Introduction – My Story
Over 30 years ago while serving as an assistant pastor at a medium-sized church I was grappling with Jesus Christ’s admonition to love fellow Christians as found in John 13:34, which states:
“A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.”
In considering the above Scripture, I know the following is going to sound terrible, even considering that I was a young minister in my mid-20s at the time; but my thought at that time was “Christ must have not met the congregation I am serving.”
A Church to Learn By
I mean some of these people, mainly those in leadership roles were undisciplined, self-centered, and the rest were being fed baby food by the senior pastor who didn’t have the courage to confront anyone about their sinful behaviors.
The board of elders was made up of two former pastors and the current Minister of Music from the same family (Which is an ethical no-no. When a pastor leaves a church, then stays as a member there will be certain members that will still follow him causing a schism in the church in regards to the new pastor and the old. It is normally a sign of a lack of integrity when a pastor leaves the pulpit and attempts to be a member again. You cannot go back, parishioners will not allow you to simply because of human nature. It takes a very special kind of man to be able to stay within the church he once pastored; yet it is the parishioners that create the problem even with a man of great integrity. If you pastor a church and decide to leave the pulpit, you need to love the parishioners enough to allow them to have a new start with a new pastor by leaving yourself), which included the father of the three board members who was a former pastor, along with his eldest son who was a former pastor, and another son who was the current minister of music (talk about a power block).
The father and son board members ran their own real estate company, and they sold the church some property that was far beyond the budget of the church, we are talking about millions of dollars in the late 1970s, which was a huge debt for a church of only about 400 members. And they collected their full commission on the sale. This is another sign of a lack of integrity, board members should never have any financial dealings with the church where they can profit financially.
I was the only staff member who suffered financially due to this purchase, the minister of music received his full salary. It became so bad that we lived off popcorn, potatoes and beans for some time, which could be understandable in a home church or fledgling church, but this church had over 400 people as members; and to top insult with injury, the senior pastor received all of his pay and benefits. I received one-fourth of my monthly salary, no parsonage allowance which was equal to the salary, no secretary, no medical insurance, and no expense account. Was I bitter? Not at the time; I was doing this for the Lord. However, by the time I was abused in other areas by this board I had become quite bitter and resigned. It took the church over 20 years to get over these immature and selfish decisions made by the board and senior pastor, who left the church not long after myself seeking to better himself.
I mean this church was a mess, and worse yet I was too immature and self-centered myself to figure out it was still my role to love all of these people.
Please don’t get me wrong most of the church members were fantastic, caring and sacrificial people, I mean the kind of people that just blessed my socks off to the extent that I made excuses for the others who were not as loving and sacrificial as these.
Yet it was those parishioners that were self-centered and arrogant, following the board members that made life miserable for the rest. And the senior pastor, caring far too much about pleasing men in eye service, didn’t have the courage to confront those that were allowing their own narcissism and self-contentedness to run others, This was all at the expense of the gospel.
At the time I did not judge the situation as I do now, being honest about my own immaturity as well as that of others.
It’s always hard to pastor a church. This was just an unusually hard situation, but one that I NOW thank God for having made me experience because of all I learned. After leaving the church I back-slid for years, loosing family and everything, but learned more on the back-side of the desert than I care to go into, yet would never choose to do again. It is God’s grace and mercy that has been my anchor.
The Lesson – Jesus’ Command
The harder part about Christ’s words to love others is that they are not a suggestion or request. His statement was even beyond the imperative in the Greek grammar; Jesus gave it as a new command; allowing for no wiggle room whatsoever.
It has nothing to do with the person being loved; only the believer that was to be obedient in following Christ’s command.
For years after this situation I wrestled with attempting to feel an emotional love for other believers that never seemed to work.
I would pray that the Holy Spirit would empower me with a supernatural love, like water being poured on my head, an easy fix where the Holy Spirit did all the work, and all I had to do was pray.
(SIDENOTE: How many Christians, those that don’t spend the time in God’s Word, beyond using the Bible as a prop to supplement their own hypotheses, think that the Holy Spirit is supposed to change them by overpowering their own will, to make them feel or do something that God has meant for them to do in submission to Him. And yes, at one time I was one of these types of believers, hung up on thinking that my feelings were supposed to lead me – now you know why I speak about being led by our mind and God’s Word; not with our feelings. It’s because God took me out to the backside of the desert to learn this lesson, where his word had to be my sole guide, to the point that I started to study the Greek New Testament in order to understand exactly what the Bible was saying, not based upon my English understanding of the words, but God’s intended Greek meaning of the words. The Holy Spirit is not sent to OVERPOWER us and make us feel different emotionally – He is sent to EMPOWER us [our mind] to desire to do God’s Will, and EMPOWER to perform God’s Will. “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” ~ Phillip 2:13).
Finally, years later when I was doing volunteer chaplaincy in Reno, I was still praying about how to deal with how to love people that I didn’t feel like loving, some I did not even like.
As was my habit, after having walked through the pediatric ICU unit (which would drive me to tears so often because of the pain these newborns were experiencing), I would walk past the newborn glass display to attempt to feel joy to help me shake off the sorrow I was feeling, attempting not to carry the sorrow to the next hospital patient I would encounter.
I needed to put a smile on my face before I could continue through the hospital; and beautiful newborn babies, uncontaminated by the world, was just the trick.
In the hallway, looking at the newborns was this sophisticated lady.
She had beautifully tinted hair, French nails, a beautiful dress and high heels; yet at the same time she appeared quite unusual.
She was wearing a hospital robe over the beautiful dress, and her hair had some spots of blood on it that caused it to be stuck to her head.
Her makeup was running all over the place, and here she was leaning against the glass and crying with the biggest smile on her face.
I think I’m pretty intelligent, and it occurred to me that she must’ve just had a baby, maybe while she was out having dinner at a nice restaurant, and was now looking at her baby that she just delivered.
A Human Way of Thinking
To see the joy on her face, to me being a man used to conditional love (Meaning I love what is beautiful or appealing to me, or that makes me feel good; or good about myself), I had the thought this must be the most beautiful child in the world, based on her reaction.
Now again, as I was walking up the hall just before I observed this woman I was praying and asking God to teach me about love.
As I got closer to the window, I was trying to figure out which beautiful baby she was looking at.
However, to my amazement, when I finally saw the object of her affection; I was shocked.
Because of the pyramid shape of its head, it looked like one of the “Cone-heads” from the Dan Aykroyd’s movie.
It was multicolored, red, pink, and gray, and it was crying without making any noise.
In an instant, all at once I understood what Jesus was talking about when he commanded us to love.
Scriptures flooded my mind and I was able to put words to meanings, and understand something that had been puzzling me for many years.
We all know John 3:16 ; however it was 1 John 3:16 that came to my mind and said it all (Which I will get to in a moment).
The problem I had all my life was that I had allowed my cultural understanding of the word “love,” as experienced in 21st century America to define what God was saying when He used first century Koine Greek word regarding His own definition of what love meant.
I had been taught that love was a feeling, an emotion.
And as all emotions, they are always in response to an activating event.
Emotionally speaking, no one feels love without something first happening.
Whether it is in the use of eyesight when watching a beautiful woman, and the feeling of romance which leads to falling into love, wherein just as easily one can fall in love; they can fall out of love.
Rather it is loving a beautiful car that you would desire to own for yourself in order to feel joy and pride based upon prestige.
Or even it’s loving your mother who had put you first so often in her life.
Biblical Love is a Choice, Not a Reaction
However, biblical love, the love that Christ was talking about, is not an emotional experience; it is an action generated by the mind, which produces a behavior of putting something for yourself; and to do so sacrificially.
Sure I understood the meaning of the three Greek words used for love in the Bible; yet in an instant I understood what it meant experientially.
This type of love is what Christ was telling us to do, not feel, when he told us to love each other, he was telling us to perform a behavior, an action only made possible by a rational choice of the mind, within the believer who had the Holy Spirit within.
Again, Christ told us to do something, not feelsomething.
“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.” (See Endnote #1)
You see the way that we perceive love is explained in the word “because.” It is the how concerning the question of what love is.
Love is a cold choice to put someone else before yourself, sacrificially.
You see what also came into my mind was Matthew chapter 6 where Christ is talking about doing alms, those love gifts that we give to others.
Jesus said as recorded in Matthew 6:3, let your left hand know what your right is doing, to not sound a bell (This is a very pragmatic way that the Jews used to make sure that when a rich man walked through the marketplace and was giving out alms, that he would be able to disperse the coins to more than a few beggars), to be seen of men (See Endnote #2).
You can only perceive love after the act of love, the sacrifice of putting something ahead of the lover, after the act, not before it.
In America we love first (The emotional feeling), which is seen in our expression, “we fell in love.” Yet this is not what the act of love is.
Now Back to the Baby
You see the reason I understood what love was when I saw that baby is because with my natural cultural training concerning love; when I saw the joy expressed by that woman concerning the baby on the other side of the glass, my natural instinct was to think this must be a beautiful baby, yet the opposite was true.
And what I felt like was as if the Holy Spirit was rushing thoughts and Scriptures to my mind wherein I gained understanding that for nine months this woman had sacrificially put this thing in her stomach first before herself.
It was apparent to me, based upon her apparel and hygiene, that woman was no doubt thorough in everything she did.
And if she was as committed to being a good mother as she was concerning her appearance; that probably meant that she stopped drinking alcohol if she ever had.
She changed her eating habits, cutting down on things that might be harmful to the baby. Making all kinds of changes in her life to sacrificially put this little creature first above herself.
She kept the baby that was growing inside of her (It wasn’t a fetus! Changing the name from baby to fetus doesn’t make something different; it just shows how evil men attempt to live with themselves in order to rationalize killing babies – and simply for the convenience of the mother, calling it a privacy issue. The last sign of every great society and empire before they die is when it rationalizes the murder of babies in the womb – it is a last sign of barbarous behavior which God cannot stand), not selfishly choosing abortion even as she saw her beautiful figure being destroyed, with her getting sick in the morning, feeling nauseous far too often, having her back killing her, feeling aches and pains more and more each day simply trying to move, and willingly doing all this for a little creature she didn’t even know.
Therefore, it didn’t matter what this little thing looked like, she had invested herself completely by sacrificially putting this little baby first; and she would feel the emotions of love for the object of her affection (This is an archaic expression to explain what love was back in the day when the cultural contamination we currently live in was not current – love has an object, yet it was “of her,” therefore this displays ownership. And back when this expression was used if you owned something, that meant you paid for it. Today we live in a society where we want everything free and easy. Yet during the time that this expression was used, men did not think this way. The point was whenever they paid for it they were invested, it cost them something, they had to sacrifice for it), no matter what it looked like.
You see when it comes to love God’s way there are emotions, but they come when it is appropriate, after the sacrifice for it has been made – this is called nurturing (Meaning it is developmental, cultivating, fostering, growing, and progressive) love.
Much of what we refer to today as emotions are usually either affection, lust, which is desire; or romance. And these emotions usually come first.
This explains why if a couple makes a commitment to stay together for life – eventually they will grow in love, at least if the man is godly and not evil (History has shown that prearranged marriages has a much lower divorce rate than marriages we have in America, in fact prior to this century, even when women could be granted a divorce; the divorce rate in the world for prearranged marriages was very minimal).
This is because if you stay together long enough and one party starts putting the other party sacrificially first, it becomes easy for the other party to do the same; and this grows the feeling of love.
Yet it does not come overnight, it takes time and commitment. And once you have two people sacrificially putting each other first; the emotion of love is guaranteed.
You see the correct process is sacrificially putting the other person first, then in time; if this is done in sincerity and not as eye pleasing – for eye service, the person making the sacrifice feels the emotion of love because of the investment that they have made.
Many refer to this as nurturing love (Which is what it does, when you put somebody first you are nurturing – you are invested in them), which can be unfortunate because it seems to indicate that women who are the main nurturers of their children are the only one that can exercise this type of love.
This is why an evil man’s mother still loves them, having sacrificially placed them first as a child, this investment produces love with the invested, even if the person ends up doing bad things – this is referred to as unconditional love.
And while women are the best example of nurturing love, it is just as possible for a man to achieve the same sacrificial giving, with the emotional love of investment being the outcome.
Love One Another
Now Scriptures such as John 13:35 makes sense.
“By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”
It is not that believers are to have an emotional feeling one for another, but because they have growing in the Lord and walk as Christ walked, and they apply God’s Word to their lives they start to sacrificially put other believers first.
This is the hallmark of a true believer – that he puts others first. And yes, in time the emotional feeling of affection (Love) will come.
1. Albert Barnes wrote concerning 1 John 3:16:
- We ought to have such love for the church that we should be willing to die for it, as patriot is willing to die for his country.
- We ought to have such love for Christians as to be willing to jeopardy our lives to aid them – as in case of a pestilence or plague, or when they are in danger by fire, or flood, or foes.
- We ought to have such love for the truth as to be willing to sacrifice our lives rather than deny it.
- We ought to have such love for the cause of our Master as to be willing to cross oceans, and snows, and sands; to visit distant and barbarous regions, though at imminent risk of our lives, and though with the prospect that we shall never see our country again.
- We ought to have such love for the church that we shall engage heartily and constantly in services of labor and self-sacrifice on its account, until, our work being done, exhausted nature shall sink to rest in the grave. In one word, we should regard ourselves as devoted to the service of the Redeemer, living or dying to be found engaged in his cause. If a case should actually occur where the question would arise whether a man would abandon his Christian brother or die, he ought not to hesitate; in all cases he should regard his life as consecrated to the cause of Zion and its friends. Once, in the times of primitive piety, there was much of this spirit in the world; how little, it is to be feared, does it prevail now!
2. Matthew 6:1-8
“Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven. Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly. And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly. But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.”
years later in counseling a newlywed, the bride complained that her husband had changed once they got married.
I asked how he had changed? She stated that he no longer gives her the TV remote, no longer watches love stories, does not open the door for her, or have talks with her all night long.
I explained that he hadn’t changed, that all these were simply the tactics that we men use to win over women.
It’s like he was Elmer Fudd, and she was the rabbit. He was using all the tools of the trade to capture her – he was doing all these things to be seen by her, as opposed to doing so out of his own sincere desire. He was showing the right hand what the left hand was doing (.
In counseling I would also advise men, when doing sacrificial acts of love, to do so in an honest attempt to not be seen or caught doing them in order to maintain the integrity of the act. Otherwise they would simply be manipulating their wives into thinking that their love was real, when it’s only a game. That would be just like the Pharisees did whose self-promoting actions were the reason for Jesus admonishing us to not allow our “left hand to know what the right hand is doing.”
We humans are very skilled at making sure that others see us doing our alms or righteous acts – and if we do these to be seen of men – we are corrupted in the process.
Real love does not put on a show which adulterates the very act.
Sacrificially putting someone first cannot be done to be seen of men to be biblical love.
While practicing as a Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor within a men’s correctional felony unit, I spent a lot of time going over this evil propitiation that we have of behaving to be seen of others, especially when it comes to relationships with our wives and children.
Because they know the truth.
(SIDENOTE: Criminals and con-men are some of the smartest individuals I’ve ever met because they spend all their time studying the vulnerabilities of others. Wherein acting becomes their tool of trade. Therefore, we spent a lot of time dealing with Matthew 6 regarding genuine acts of love. Where from my own experience I learned and taught that when they were released they needed to find ways of sacrificially putting their wives and children before themselves, and to do so in a deliberate effort not to be seen. To hide these sacrificial acts in order to maintain the integrity of their motivation. As I explained to them that eventually they will get caught red-handed sacrificially putting someone else first, wherein the genuineness of the act will be perceived, and the person will honestly know that they are loved and that there is not a manipulation or con going on. This is one of the most precious gifts that you can give to another human being, that of genuinely being loved. It is when a wife or a child knows that their husband and father love them unconditionally as seen through sacrificially being placed before the other, wherein true healing can begin. The proof of this is in dealing with the broken individuals that have never known this type of love, that the worst of those became the ones who became the abused within our prison system. We reinforced responsibility, accountability, and integrity with these prisoners. Yet more than anything else, it was attempting to teach them that they must always keep an eye for their own evil tactics of trying to be seen, which they had to deliberately work against. It has been a blessing to see some of these men years later completely changed, most living for the Lord in fulfilled lives of honesty and sobriety. Having worked in adult male and youth facilities in Texas, I have been blessed with the ability to not only deal with substance abuse issues, but more importantly to utilize my Christian faith and the Bible wherein our recidivism rate were below 20 percent, which is unbelievable in this industry.)
This is one of the major problems and churches, a majority of the activity that goes on is meant to be seen of men, wherein we do things to be accepted by others or to impress others. This is what pollutes our worship ministries, archives, and many other aspects of church life.
It is an abomination under God and gives the unbelievers reasons to slander Jesus Christ when they see the hypocrisy wherein we are motivated by men’s eyes, rather than for God only.
What we should remind ourselves constantly is that we are on a stage, where there is only one observer, and it is him who we are there to please; the one that knows the motivations of our hearts.
How must God feel when He sees all these Christians acting, rather than doing His will.
Actors are fraudulent, because they perform for an audience of men. Doers are real, because it is done for one who does not seem to be present, yet sees all things as they actually are.
Yet this stands in stark contrast to the beauty of proper biblical love, love that is sacrificial, seeking to put someone else before itself, wherein afterward the natural feeling of love always comes forth due to the investment.
Love is a beautiful thing to witness…
And never has there been such a display is love as was displayed 2000 years ago on a wooden cross.