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Description: Why do we have trouble in our families, marriages and relationships? Often we're not really loving. Genuine love makes sense of our life here on earth.
The Heart of Love
Sermon Transcript by Rev. Ernest O’Neill
We have just completed a detailed study of the definitive explanation of reality that is available
in our world. I say it is the definitive explanation because it was given not by Aristotle or by
Plato but by the Creator himself who made us. I say it is a detailed study, because we have spent
more than 11 years studying these 11 chapters of Romans in this collection of history books known as
the Bible, and it is only after that prolonged explanation of His relationship to us that our
Creator turns in the twelfth chapter to the practical application of those beliefs to our life here
on earth. You remember in this twelfth chapter the first thing He says to us is, “In the light of
all that I have given you and of the fact that I have made you, I ask you first of all to give your
life to me so that I can achieve through you the purpose that I had in mind in making you.”
Secondly, he details the gifts that he has given to every one of us to bring our particular part of
the world into submission to his will. Thirdly, he turns to the attitude that alone makes sense of
life. It is the attitude that dominates his own heart and prompted him to make us in the first
place. It is the only attitude that will make sense of our life here on earth. It is the only
feeling or attitude or dominating passion that we can allow to become the ruling feeling and
motivation throughout our whole lives. Romans 12:9: “Let love be genuine.”
One half of the world repudiates that, the half presumably that runs dictatorships.
One half of our world repudiates love as the working attitude and the ruling passion of life and
simply substitutes force and hate. The other half of the world — probably that is the half that
most of us belong to — substitutes its own attitude which it calls love. I think that is what many
of us suffer under. We have an attitude and a feeling that we call love that is actually counterfeit
love. That is why many of us have real trouble in our families or our marriages or our relationships
with our friends. We think, “We are loving, why is it not working?” The fact is, it isn’t working
because we are not really loving. We are practising this counterfeit thing our society has created
as a substitute for real love. Loved ones, this morning I would ask you to come with me now and
study what our Creator means when he talks about genuine love as opposed to this bluff counterfeit
love that we so often glibly talk about.
Now Jesus defined this genuine love not only in his own words but by his own life. It is very plain
and simple. He was talking to the disciples in John 15:12. “This is my commandment, that you love
one another as I have loved you.” Then he defines it. “Greater love has no man than this, that a man
lay down his life for his friends.” Now that is love. In other words, a man gives his life up
presumably so that his friends can live. That is what love is. Love is giving up your right to live
so that the other person can live; love is giving up your rights so that the other person can have
their rights; love is giving up the things that you feel you should have so that the other person
should have them instead. That is what love is. It is giving up your life for your friends; it is
giving up the things that you ought rightfully to have so that they can have them; it is putting
their life before yours.
Now that exposes the ridiculous, bluff invalidity of the normal, conventional folk wisdom about what
love is. You know that one: “What is loving others? Loving your neighbor as yourself. It is loving
yourself first and then it is loving your neighbor.” Do you see how silly that is in the light of
Jesus’ definition? He says love is giving up your life for your friends.
On Thursday you remember what happened in the Potomac River? They came down with the helicopter and
threw the ring on the end of the rope out to one of the passengers of the Air Florida jet that had
crashed. One man caught it and then handed it on to the other four. The guys in the helicopter
wanted him to take it, but he didn’t take it, and the four were pulled to safety. When the men went
back, of course he was gone. Now that is love. He didn’t say, “No, first of all I’ll love myself and
then I’ll love these other people.” That isn’t love. Love is loving the other person before
yourself, instead of yourself, in place of yourself. “Greater love has no man than this, that a man
lay down his life for his friends.” That is what love is. If you decide to love yourself and then
love them too, you will end up tossing a penny to see who dies, because you are loving each other
equally. But that is not the love that Jesus talks about; it is not genuine love. Genuine love has
no room for this. Really it is philosophizing, it is scholasticism, it is cavilling, it is playing
at intellectualism, this love that says, “Now, unless I love myself first, I can’t love them.” You
can only love them if you put them in the place of yourself. That is what it means to love. Love
means you love them instead of yourself. Where other people love themselves, you love other people
instead of yourself. You forget yourself completely and put their rights and their happiness first.
Now you remember that is the kind of love that Moses talked about. Remember there was a time when
the Israelites had rebelled against God and God condemned them, and then Moses spoke. It is in
Exodus 32:31,32. “So Moses returned to the Lord and said, ‘Alas, this people have sinned a great
sin; they have made for themselves gods of gold. But now, if thou wilt forgive their sin–and if
not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written.'” It wasn’t Moses saying, “Lord,
save me and save them too.” It was Moses saying, “I know this is the destiny for which we were all
created, to live with you eternally, but Lord, blot me out of the book, destroy me, take away my
chance of heaven if you are not going to save them.” That is what love is.
Actually Moses couldn’t go to hell for them, but in fact that is what Jesus did. He took all the
dirtiest part of you and me, the most contaminated part, and He took that into his own heart. When
he cried, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” He was crying what you and I would have had
to cry, because the power of God’s holiness would have come and burned us up if we had to go through
death with the dirt and uncleanness we have accumulated through life. But Jesus took that into
himself and he went to hell instead of us. It is not seeing things truly to say he was just
pretending. No, at that moment of self-limitation all he could see when he cried, “My God, my God,
why hast thou forsaken me” was eternal darkness and hell yawning before him, not because of his own
sin, but because he was made sin for us, he who knew no sin.
That is what love is. It is suffering something that somebody else should suffer so that they won’t
have to suffer; it is putting yourself in the place of the other person. That is what God himself
did, because God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. That is why God is called love. You
and I have made such a mess of our personalities, so confused with guilt, so wrought up with our own
impaired minds and unbalanced, miserable emotions that God himself saw us and put our interests
before His own and took all that stuff out of each of us, and in His own Son He burned it to
destruction. He gave up the right of His own Son and himself continuing their peaceful, calm
relationship. He did it so that you and I could enter into that relationship. That is what love is.
Love is giving up your interests so that the other person’s interests will prevail; giving up your
rights so that the other person’s rights will be preserved.
That is what you and I are called to do here. Genuine love for each one of us is that. It is not
identifying others’ interests with yours. It is not saying, “I have a right to happiness and
security and I have the right to friendship, and so all the rest of these people must have it too.”
It is not that. It is identifying others’ interests as yours. It is regarding yourself as having no
rights and no interests and putting their interests and their rights in place of yours. Where other
people look out for themselves, you look out for other people. That is what love is.
Loved ones, do you see there is no room there then for thinking of yourself and how you are doing?
In fact, the freedom of perfect love is forgetting yourself and putting other people first.
What does it mean in practical terms? Well, at the lowest level it means what we tell the children.
If there is a sweet roll or a French pastry that is the nicest one on the plate when it comes
around, loving other people means you think of which one they would like, and you leave that on the
plate. Now I know that sounds very simple, but it seems to me that we in our society have got so
used to gratifying ourselves first that we will almost take the best sweet roll and make a joke of
our sheer selfishness. Loved ones, at the lowest level it is first of all letting the other person
have the best thing on the plate.
Then if you extend it a little further, it is letting the other person have the best chair in the
room. It is thinking, “If I were them what would I like?” It is letting them have the best chair in
the room or the best seat in the car. Then it is letting them choose where they would like to go
that evening. It is letting your wife or your colleague at work or your roommate or your dear friend
choose where they would like to go that evening. It is holding back even if you have the whole thing
organized and know what you would both really enjoy, and let them choose where to go that evening or
where to spend the weekend. Then it gets in where it hurts: where to go on vacation. It means
letting the other person have the choice. Do you realize that if there are a group of you living in
an apartment and you all have different ideas of where to spend vacation, do you know that you will
have a greater vacation if you let them choose? Do you know that you won’t have nearly as good a
vacation if you say, “I want to go here and you had all better go where I go!” Love is putting the
other person’s interests and preferences first.
But all that is just the simple, unselfish behavior that even pagan philosophers and humanists
produce. Even civilized pagans practice that. Genuine love is putting yourself in the other’s shoes;
it is knowing the other person’s heart and thoughts. With due respect to us men, I think we often
say the ladies don’t speak out. Well, they shouldn’t have to speak out. If that is true of
husband/wife relationships, how much truer is it of roommates or colleagues or friends
relationships! Those of us who babble a lot say, “Why don’t they express what they think?” They
shouldn’t need to if we love them. Love is knowing the other person’s heart and thoughts, knowing
what they are thinking and imagining what they are feeling. Walking in their moccasins, standing in
their shoes, looking at things through their eyes, seeing things from their viewpoint and
understanding what they need most, and then applying God’s dear love and provision to that in such a
way that the best thing happens to them that can possibly happen. That is what love is, brothers and
I spend so much time saying these simple things because I think we have a ridiculous view of love.
The freedom of love is forgetting yourself. The freedom of love is not “I love myself first and then
I love them.” The freedom of love is putting them in place of yourself. That is what it means to
love your neighbor as yourself. It means love your neighbor instead of yourself. That is what it
meant for Jesus. It meant loving us instead of Himself. It meant putting Himself in the place of
death instead of us. I think many of us make heavy weather of not only our marriages, but our
friendships and our relationships at work and at school because we haven’t even touched the heart of
love, which is regarding yourself as not even in existence and looking out for the other person and
protecting them. You wouldn’t believe it, but that is freedom, that is liberty. You say, “What will
happen to me?” You only have the greatest King and Lord in the whole universe to look after you, and
He will; He will protect you.
So would you think a little about it? Especially those of us who live together. Do you really put
the other person before yourself? Do you really regard their interests as the only ones that exist
— or are you trying to do it 50/50? Fifty percent you get your way, fifty percent I get my way.
That is the way it works. We say it is 50/50 but it isn’t. If you even have to do the dividing you
always end up with 80 and they end up with 20. There is only one way to love, and that is to forget
yourself and look upon them as if they are yourself. As you begin to do that, a miraculous power
begins to work in their life, and their hearts begin to broaden and their lives begin to be
transformed and you begin to come into peace. You begin to touch the fringe of life, the fringe of
love and then you find yourself touching the hem of His garment.