What, exactly, is love? Many times it comes disguised as lust or greed, even pride. We can usually tell when it isn’t really love because it is centered around us and what we want. There is a lot of lust, greed and pride in the world, but not so much love. Not authentic love. Authentic love centers on the “other” and not on ourselves and looks out for their well being and not just our own. Jesus Christ stated in John 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Authentic love is a heart attitude.
There is a story in Luke 7:36-50 that illustrates authentic love. Let’s read it:
When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.
When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”
Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”
“Tell me, teacher,” he said.
“Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”
Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”
“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.
Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”
Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”
The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”
Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
What a contrast exists between the two people in this passage! One was a proper male, a Pharisee. The other was a woman, a sinner, likely a prostitute.
The Pharisee wrongly considered himself righteous; the woman knew she was a sinner. The Pharisee was proud; the woman contrite. The Pharisee failed to provide the most basic courtesies to his invited guest. In spite of what others might have thought, the woman openly displayed devotion to Jesus by anointing His feet with fragrant oil.
The Pharisee believed He had little to be forgiven for; thus, he failed to show any measure of love in return. The woman knew she had much to be forgiven for; thus, she demonstrated lavish love.
This woman’s response should be seen as normative. Our love for the Lord is not an attempt to win His favor. It is a response to having been granted the favor of His forgiveness. How much do your actions show your gratitude and love for the forgiveness you have received from the Lord?
Jesus’ reaction between the two (the woman and the Pharisee) is strikingly different, and this marks His entire three-year ministry leading to the cross. As Dr. John MacArthur notes in a chapter titled, “When It’s Wrong to be ‘Nice’,” in “The Jesus You Can’t Ignore” (Thomas Nelson, 2008, pp. 1-2, hardcover edition):
Jesus’ way of dealing with sinners was normally marked by such extreme tenderness that he earned a derisive moniker from His critics: Friend of Sinners (Matthew 11:19). When He encountered even the grossest of moral lepers (ranging from a woman living in adultery in John 4:7-29 to a man infested with a whole legion of demons in Luke 8:27-39), Jesus always ministered to them with remarkable benevolence–without delivering any scolding lectures or sharp rebukes. Invariably, when such people came to Him, they were already broken, humbled, and fed up with the life of sin. He eagerly granted such people forgiveness, healing and full fellowship with Him on the basis of their faith alone (cf. Luke 7:50; 17:19).
The one class of sinners Jesus consistently dealt with sternly were the professional hypocrites, religious phonies, false teachers, and the self-righteous peddlers of plastic piety–the scribes, lawyers, Sadducees, and Pharisees. These were the religious leaders in Israel–spiritual “rulers” (to use a term Scripture often applied to them). They were the despotic gatekeepers of religious tradition. They cared more for custom and convention than they did for the truth. Almost every time they appear in the gospel accounts, they are concerned mainly with keeping up with appearances and holding on to their power. Any thought they might have had for authentic godliness always took a backseat to more academic, pragmatic, or self-serving matters. They were the quintessential hypocrites.
Sinners invariably know that they are sinners; the self-righteous do not nor do they acknowledge their sin. As the apostle Paul, a former Pharisee redeemed by Jesus Christ, stated in 1 Timothy 1:15-16, “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.” And as Jesus stated in Mark 2:17, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
One of the real tragedies that has occurred in the past several decades is that we all have been lead to believe that we are basically good folks at the core of our being. However, Jeremiah 17:9 states: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure, who can understand it?” Also, Romans 3:10-12 makes it adamantly clear that “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” And Isaiah 53:6 states: “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” How often do any of us compare ourselves to sheep?
Unfortunately, Pop-psychology (which started back in the 1960’s as the “human potential movement”) has produced a plethora of books, CD’s, and other media products and a stream of “motivational speakers” constantly telling us how great we are and how we can be even better–and that “feel good” self-love philosophy has infiltrated the church. In fact, we now feel so great that we even pat ourselves on the back. For example, look at how we brag about ourselves on social media. Psychobabble is so commonplace that we don’t even recognize it for what it is anymore–babble. We are just too wonderful for words (and pride is at the core). If we want to know how much we truly show authentic love, how do we treat others especially those who are different from us or that we disagree with?
There is a healthy self-love that we mostly miss and it is stated in Mark 12:30-31 when Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
We hear so much about “self-love” nowadays that we have totally forgotten that healthy self-love is not about us. It’s about others . . . as in “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). The “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” code of “non-ethics” has permeated our Christian environments and saturated the way we deal with each other. We are often looking for a “return” benefit for the “good turn” we do for others, and folks, Jesus never said to do that–in fact, He said the very opposite. And while we are on the subject, whoever talks about sin anymore, and repentance? Those are still ongoing issues as clearly stated in 1 John 1:9 which was written to Christians as an ongoing instruction–“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” In fact, let’s read that verse in context (1 John 1:5-10):
This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.
Could it be any more clear, folks? We are not so wonderful that we don’t even need Jesus anymore except when we want something from Him or we’re in trouble. Quoting from John MacArthur’s book, “The Jesus You Can’t Ignore,” pp. 63-64 (hardcover edition):
Let’s face it: the idea that the entire human race is fallen and condemned is simply too harsh for most people’s tastes. They would rather believe that most people are fundamentally good. Virtually every popular arbiter of our culture’s highest, noblest values–from Oprah Winfrey to the Hallmark Channel–tells us so constantly. All we need to do, they say, is cultivate our underlying goodness, and we can fix everything wrong with human society. That’s not terribly different from what the Pharisees believed about themselves.
But Scripture says otherwise. We are hopelessly corrupted by sin. All who do not have Christ as Lord and Savior are in bondage to evil, condemned by a just God, and bound for hell. Jesus not only strongly implied those very things in his opening words to Nicodemus [see John 3]; before He had finished fully explaining the gospel that evening, He made His meaning explicit: “He who does not believe is condemned already” (John 3:18).
Did you catch what he is saying? If we think we are basically good and that we can fix anything including ourselves in our own power we are just like the Pharisees.
Just . . . like . . . the . . . Pharisees . . . .
If that statement doesn’t stop us in our tracks, nothing will. The measure of love is not about self and our own “goodness” and it never will be. If we can’t get beyond ourselves and what we want all the time we will totally miss Jesus here on earth and in eternity. And it just doesn’t matter how many times we have gone to church or how many “Christian” activities we’ve taken part in or how much money we’ve given over the course of our lifetimes. It’s not about what we do (see Ephesians 2:8-9).
It’s a heart issue, and if we don’t get that right . . .
Nothing else matters . . . .
YouTube Video: “You Are There” by Salvador (from their 2004 CD, “So Natural”):