Just Announced: Philippians Sermon Series

Summary: We bless because we love. True love isn't mere emotion or attraction; it is a fruit of the Spirit, produced by God, with tangible results.

“Peace to you, brothers, and love with faith from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love.”

When I was stationed in Korea, long before email and Skype, I used the MARS, or Military Amateur Radio System, to call home. Because it was patched into phone lines, after each person spoke, they said the word “over.” I would tell my friends, “My wife likes to hear those 4 wonderful words: 'I love you--over'.”

In my marriage counseling, I asked a soldier when was the last time he told his wife he loved her. He said, “I told her once, and I'm not a human tape-recorder.” He failed to see how reassuring it is to hear words of love.

We bless because we love. By blessing, we desire someone's ultimate good. Henri Nouwen insisted that to give a blessing is “to affirm, to say yes to a person’s belovedness…a blessing touches the original goodness of that person and calls forth his or her belovedness.” Love moves us to ensure that the blessings we give come true. We don't just bless and depart; we bless and be part of the future we envision for others. We offer an active commitment to fulfill our blessing. We often bless with touch, to convey our affection. The “laying on of hands” is a warm, compassionate way to show we care. We don't bless from afar.

Paul closes his letter to the Ephesians with a Benediction to God’s people. As he began his letter, Paul finishes by focusing on God's love, and ours. As his colleague John put it, “We love, because God first loved us” (I John 4:19). C.S. Lewis noted: “God’s love for us is a much safer subject to think about than our love for Him...our spiritual health is exactly proportional to our love for God...We can never love anyone too much; the trouble is that we love God too little. ” Do we truly love God? Or do we regard Him as a distant relative, who gets a Christmas card but otherwise is out of sight, out of mind?

Like a spouse in a healthy marriage, we know that God loves us. We know He began working for our salvation long before we did anything. God loves us, even when we don't reciprocate. But if there's truly the spark of genuine belief in us, there will be some signs of our devotion, some evidence.

Paul speaks of “love with faith.” How can we love someone we don't know? Love is rooted in relationship. Faith opens our hearts to love. Is God a mere afterthought, or do we really love Him? And what does that love lead us to do? Paul says that the 3 big things in life are faith, hope, and love (I Cor 13). In faith we have a living hope, and by faith we love God and others.

True love isn't mere emotion or attraction; it is a fruit of the Spirit, produced by God. Feelings come and go; not so with love for God. We've all known people who sample church, find it not to their liking, and move on to the next thing. John says “they left us, because they weren't of us” (I John 2:19). And they never truly find meaning or purpose in life, apart from living for things that will pass away...and at the end of life they're empty. Thomas Merton observed: “All sorrow, hardship, difficulty, struggle, pain, unhappiness, and ultimately death itself can be traced to rebellion against God’s love for us.” True love for God surrenders to Him, and wants what He wants for us.

When we love God, our focus is on eternity. We are pilgrims, journeying through life en route to an eternal home. If we're uncomfortable here, it's because we're not home yet. This life is like an engagement, and Heaven is the marriage. We love in part, but one day that love will be complete.

A disgruntled person said, “The more I get to know people, the more I love my dog.” People will disappoint us; yet we're to love them anyway. We're to love the way God loves. He knows us completely, all our faults, yet He loves us. People enter marriage with unrealistic expectations. It's been said that “Love is blind, but marriage restores the sight.” Do you want your marriage to be blessed? Then love--truly and freely, without conditions.

Is our love of God conditional? Does it depend on our having good health, good job, good friends, money in the bank, successful children, and a nice home? Or do we love God only when we feel blessed? What about when life hurts? When we question God's love when life isn't going so well, it is inevitable that we will sin. The devil tempted Eve to believe that God was selfish in prohibiting the “forbidden fruit.” Once Eve began to believe that God might not be pure love, an openness for sin was created (Kreeft).

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