To start, I’m going to ask you to do something to literally go back in time in your mind and I’d like you to resurrect the earliest moment that you can think of where you actually felt real love. The earliest childhood memory where you felt, I belong, I’m safe, I’m loved, I’m valuable. What was that moment? I’m sure there are a lot of them, but the way God makes our brains is that certain things that are emotionally charged and resonate somehow with our heart, we can almost go back in time and you can replay that picture. For me, I was in about I think first or second grade, I’m not sure. And all I can tell you is they had a music class. And they had all these little dots and I couldn’t figure out the dots and they were notes and you had a fluteophone. You had to play the fluteophone. And the following day, after weeks, how everyone was supposed to be able to play Mary Had a Little Lamb on the flutophone, I was paralyzed with fear. And I remember going to bed, my mom came in to tuck me in and I just started crying, I can’t play the flutophone, I don’t know what those dots mean, and I’m super, super uptight and I don’t know why this impression, I remember my mom going, “You don’t have to play the flutophone. It’s okay. We’re going to make it through this.”
And why that sticks in my mind I think about feeling protected, loved, I didn’t have to perform, she was there for me.
My second snapshot was a number of years later. My dad was a great athlete. He was drafted by the St. Louis Browns baseball but it was a time in baseball history where he could make more money working on the railroad in the summers as the schoolteacher than he could playing professional baseball.
But early on he wanted me to get good at baseball. So he would hit me grounders and grounders and grounders. And it was very intense and good about how you caught a grounder.
And he forced me to do some things that I didn’t think I could do. And I was a crazy, little kid. I just got up one day and I started, instead of right handed, I started throwing a tennis ball against the garage, of course. And then finally I put a little box and I did it left-handed.
And then I put my glove on the wrong hand and I started throwing it with my dad. And, anyway, I got this idea that in little league I wanted to play shortstop right-handed and to be a pitcher left-handed.
And I’ll never forget the day, he was in grad school, summer, my parents were always going back to school, schoolteachers.
And in the middle of the week he was supposed to be away at grad school. He drove two hours, he gets out of the car, “Chipper! Come here!” And he flips this glove to me.
And it was a brand new left-handed glove. And I stuck it on, he threw me a ball, and he said, “Come on, let’s go in the back yard.” Why, I could tell you the color of his shirt. But there was something about, I believe in you, I’ll work with you, I’m going to help you become what you long to become.
My third little picture of just feeling real love was a guy named Kevin King. He had bright red hair, freckles. It was a rainy day, there were worms, I had a brand new cowboy hat. And he put a worm inside my cowboy hat. And we had just moved into the neighborhood and I was a very short, very small, very skinny little kid. And he outweighed me by forty pounds. And we got in a fight and I still have the picture of all the neighborhood kids in a circle as we were fighting. And it ended with him sitting on my chest and I couldn’t move.
And Kevin and I became best friends. And I remember in years later, I remember when I got kicked out of the in-crowd and it didn’t matter what happened, Kevin was always my friend. I remember when his parents, back then it was so unusual, were going through a divorce and Kevin was my friend. We could share anything. He was always there for me.
And then my next moment was I was about twelve or maybe thirteen years old and it was the era where kids grew up a little bit slower and so in the early years you hated girls and then something happened and you weren’t sure but at about twelve or thirteen, I was convinced that Michelle Abraham could perhaps be the most beautiful woman or being on the face of the earth.
And I had these feelings inside. And the Beatles were singing, “Michelle, Michelle, ma belle. Sont des mots qui vont très bien ensemble.” You know? And I’m walking around the neighborhood, you know? And isn’t it amazing? Those were very real moments.
Here’s what I want you to get. There are three observations I have about real love. Number one is this, is that we all are hardwired to need to be loved just for who we really are. You are hardwired just to be loved for who you are. Not what you do, not how you look.
Second is that no amount of success, fame, education, or power can fill the human heart’s need for real love. We think, we hope, but no amount of education, no amount of fame, no amount of wealth, no amount of power can ever fill your heart for your real need to be really loved just for who you are plus nothing.
And third observation is real love seems really hard to find. Really hard to find. Whether it’s a separation or a divorce or a breakup of a friendship or disunity in a small group; whether it’s betrayal by a friend; whether it’s someone you’re dating and the heartbreak you go through. Real love, someone who loves you just for who you are at whatever stage of life – single, married, divorced, widowed – it’s really hard to find.
And it raises two or three really big questions. Number one, what is real love? Number two, where does it come from? And number three, how do you find it in real life?
And the problem by asking the question: what is real love? – is this. We have one word in English for love and it just can’t carry the weight of all the different kinds of love. We say, “I love you” to a real person, “that I would be willing to die for you,” and I love pizza.
Somewhere there’s a disconnect there. And so at the time that the New Testament was written there were four major words in the Greek language for love. And so what I want to do to give us a sense of what real love is, is give you a broader, fuller picture of the meaning of real love and these four major words, two of them are found in the New Testament, one of them actually a derivative of it is found in the New Testament, but all four are pictured in the New or Old Testament.
And so let me just walk through it and let me give you a definition first of four specific kinds of love. C.S. Lewis wrote a book. I put a quote in there for you. A great book on these four words if, when I get done, you think, I’d like to learn more about that.
The first kind of love is eros or sexual love. It’s a passionate desire. Open your Bible if you will to Proverbs chapter 5. I think at times Christianity has got a bad rap and we probably owe it to ourselves. But the Bible is very explicit that in the right context with the one that you’re married to, God not only created sex, He thinks it’s really important and encourages us to have really deep, wonderful, satisfying sex lives with one another.
This father, speaking to his son says, think as you listen to this, this is a sexual context, “Should your springs be scattered,” verse 16, “abroad, streams of water in the streets? Let them be for yourself alone, and not for strangers. Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth, a lovely deer, a graceful doe. Let her breasts satisfy you at all times; be intoxicated always with her love.” That’s in the Bible, a little PG-13, but it’s in the Bible.
Now, notice on the right side, because I am going to make a contrast through our time. Real love versus pseudo love. When the Bible talks about real love, and it talks about eros love, it says, “I love to please you, sexually, to celebrate the intimacy that we already have.”
This isn’t, “You’ll make me complete,” this isn’t, “All there is to love.” We live in a culture where eros love is overshadowing everything, so much so that the word sex and love are interchanged.
But the Bible says that sex is an important part. This passionate desire is God-given. But the goal of that in the marriage relationship is not what I can get. It’s: What can I give? And it’s a reflection of what we will see are these three other kinds of love.
The second kind of love is phileo love. This is friendship love. This is a strong feeling. This is a strong emotional feeling toward another person that says, I want to be there for you.
In the Old Testament, it’s a picture of Jonathan and David. It’s a best friends kind of love. It’s a caring kind of love. It’s a sharing kind of love. It’s the: I’ll be there for you, I’ve got your back no matter what. Thick and thin.
If you know the Old Testament story, you know that Jonathan was the son of the king, but God ordained David to be the next king. And Jonathan, out of loyalty, would pass up not only power and privilege and possessions and even his father’s affirmation to be loyal to his friend.
Everybody in the world is desperate for phileo love. The kind of love that someone says, Through thick, through thin, I’m here for you. The opposite of that, of course, is Judas. There was manipulation, there were other motives, he betrayed Jesus.
So in the New Testament time, there was eros love – sexual love. There was phileo love – the love of friends. And then there’s storge love or family love. This is a fond affection.
The family love is: you belong and you are valued because you are part of us. We love you! It gets harder as they get older, but we just love you! Right? And no matter what, I could tell you about all kinds of family situations – we are blood! We forgive. Oh my gosh, this is the second time in a recovery program, but he’s my brother. She’s my mom!
There’s this affection, there’s this commitment, there’s this caring for one another that is just in built in us in the family. In fact, open your Bibles, 1 Thessalonians chapter 2 when the apostle Paul is talking about his relationship with the Christians in Thessalonica. They had a very deep and warm relationship.
And it’s interesting, listen to the kind of family type love that is common in the body of Christ. Follow along as I read. “Indeed,” he is speaking to the church there, “we were like young children among you, just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you, not only the gospel, but our lives as well. Surely you remember, brothers and sisters, our toil, our hardship. We worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preach the gospel of God to you, you are witnesses and so was God of how holy and righteous and blameless we were among you who believed. For you know that we dealt with each one of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting, and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into His kingdom and glory.”
Did you get the family words? Brothers, sisters, we were like a nursing mother, we cared, sacrificial, hard work, moms get up in the middle of the night, dads work and toil. It’s this picture of family love that we belong to one another and so we make sacrifices for one another. And the apostle Paul says that is absolutely true in the family. But it’s also true of the family of God.
And so love number one is eros. Love number two is phileo. Love number three is storge. And love number four is agape love. This is God’s love. One is a passionate desire, the second is a strong feeling, the third is a fond built-in affection. This is a willful choice.
Agape love is unconditional. Others-centered. Sacrificial. An absolute commitment. It comes out of the very character and the nature and the heart of God. You’re the object of His love, even before you knew Him. He created you. He loves you. Love always has the best interest of the other party. He wants to connect with you. He is for you. There is nothing you can do to ever get God to love you more.
And, actually, there is nothing you can do to get Him to love you less. He has demonstrated His love toward us in the most profound way by what Christ did on the cross. Now, because love requires a willful choice on two parties, He loves you, He loves me, He so loved all the world that He gave His Son, but you don’t have to accept His love.
You can say to Him, “I don’t want You to love me.” Now, He will still love you, but you don’t get the consequences of experiencing His love if you choose to reject His love. You say, Well, why is this so important? If you do not have God’s love living in you, you will not have the power to love yourself, to love your family, to love your friends. And one day, unless God calls you to singleness, to love your mate.
In fact, here’s what I want you to get. God is the source of love. The Scripture says God is love. God is love. Get it! God is love! But His love isn’t just a feeling or an emotion or a desire.
Here’s how God loves you. Love is choosing to give another person what they need the most, when they deserve it the least, at great personal cost.
When you think about the cross, God gave us what we needed the most, when we deserved it the least, at great personal cost. And so why is this so important? Listen very carefully, this is the pivotal moment in this message if you’re either going to understand real love or it’s going to go right over your head.
If you don’t have the source of God’s love living within you and you become a secure, whole person, deeply loved, then all of your life and all of your relationships will be all about get, get, get, get, me, me, me, me, trying to get someone to love you physically, someone to love you as a friend, someone to love you as a family and you’ll come up with all kinds of whacko ways to try and do it that don’t work.
But if you can understand the love of God and experience the love of God, then you have His power to begin to give, even if people don’t respond. In fact, let me read a quote by a couple that teaches at Seattle Pacific University.
And Les and Leslie Parrott say this. If you attempt to build intimacy with another person before you have done the hard work of becoming a whole and healthy person, every relationship will be an attempt to complete the wholeness that you lack and end in disaster.
If you attempt to build intimacy with a boyfriend, a girlfriend, a child, a parent, a friend and don’t first have a healthy, whole, I am loved, I am secure, I don’t need to impress, I don’t need to manipulate, I don’t need to get, I don’t have to have someone or something to make me complete.
If you can’t live with God and His love first, you have nothing to give. You are just a getter, getter, getter, needy, needy, needy. But if you experience the supernatural, agape, power of God’s love within you, then you have a reservoir to love people in ways that are supernatural. And it produces amazing, deep, real love.
Now, here’s the question, right? How do you know God really loves you? We have got the Sunday school answer, right?
God loves me. He died for my sins. How many of you emotionally go, Wow! I really get that! My experience is we intellectually have that but we don’t viscerally or emotionally get what really happened and what God actually did. It’s sort of like a thought, it’s sort of like a phrase instead of a reality.
So what I want you to do, I want you to turn to Romans chapter 5 and I want to give you a very specific, clear picture of God’s love. And then I want to explain what that is and how it looks.
We’ll begin at verse 6. In the mind of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and when He sets His gaze and affection on you, personally, and the Bible says He loves you, I want you to get a picture of not just theologically what happened, not just relationally what happened, but also emotionally what actually happened and what has actually occurred to every single person, whether you receive it or not. But this is His love.
Verse 6, you see, “At just the right time, when we were still powerless,” picture yourself at the end of your rope, you have got nothing to bring, “Christ died for the ungodly.” The word for here literally means in the place of.
“For rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person, someone might possibly dare to die.” How do I know God loves me? “But God demonstrates His own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Not when we got good, not when our morality cleaned up, not when our behavior changed, not when we tried harder, not when we were more moral. While we were yet sinners, or still sinners, Christ died in our place.