Have you stopped recently to examine and analyze the present state of love in our community and nation? The evidence is overwhelming. The condition is critical. The aftermath is tragic. The future is uncertain at best. We’ve stopped singing that old song, “Love Will Keep Us Together” and started singing, “Love the Way You Lie,” with Eminem and Rhianna, or, for you older folks, “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” with Hank Williams Jr. I don’t have to dig up the dirt on the rising divorce statistics to convince you that what I’m talking about is true. All we have to do is look around, look at our own families, to see that love needs an overhaul.
What is love anyway? Is it merely a feeling, a fluttering heart when someone or something that is appealing catches our eye? Is it an emotion that is aroused when we encounter an experience that excites us? Is love one of these or is love something more?
The definition and description of love is a pretty subjective topic. You can go to the mall and poll a dozen people about their definition of love and you will most likely come up with a dozen different answers concerning love and how it is lived out. We say that we love everything. We love our mate, our boyfriend or girlfriend, our children, and friends. We also love our dog or cat (if a cat really can be loved). We love a double cheeseburger with extra cheese, a plate of pasta smothered in tomato sauce, and ice cream with hot fudge. We love sunsets on a cool evening, fireworks on a summer night, and snow when it blankets the countryside. We love a new pair of shoes, an old comfortable sweatshirt, and our favorite cap. We just love everything.
We hear the word “love” thrown around like a football in the Fall and yet I’m not convinced that we really know what love is. We hear talk about a couple’s love for each other only later to hear that their love has landed them in divorce court. We hear talk of young teenagers and college students “in love” with someone only to find out later that their love has launched them into an all-out assault on their “ex-love’s” character. I have conducted funerals for people who were married fifty years or more, but when I gathered at the table to plan the person’s funeral there wasn’t much evidence of the residue of love around. Love and marriage are not synonymous, yet I am still performing as many, if not more weddings than I ever have because folks are looking for love, they are looking for happiness in marriage. J. Paul Getty, the oil tycoon once said, “I’d trade my fortune for just one happy marriage.” Mr. Getty was married and divorced five times.
The fact that we hear so many stories of love lost doesn’t confound and confuse me. I know how difficult it is to nurture love so that it grows and matures into what we all long for and dream of in life. Love is like a tiny seed. The seed is not the mature plant. The seed doesn’t bear fruit. The seed holds the potential to bring about the mature plant in all that it is intended to become, but for the seed to mature much will have to take place. You must plant the seed in ground that will be conducive to bringing about growth. The seed will need a lot of attention. You’ll have to take time out of your day to go and buy some Miracle Grow. You will have to give up some things that you would like to do so that you can water the seed on a regular basis. You’ll need to pray that God will bring about sunshine to stimulate growth. You’ll have to spend time picking the weeds from around the seed so that it doesn’t get choked out. You will have to sprinkle a little Sevin Dust on the plants to make sure the bugs don’t devour them while you are away. You will have to prune back the wild branches so that the plant can fully mature. It takes a lot of care and attention for a seed to produce a plant which will in turn produce an abundant harvest. Most importantly, the seed will have to die to itself so that it can bring about something much greater than itself.
Love as we know it is much the same way. When we “fall” in love we are not experiencing the kind of love that flows from the heart of God. We are drawn to a person’s looks, charm, ability, personality, wit, or wisdom. Nothing wrong with that as long as the seed of love, that which draws us to another person, dies to itself to bring about something much greater – the love of God, the “agape love” spoken of in God’s Word.
When the seed of love, that which draws us to another person, dies and begins to sprout into a more fully developed seedling of love, then we must pay constant attention to nurture, prune, water, and encourage the new and young plant of God’s love to grow. There will be the bugs of jealousy, selfishness, and anger that will seek to eat away at love before it ever matures. We must water it with grace and mercy. Fertilize it with forgiveness and affection. Prune it with discipline and control. Over the course of time, when love has matured and grown through years of care and attention – love will produce a bountiful harvest that will nourish those around us as well as ourselves.
I want us to spend our time this morning looking at the full extent of love. I did not coin the phrase the “full extent of love,” it is a biblical phrase found in John’s Gospel. On the night when Jesus shared His last meal with His disciples He showed them the full extent of His love. As I was reading the story I stopped at the end of verse 1 when I read the phrase “the full extent of His love.” I asked myself, “How did Jesus show them the full extent of His love?” What did He do? How did He do it? Why did He show them the full extent of the greatest love the world has ever known? The phrase perplexed me since I have heard love used in so many different contexts, seen it demonstrated in so many diverse ways, and seen it wane and fade into something much less than what I’ve learned of love from God’s Word.
I asked the Lord, “Tell me, Jesus, how You demonstrated such great love. Did You buy them something extravagant? Surely this must be it!” I read one time that toymakers watch the divorce rate because when divorce is on the increase so are toy sales. Surely those who want to show their children how much they love them know what it means to give the full extent of their love. If you want to show someone the full extent of your love surely you must buy them something extravagant. Toys, luxuries, exotic vacations on enchanted islands, houses, cars, jewelry and more. Jesus, surely this is the real meaning of love expressed in all of its radiant glory!” Jesus said, “No, that’s not it.” I said, “What do mean? What else could it be? How about romance? Love letters written on scented paper sealed with a kiss? A candlelight dinner with soft music? Could this be the full extent of love?” As I read Scripture I don’t find that romance is the manifestation of the full extent of God’s love. Scented paper will lose it’s aroma and candles will eventually burn out, but the full extent of love will linger and grow throughout all of eternity? “What is it Lord? What is it? If it’s not romance or gifts, then what could it be?” And Jesus said, “I showed them the full extent of My love by doing what none of My followers would ever dream of doing – I loved them to the end. Through the best of times and the worst of times – I loved them to the very end.”
Demonstrating the full extent of our love is doing what nobody else would dream of doing – it is loving with the love of God to the end—without becoming blighted or callused or stale. It is not merely remaining in a relationship with someone until our dying day. It is dying to our self-interest in order to love and serve those God has called us to love to the very end. I want us to take a look at the story of Jesus demonstrating the full extent of His love towards His followers this morning. I want to apply the principle to marriage, but you need to know that the principle works no matter where it is applied. The “full extent of love” will transform a home, workplace, neighborhood, and church when it is applied and lived out in obedience.
I also want to say that I know preacher’s run a risk whenever they speak directly to a particular segment of the congregation. There are many of us here this morning who are not married. We have many people who are divorced, never married, widows, and widowers with us this morning. I want you to know that this message is for you as well. You and I, regardless of our marital status in life, are ministers. There are many folks all around you who are trying to keep their troubled marriage together and God desires to use you and me to encourage them, fortify them, and point them towards reconciliation and renewal in their relationship. What a blessing it would be for me to be able to share this principle with someone in my life who has been divorced, but was contemplating being remarried. This lesson can teach us what marriage is all about, what to look for in a mate, and how to nurture the relationship so that they can finish strong. What a blessing it would be for some young person who will be getting married in the future to learn how to demonstrate the full extent of their love to their future husband or wife. What a blessing it would be for me to share this principle with a couple who are on the verge of collapse and see God heal their brokenness. This lesson is for all of us!
Let take a look at our Scripture for this morning found in John 13:1-17. Remember Jesus is sharing His last meal with His disciples when this event takes place.
(1) It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love. (2) The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus. (3) Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; (4) so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. (5) After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. (6) He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” (7) Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” (8) “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” (9) “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!” (10) Jesus answered, “A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” (11) For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean. (12) When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. (13) “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. (14) Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. (15) I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. (16) I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. (17) Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. (John 13:1-17 NIV)
This is one of the most powerful stories in all of God’s Word when you take the time to really understand what took place. The lessons that you and I can learn from Jesus’ actions can transform our lives if we will apply them each day of our life. Let’s get started.
I want us to understand the full extent of Jesus’ love. Jesus loved His disciples throughout their time together, but now as He saw the end in sight, He made the decision to finish strong. By finishing strong, Jesus exhibited the full extent of His love. Finishing strong is the fullest extent of our love isn’t it?
Finishing strong is a real concern for us today. We enter into a relationship with someone and when things don’t go the way we want, we want out. Divorce is more prevalent today in our country than in any country of the world. “No Fault” divorce has created a fault line across our nation that is leading down a road of destruction.
By talking about the problem that plagues us I have no desire to shame or embarrass any of us that have been divorced. I am well aware that the circumstances that surround each divorce are oftentimes difficult. I have many friends who didn’t want a divorce, but because their spouse did, they lost their marriage. I have visited with many folks in our church who are agonizing over broken marriages and because of this I want to do everything I can to encourage those who are married to stay that way. When we need help we can’t be so proud that we refuse to go for help. I want to do everything I can to encourage our young people to be careful who they date and fall in love with. I want to share with our singles what to look for in a mate and how to build a Christian home.
I am an advocate of maintaining, reconciling, and healing marriages because I know what damage takes place when marriages fall apart. My mother still suffers from the heartache of going through her own parent’s divorce when she was young.
The statistics of how divorce affects so many aspects of life are overwhelming. We have all heard the numbers of young people who suffer from emotional trauma from having to go through the pain of their parent’s divorce. We’ve heard of the number of young people whose grades suffer, who get involved in a life of crime, who have a greater risk of experiencing out-of-wedlock births, and who are more vulnerable to divorce when they marry. The scars left by divorce never completely heal.
Divorce doesn’t just impact the lives of children. Those men and women who go through the horror of divorce suffer in many ways as well. The growing numbers of people in poverty are women who have gone through divorce and are left to raise their children on their own. The toll that bitterness, anger, hurt, and dashed hopes takes on our emotions are unfathomable.
The effects of divorce are far-reaching. If there is to be anything done to stem the tide of destruction, sorrow, and heartache it must begin with the Church. The Church must not balk at its opportunity to stand in the gap with those who are planning on getting married. We must help them learn how to make wise decisions concerning who they are to marry. The Church must stand in the gap with those who have suffered divorce. We must help them put their life back together again. The Church must stand in the gap with those who are married to help them nurture and bless their spouse and children so that they can finish strong in demonstrating the full extent of their love to those God has put into their care.
The problem that we are experiencing today has not arisen because it is more difficult to relate to our mate today than it has ever been before. The problem is that we need to strengthen our resolve to finish strong. Maintaining a marriage and nurturing the relationship has always been difficult. I read a story where a man said, “Can you imagine being in Adam and Eve’s predicament. Living together as husband and wife for 900 years. 900 years of every time a disagreement came about hearing, “’But you are the one who gave me the apple!’ ‘Yes, but you didn’t have to eat it!’”
Things must have been difficult in 400 B.C. as well. The famous philosopher Socrates wrote, “By all means, marry. If you get a good wife, you will become very happy. If you get a bad one, you will become a philosopher.” Socrates (470-399 B.C.) I guess that tells us how Socrates the philosopher faired in the game of love and marriage.
Nineteen hundred years later conditions hadn’t changed. Michel de Montaigne’s wrote, “Marriage is like a cage; one sees the birds outside desperate to get in, and those inside equally desperate to get out.” (Michel Eyquem de Montaigne (1533-1592) Even though that was written more than 400 years ago, I believe that it aptly describes where many people find themselves in marriage today.
We need to finish strong. That is a strong statement, but how do we do it? Do we merely remain married for the course of our life or is there something more? I heard a story recently of a couple celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. When the festivities were over, the woman turned to her husband and said, “We’ve been miserable for 50 years. We’ve fought every day. We’ve disagreed on nearly everything, and I am convinced that we can’t keep going like this. I have made a commitment to pray that God will help us solve this problem. I’m praying that he will take one of us home. And when he answers my prayer, I’m going to live with my sister in Grand Rapids.” Making the commitment to stay married for the duration of our life is a noble and commendable thing to do, but there is more to finishing strong than staying married.
Let’s take a look at Jesus’ act of love towards His disciples to see if we can learn more about finishing strong. Take a look at John 13:2-5.
(2) The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus. (3) Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; (4) so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. (5) After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. (John 13:2-5 NIV)
Immediately following John’s statement that Jesus showed them “the full extent of His love” we find Jesus doing the unbelievable. Jesus took off his outer clothing, wrapped a towel around His waist, grabbed a towel and a tub of water, and washed the feet of His disciples. You may be thinking to yourself, “big deal.” It really was a big deal when you consider that the lowest slave in the household was the one who was given the job of washing the feet of those who entered the house. The streets were dirty, the sandals sweaty, the job undesirable. Someone had to do it and it isn’t too difficult to see that none of the disciples jumped at the opportunity. Jesus took the towel and tub and cleaned the grim and grit from the toes of the likes of Peter who would deny Him three times, Judas who handed Him over to be killed, and the rest of the disciples who didn’t deserve to have their feet washed by the hands of God.
The full extent of Jesus’ love was manifested in a tub and a towel, a life of service until the end. What a great model for you and me. What a challenge! For most of us greatness is bound up having others serve us, not in serving others. Jesus says that we are to give our lives to serving others. How can this principle of demonstrating the full extent of our love apply to our marriages? Great question. God desires for me to serve Connie to the end. To give myself to her even when she doesn’t deserve it. To seek her best even when she doesn’t desire it. To love her with the very love of God until the end of my life. In committing myself to this kind of life I will reap God’s greatest rewards. F. B. Meyer once said, “I used to think that God’s gifts were on shelves one above the other; and that the taller we grew in Christian character the easier we could reach them. I now find that God’s gifts are on shelves one beneath the other. It is not a question of growing taller but of stooping lower; that we have to go down, always down, to get His best gifts.”
God’s greatest gifts are reserved for those who will stoop low to serve one another. I have seen this reality in a few marriages during my lifetime. Those couples I will never forget. They weren’t out for themselves they were always trying to find ways to help their mate, to encourage them, and build them up in Christ. I’ve never heard any of the men talk of being “head of the house” – they were too busy cherishing and blessing the Queen of the castle.
An admirer once asked the famous orchestra conductor Leonard Bernstein what was the most difficult instrument to play. He responded by saying, “Second fiddle. I can get plenty of first violinists, but to find one who plays second violin with as much enthusiasm, or second french horn or second flute, now that’s a problem. And yet if no one plays second, we have no harmony.” As husbands and wives we are to hold up the best in our mate, cover the areas where they are vulnerable with our strengths and with prayer, and always seek God’s best for them. Second fiddle for me doesn’t mean that I am unnecessary or second-rate, it simply means that I desire to enhance the beauty of Connie’s character, to highlight the splendor of her strengths, and to fortify her where she lacks.
There is an added blessing that comes about when we demonstrate the full extent of our love to the very end. Those around us will be blessed and enticed to seek after something more than the world has to offer them. Jesus showed His disciples the full extent of His love, His disciples followed in His steps, and you and I are the next link to the full extent of God’s love being passed to those who will follow us. John tells us,
(12) When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. (13) “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. (14) Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. (15) I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. (16) I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. (17) Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. (John 13:12-17 NIV)
I want to encourage you this morning to set an example for those around you, those who will come after you. Set for them an example of giving the full extent of your love to your mate to the end. Don’t give up! Don’t give in to what appears to be an easier road – it isn’t. Stand for your marriage regardless of what state you find yourself in this morning. You say, “But Mike, you don’t know how bad it is right now. You don’t know how difficult it is just to spend time around him. You don’t know how she nags at me for every little thing. You don’t know how many times we’ve said that we would never yell and scream in front of the kids only to do it again and again and again. You just don’t know.” I know. I know that we can be restored and healed if you and I will surrender our marriage with our husband or wife to the One who desires to heal and reconcile us for His glory. You may have come to church this morning after spending “Saturday night at the fights.” That’s alright if you will take your stand for the healing of your marriage on Sunday morning. There are marriages all over this sanctuary this morning that have fallen short of what God desires. You know it – I know it, but more importantly our Father knows it and it grieves His heart. He is calling you and me to stand, to make a commitment to demonstrate the full extent of our love for our mate so that healing can reach into our hearts and restore the gift of marriage that He gave to us.
I don’t know what you will do this morning, but I’m going to take my stand. I haven’t been the husband God has called me to be and because of that we haven’t had the marriage that He desires for us to have. I want you to know that I AM STANDING FOR THE HEALING OF MY MARRIAGE! I will not give up, give in, give out or give over ’til that healing takes place. I made a vow, I said the words, I gave the pledge, I gave a ring, I took a ring, I gave myself, I trusted GOD, and meant the words I said… in sickness and in health, in sorrow and in joy, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in good times and in bad…so I am standing NOW. I will not sit down, let down, slow down, calm down, fall down, look down, or be down ’til the walls that separate me from my bride are torn down!
I refuse to put my eyes on outward circumstances, or listen to prophets of doom, or buy into what is trendy, worldly, popular, convenient, easy, quick, thrifty, or advantageous… nor will I settle for a cheap imitation of God’s real thing, nor will I seek to lower God’s standard, twist God’s will, rewrite God’s word, violate God’s covenant, or accept what God hates, namely divorce!
In a world of filth, I will seek to stay pure; surrounded by lies I will seek to speak the truth; where hopelessness abounds, I will find my hope in God: where revenge is easier, I will bless instead of curse; and where the odds are stacked against us, I will trust in God’s faithfulness.
I am a STANDER and I will not acquiesce, compromise, quarrel or quit. I have made the choice, set my face, entered the race, believed the Word, and trusted God for the outcome. I will allow neither the reaction of my spouse, nor the urging of my friends, nor the advice of my loved ones, nor economic hardship, nor the prompting of the devil to make me let up, slow up, blow up, or give up ’til my marriage is healed. I will stand for the healing of my marriage so that other marriages will be encouraged, so that my children will have a model, and so that my Savior will receive the glory! I’m standing for my marriage, will you stand for yours?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
Oklahoma City, OK. 73114
August 28, 2011