A young lieutenant was assigned to a rough and tough infantry outfit. The company commander was a hard-swearing, hard-fighting, woman-chasing commander. The new officer, the lieutenant who had been assigned, was patient, kind, gentle, read his Bible, did not drink, did not curse. It was like mixing fire with gasoline, or oil with water. It was like two immovable objects.
The captain was determined to break his new officer into his mold, into a real fighting man. But the lieutenant would not change from what he was. He still would not curse, he would not get drunk with the captain, and he still read his Bible. He was always kind and patient, loving and thoughtful, to the men in his command.
This caused great stress between the two men. The captain began to hate the lieutenant. He tried every way he could to break him. He gave him every dirty detail, but nothing worked. The new officer held his values, he would not change from what was right.
One day, in very heavy fighting, the lieutenant found himself next to the captain. As they were facing the enemy, a Confederate soldier stood up and pointed his rifle at the captain’s breast. As he pulled the trigger, at the last second, the lieutenant flung himself in front of the captain and caught the mini ball in his heart. He died in the captain’s arms.
The captain survived the battle. After the burial of the lieutenant, he took time to reflect at how he had treated his new officer, at how the hot anger of hatred had put this division between them. He also noticed that the lieutenant had not returned that anger in kind. In fact, he gave his life for the captain.
What he did was exhibit agape love. He did not necessarily love the captain with emotion, yet, he had to serve his captain, and he did.
Mr. Armstrong defined love as “outgoing concern for other people.” I want to say that again: outgoing concern for others. This is what love is all about, this is what we are to exhibit. I really want to make that point.
Because of what the lieutenant did, the captain made one of the strangest vows probably to come out of any war, let alone the Civil War. The captain vowed to live half of every day, the way he always did—drinking, chasing, swearing, cursing. The other half of that day, he lived as his friend the lieutenant had, the lieutenant who gave his life, who could no longer live his life as he had, because he had given it to the captain.
He did this to the best of his ability, day after day. The people in town saw this, just amazed at what he was doing. At the end of his life, just before his death, he made a statement, and I will tell you what that was at the end of the message.
I Peter 1:22-23 Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart, having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever.
“Love fervently” in this case means continually, intently, diligently, carefully, earnestly, and perpetually. He says you have purified yourselves; in other words, you have been rendered pure in a moral sense. You are reforming from the past way that you lived to a new way of life. We are cleaning ourselves. Ephesians 5:26 says that we are being “wash[ed] of water by the word.”
We hear the voice of our Master, and we change. That is what it is all about. We are obeying the truth. We are obeying the truth from attentive listening, not just hearing the words and going off and doing what we have always done, but we listen intently. Because of that, we change.
We are sincere in our love. Sincere means unfeigned, without hypocrisy. Not just on the surface: genuinely loving, without pretending, without acting, real and true. This is what it says in I Peter 1:22.
It says, “being born again to an incorruptible seed.” This is how it might read, now that we have gone through the first part: “Since you are becoming pure morally, and changing from what you were, because of your obeying the truth of God with the help of God’s Holy Spirit, love the brethren in honesty, without pretending in any way. Love them continually, earnestly, carefully, and intently. Because you have been born again—the first time, physically, as a human being—but you have been born again, this time, to eternal life, through the Word of God, God wants us to love one another.”
I Peter 4:8 And above all things have fervent love for one another . . .
It becomes intensified. You love God the Father first, and honor Him. And above everything else, love the brethren fervently—above all things. This phrase “above all things” means to stretch out. Stretch and strain yourself to love.
We do not always have personalities that match. We do not always have backgrounds that match. That does not matter. You are to stretch out, and to be continually intense, and more intensely and earnestly, increasing and growing long in life. This is what that means. “Above all things, fervently love the brethren.”
Agape love is capable of being commanded, because it is not primarily an emotion, but a decision of the will leading to right action. It is a decision of your mind to love, to behave yourself in a loving fashion.
We have an example of somebody who stretched Himself out for us.
Romans 5:5-6 Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us. For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly [John Reid].
I have always put my name there. For years, I have had my name there. You may want to put your name, to remind yourself of who Christ died for.
What were you like when you were called? If I were calling John Reid, I would not have called him. I just would not have done it. You see, that was Jesus Christ.
Romans 5:6-8 For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly [your name]. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
We see the example of unconditional love. Why do we have such a difficult time loving each other? So many times it can be background or things like that, but we put conditions on it. “If you don’t do things my way, I can’t love you.” “If you don’t feel like I do, or if you don’t love me first, how can I possibly love you?” It does not matter, Christ loves us, unconditionally.
We put conditions on things. “I can’t love that person, he’s of a different race.” Look at Bosnia, Herzegovina, Yugoslavia. Look at the hatred over there, look at the destruction!
“I can’t love that young person, he has long hair, wears an earring, and listens to rock music. I couldn’t possibly love him.” And young people say, “How could I love some old guy? What does he know about life?”
Do you see the conditions we put on things? “I can’t love somebody beautiful. She’s too pretty.” “I can’t love some boy that’s handsome.” People that are beautiful and handsome sometimes have many more problems, because people do not really love them, all they see is the beauty or the good looks.
I was calling on a bakery owned by a short Jewish man, and he never liked me. He had been through the war in Germany. Finally, one day I asked him, “Why don’t you like me? What have I done?” He told me, “You’re 6’2", you’re American, Caucasian, I don’t like you.” It was the German, Aryan race. They were in charge. I have no idea what his background was totally, but that was the reason that he did not like me. I finally sold to him, and we became friends. But it was difficult for him.
We do not like people because they are too well off; we do not like people because they are too poor.
In our congregations, we all meet in small groups. And that is good, we get to know each other, and sometimes it is bad, because we get to know each other too well. But can you love someone who has a flaw, who is working on overcoming, but has not made it yet? Of course you can.
How many of us, when we left the Worldwide Church of God, received letters that said, “I love you—as long as you are in the Worldwide Church of God.”
Jesus Christ never set any conditions on loving us. If He had, none of us would be loved. Jesus Christ and God the Father love every individual on the face of this earth. They are the work of His hands, the work of Their hands, and They long for them to be in the Kingdom of God.
Why did Peter tell us to have fervent love, above all things, for one another? Why did he want us to make loving each other the top priority in our live? I have four reasons.
Reason number 1, back in I Peter 4.
I Peter 4:8 And above all things have fervent love for one another, for “love will cover a multitude of sins.”
Does this mean that if we love one another fervently, that a multitude or our sins will be covered? In part, it does—“Forgive us our debts, as we forgive others.” How about, if I do not forgive others, will my debts be forgiven? No, they will not. You are going to stand before Jesus Christ, and He is going to say, “I know you.”
James 5:19-20 Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.
The same principle applies here. God appreciates our love and concern for others. Certainly in judging us, He is going to take this into consideration. But can we say from this that we “trade sins?” “I will trade my sin, I will encourage him six times, that means that I can do six sins.” That is called indulgences, we cannot do that. Human nature might want to do that, but that is not what it means. God says that you show love, you help a person to overcome, and God takes it into consideration concerning your sins.
Let us get a better picture of this.
Proverbs 10:12 Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all sins.
Hatred makes a mountain out of a molehill. Any little offense becomes Mt. Everest. But a person that loves puts a sin, or a grievance, or an insult, out of sight and forgets it, it is not important. Do you see the contrast? Hate versus love is what Peter is talking about.
The sense of what Peter is saying in I Peter 4:8 is that when one loves, as God does, he or she overlooks the faults in another. We forgive offenses that are against us. By loving one another, we do not stir up or broadcast sin. We are going to forgive the faults of others because of the great forgiveness that Jesus Christ extended to us.
What did He say when He was on the cross? He said, “Forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” He was talking about the Roman solider, but how about us? Did He forgive us, because we did not know what we were doing? We had to have someone die for us, because we sinned. We hated Christ, and yet, He said, “Forgive them.” He forgave you and me for what you have done and I have done. As Harold Way said, if we don’t forgive, we set our hearts in a hard fashion. We bring pain to God, after all that He has done for us.”
Consider this deeply: we are to love one another. The first thing is that love hides sin.
The second reason is that love sets the right example for others to follow. When we first came in the church, I had been recently in the Army. As a young man first coming into the church, I was sort of macho. I did not have quite the “armband mentality” of some of the deacons at that time. We had a deaconess named Roberta Harrison. Mrs. Harrison was so converted, and I was so unconverted—I was the back end of a horse. I made mistakes, and she just loved me. I have never forgotten her to this day. She watched me make mistakes. She did not run up and say, “I’ve been keeping track, you did this, and this, and this wrong.” She just loved me. She would make comments once in a while, just of a general nature. I would go home and think, “She said something there, I should have listened.”
Gradually, I began to change. I looked back on how I had been acting, and I began to see what I was doing. I began to see that she was just loving me. And to this day, I think of her as a beautiful example of agape love, just loving. She had emotions, she cared for us. I have never forgotten her. I think back on her example, it was just splendid. Examples are important.
None us can legislate that anyone else love us. I hope you really understand that. We cannot legislate that somebody love us. The only thing that we can do is to set the right example of God’s love in front of other people. If they do not choose to pick up on it—we will discuss that later.
During World War II, there was something similar to the captain and the lieutenant. It was written up in Guideposts or Christian Science Monitor, something like that. It was the story of a Japanese private that was being brutalized by his sergeant, because he was a kind and a gentle man. Every time he would go into drill, the sergeant would just pick on him unmercifully. Every time the sergeant would do this, the private would go return good for evil. He would do something kind for the sergeant.
One day, the sergeant could not take anymore. He beat him with a bamboo rod in front of the troops, unmercifully. The man crawled and limped back into the barracks. He saw the sergeant’s muddy boots sitting by the bed. He crawled over and started to clean the boots and put wax on them. The sergeant came in and saw what he was doing, and he broke down and cried.
I have no idea what happened to the sergeant, I have no idea what happened to the private. I know the sergeant will never forget that.
Romans 12:20 Therefore “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.”
You might say, “Boy, that’s a good reason to get him! I’m going to be so nice to him, I’m going to make him feel miserable!” That is not what God wants. That is a nice way to get even.
Proverbs 25:21-22 say the same thing, but there is one more sentence there:
Proverbs 25:21-22 If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink; for so you will heap coals of fire on his head, and the Lord will reward you.
For turning the other cheek, for doing what is right, He will reward you for your loving act. Your friendly action towards your enemy is going to stop and make him think. It is going to excite in him feelings of painful regret for how he has treated you.
I could have just hurt Mrs. Harrison, and she would never had said a word. She would have just loved me until I saw it, and she would have returned kindness.
The reason that many of us have a difficult time loving is that in so many cases, love was not shown to us. We live in a world that does not show love. We live in a world that is geared towards the “way of get,” and not toward the way of kindness. In the crowded cities, there is no time for kindness, for friendliness, for happiness, for helping one another.
We all know that God is love, and that He expects us to reflect that love to our wives, to our families, to our children, and to our brethren here in the Church of the Great God, without reservation, and to the people in the world. He also knows that it seems like an impossible task, with our background.
If we are not showing love, if we have a problem, if we are faced with stubbornness, and pride, and things like this, then we are going to have to ask God to retrain us. We have to ask God for the help, and then use the standards that He sets forth as measuring guides for us to follow.
Years ago, a deacon got up and gave a sermonette, and he said, “Brethren, do you know about the official inch?” And I thought, “What is this ‘official inch’ thing?” He said, “In Washington, D.C., in the Department of Weights and Measures, there is an official inch. If you have something that you wonder, ‘Is that an inch?’ and it is serious enough, you can go to the Department of Weights and Measures and you can measure your inch against the inch that is there. If it matches, it is exactly an inch. Jesus Christ is our official inch, and we have to measure against Him.” That is pretty simple, and I have never forgotten that.
We have an official inch concerning love, we have standards.
I Corinthians 12:24-25 But God composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it, that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another.
Do we hear that, brethren? “The same care, one for another.” Paul goes on to say that God has appointed some apostles, and prophets, and offices, and things like this. He says they are not all apostles, and they do not all carry big offices.
I Corinthians 12:31 But earnestly desire the best gifts. And yet I show you a more excellent way.
I Corinthians 13:1-2 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
Do we begin to understand that? It does not matter how big you are, how small you are, how rich you are, how poor you are—if you do not have love, you have what the little boy shot at, which is nothing.
I Corinthians 13:3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.
I Corinthians 13:8 Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away.
He is saying that these things that we just talked about will fail. But the “official inch” of I Corinthians 13 starts in verse 4 and finishes in verse 7. This is what we measure ourselves against.
I Corinthians 13:4-7 Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.
Remember this: this is the mind of God that you are hearing here. This not John Reid, or John Ritenbaugh, or somebody else. This is the mind of God.
“Love suffers long.” I would like to touch each one of these quickly and tell you what Strong’s Concordance says. It literally means love has a long mind, to the end of which neither trials, adversities, persecutions, or provocations can reach. In other words, you cannot destroy it. Love has a long mind. It is patient with people, it not given to hasty anger or retort. It endures patiently, not losing faith or giving up. So you can measure yourself against that: do I lose my patience, do I get angry quickly? Then I had better convert myself, and go back to having a long mind, and being long suffering.
“Love is kind” means to be obliging, to be willing to help or assist, to act beneficially towards others. To have tenderness and compassion, and to be mild and gentle, even in a trial. This part of love goes to visit the sick, helps the poor, encourages, lifts up, supports. It is kind.
“Love does not envy.” Love is not jealous. It is not grieved because someone has a greater office. It is not grieved because somebody possesses greater material goods or greater intelligence, or more beauty, or more handsomeness. It just does not do it. It rejoices that others are so blessed, without any jealousy in there at all.
“Parade.” That means to act rashly or insolently. Love does not parade itself, it does not act rashly. We would say “smart mouthed” today. Love is not “smart mouthed,” it does not brag or boast. It does not think highly of oneself, or try to elevate oneself above others. If somebody else does that, it is their problem—you do not do that. It is not haughty, does not exercise violence, or use one despitefully. It does not lift itself up with pride. It does not need to be applauded. That is part of love.
“Puffed up.” It means just what it says. My wife bought a $15 ball the other day, it almost killed me blowing it up. But when it was all blown up, what was it full of? Hot air. That is just what it means, to be filled with pride or conceit, puffed up. Love is not that way. If you are in God’s church, you know what it says in Isaiah 66:2: who will God look to? The person that is humble and contrite, and fears God’s Word. You also know that if you are filled with pride, that it is going to breed sin and end up in destruction. It just is. So love is not that way.
“Love does not behave itself rudely.” To bring another to disgrace. We are not to cause anyone shame or disgrace. We should try to be all things, in a sense, to a person, to help them come along and be strong, and be sound. We do not criticize, and we do not point out their faults.
“Provoke”. That means to exasperate. To provoke to anger or indignation. In some translations, it says, “Love is not easily provoked.” That is a wrong translation. Love is not provoked, period. Period! Love does not cause trouble. Period. Love may have to deal with it, but love does not cause it.
“Thinks no evil.” Literally, it means, evil, bad, worthless, a soldier who is cowardly. I do not know just how that fits, but that is what that particular thing in Strong’s means. “Thinks no evil” exists where it appears to be. It gives the person the benefit of the doubt. Never suppose a good action has an evil motive.
Just before coming down here, my son, who was recently divorced, has a friend in the San Bernardino church who has been divorced, not too many years. He was commenting about the offering in San Bernardino, saying, “Every holy day offering, somebody put $4000 in cash in there, no name.” This last holy day, the $4000 was not there, and they were thinking that the person probably left. He said, “We used to always joke and say, ‘Here comes the drug money.’ ” That is wrong. That is an offering to God. This person wanted to give that money anonymously. I told him, “That’s a wrong attitude. You’re never to suppose a good action has an evil motive.”
In this sense, “thinks no evil,” we are not to cause anything evil or harmful. Love does no harm or injury to anyone, mentally or physically, and love does not keep an account of evil. It forgets it.
“Thinks no evil” applies to all of us. In dating, a young man would never do anything that would harm a young lady, her reputation, or anything. And a young lady would never provoke or tease a man, to cause him to try to do something that would be harmful to him and his reputation. That is love. This world has love and lust all mixed up.
“Love does not rejoice in iniquity.” There are two words for rejoice. The first one means, is not glad over bad things. Love does not rejoice over bad things. Iniquity is whatever is not conformable with justice, that which ought not to be, that which is wrong. Iniquity would be to use anybody in any way that would be wrong: to try to cheat them out of their money, to try to sell them a bridge and a river, something of that nature. It does not rejoice in any type of falsehood, but does rejoice in truth. The second word, rejoice, means being happy in another’s good fortune, in being able to share in that joy, in being happy for that person.
“Rejoices in truth.” This is a reality. In other words, what you see is what you get. No double-dealing, no hypocrisy, just love’s truth.
“Bears all things.” To bear in this case means to cover up, to cover in silence, to conceal in love. To hide the faults of others, to cover them up. Love conceals everything that should be concealed, betrays no secret. A person under the influence of this love never makes the sins, and follies, and faults, or imperfections of anybody public in conversation. He covers them as far as he can, and they do not gossip. That is a tough one. We all gossip.
In preparing this a month ago, I kept looking at this and I kept saying, “Love is far more than saying ‘Hi there, how are you?’ and shaking hands and giving a hug. There is a lot more to it.” I have learned a lot just by going through this.
“Love believes.” Love believes all things, to have faith and trust in. Love is always ready to believe the best of every person, and will refuse to hear evil about them. That is the other half of gossip: how are you going to gossip, if nobody is going to listen? I do not want to hear that.
Maybe the person is trying to overcome, and has faults and flaws. So what? How many do I have? How many do you have? Do you begin to understand? God wants love. It produces harmony. What does Satan want? Look at Bosnia, look at Herzegovina. You can see what he wants. He wants destruction.
“Love hopes.” That means to hope, to expect with desire. When all else fails, when you have a friend who is just going the wrong way and you cannot talk them out of it, then love hopes the best. Prays about it.
One of our children had gone the wrong way, and we tried everything. We finally ended up praying, and just hoping, and God is working it out. But love hopes, when all else fails.
“Endures.” No matter what happens, love continues. It bears up under strain, persecution, everything that happens—love endures with faith and trust in God. Love never gives up. Love places its trust in God and endures.
Those are the “official inches” of love. Now that you know them, does that solve the problem? No, you have to put them into practice, and so do I. It takes effort. It takes effort, because change does not come easily. God does expect us, when we understand and know, to put this into practice and to make the changes in each one of us that will provide the love that God wants among His people. We are going to be together forever. Can you picture what it would be like without love?
Reason number 3: as you love, you will become a light to the world.
John 13:34-35 “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 all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
The word know is in the Greek ginōskō. It does not mean to know like, “I know this.” It means to observe over a period of time. People in the church, people in the world, will look at and see there is something different, when they see you deal in the workplace, with the public, with your friends, in a loving fashion like this, having the love of God. They will begin to slowly know, to apprehend, to see love working. They will begin to see your maturity at living rightly, at how you handle situations, and they will say, “There’s something different about this person. He conducts himself wisely. He conducts himself not like the world, but with a tenderness and a concern for everybody he or she comes in contact with.” They will know that you are different, and that you belong to God. All will know that you belong to Him because of your love.
I Peter 4:7-8 But the end of all things is at hand; therefore be serious and watchful in your prayers. And above all things have fervent love for one another.
When God starts to judge us, what do you think is going to be at the top of His list?
Matthew 25:31-39 “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food [you were kind, love is kind]; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me [you were concerned about me, you loved me, you had outgoing concern for me]; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me [you did not care about your own safety, you came to me].’ “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You? [They did not even know it, they were doing love. They were following the “perfect inch of love”.]
Then He goes on to say, those who He cast out ask, “Well, when were you sick?” They were not practicing that.
Greg Hutchinson helped me on this, he said, “Did you ever notice about Matthew 25 that the people that loved did not even know it? They were just doing it.”
God expects us to put love into practice. It is exactly what He expects us to do.
I told you at the beginning that I would tell you the captain’s observation of the two lives that he lived, his and the lieutenant’s. As he looked back over the years, he made the following comment:
“Of the two lives I have led, in contrast, the one I led as my friend the lieutenant, was by far, the better life.”
I am sure that you have seen the analogy here. We have had a friend that gave His life for us, in perfect, unconditional love. If we take advantage of the example of that life given, by following Peter’s instruction to love the brethren fervently, above all things, we will be able to say, as did the captain: of the two lives that I have lived, the one I tried my best to live is the one who gave His life for me, is by far the better life.
Point 4: this is the standard of God, the “official inch.” If we truly work at growing in love, we will not only cover a multitude of sins, we will not only be a right example, but we will have gained the mind of Jesus Christ.
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