Numbers have been part of the last two Sunday morning sermons.
Two weeks ago we considered a six-part prayer plan - be silent and listen to the voice of God, pause and be refreshed, interrupt for a spiritual inventory and repentance, accentuate joy and thankfulness for God’s provision, exalt God for answered prayers, and end each day by reflecting on the LORD’s faithfulness.
Last week we considered a five-part explanation of why or how the Bible is good for us - the Bible can keep us pure, it blesses us, it makes us wise, it gives light and understanding, and it helps us grow spiritually.
Today’s sermon has four parts to it, each part related to the letters of a word. A four-letter word important always, but especially this week. Especially Thursday, which is Valentine’s Day. The word is LOVE.
Let’s think about something each of the letters can represent. Something for each one that can promote the growth of love.
L - laugh with one another
The first thing to mention with this letter is to stress the word “with.” The call is not to laugh at others, but to laugh with one another.
In the Old Testament Book of Proverbs, the importance of laughter is suggested a number of times. The specific words used are “glad” and “cheerful,” but gladness and being cheerful lead to laughter.
For instance, in Proverbs 15 is this. Verse 3. “A glad heart makes a cheerful countenance. Countenance, basically, is what we look like in facial expressions and body language. How good to see people smiling at one another. How good to hear people laughing with one another. Both those things are indications of glad hearts. Both those things promote glad hearts.
Verse 15. “A cheerful heart has a continual feast.” Not a fast-food-type existence, but a feast, which suggests abundance and joy and happiness.
Here is Proverbs 17:22. “A cheerful heart [a heart that allows a person to laugh] is good medicine.” We know, of course, that when we are ill physically, it can be difficult to be cheerful. That is one time we can try to laugh with one another. We can share cheerful hearts with those who are suffering, the goal being to help those who are down and out to feel better.
A cheerful heart - a heart that lends itself to laughter - is a valuable asset to have. Let’s continue to work at laughing with one another. That will make us look better, live better, and be healthier.
Interestingly, each of those verses in Proverbs also gives the negative opposites.
A glad heart makes a cheerful countenance, but “by sorrow of heart the spirit is broken.”
A cheerful heart has a continual feast, but “all the days of the afflicted [the days of those who are not cheerful] are evil.”
A cheerful heart is good medicine, but “a downcast spirit dries up the bones.” A spirit of discouragement or depression affects all other parts of life. That is not an insult or a correction of those who suffer under the burdens of life. It is instead a call that we continue to laugh with one another. That those who are glad and cheerful do all that can be done to encourage others so they, too, can overcome being downcast.
Glad and cheerful hearts are good for all of us. Let’s continue to share them with each other. Let’s continue to laugh with one another, which is a challenge also found in the New Testament Book of Romans, in 12:15. “Rejoice [that level of joy naturally shows itself with laughter] with those who rejoice.”
In a study of that verse, I was reminded it can sometimes be difficult to rejoice with others, that happening when they appear to be having more good times or successes than we are. That can lead to jealousy, which we of course know is wrong, but it sometimes rears its ugly head anyway. Let’s work to not allow hard feelings to ever interfere with our laughing with one another.
As Romans 12:15 adds, our rejoicing with others should not be overbearing. Right after the call to rejoice with those who rejoice is the challenge to weep with those who weep.
Overbearing. I remember a fellow teacher many years ago who was always happy and upbeat. Whenever I talked to him, life was absolutely wonderful. Everything went fine all the time. Every student was an angel who did his or her work perfectly.
I tell you, it sometimes became tiring to be near that teacher. I think I did and still do have a positive outlook, but can every moment of every day be perfect? Sometimes there might be a problem. When that happens to you, I hope I understand. When that happens to me, I might need you to weep with me.
Let’s be willing to weep with one another. That is important. But generally, we can also rejoice or laugh with one another, knowing that when we do, we will, according to Proverbs, look better, feel better, and enjoy life better.
Laugh with one another.
O - organize life so we can, as a church family, live in peace with each other
This, too, is based on both Old Testament and New Testament teachings.
In the Old Testament, Psalm 34:14.
The thought begins with v.13. “Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit.” That introduces the idea of being at peace with others. There can be no peace if evil and deceit - if offensive words, slanderous words, or lies - are spoken.
Verse 14. “Depart from evil.” Again, there can be no peace if, in a group, there are sinful behaviors going on. Instead, “do good.” Do what is right toward others. Then the call for peace. Not to wait for it to happen, but “seek peace.” Seek it. Search for ways to have peace.
Let me add that this is not a call to allow any and every behavior or attitude in our church family. When sin is known, it must be confronted, even if it causes the sinner to be unpeaceful or downcast or dried up. Or more evil. Or if it causes that one to leave the church family.
But generally, we are to search for ways to have peace and to “pursue peace.” If peace ever seems to be slipping away, we are to do all we can to bring peace back.
That is also taught in the New Testament, which takes us back to Romans 12, this time verse 18.
Right after the challenge to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep is the call to “live in harmony with one another,” including not taking revenge on one another.
Then this. “If possible [which would seem to suggest there might be some people who just will not be agreeable], so far as it depends upon you [upon me] live peaceably with all.” As much as you and I can, we need to seek to find and then pursue the continuation of peace with each other.
That is also taught in Romans 14:19. “Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.”
And listen to Hebrews 12:14. “Strive for peace with all men.”
Working on this part of the message, I remember hearing an important teaching a few years ago. When it is a doctrinal issue, we must stand firm on the Bible, no matter the cost. But when it relates to preferences - maybe what color to paint the walls or how to arrange furniture or how much of each kind of music should be used - let’s not demand one way or another. Instead, strive for peace - seek peace and pursue peace.
Laughter and peace. Let’s be committed to continue those qualities.
I have a couple poems I found online that are relevant for today’s consideration of love. Here is the first I will share.
Valentine’s Day is for honoring love;
To show those we love we care.
Red hearts with tender sentiments
We send, our love to share.
So on Valentine's Day we're reminded
Of our very first Christian goal:
To love the Lord with all our heart
And all our mind and soul.
To love our neighbor as ourselves
We are also told to do,
So let's live our love by the Bible;
It's God's word, flawless and true.
If we give this Christian Valentine first,
We'll never run out of love,
For infinite love will come to us
From God in Heaven above.
Let’s laugh with one another. Let’s organize our lives so we can live in peace with each other.
V - voice genuine concern for one another
For this, again both Old Testament and New Testament references. The Old Testament passage is Numbers 6:24-26.
These verses are a blessing to be spoken. A blessing we should wish for one another.
“The LORD bless you and keep you. The LORD make His face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you. The LORD lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace.”
The LORD - God - is the giver of being blessed - of being made holy, of being showered with divine favor, of being assured of God’s provisions. We should want blessings not only for ourselves, but for one another as well. That is what we are to ask God to do for us.
Keep us. Give us the discipline and courage and desire to stay in a close relationship with the LORD.
Make His face shine upon us. May the brightness of the LORD’s countenance comfort us and lead us. May it remind us of His love.
May He be gracious. May His love abound in mercy.
May He give us peace.
Our genuine concern for one another should be seen in each of us wanting each of us to be blessed. That is one way to display our love. Another way to display our love is to be thankful to God for each other. That takes us to Philippians 1:3-5.
It was Paul who wrote these verses to Christians in the city of Philippi, many of whom had been led to their faith by Paul. Paul wrote, “I thank God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine, thankful for your partnership in the Gospel from the first day until now.”
Note these points.
Paul prayed for his fellow Christians. We need to do the same. We need to pray for each other.
Paul was thankful for his fellow Christians. I hope I say enough how thankful I am for my fellow Christians in the congregation with whom I serve. I hope they feel the same.
One cause for thankfulness is the opportunity to be partners in our work for the Lord. How good that our Christian work is not solo work. We can and do work together in worshiping, studying, and serving. Let’s be thankful for that.
Another love poem, this one related to voicing genuine concern for one another.
On Valentine's Day, we pray
that we will always
have our hearts fixed on the Lord.
On Valentine's Day, we pray
that the love our Lord showed for us
will transfer from Him to us,
manifested in our desire
to serve those who need us.
On Valentine's Day, we pray to remember
the origin of all love, from the beginning,
and the source of all love we know now
is our Lord, Jesus Christ.
In Jesus' name we pray; amen.
Laugh with one another. Organize life to live in peace with each other. Voice genuine concern for one another.
E - encourage each other
One more time, both Old Testament and New Testament verses teach that.
Back to Proverbs in the Old Testament, this time 16:24. Listen to how important encouraging words are. “Pleasant words [nice, helpful words, inspiring, encouraging words] are like a honeycomb,” which means very sweet. “Sweetness to the soul and health to the body.”
When we encourage each other, we help one another be both satisfied and healthy both spiritually and physically. And no, that does not promise endless physical health. We certainly know that. But even when physical health falters, encouragement can help us keep our faith, thereby promoting spiritual health.
Encouraging words are sweet and healthy. How to share such words is taught in the New Testament.
Ephesians 4:29. “Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for edifying [for building up others] as fits the occasion, that it may impart grace to those who hear.”
I Thessalonians 5:11. “Encourage one another and build one another up.” That is a Christian responsibility we have. Paul complimented the Christians to whom he wrote that they were at that time doing what he wrote. The challenge is that we do the same.
Hebrews 3:13. “Exhort one another [encourage one another to stay true to Jesus] so that none of us will be hardened by sin.”
* * * * *
Early one February, a woman announced to her husband she was going on a diet.
On Valentine’s Day, the woman received from her husband a beautiful heart-shaped candy box. Despite her earlier announcement, she was thrilled. Until she opened the box and found it filled with bean sprouts.
I understand the husband did not receive any awards that Valentine’s Day. Honestly, I do not know what else he was supposed to do. He tried to honor his wife’s plan. He at least tried to live out his love for his wife.
Which is what we are to do for and with each other. We are to show - not just say, but show - that we love one another.
Like the husband seems to have done, we might fall short from time to time, but let’s show our love, including in the ways discussed today. Let’s say them together. Let’s laugh with one another, organize life to live in peace with each other, voice genuine concern for one another, and encourage each other. Let’s LOVE one another.
Today’s closing song is a call to not only have love for one another, but to show it. It is based on another passage that challenges us to show our love, that being I Corinthians 13. Though I May Speak With Bravest Fire.
Though I may speak with bravest fire,
And have the gift to all inspire,
And have not love, my words are vain
As sounding brass, and hopeless gain.
Though I may give all I possess,
And striving so my love profess,
But not be given by love within,
The profit soon turns strangely thin.
Come Spirit, come, our hearts control,
Our spirits long to be made whole.
Let inward love guide every deed;
By this we worship and are freed.
Lord, thank You for the opportunities You give us to do what we are supposed to do - worship You, pray to and with You, read, learn, and apply the Bible, and love one another.
Keep us doing each of those things, both alone and together. With that in mind, we say again the blessing You gave us in the Book of Numbers.
May You, LORD, bless us and keep us. May You make Your face to shine upon us, and be gracious to us. LORD, lift up Your countenance upon us, and give us peace.