There they stood. Hand in hand; heart to heart. He was seventeen; she was sixteen. They had known each other since kindergarten, but had never really taken notice of one another. One day, however, she gave him a flirting glance that prompted him to return the flirt in kind. He asked her out and she, as a cordial young lady should, replied that she would be pleased to accompany him on a date. A week passed, and there they were, together. He stood, looking into her deep blue eyes as if he were exploring the depths of the vast blue ocean. She, somewhat less in height, stood as well; her arms draped across his broad shoulders. She gazed contently. Closer they drew, and their lips met. It was “true love.”
From the way some brethren talk, you would think that the kind of emotions engendered as the couple described above, is the kind of love that we should have for God. If a man preaches in a rich, smooth voice, putting a slight quiver in his speech when speaking of something sad, that person is compassionate, kind, loving; how dare any one question whether he loves God! The problem here is that we put our standard of what we deem to be “true love” in the place of what true love really is. Compassion becomes how a preacher makes me feel about him instead of what God’s word considers compassionate. For a moment then, let’s notice how God’s word exemplifies true love.
We have all read passages like 1 Corinthians 13, Romans 8:31-39, and 1 John 4:7-12 that have much to say about love. These passages are God’s word. I exhort you to read them and think carefully. Sadly, however, we sometimes read these passages and get so caught up in their beauty and good feelings, that this is all we get–good feelings. We ignore the application. It is good, therefore, that we should look at examples of Love in the Bible that we may follow these examples to the practicing of love in our lives. For John says, “My little children, let us not love in word, neither with the tongue; but in deed and truth” (1 John 4:18).
The Prophet Jeremiah
Jeremiah stands out in my mind as an exemplary figure of true love. We see in the book of Jeremiah the loving stand of a man who will not cease to preach the truth. “For since I spake, I cried out, I cried violence and spoil; because the word of the LORD was made a reproach unto me, and a derision, daily. Then I said, I will not make mention of him, nor speak any more in his name. But his word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not stay” (Jeremiah 20:8,9). In Jeremiah we see a man that knows what is best for the people, and is willing to preach it despite the fact that the people think it is for their own hurt. “Therefore the princes said unto the king, We beseech thee, let this man (Jeremiah) be put to death: for thus he weakeneth the hands of the men of war that remain in this city, and the hands of all the people, in speaking such words unto them: for this man seeketh not the welfare of this people, but the hurt” (Jeremiah 38:4). True love means that we will speak what is good for the people even when they think it is bad for them.
Too, showing compassion at the proper time is a sign of true love. Jeremiah moans, “Mine eyes do fail with tears, my bowels are troubled, my liver is poured upon the earth, for the destruction of the daughter of my people . . .” (Lamentations 2:11). However, our human emotions never override the will of God and even though we may lament the tragic consequences of God’s vengeance on human sin, true love will continue to uphold God’s truth. Jeremiah writes, “The LORD hath done that which he had devised; he hath fulfilled his word that he had commanded in the days of old: he hath thrown down, and hath not pitied: and he hath caused thine enemy to rejoice over thee, he hath set up the horn of thine adversaries” (Jeremiah 2:17). True love then calls for repentance on the part of the sinner. Jeremiah pleads, “. . . O wall of the daughter of Zion, let tears run down like a river day and night: give thyself no rest; let not the apple of thine eye cease. Arise, cry out in the night: in the beginning of the watches pour out thine heart like water before the face of the Lord: lift up thy hands toward him for the life of thy young children, that faint for hunger in the top of every street” (Lamentations 2:19). Truly Jeremiah knew what it was to love.
The Martyr Stephen
Although there is only a very small portion of the Bible given to the evangelist Stephen (Acts 6, 7), it is a portion that is powerfully full of love. After the apostles had laid their hands on Stephen and other men with whom the gospel was to progress, Stephen set about preaching to the proselyte nations the message of the Christ. The text says that these men could not resist his wisdom and Spirit. So they suborned false witnesses against him and tried him for blasphemy. All the while the text says that Stephen’s appearance was like that of an angel. Even though they railed on him Stephen loved. Stephen is then asked to defend himself. He starts by refuting the charge that he does not believe Moses in the Old Testament. In this he also sets forth the divine promises made unto Israel. His message is that Jesus of Nazareth fulfilled these promises and that as the patriarchs were disobedient to the message of the prophets of their time, so also are ye disobedient. With love he recounts how Abraham journeyed into a far country and how God promised to him that all the nations of the earth would be blessed through his seed. He recounts how Joseph was treated ill by his brethren when he would (with divine authority) interpret dreams. He recounts how the people of God were in bondage unto the Pharaoh who abused them and how Moses lead them out of captivity. He does not skip over the fact that Moses prophesied of one who would come, to whom obedience would be required. Stephen tells of how the children of Israel did not obey Moses, but their hearts turned back to Egypt. He emphasizes that the children of Israel gave themselves over to idolatry and did not hearken unto the voice of the prophets. Then, even though Stephen knew that these men sought his hurt, he had the love enough to tell them they were no better than their disobedient fathers. “Ye stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye. Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? And they have slain them which showed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers: Who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it” (Acts 7:51-53). The mob was cut to their heart and they carried Stephen out to stone him. And as he looked steadfastly into heaven, he saw Jesus standing on the right hand of the Father. Then, they stoned him to death. His last words were, “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.” What great love! What true love!
Isaiah the Prophet
Isaiah’s message was not a popular message. He often spoke of only a remnant being left of the people of God. To a very proud and nationalistic people such as the Jews such verbiage was nigh unto heresy. Isaiah writes, “Except the LORD of hosts had left unto us a very small remnant, we should have been as Sodom, and we should have been like unto Gomorrah. Hear the word of the LORD, ye rulers of Sodom; give ear unto the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrah” (Isaiah 1:9, 10). Isaiah was not uncertain in his words; he was very clear about what kind of people the Israelites were, but would any one doubt that Isaiah loved the ones to whom he preached? He loved them; he wanted them to come to repentance; thus God inspired him to write, “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (Isaiah 1:18). Isaiah’s message emphasized what was best for the people, yet the people refused to hear it thinking God’s word was monotonous and trivial. “To whom he said, This is the rest wherewith ye may cause the weary to rest; and this is the refreshing: yet they would not hear. But the word of the LORD was unto them precept upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little; that they might go, and fall backward, and be broken, and snared, and taken” (Isaiah 28:12, 13). Isaiah’s love for God and for the people to whom he prophesied was great because he had a love that spoke and acted for the people’s greatest good. This is true love.
Our Savior Christ Jesus
Jesus had true love. He had a love that was uncompromising. Remember Jesus’ own anxiousness when He prayed about His death in the garden of Gethsemane. Luke says, “And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44). Jesus said, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful unto death . . .” (Mark 14:34). Jesus prayed, “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me . . .” (Matt.26:39). Jesus did not look forward to what he was about to suffer. He dreaded it. When Jesus told his apostles that he would have to suffer these things and be killed at the hands of the Jews, Peter began to rebuke him saying, “Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee” (Matt.16:22). Now, Peter was one of Jesus’ best friends. Jesus could have compromised and said, “Maybe you are right, I have been having doubts about these things” but he did not say that. Jesus knew the pain; He knew the suffering and agony; He prayed “let this cup pass from me,” and in spite of the grief He would endure He said to Peter, “Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offense unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men” (Matt.16:23). Jesus loved Peter, but He refused to compromise. He said to the Father, “. . . nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt.” This is true love.
Jesus’ love rebuked error forcefully. One of the most powerfully speeches recorded in the Bible was when Jesus confronted the Jews about their own hypocrisy in Matthew 23:30-33. “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous, And say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets. Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets. Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers. Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?” Were these words the most loving words that Jesus could have said to the Jews? Yes! True love demands that we say what is best for those who hear us, and many times that requires stern and hard rebuke.
Jesus’ love involved the ultimate sacrifice. “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom.5:8). “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). It was not easy for Him to go to the cross. His choice was not driven by an emotional love. Had it been, he would not have gone. His choice was driven by an obedient love, for “though he was a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered” (Heb.5:8). So He rationally chose and freely went for our sake and for the sake of His enemies saying, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34). He did this so we could follow in his steps. He implores, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it” (Luke 9:23, 24). True love demands that we follow Him.
From these examples and many others, we EMPHATICALLY DECLARE that every inspired prophet, every inspired writer, every inspired teacher and preacher, and the Lord Jesus Christ himself always spoke the words that were filled with the greatest possible love that could possibly be shown to those who were listening to their message. From this we must conclude that the love that God expects us to have for Him, and for one another is not an emotional love. It is a rational love that is made by decision. Loving emotions may follow as a consequence of this love, but having these emotions does not ensure that we have true love. True love is the love that we find taught to us in the Bible. The world may say follow your feelings; trust your heart and let us all hold hands and love our neighbors. Jesus’ love says, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Matt.5:44).
Let us decide to love as Christ loved. “My little children, let us not love in word, neither with the tongue; but in deed and truth” (1 John 3:18).