much for others because we're afraid they may take advantage of us. But Jesus said that the way to be great in his kingdom was to be a servant to everybody.
Matthew 20:25-28 (NKJV) But Jesus called them to Himself and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. 26 "Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. 27 "And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave; 28 "just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many."
Out of those five love languages, one is your primary language. One of those modes of expression means more to you than the other four, and another one means the least to you. Your primary love language is the one you most enjoy hearing and the one you tend to speak to other people. Learning how to love others means learning and choosing to speak all five languages.
In your home, let's say that the wife's primary love language is acts of service, but the husband's is gift giving. The husband is constantly trying to say, "I love you" to the wife by giving her things. But because he is not speaking her language, she is not hearing him. What she really wants is for him to help her get the kids ready for bed or clean up the kitchen. Until he learns to speak her language, there will be frustration in the home.
Your spouse's criticisms about your behavior provide you with the clearest clue to their primary love language. People tend to criticize their spouse most loudly in the area where they themselves have the deepest emotional need. Their criticism is an ineffective way of pleading for love.
If we are going to show the world love, it must start in the home. And if we are going to effectively love each other, it is very helpful to understand the primary love language of the other person. Choosing to love your mate in his or her love language is a greater act of love than exercising your own primary language.
How can we discover our own "love language?" Three questions asked make it possible to determine your own love language.
1. What do others do that hurts me the most? The opposite of what hurts is likely your love language.
2. What do you request most from others? What we request most may be our love language.
3. How do you most consistently express love in your most significant relationships?
Answer those three question and you will likely discover your love language. But the real key is to learn the love languages of those in your home so you can say, "I love you" in a way that they will understand.