The past two Sundays, we have celebrated Groundhog Day and Super Bowl Sunday.
On Groundhog Day, we learned of the prediction of six more weeks of winter. (Actually, that is fine with me if winter continues to feature highs in the 50s and 60s, which has been the case here.) The evening of Super Bowl Sunday, the fans of the New England Patriots were very happy.
Today, we celebrate another holiday. A holiday just a couple days away. Valentine’s Day.
Since Valentine’s Day is supposed to lead to thoughts of love, it is love we are going to think about today. However, unlike the holiday, during which the emphasis is on love between lovers, in this message the theme will be expanded to love that is to be shown by every Christian to every other Christian. Love that will hopefully be shown to and felt by even those who are not Christians, the hope being that we who are Christians will have such a positive influence on them, they will be led to joining us in our faith.
For this message, there are four Bible passages, which means we will be weaving a kind of tapestry around and through the topic of love. We will begin with two Old Testament passages. The first of these is Ecclesiastes 4:9-12.
This first passage for this message is sometimes used during wedding ceremonies. I have used it a few times that way. Indeed, the words apply to explaining why a marriage relationship is important. However, it can also be used to encourage a loving togetherness in any relationship.
Ecclesiastes 4:9-12. “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow, but woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up. Again, if two lie together, they are warm, but how can one be warm alone. And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him.”
It is clear how the passage proclaims that marriage is a good thing. How good it is for a man and a woman to be together, not only on the good days, for which we all hope, but also the days of trouble. The cold days. The days when enemies are faced. But again, the same is true for all relationships.
For instance, we all have problems. And sometimes people - even Christians - stumble and fall, coming up short of the glory of God. To be alone at such times can be sad and hurtful. It is important to have another Christian with you to pick you up. A favor you can return if that person ever stumbles and falls.
In addition, we have probably all heard the phrase, “the cold, cruel world.” Have you ever faced that in a relationship? Or emotionally some other way? Or financially? Or at work? Or in a class at school? Or not being as spiritual as you would like to be? The world can be cold. That is why having a good Christian friend is so important. Together with that friend, you can keep each other warm spiritually.
That point has been made a few times recently when talking about this congregation. Isn’t it great that we care enough about each other to pray for one another and help one another and celebrate with one another?
We already show love by encouraging one another. Let’s continue to do that, even in the midst of problems, reflected in the words, “though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him.” How wonderful, during times of trouble, to know we are not alone.
Of course, it might seem to us that we are alone when we are in times of trouble. I remember one time when I was teaching, I was threatened by a student. That happened only a couple times over the years, but the time I am thinking of, I remember how alone I felt. I had to work at remembering that many other teachers had been threatened over the years, so certainly I was not alone in that way. I had to work at remembering that if the threat was carried out - which it was not - I would have many, many other teachers, and a principal, and likely some students, coming to my defense.
I had to work at how I responded to the threat I faced. I am not sure I was completely successful until the threat eventually eased. But remember, if - when - you are facing a threat, when someone or something at least wants to prevail against you, with a Christian friend or with lots of Christian friends, you will be able to withstand the attack.
And remember this, too. Not only can you be helped by others. You are - I am - to help others in their struggles.
The purpose of this passage in Ecclesiastes is to challenge married couples, but also all of us, to work together to show love for one another for the purpose of helping each other survive whatever happens in life. To help one another as Christians, which means it is never to be just you and me working together. The passage adds, “A threefold cord is not quickly broken.”
A threefold cord. Who is the third part of the cord? Jesus. You and me and Jesus, or you and you and Jesus. Those are to be the three stands of the cord that will hold our relationships together. With Jesus, we can be strong. With Jesus, we can stay strong.
Happy Valentine’s Day. May we, today and on Tuesday and of course beyond, be ready to show our love for each other by being willing to lift each other up, by keeping each other spiritually warm, by fighting for one another. May we do that with the strength the Lord has available.
The result of doing that should - it will - help us, not not only individually, but, as a congregation, to dwell in unity, which is described in today’s second passage, which is Psalm 133.
Psalm 133 begins with the information that this is “A Song of Ascents.” It is one of several Psalms recited by Jewish people as they traveled to Jerusalem and then ascended to the highest part of the city, which is where the Jewish Temple was located. Travelers recited this and the other Songs of Ascent as a way to prepare themselves to truly, genuinely worship God when they would arrive at the Temple.
In Psalm 133, there is the call - it still is a call today - for unity, described as a good thing in verse 1. “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity.”
In my opinion, unity does not necessarily mean we will always agree on everything. Different people have different tastes on lots of things, including colors and worship styles and schedules.
However, there should be no disagreement within a church body on essentials. Like salvation - that salvation from sin comes through Jesus. Him and Him only. Like the Bible being the word of God - the one, all-inclusive instructional book on how to live with God, others, and ourselves. Like being loving toward one another, thereby us helping each other to grow in our faith in Jesus and in obedience of the teachings He gives us in the Bible.
How good is unity among brothers. Verse 2. It is like “the precious oil upon the head, running down upon the beard, upon the beard of Aaron, running down on the collar of his robes.”
Here is what that verse means.
The oil referred to is anointing oil. Anointing oil had a pleasant fragrance, which was pleasing to Aaron, the leader of the tribe of the Jews from whom priests came. Aaron was pleased by the oil. So, too, were those around him. The thought is that unity will be pleasing to us and to others.
Anointing oil was precious, not only in value, but also in use. So, too, is love precious. It is something to be highly valued and carefully used.
�The oil referred to was poured extravagantly. It ran down Aaron’s face, through his beard, down onto his collar. The significance of that wording is that the love that brings unity - unity that can be achieved only through our love for one another - must be given generously. Lavishly. We are not to spare anything in our love.
Unity that comes through love is like precious oil. Verse 3. It is also like “the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion.”
Here is what that verse means. Hermon was and is a hill in Palestine. In this passage, it refers to common, brotherly love. The mountains of Zion were considered a holy place, which means our love is to be toward God, too.
Dew. Those little drops of water on grass many summer mornings. Not only can dew be pretty. It also cools the air and refreshes the grass and the earth.
See the point? Our love for one another - love displayed in spiritual unity - will cool and refresh us.
How good and pleasant it is when brothers - when all people of God - dwell in unity. When that happens, according to the last few words of Psalm 133, “The LORD has commanded the blessing of life forevermore.
Happy Valentine’s Day. May we, today and on Tuesday and beyond, strive to dwell in unity of purpose. We already dwell that way. Let’s keep that up. How refreshing that will be for us. How pleasing that will be for the LORD. His reward for us? The blessing of life forevermore.
More on love is found in the first of two New Testament passages for this message. It is in Romans 12. The part that speaks of love begins in verse 9.
Verese 9 begins quite a lengthy list of instructions on what love is to be like in a congregation. How it is to be shown to all. How such love can be achieved.
First, “Let love be genuine.”
That can mean we are not to only speak our love. Our words are to be put into action.
It can also mean that we are to love, not for what we can get out of it, but to help others.
Concerning that, as mentioned earlier, as we love, we will be rewarded. As it is stated in Ecclesiastes 4, we are to help each other so we all can benefit. As it is stated in Psalm 133, when we dwell in unity, we will all be cooled and refreshed. But our goal in loving is to help others.
Let love be genuine. Part of that is to “hate what is evil.” Whatever will threaten the spiritual joy of others. Whatever will interfere with a loving relationship with individuals and for our whole congregation and beyond.
“Hold fast to what is good.” What is helpful to others.
“Love one another with brotherly affection.”
A while back I had a message on brotherly love, in which I talked about the Cartwrights from the old TV show Bonanza. Remember the show? There was Pa and Adam and Little Joe and Hoss.
So many times, the three sons did not get along. They competed against each other. They sometimes had arguments. They did not see life the same ways. That led to occasional disagreements even with Pa.
There so often seemed to be so little brotherly affection in the Cartwright family. But whenever any one of them got into trouble or whenever any one of them was threatened by someone else, always they came to each other’s defense. They did not always agree or get along, but they did help one another against the cold, cruel world. They did dwell in unity of purpose, which helped them and their Ponderosa ranch.
We are to love one another with brotherly affection, “outdoing one another in showing honor.” As Paul wrote elsewhere, we are to put others above ourselves, thinking of others more highly than we think of ourselves. That is a way to display love. It is a way to lovingly encourage others for the good of all.
“Never flag in zeal.” Never grow tired of displaying love.
“Be aglow with the Spirit.” That is an important point. We might be able to show some love by ourselves, but it probably cannot be sustained over time in difficult circumstances. Sustaining love is possible only with the strength and the understanding and the discipline made available by the Holy Spirit.
“Serve the Lord.” There are many ways to serve the Lord. Some are mentioned earlier in Romans 12. They are preaching, serving, teaching, encouraging, contributing, helping. Thinking of the theme for today, we serve the Lord when we obey His teaching to love one another.
“Rejoice in your hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” As we do those things, we will be helping ourselves and others, hence, showing love.
“Contribute to the needs of the saints and practice hospitality.” Those are two more ways to show love.
Happy Valentine’s Day. May we, today and Tuesday and beyond, use whatever gifts the Lord has given us to help others. May our love be genuine. May we love one another with brotherly affection. May we never flag in our enthusiasm to love.
Which leads us to one more passage for this message on love. A single verse. A verse that gives us an example of love, the example being God.
John 3:16. “For God so loved the world that He gave his only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”
Who is our one true example of love? God.
How was God’s love shown? He gave us Jesus.
What is the call? The challenge? It is to believe in Jesus.
Believe. That means more than just know about Him. It means to accept that He is who He came to be, which is the Savior. To accept that the teachings He has given us in the Bible are important to know and obey, including the teaching to love, not only our spouses and our families, but every other Christian, too. Love that should spill out onto others as well.
And remember the importance of the word “whoever.” Not just you and me. Not just those of us in this country. “Whoever” means anyone and everyone, no matter their background, who believes that Jesus is the Savior will have the reward of eternal life, which refers to good life now, receiving the Lord’s blessings now, and good life later in Heaven.
* * * * *
Love is important. As we love one another, we can be helped to survive problems in life.
It is good and pleasant when our love for one another results in unity. Our love - our unity - is cooling and refreshing, as precious and as helpful as anointing oil and dew.
Our love is genuine. Let’s keep that up.
Our example is God, who gave us Jesus, who Himself displayed what love is and how we can display it.
* * * * *
Before our closing song, one more thought.
The other day at HyVee, I noticed the February 2017 Reader’s Digest display. My eye caught one of the article ads on the front cover. It was “The Moment I Knew - 28 Stories of Falling in Love.”
I bought a copy. I read the article. Here are just a few of the 28 stories, all of them short. Interestingly, most of the snippets in the article were written by women. It was those I found most intriguing.
Here is one. “This younger guy used to follow me around like a puppy. I convinced myself I wasn’t interested, but one day we were driving in a snow storm and ended up on the median. He was soaked and cold after an hour spent pushing the car free. He took that as no big deal.”
Here is another. “It was during a painful, ego-driven argument between my husband and me. We sat across from each other, trying to sort it out. Exhausted, I finally said, ‘I don’t know what to do. Tell me what you want to do.’ He said nothing. He just leaned over and kissed me.”
“I was dating an airman. His buddies told me that while eating in the chow hall, he would write my name in his mashed potatoes. I figured that must be love.”
“Soon after I began dating John, I told him I had multiple sclerosis. It wasn’t bad, I said, but I explained how the disease might affect me. John did not care. He said, ‘If it gets so bad you cannot walk anymore, I will be your legs. If it gets to where you cannot see, I will be your eyes. And if you cannot talk anymore, I will still know you love me because I know your heart.’”
What struck me early in the article and lasted throughout all 28 stories - maybe you sense it, too - the evidences and displays of love written about are all common. Not like Hollywood with fireworks going off, but common things. Pushing a car stuck in snow. A simple kiss after an argument. Writing a name in mashed potatoes. The willingness to keep loving someone even in times of illness.
Actually, that last one is a very big one, but we all have opportunities to love one another in big ways. Let’s also know love can be shown and recognized and appreciated in little ways.
Today’s closing song is the hymn Blest Be the Tie That Binds. It speaks of the unity we are to have with one another. Unity that comes from love. Most of the verses relate to helping one another through problems. As we sing, let’s remember the call is to celebrate together as well in big ways and small ways alike.
Blest be the tie that binds
Our hearts in Christian love;
The fellowship of kindred minds
Is like to that above.
Before our Father’s throne
We pour our ardent prayers;
Our fear, our hopes, our aims are one,
Our comforts and our cares.
We share each other’s woes,
Each other’s burdens bear;
And often for each other flows
The sympathetic tear.
From sorrow, toil, and pain,
And sin we shall be free;
And perfect love and joy shall reign
Through all eternity.
Happy Valentine’s Day. Today and on Tuesday and beyond, may we show our love to each other by being willing to lift each other up, to keep each other spiritually warm, and to fight for one another, doing that with the strength the LORD has available for us.
May we continue to dwell in unity, which will be refreshing for us and pleasing to the LORD. His reward? The blessing of life forevermore.
May we use whatever gifts the Lord has given us to help others. May our love be genuine. May we love one another with brotherly affection.
May we never flag in our enthusiasm to love. May we remember that God is the perfect example of love.
May we make sure we have accepted God’s gift of Jesus so we can have - will have - eternal life. May our love help others to accept Jesus as well.