The Dec. 31, 1989, issue of the Chicago Tribune pictured a series of photographs of the best photos of the decade. Michael Fryer’s image of a rescue attempt was a dramatic fire photo. It captured a fireman and a paramedic carrying a fire victim away from the scene. The blaze Fryer covered occurred in Dec. 1984, at Irving Park and Kenmore Avenues in Chicago. It seemed routine, until firefighters discovered a mother and five children huddled in one apartment’s kitchen. Fryer said firefighters surmised: “She could have escaped with two or three but couldn’t decide who to pick and chose to wait for firefighters to arrive. All of them died of smoke inhalation.”
The love of a mother is a strong and pervasive force. No love is as genuine or authentic as that of a mother’s. It is needed in all relationships today. A genuine, deep, unconditional love is required.
One of the greatest chapters in the Bible is
I. When My Main Motive Is Love
Why do you do what you do? What’s your motivation for relationships with parents, spouse, children, or friends? What is the ground for all your religious efforts and good deeds?
Paul speaks to the issues of motives in the first three verses. The highest religious aspirations and accomplishments are contrasted to love. If love is not the basis for all that I do — no matter how noble or generous the action — what does it matter? Take away love, the essential ingredient, and all the accomplishments equal a zero.
Someone copied the following paraphrase from a well-worn carbon in the billfold of a 30-year veteran missionary. No one seems to know who authored it, but whoever it was captured the essence of the greatest essay on love ever written.
If I have the language ever so perfectly and speak like a pundit, and have not the love that grips the heart, I am nothing. If I have decorations and diplomas and am proficient in up-to-date methods and have not the touch of understanding love, I am nothing.
If I am able to worst my opponents in argument so as to make fools of them, and have not the wooing note, I am nothing. If I have all faith and great ideals and magnificent plans and wonderful visions, and have not the love that sweats and bleeds and weeps and prays and pleads, I am nothing.
If I surrendered all prospects, and leaving home and friends and comforts, give myself to the showy sacrifice of a missionary career, and turn sour and selfish amid the daily annoyances and personal slights of a missionary life, and though I give my body to be consumed in the heat and sweat and mildew of India, and have not the love that yields its rights, its coveted leisure, its pet plans, I am nothing, nothing. Virtue has ceased to go out of me.
If I can heal all manner of sickness and disease, but wound hearts and hurt feelings for want of love that is kind, I am nothing. If I write books and publish articles that set the world agape and fail to transcribe the word of the cross in the language of love, I am nothing. Worse, I may be competent, busy, fussy, punctilious, and well-equipped, but like the church at Laodicea — nauseating to Christ.
Genuine love is characterized by motives that seek only the best for the other. But that is not all. Authentic love pervades all of our actions. It is evident in our character. What is the next evidence of authentic love?
II. When My Total Action Is Love
Authentic love is active and expressive. It gets involved. The opposite of love is not hate but apathy. Authentic love is neither passive nor indifferent. It refuses to yawn its way through life.
A friend of mine was trying to read the newspaper, but his 5-year-old boy kept interrupting him; he would lean against his knees and say, “Daddy, I love you.” His dad would give him a pat and say rather absently, “Yes, son, I love you too,” and would give him a little push away so he could keep on reading.
This didn’t satisfy the boy, and finally he ran to his father and said, “I love you, daddy,” and he jumped up on his lap and threw his arms around him and gave him a big squeeze, explaining, “And I’ve just got to do something about it!”
That’s it — to know if we authentically love we are not content with small-talk love, or pat-on-the-head love. We want to get involved, demonstrate our love, and do something about it with all of our being.
Paul analyzes love in
These expressions of love cover each and every aspect of life — attitude, speech, actions, and faith. We know we are well on our way to authentically loving when we love with all of our being. But another aspect of authentic love exists.
III. When My Lasting Devotion Is Love
Why is love the greatest? Because it lasts. How do you know if you authentically love? When your eternal devotion is love. Real love is not temporary, whimsical, or wishy-washy. Real love passes the test of time.
Paul reinforces this thought in
– to fall. Real love doesn’t fall or stumble when times are rocky.
– to collapse. Authentic love doesn’t collapse when the emotions are being battered.
– to come to an end. You know you’re in love when you refuse to run away.
– to be terminated. Real love doesn’t cop out. It is resilient to the end.
Lasting love is a decision to act and a commitment to stay.
John Croyle played football for Bear Bryant at the University of Alabama on three SEC championship teams from 1971 to 1973. He was a tougher-than-leather defensive end who forsook a lucrative football career for something greater. He founded Big Oak Ranch in northeastern Alabama for boys nobody else wanted to give a second chance.
Etowah County district judge Robert E. Lewis, who has placed many juveniles at Big Oak Ranch, says, “If everybody had as much interest in their own children as John Croyle does in any kid, we wouldn’t have delinquency in this country. It’s that simple.”
When a young boy arrives at the Ranch, Croyle tells them, “I love you. I ain’t gay or weird, but I want you to know I love you, and one day you’ll understand that. I won’t ever lie to you. I’ll stick with you until you’re grown. If you’ll try to be the best person you can be, then you’ve got me for life.”
Authentic love passes the test of inward motivation, outward expression, and the eternal dimension. John Croyle passed the test. Do you pass the test of loving authentically?