Love is the greatest commandment of all. Nothing in this world matters more than love. Life is all about love. Love is the measure of our humanity. Love is the purpose of our lives. Love is what God calls us to.
There are a lot of things we could excel in, but if we get love wrong, none of it will matter. The whole purpose of the church is to increase the amount of love in our world. The apostle Paul wrote, “But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart.”
- I will make it a goal to grow in love in 2020.
- I will love like Jesus loved.
- I will take an assessment to learn my love language.
- I will learn to give love the way those close to me like to receive it.
- I will reflect on Proverbs 25:11.
- I will pick someone to compliment each day this week.
- I will practice using humble words this week.
- I will go out and speak words of love this week.
Full Sermon Script:
Good morning. I want to say welcome to everyone here and to those who are joining us online.
We’re launching a new series today about what matters most in life.
We get reminded of this when a baby is born, and we see this helpless, unimaginably precious life.
We’re reminded when a couple exchanges vows at a wedding ceremony to declare their devotion to each other.
When we hear about a soldier laying down their life for their friends.
When an elderly woman who has Alzheimers is cared for by her child day after day, month after month, year after year.
When an inner city teacher keeps showing up, long after all of her colleagues have burnt out; she shows up with energy and passion for the sake of that one child whose life might be changed.
When a young girl in Thailand who was sex trafficked risks her life to begin again for the sake of her 2-year-old child.
When a cold heart repents in a marriage that was headed for disaster, and the marriage is reborn.
When someone lies dying in a hospital bed, surrounded by friends and family who have shared life with them.
It’s in moments like these that we know how much love matters.
Love is what life is all about.
Love is what matters most of all.
Love is why we exist.
Love is what God created us for.
There are a number of things I could get right, but if I get love wrong, none of it will matter.
I could be in the best physical condition in the world.
The strongest man in the Bible, the man in the best physical condition, was probably Samson… and his life was a train wreck.
He was in great shape, but his life was a wreck.
I could be in the best financial condition in the world.
Jesus told a story about a rich man who had his best financial year ever — he tore down his old barns, built bigger ones, but he ends up dying.
Someone else gets all of his stuff… and God calls him a fool. He was wealthy, but he didn’t honor God.
I could be in the best career in the world.
The most successful man in Jesus’ day was a man named Herod. He was a cruel and oppressive slave driver.
I could be in the best college and get the best education in the world.
The smartest person in the Bible was a man named Solomon… and he ended up with a thousand wives. That’s just not a good idea.
The apostle Paul was writing to the church at Corinth. In the thirteenth chapter, he says these amazing words.
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have 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 do not have love, I am nothing.
If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. 1 Corinthians 13:1-3
I read a modern translation of that passage this week:
“Though I tweet like Justin Bieber and have more Facebook friends than the Pope; though I get a B.A. from Cal and an M.B.A. from Stanford; though I invent Snapchat and Instagram and WhatsApp and Uber; though I have great hair and white teeth and low body fat; though I solve global warming, set philanthropic records, and drive a Hummer that runs on compost; if I don’t have love, I’m nothing.”
You might put the equation like this. According to Paul — everything minus love equals nothing.
On the other hand, if I have nothing, but I add to it love… then I have everything in God’s eyes.
Now, Paul gets this idea about the importance of love from Jesus, who said one time that all of life, all moral imperative boils down to this.
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:37-40
It’s all about love.
I’m setting a goal for myself as a result of this series:
I want to be a more loving person by the end of 2020 than I am today. I want to train to be a more loving person.
And that’s my hope for our church.
Now, if your goal is to be more physically fit, you would probably join a gym.
If you want more financial health, you might use an investment firm.
If you want more career success, you might get a coach or take a class.
If you want to grow in your capacity to love the people God puts in your life, where should you go?
You’re there. This is the place right here.
The whole purpose of the church is to increase the amount of love in our world.
Churches can get confused about this often in real destructive ways.
The apostle Paul wrote:
The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. 1 Timothy 1:5
The goal of Christian instruction is not people who KNOW a lot… but people who LOVE a lot.
Though I know the entire Bible but have not love, I am nothing.
As a matter of fact, knowing can sometimes be a problem.
Paul said one time:
But knowledge puffs up while love builds up. 1 Corinthians 8:1
This could be a problem for church people.
I was talking to someone who is not part of our church, but he asked me, “Why do so many churches seem to be jerk factories?”
It’s okay that churches attract jerks. We’re supposed to do that. But we shouldn’t produce them.
Dallas Willard said one time:
It is rare to find a church that is practically oriented around Jesus’ instruction, “Love one another as I have loved you.” — Dallas Willard
You might think that would be a churches primary goal, but it usually turns out otherwise.
Well I want to say for us, as a church — that’s our primary goal.
We’re launching this series today on love, but it’s about way more than just, “Here are some tips on how to have a good relationship.”
This is the great purpose of human existence designed by God.
What is our aim as a church?
To grow a community of extraordinarily loving people… who are the great ones among us —
not the richest
not the highest IQ
not those who know the most about the Bible
not the biggest givers
not the most gifted socially
The greatest among us are those who love.
Love is what makes someone great… rightly understood.
So the question for us is — what is love as Jesus understood it and practiced it? That’s what we’ll be looking at in this series.
I want to start with this definition of love —
Love — to will and to act for the good of someone.
To love someone means to will and to act for their good.
To love someone is to will and act for them to become the best person God made them to be.
Love is not primarily a feeling.
Although love certainly will involve feelings… it is not primarily desire.
Love is not primarily closeness.
Love is not primarily being agreeable or doing what you want me to do.
A problem we face when it comes to defining the word love is we use the word love for so many different things.
I love you.
I love my children.
I love my home.
I love motorcycles.
I love my job.
I love Maui.
I love chocolate.
What does it mean to love chocolate? It doesn’t mean I act for the good of Ghirardelli. My love will consume that chocolate. My love will destroy that chocolate.
Jesus understood love as a God-powered condition — a God-powered way of life — in which I will and act for the good of everyone I come in contact with.
This concept of love from Jesus was so revolutionary… his followers had to find a word for it… so they took a Greek word.
Some of you may know this word.
And I want to say something about it because it’s so central to this series.
The word is Agape.
There was a life insurance company that used this word, agape, in a super bowl commercial to tug on the heartstrings of people. It’s the only ad I can remember that took a serious tone.
If you didn’t get to see it, here it is:
Video: New York Life commercial
This New York Life ad got its inspiration from the C.S. Lewis book “The Four Loves,” where C.S. Lewis identified the four types of love mentioned in the Bible.
The word agape was actually very rarely used in classical Greek.
It was only used in one book in the Greek translation of the Old Testament. It was actually not well-defined either.
It’s like Jesus’ disciples needed a word they could use to fill with content and explain to the world the nature of this love Jesus taught and lived… so they seized on this word, Agape.
Writers of the New Testament used agape dozens and dozens of times to express this understanding of love that was taught by and lived out by Jesus.
For Jesus, this quality of love is not a feeling. And it’s not something you should or even can turn on and off like a faucet depending on who you’re with.
We’ll say or hear people say, “It’s easy to love this person, but it’s hard to love that person.”
Jesus didn’t use the word love that way.
His idea was that we are to become loving people.
It’s a condition of being… like being healthy, where I’m so rooted in God’s love for me and increasingly free of sin, which is always opposed to love, so I’m ready to will and to act for the good of any person who comes into my life… because I’m a loving person regardless of who that person is or how they feel about me.
In fact, this kind of love, agape love, where I will and act for the good, will express itself very differently depending on the condition of the person I’m with.
If someone is hungry, and I love them with this love, I’ll feed them.
If someone is lonely, and I love them with this love, I’ll connect with them and listen to them.
If someone is discouraged, and I love them with this love, I’ll encourage them.
Let me give you another example.
Let’s say I’m with a child — let’s say it’s my child, and my child is a spoiled brat. What will I give them if I love them with this kind of love?
I’ll give them discipline.
You see, this is where love gets challenging.
If I give food to a hungry person, they’ll think I’m loving. They will feel grateful. And maybe we will feel close.
If I give encouragement to someone who is discouraged, they will think I’m loving. And maybe we will feel close.
If I give discipline to a spoiled brat, will they think I’m loving?
No, they will not think I’m loving.
You see, in order to be a loving person, I have to be prepared to be seen as unloving.
I will need to have a source for love that is so stable that it enables me to live in kind of a risky way, in a confrontational way with other people sometimes.
I must be rooted in a more secure source of love than any human being can give… in the kind of love only God can give.
That’s why Paul writes:
I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ. Ephesians 3:17-19
“I pray that you, being rooted and established in love,”
Now, when a tree is rooted in the soil, it gets nourished. It’s being kept alive. It’s being fed all the time.
Paul says, “I want you to be like that. I want you to be rooted in your thoughts, in your mind, in your feelings — all the time — in the love of God.
“I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.”
In other words, this kind of love, agape love — the condition of being where I will and act for the good of everyone in my life — arises out of a certain condition — being rooted in God’s love.
Then it’s always oriented toward the good. It always means I’m working for the good of whoever I’m face-to-face with.
This is the kind of love that has extraordinary power, Paul says.
Often in our day, when we talk about the power of love, we think about feelings… because the feeling of being in love can be so powerful.
Actually to Jesus and his followers, to Paul and to John — it was this God-powered agape love that gave them extraordinary power.
That’s why Paul said in 1 Corinthians 13:
Love never fails. 1 Corinthians 13:8
Think about that — “Love never fails.” It always wills and acts for the good, no matter what.
Paul said in Romans 8:
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39
Paul also said in Romans 12:
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:21
“Do not be overcome by evil…” Evil can be so strong in our world.
“but overcome evil with good.” That’s what love does. It overcomes evil with good.
Now, we’ll talk about this more throughout this series, but this is our goal — to live in this love — God’s love, agape love — and to become loving people.
Now, there’s a book I’ve chosen to use as a template for this series. It’s a book called “The Five Love Languages.”
The core idea of “The Five Love Languages” is that we all have certain ways we most readily give love and receive love from other people.
Let me walk you through them real quickly:
For some people, they get love most when it’s expressed through Words of Affirmation. They’re word people. They love to speak and hear words of love. Maybe that’s you.
For some, it’s spending Quality Time. When you spend time with me, then I feel your love.
For some, it’s in the giving of Gifts. Some people are really creative and very thoughtful around gift-giving.
For some, it’s Acts of Service. Serving people is how you express love and the way you’re able to give it best.
For some, it’s Physical Touch. Just that experience of a hand or an embrace.
You might want to think about which tends to be your natural love language.
If you’re not sure, you can look up 5 Love Languages online and take a free assessment.
Well, in the time that’s left today, I want to talk about how to express love through
There’s a wonderful statement from Paul about this.
Do not let any unwholesome word come out of your mouth, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. Ephesians 4:29
“Do not let any unwholesome word come out of your mouth.”
By the way, how is that going? Do you think Paul really meant that? Do you think he really thought about what he was writing there?
What would it look like for you to NOT let any unwholesome word come out of your mouth?
How much would you have to cut down on the amount of words you speak to get to no unwholesome word coming out?
You see, in order to love like this — this is part of why it’s so important to understand love is not primarily a feeling — this is going to require me to become a different person.
“Do not let any unwholesome word come out of your mouth, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”
You see, love seeks to be helpful for building others up according to their needs, not according to my natural preference.
As we begin this series today, I want to ask you to think about a few people in your life —
maybe a friend
maybe your spouse
maybe your parents
maybe your kids
maybe someone at work
maybe someone in this room right now
Would you become a student of them… and ask, “Which of the five love languages is the best way to communicate love to this person? And how do I go about doing that?”
I’ll give you an example.
Early on in my marriage, when I didn’t know about the love languages, I just assumed that my wife Kathy would feel loved when I bought her gifts and cleaned the house.
When I was growing up, my dad bought my mom gifts to express his love to her, so that’s what I observed to be an expression of love.
My mom cleaned the house to express her love to my dad.
Now, when I say my mom cleaned the house, I mean:
She washed the floor on her hands and knees with bleach several times a week.
She scoured our bathroom every day. Even when it wasn’t used she still did that.
I just grew up thinking — that’s the way you express love to your family. I thought there were probably verses in the Bible about stuff like that.
And I was surprised to find there weren’t. I’m still looking for them, actually.
I think most of us absorb a whole lot of the way we think love is to be expressed from watching how things played out in our upbringing.
So early in my marriage, I expressed love to my wife by cleaning the house.
Except she didn’t feel loved when I cleaned the house. As a matter of fact, she hardly notices when I clean the house. It’s just not on her radar.
Now, the danger is, because my efforts to express love through serving didn’t get received the way I intended, I can take it personally.
I can feel, “You don’t appreciate me. You don’t want to feel intimate and close to me because you don’t even notice what I’m doing to try to get your attention.”
The reality is I should have used other expressions of love if I really wanted to be effective in making my wife feel loved.
One of my kids feels loved with physical touch.
When she was younger, just tickling her until she was screaming and laughing and wrestling and shouting to stop but then hoping I would start it again… would fill up her little little love tank… just as much as words would work for her older sister.
It’s so interesting.
My wife will write notes to our kids and hide them in their luggage when they go to camp.
She writes words of affirmation and encouragement.
She writes hopes that she has for them at camp.
She writes things she loves about being their mom.
Very predictably, that gift has the highest impact depending on the extent to which each child has words of affirmation as their love language.
My wife does that because that’s kind of a natural love language she tends to speak.
What I’m learning is instead of writing words for all of our children, or giving gifts to all of them, which is the language Kathy and I speak… we need to be thinking of things to do that would be in their primary love language. That would be a different gift for each of our three kids.
Learning to speak the love language of the people in your heart is crucial.
I was talking to a friend of mine who is a Christian psychologist, and he says he uses this book all the time for people in married life, in families, in relationships… because identifying and using the love language of the main people in your life can transform relationships.
As we think about words of affirmation and begin to apply it… and work on words this week, you might want to write this verse down and keep it somewhere so you can see it during the week.
This is from the book of Proverbs. The writer of Proverbs said:
A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver. Proverbs 25:11
The right word at the right time in the right tone to the right person… is gold.
You can probably remember getting a word like that from someone.
A woman tells an amazing story about the power of words:
She said growing up on a farm, her dad had a little grocery store at the corner… and every time the milkman would come in, he would rub her on the head and say, “How’s my little Miss America who’s so beautiful and talented.”
This milkman was really nice to her and she would watch him stock the milk… and every week he would come in, “How’s my little Miss America?”
Week after week, summer after summer, year after year.
When she was in junior high, she started to enter pageants.
When she was in high school, Miss America became a goal.
And when she finally won Miss America… she gave the credit to the milk man… which is a little weird.
She said, “Those words shaped my life.”
There’s power in words.
I think of that story every time I see my daughter. Every time I see her, I rub her on the head and say, “How’s my little Miss Millionaire who is so talented and smart.”
This week, real simple. Pick someone in your life, a friend, someone in your small group, a child, a spouse, and pay them one compliment a day each day this week.
We can all do this.
But it has to be honest.
It has to be non-manipulative.
The other thing Paul said about love is:
Love must be sincere. Romans 12:9
There have been times when I have just been deeply challenged by that.
When I think about real people in my life, love must be sincere.
In our world, so often, instead of being sincere, love-sounding words are just used to manipulate people.
I was at a restaurant with a friend a while ago, and I ordered a salad, and our server said when I ordered the salad, “Brilliant.”
Then my friend ordered soup, and the server said, “Perfect.”
When it was time to order the main course, I ordered something, and the server said, “Excellent choice.”
Then my friend ordered something different, and he said, “Wonderful selection.”
It just kept going on that way. Beverage? “Fantastic.” Dessert? “You’ll love it.”
I finally asked him because it was so over the top, “Do you ever say to someone, ‘What a stupid thing to order. What kind of a moron are you?’”
He told me in the kitchen, they had a list of affirmations, and they were required as a condition of their employment, every time anyone ordered anything, no matter what it was, to respond with one of those affirmation statements.
That’s not sincere. That’s just inflating someone’s ego to get more money out of them.
What kind of low-esteem people are we that we go to a restaurant, and someone has to tell us what a brilliant decision we’ve made?
“Macaroni and cheese. Oh my, you must have gone to Harvard.”
That’s not sincere.
This is the assignment.
Think of key people in your life and ask, “What is a quality, an action or something they’ve done that you genuinely admire or appreciate?”
Then tell them.
You can start thinking about this now.
I spent some time thinking about people I’ve spent the last few weeks with and just wrote down things I could say.
I was amazed how often when I looked back on it, I could think of so many things that so often I don’t say in the moment.
It could be super simple:
That color looks great on you.
I love the way you encouraged your child. It’s good parenting and a good example to me.
You thought to text that person. I wouldn’t have thought about that. I love the way you connect with people.
You had a good idea for getting our small group to get to know each other better. Thanks for doing that.
To a young couple, “I admire how you two are building your marriage.”
We have people on staff at our church who just have a great sense of humor, and I could tell them, “You make me laugh. I love to laugh. Thanks for making me laugh.”
Apples of gold in settings of silver. You could do that.
This week, pick someone. Real simple. One genuine compliment per day all week long.
Then along with words of love, practice using humble words. Humble words communicate love.
I had a moment recently when I handled anger badly toward someone in my family.
I had to go back and say, “I didn’t handle that well,” and just humbled myself.
I said something else when our family was around the table, and I intended it to be kind of funny, but it was kind of cutting, and I had to go back and say, “You know, I think I hurt you when I said something, and I want to ask for forgiveness.”
Maybe there’s someone you need to go to and just say humble words to.
Paul wrote again in 1 Corinthians 13, this great chapter that would be worth just living in throughout this series.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 1 Corinthians 13:4
Love doesn’t boast… but I boast. Why do I do that?
I hear someone else has accomplished something or achieved something, and I’m tempted to compare myself to that or feel diminished by it, so I want to say, “Hey, look at me. I did something. I want you to see this.”
Why do I do that?
I’m trying to acquire from boasting a sense that I matter or a sense that I count.
And love doesn’t do that… because love has already received that genuinely and irretrievably from God.
Love does not boast because it doesn’t need to boast. It has more interesting things to do. That’s love. There is nothing like love.
This is so important. This gets deeply into how to be formed spiritually.
Our goal in this is not to aim at doing loving things. If you just try to do more loving things, you’ll exhaust yourself.
The idea is —
We aim at becoming the kind of person through whom loving actions just flow.
Jesus would often talk about this.
Change the inside of the tree.
Clean up the inside of the cup.
Don’t aim at doing right things. Don’t aim at doing loving stuff. Aim at becoming someone who is rooted enough in love that love just flows… because it just looks like the sane thing to do.
I went through the gospel of Mark this last week, and I was looking specifically at all the words Jesus spoke.
Of course, he’s the master of speaking words of love, often very challenging to people.
What struck me was the first words involving love in the gospel of Mark were not words spoken by Jesus. They were words spoken TO Jesus.
After he had been baptized, Mark says:
And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” Matthew 3:17
See, I think Jesus was rooted in that love and that voice.
Right after this, he went into the wilderness for 40 days. That’s the voice he listened to.
Still in the first chapter of Mark, when he started his ministry, and there was a lot of stuff to do, the writer says:
Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Mark 1:35
That’s the voice he would listen to — “You’re my Son. I love you so much.”
I want to say the most important words this week will not be the ones I say or you say. They’ll be the ones we hear.
God is saying, “You’re my son. You’re my daughter. I love you so much.”
Words matter. Words are gold.
In a few moments, this service will be over… and then it will be time to practice loving.
When we come to church, it’s great to learn, but it’s not just all about learning. It’s great to worship together, but it’s not just all about that.
We come to love and to be loved. That’s why we gather together with other people.
When this service is over, take a few moments to express love. Practice saying words of love.
“I’m glad you’re here.
“My name is Matt. What’s your name?
“Where are you from?
“How did you start attending Blue Oaks?
Our aim is to grow a community of extraordinarily loving people.
So I hope you will come back next week.
This week, go out and speak words of love.
Come back next week and we’ll learn more about how to love.
Heavenly Father, thank you for the gift of love.
God, I know there are people in this room who have been hurt, or wounded, or scarred, people who have been disappointed, or afraid, or angry, or bitter, or confused.
God, would you help us to understand what love looks like.
Where there are hearts that have gotten hard, God, would you soften those hearts. Where there are wounds, God, would you heal them.
God, help us to be a church where love just starts to radiate out like light, all over the Bay Area.
Would you be in our mouths, in our hands, in our faces. Make this a place where love rules.
Most of all, God, we thank you so much that you loved us and sent us Jesus. We pray this in his name, amen.