“Make me the happiest man on earth, and say you will marry me.” It sounds romantic. This or similar words often form a marriage proposal. Marriage is not in vogue as much as it was when Ruth and I married, over 50 years ago. Marriage then involved the concept of love bound in a permanent relationship. I have lamented in these pages on the awful change in wedding vows—to “so long as we both shall love.”
There is something wrong with these two quotations. Can you pick them out? They are both coming from a self-centered frame of mind. You must meet my needs or “I’m outta here!” The proposal puts the onus of the relationship on the other to do the “making happy” The “both love” vow bases the relationship upon romance and feeling. If the romance dies, POOF! goes the relationship.
The “happiest man” concept is romantic hyperbole. It is a goal that can rarely, if ever, be obtained. What does a woman have to do to make a man the happiest? In reality, it is not just being with him. It would require to continue to be the one who fulfilled his fantasies. Unhappily, because of human nature, that is a moving target. Our desires grow as we achieve the last one. Natural man is insatiable.
Let us examine what real love is:
It is the mother who has just brought her newborn home from the hospital, still exhausted from her ordeal, who gets up for a 2 AM feeding and tenderly holds her baby to her breast while she sings a lullaby.
It is the father who works two jobs to build up enough to send his child to college.
It is the sister who tells you there is a piece of spinach in your front teeth, just before your boyfriend arrives.
It is the soldier who is terribly afraid with bullets whizzing around, who goes out in the open to drag a comrade to safety.
Real love is regard for others. Sometimes it means going out of your way to do something for others. Jimmy was trying to earn money for a bike. He realized that through the winter he could shovel sidewalks and stairs for the neighbors. He spoke to all but Mrs. Jenkins. She was a widow with little money. Jimmy, without asking, included Mrs. Jenkin’s walk and stairs. He kept them clear of ice and snow all winter long.
Sometimes real love requires a sacrifice. I was in a dead-end job. I knew I needed something to get me out. I heard about “Executive Interview Training”. As I applied, it sounded like just the right thing for me; but for me the price was out of sight. I applied to friends of mine who were not too well off, but both were employed. Without a second thought they loaned me the money. I learned much later, they had to dip into retirement funds.
I was trained by my family and in school that politeness required you to place reference to yourself in second place, “Joan and I went to the store.” When my Dad heard someone say, “Me and Bill played catch,” he would ask, “Why are you calling Bill mean?”
They taught us to open doors for others. They taught us that when we went out in public we dressed in better clothes out of respect for others. They taught us not to spit or litter the public street for the same reason. Although many do not define consideration as an act of love, in fact it is love.
We had the “Heroic Generation”, those who weathered the Great Depression and then went to fight WWII. Something happened to their children. It became evident in the Korean War. Where fathers withstood German POW Camps and Japanese torture remaining faithful to America, their sons capitulated when captured. Many signed false confessions of “war crimes” perpetrated by the U.S. Government. Some actually curled up and died. Most did not struggle against their captors, as did their fathers.
As a result, the U.S. military had to institute and train troops in a “Code of Conduct”. They could no longer trust that young men came into the service with a moral foundation.
Lack of real love became evident in the 1960’s, when students no longer had respect for authority or property. They rioted on campuses across the nation. They occupied administrative offices, destroyed property and made foul, uncivilized messes.
They threw out codes of decency and participated in “free love” (a corruption of that time honored word). Their attitudes were but animal fornication.
They had no respect for themselves and no respect for others. Real love became absent. Self became all important. A sign of the times was Self Magazine. To quote the founding Editor, Phyllis Starr Wilson “Self will be a guide to the vitality we need, to do all the things we want to do.” So we had the rise of a culture of narcissism expressed in the “Me Generation”, otherwise known as “Baby Boomers”. Sex became “recreational”, i.e. no commitment and no consequences. “One night stands” replaced committed relationships. The open question of, “Do you kiss on the first date?” became,”Do you have sex on the first date?’ The answer comes back immediately, “Of course!”
When I was counseling couples with marital difficulties, an essential element was, “do both of them truly want to resolve their differences?” If it was only one of the partners, then it was very difficult to save the marriage. If neither wanted resolution, then any counseling, except how to divide the children, was a waste of time.
I am realistic enough to recognize that a great majority of people are not interested in returning to real love as the standard of life. Our rate of abortions is a clear weather-vane for the climate lacking self-sacrificing love.
Nevertheless, real love exists. It has not been stamped out or bulldozed over. It exists in the same way truth exists. It is in the fabric of reality. Life is better when lived in real love and absolute truth. It may be counter-intuitive to understand that life is better if one gives love away, instead of seeking to grasp it for yourself. In this universe there is the Natural Law of Reciprocity. What we give away pays dividends in self worth and personal growth.
Back to that exhausted mother. Her sacrifice of the much-needed rest, builds in her soul the power of responsibility. Being responsible for the life of another makes her a bigger person. She grows in her soul. She is better able to see and serve the needs of others
The father, who sacrifices to send the son to college, receives the joy of seeing his son graduate and launch into a career that would have been unobtainable without the father’s sacrifice. The father and the son are both better men for that love.
Even the sister who embarrasses her sister by telling she did a poor job if brushing her teeth is better off for saving her sister of an even greater embarrassment.
Giving to others builds us up in our souls. Mother Theresa lived a life of giving to others. She has one of the greatest souls of the last century.
One person at a time exercising real love recapture its reality. It is a choice “thee or me”. That choice confronts us each day.
In the scope of things, saying, “you and me”, or “me and Bill,” is minor, but it is a significant marker of where your heart is. The respect you pay another person, whether they hear you or not, is a precious mark of real love. It reflects an attitude that places another person before you.
Most people have the ability to sympathize. It comes so naturally we do not give it a thought. This is the outreach of real love. Sympathy is a sense that another is in trouble. The desire to help is the outreach of real love. To actualize that urge to love, one must step into the impulse with action. If someone is crying in our presence, we must overcome our inhibitions and hold them.
Real love is other-centered. It recognizes a need in another person, unconsciously. It is a part of our better nature unless stifled. It is a tendency to offer what someone else needs. Each of us has a limited number of resources, so to share is to make some sacrifice. The costlier the sacrifice, the more there is a reluctance to dissipate our own resources. However, the greater the cost of sharing, the more love is required to offer the needed help. That self-sacrifice strengthens our desire to give and it builds up the soul.
There are numerous agencies from the Red Cross to World Vision to Feed the Children that are organized around the principle of real love. They have seen the needs of people all over the world and their love has determined to assist them in the basic necessities of life, food, sickness, water. They also open up opportunities for others to express their love by donating, providing the resources for the workers to distribute.
One cannot express generosity without real love. Real love engages the other person in seeking the best for them. Real love is evident when a friend risks a friendship with another to reveal a harmful personality trait that alienates other people from one’s friend.
Real love engages others on a personal level. It enters gently into another’ intimate zone and seeks to build another up. A business owner met a homeless man on the street. He bought him lunch and over lunch learned that he had ability, but not opportunity. He paid for a couple of weeks in a motel, bought him a complete set of clothes, including a suit and tie. He gave him a starting job in his company. The man by his ability moved up through the company into management and became an executive and contributing member of the owner’s company.
Real love is most clearly seen in the acceptance or help given to the undeserving. Because of the contrast, to the natural inclination of “birds of a feather flock together”, reaching out to one who is not “your kind” shows love.
Pat Dennis was a girl in high school. We had several classes to together. I liked Pat and we became friends. In looking back, I do not believe she had many. After high school, our lives took different paths. Much later, we met again. At that time, she had started a ministry to homeless and troubled women. Pat had two houses for getting them back on their feet. Pat gave her life to those women. She lived out the truth that real love comes at a price. Real love involves self-sacrifice.
I have purposely not used the expression, “true love”. It has the implication of romantic love. Certainly when romantic love is real it reflects its reality in being self-sacrificing, “I will do everything in my power to make you the happiest person on earth.”
Real originates in the One and Almighty God. God is love. He loved mankind before He created us. He knows everything, so God knew that mankind, no matter how much He gave them would ignore Him and betray Him. And yet He still created us.
For us to have a relationship with the most righteous God, we have to be righteous, too. Unhappily, we could not be holy. God loved us enough to sacrifice His only Son to become the atonement for our sins.
“But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)
The most precious thing in the world for each of us is our lives. Therefore, to lay them down to benefit another is a priceless gift. This indicates how precious is the gift of life and the sacrifice of life.
“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13).
The word in Greek for this love that was used here is αγαπέ (agape), which means, “a self-sacrificing love”. Scripture tells husbands to αγαπέ their wives. They love them self-sacrificially, because God give men the responsibility to nourish and cherish their wives.
Since God self-sacrificially gave His only Son to die for our sins, and since Jesus willingly and self-sacrificially went to the cross to die in our place, our response to that real, very real love should be to first, love God really with all that is within us; and finally, love others at the expense of ourselves.
God not only gave us a love gift of creation, but also the love gift of redemption. His love in these two priceless gifts is far more than anyone could expect. It would have been enough. He has not stopped giving to us out of His love. His provision of a bountiful world is a gift that keeps on giving. Every day He provides us with what we need for life and health and expansion of life.
Our first response to His love is to give all we have to Jesus in that self-sacrificing love. Essentially it mans surrendering to Him the control of our lives. We allow Him to “call the shots”, to guide us and correct us and teach us and change us.
Our second response is to offer the priceless gift to others. This real love is not a casual thing of being friendly and expressing appreciation or sympathy. Real love is proactive. It reaches out and touches lives deeply where they hurt and brings all our resources to bear on that hurt to effect a healing.
Real love for others sacrifices convenience, money, and time to build one another up; bringing us all to the unity of faith in the love of God.
This unity is a glorious ideal. When we have mutual love in believing fellowship we find a home wherever we are. However, this is a “unity of faith”. There are many people in our various circles of relationship who have no concept of either faith in God or of the quality of love that is found in Christ. Our relationship with them may be based on shared interests, common work, mutual friends. Perhaps we share a lot, but if we do not share the bond of God’s love, we are not truly sharing.
The real spiritual truth is that everyone without Christ is ultimately going to Hell. I know it is unpopular to say this so bluntly. I have lost readers by saying this in the past; nevertheless, as Francis Schaeffer says, “this is true truth”.
It is only in recognizing the terrible news that we can see that those friends are on a precipice. We may be the only ones who can warn them. Real love will take the risk of alienating friends, breaking fellowship with neighbors, losing contact with dear compatriots by sharing that unless they believe that Jesus is God and surrender their live to Him they are damned.
This is self-sacrificing love. Though they gain the whole world, it will be nothing, unless believers sacrifice to alert them to the danger of the road they are on. If a man sees a child, who sees no danger, but is about to be run down by a car, the world acknowledges when he hurls himself into danger to save the child. Thus believers seeing friends and acquaintances, or even strangers in danger of a Christ-less eternity are doing a priceless service to the one in such danger by sharing the bad news and the good news with them. It is not for us to judge whom to share with, but, in God’s love, hold out the truth to all by the Holy Spirit’s prompting.
Walking in the streets of downtown Seattle after I was first saved, I looked up at all the high-rise buildings. I realized that most of the people in them did not know the love of Jesus and His sacrifice for them. I wanted to rush into those buildings, go from office to office and shout the Gospel to all I met. That was not possible. Nor is it possible to speak the word of real love to everyone. But it is important, and perhaps necessary that we listen to the Holy Spirit and speak to each one He directs.
There is great mutual joy in sharing Christ. Jesus blesses the one who proclaims the truth of God’s real love, whether or not the listener receives it. But when it is received there is not only the shared love and joy of the pro-claimer and the receiver, but that joy is multiplied by the rejoicing of the angels in heaven for a sinner that has come home to Jesus. God, the Father blesses the believer who exercises real love.
Epiphany is an appearance or manifestation of God. Liturgical churches celebrate on January 6th remembering the arrival of the Magi, wise men from the east to discover the “King of the Jews.” (Matthew 2:2) They were looking for the Jewish Messiah (Christ in Greek). This was the first revelation of “Yashua (Hebrew for Jesus) to the Gentiles. — Rodney Degner, excerpted by editor
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)
The reason churches still celebrate Epiphany after two millennia is that Jesus, born a Jew was worshipped by Jewish shepherds, but Herod the King of Jews wanted to kill him. Thus, the establishment Jews rejected Jesus and they eventually did kill him; whereas, the Gentile Magi honored the baby Jesus with open hearted worship, as well as, with rich gifts. Here was the beginning of God’s revelation of His truths to the Gentiles.
For two millennia before that, God (as far as Scripture reveals) spoke only to Abraham and his descendants, the progenitors of the Jews.
Except for a few proselytes, Jews held God as exclusively theirs. There are a few references in the Bible of His ministering to and through Gentiles. When Jews rejected Paul’s proclamation of the Gospel of Salvation in Christ, God sent him to broadcast His message of salvation among the Gentiles.
Therefore, Christians may appropriately celebrate the visit of the Gentile Magi to the baby Jesus, the Savior of the world.
My Father and my God, I come before You in love, because You first loved me. I bow in humility, because I am unworthy of Your love.
Lord Jesus, I am sincerely and deeply grateful that you have given me a place beside You and in my Father’s Presence. My place in Christ is secure because of what You have done for me.
Holy Spirit, Spirit of truth, teach my heart to long to minister truth and love to those who are caught up in the lies of the world, the flesh, and the devil. You are the manifestation of Prevenient Grace. Prepare the way for me to witness to the glory that is in Christ. Spirit of God, open doors to the message of salvation and open hearts to embrace the loving and lovely Christ the Son of God.
Salvation is exclusively of and from Jesus the Christ. I am only Your messenger.
My God, you are my gift to share with those who need You. Give me the eye to see others’ needs and the heart to, if necessary, importune them with the message of salvation. Since I am but a messenger, teach me the ways to present the Good News so that all can hear. Give me the boldness to defy resistance and declare the truth of the universality of sin. Give me the tenderness to comfort wounded souls with the beauty of the Balm of Gilead, the love of Christ. Give me the willingness to stride confidently on thin ice proclaiming the truth, confident that if the ice breaks, You will deliver me.
You are an amazing God, Lord of the Universe. You stoop to raise up men and women filthy with sin and cleanse them in the Blood of Christ and then adopt them into your family!
Hallelujah! For salvation! Hallelujah, for Christ’s righteousness imputed to us! Hallelujah for the privilege of proclaiming the glorious news! Amen