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Learning How To Love
1 John 4:7-11

JESUS CHRIST said, "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another: By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:34-35).

Jesus Christ and His teachings tower over the landscape of human life and history as Mount Everest would on a Florida beach.

Frogs now chirp in the tall grass that grows where the voices of powerful men once were heard on the sight of the ancient city once known as "Babylon the Great."

The splendor of Rome where her senate once debated the fate of the world now lies in ruins.

The artistic beauty of the greatly admired Athens has atrophied. Her philosopher's voices silenced.

Yet, the teachings of Christ still influence more people in our contemporary society than all their wisdom combined. Why?

A statement attributed to Napoleon Bonaparte gives us our answer: "The Caesar's, Kahn's, and Pharaoh's kingdoms have failed. For we have built our kingdoms by the sword, but the kingdom of Christ was built on love."

The magazine Psychology Today recently ran a feature article on "The Ideal Man." The article was a report on an extensive written survey involving a vast cross segment of Americans. Among men and women the ideal man identified by their readers was Jesus Christ. His personal love for us and His teaching about love endears Him to millions.

There is a contemporary line, "Everybody loves a lover."

Love has spawned a new industry. Immediately after December 25, stores start putting up Valentines decorations. Flowers, candy, and cards attest of professed love. Tradition says there was a saintly individual named Valentine who around 449 AD was imprisoned for not worshiping pagan gods. On the eve of his execution he sent a note to the jailor's daughter who had befriended him expressing his appreciation. He signed it "Your Valentine." Allegedly that was the first of many Valentine cards. With words varying from sentiment to humor, love is expressed. Words such as: "Roses are red, violets are blue. Your mother was beautiful, what happened to you?

Everybody loves to be loved. To be loved you have to love. Back comes the weary question, "How do you love?".

First, in our confused society we would do well to define love. The New Testament word for it most often used is AGAPE. It is selfless love such as God has for us. It is unconquerable benevolence, invincible good will. The love of which I speak is not an emotion to be aroused. It is a principle we deliberately live by. It is a spontaneous self-giving without regard for merit.

AGAPE love was a word and embodying an attitude that packed a spiritual wallop. It transformed millions of people around the world into persons willing to die for their convictions. At the same time it aroused millions of bloodthirsty persecutors, eager to eradicate those who believe in the power of this word.

Now the question "How can I learn to love?"

Psychologists tell us that babies are not born knowing how to love. However, they do have the capacity to receive love, to experience it. In effect they have to learn to love by observation and experience how they are loved.

If a child does not experience it from parents, it dramatically influences the child. Dr. Rene Spitz of New York University has studied many children living in secular orphanages and concludes that unloved children are much slower in development. Love is not only a part of our development, it aids our total development.

It is said we learn how to love from the parent of the same sex, and we learn who to love from the parent of the opposite sex. Ideally we learn to love from our parents. With a breakdown in the traditional family and with so many poor role models for children to relate to, more and more people are finding it difficult to learn how to love.

How are children growing up on a battlefield going to learn to love? How can adults learn to love? One of my dear adult companions who had no home life as a child told me of how he never knew who his dad was and how he seldom saw his mother. He grew up not only without proper parental role models but without Christ. After he was saved he said, "I never knew what love meant. I had a wonderful wife, but I never really knew how to love her until I was saved. I learned the real meaning of love when I met Jesus."

Enrollment is now open for a short course in how to learn to love. There is a way to learn to love even in an environment devoid of parental love. Knowing of the breakdown of role models, Jesus stepped in and demonstrated His special kind of love.

You may be the product of a parentless home or a home where two adults you called parents reared you without love, BUT you can learn to love. Regardless of your age you can learn to love the same way a child is supposed to learn, that is, by feeling and seeing how you are loved. In this case, how you are loved by Jesus Christ.

The Bible says, "God is love." It doesn't simply say, "God loves." He does, of course; but the point is He is love. To learn to love go to the source and experience His love. By doing so you can learn to love.

Notice in our text of 1 John 4:19 the process: "We love . . . because He first loved us." That is an electrifying one-line summary of how to learn to love. Christ has shown us the true meaning of love by loving us. By experiencing His love we learn how to love. When we commit our life to Christ, we begin to experience His love; and it spontaneously shows in our relationships with others. Three prominent traits of His love for us are noted in our text. As a result of knowing and experiencing these characteristics of love, we spontaneously learn how to love.

"He who does not love does not know God, for God is love" (1 John 4:8). Conversely, when you come to know God through Jesus Christ, you have enrolled in a life-long course in how to love.

I. CHRIST'S LOVE IS UNCONDITIONAL

That is hard for most persons to realize. We tend to put conditions on our acceptance of people. Two obvious reasons why we find it hard to love come into focus in this regard.

* We set standards we want people to come up to so that we can love them. We don't really love them; we love their good qualities. As miraculous as it is God loves you just as you are. If He loves us, we can learn to love others. READ and APPLY Ephesians 4:30-32.

* A second reason it is hard to love is that we know ourselves so well. We know all the deep dark secrets about our self that are so unlovely that we can hardly believe anyone would love us. We develop defenses to keep people at a distance so they won't really discover what we are truly like.

Some persons have such a deep need for love that they don't want people to know their unlovable qualities. After all without the love of Christ as our standard we don't love people if they aren't lovable. Some people need love so badly they dare not reveal an imperfection in themselves. Thus, they become defensive and refuse to admit error. This results in a self-righteous attitude. It consequences in persons destroying the very people with which they most want a good relationship.

Some persons try to camouflage their true nature with flashy expensive clothes, fad food habits and dining places, titles, position, and appearance. God doesn't love you because of what you have or do, but because He is love. Some persons go through life very insecure because they feel they must earn God's love. They translated this into personal relationships and feel they must earn the love of people also. This makes it difficult for them to accept love because they don't feel they deserve it.

Can you accept the fact you are accepted even though you are unacceptable?

Parents have you been putting conditions on your child which must be met before you will love him or her? Children is the reverse true? We are to love one another as Christ loved us. How is that? Unconditionally!

Once you begin to love in this way you are a model of love to which the object of your love can better relate.

"We love because Christ first loved us." If you become a "first lover," you will find those around you sooner or later will catch on.

II. CHRIST'S LOVE IS UNRESTRICTED

Our love for God and others is directly related, Ephesians 4:20. By the quality of our love, we reveal God's love to others. It is imperative that we who call ourselves Christians put God's love for us into action and love others.

This doesn't mean we will instantly start to feel warm and friendly toward everybody. Feelings aren't the center or the circumference of Christian love. Love and affection, even romance, aren't necessarily the same thing.

Our Christian love is demonstrated by doing for others what Christ has done for us. That means we learn to accept others with all their faults and failures. We accept them even when we can't approve of what they are doing. God loves you though He might totally disapprove of some things you are doing.

The old cliche is true, "God loves the sinner, but He hates the sin." You may disapprove of something someone is doing while still showing God's love for them. That is unrestricted love.
" . . . if God loved us . . . we ought to love one another."

III. CHRIST'S LOVE IS UNINHIBITED

"In this the love of God was manifested toward us . . . " The word "manifested" means it came out into the open and was made public. Calvary is a bold manifestation of His love.

The Greek word in 1 John 4:10 translated "propitiation" isn't in the working vocabulary of most people. "Propitiation" means the satisfying of God's holy law. It doesn't mean we have done something to satisfy God and make ourselves acceptable to God. It means God has lovingly done something making us acceptable to Himself.

Verse 9 explains what: "God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him."

Do you want to learn to love. First, realize loving is giving and receiving. Are you willing to receive God's love? Can you accept the fact you are accepted even though unacceptable?

God's love is so unrestricted that He gave His only begotten Son, Jesus, for you. Now, are you ready to give God your love?

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Nelson L. Price is Pastor Emeritus, Roswell Street Baptist Church in Marietta, GA.

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