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Love and faithfulness - Proverbs 3:1-3

This is a sermon by Philip Tinker from the evening service on 27th May 2018.

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Proverbs: Love and Faithfulness

Intro

Kanye West- tweeted the other day that “Love is the Greatest Force in the Universe.”
Very good Kanye.
Nat King Cole- The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and love in return-
We’re not short of Proverbs about love.

Convincing each other that love is important shouldn’t be so hard. It’s often something Christians and non-Christians alike would say is important.
As long as we love each other, as long as I have the love of my family I’m fine.

We’re dripping with present day proverbs extolling the virtues of love, so why haven’t we nailed it yet? Why does every member of the human race find it so difficult to love?
You’d think we’d have learnt all the lessons there are to learn.

Kanye wasn’t very loving when he grabbed the mic from poor Taylor Swift at the Grammy’s.
More than that you and I are not all as loving as our songs and sayings would have us be. “If only we could all love each other the world would be a better place”- go on then, let’s do it!

Love just isn’t easy. Love- which thinks about others, puts others first, sacrifices for others- is hard to do.

It’s hard to love people who you find easy to love!
Isn’t it the strangest things that sometimes our most bitter words and cruellest actions are against those we love the most?

In marriage- you have made explicit vows and promises to love that person. There is no-one else in the world you have vowed to love. You don’t make a public promise to love your siblings. But you do your husband or wife.
So why is it so hard to consistently act lovingly towards the one person in the world you have chosen to commit yourself to?!
And then there’s loving people who are different to us, or even loving people who are just plain hard to love.

*Maybe we don’t actually love love all that much.

We all know that if we could all just have a deep love and faithfulness to others, the world would be an infinitely better place. Think how different your life story would be if you had just loved more and if others had just simply loved you.

Proverbs wants to teach us to love love.

Proverbs is here to entice us to love love, to desire and want to be loving. The whole book is a feast to help us desire to live in God’s world God’s way. And the course it brings out tonight is living a life of love.

And we might think- oh yeah, I already know love is how we should live. Nat King Cole/Kanye West tells me that.

But the mess of love we make shows we clearly need much more work done on our hearts to really desire and live a life of love as God wants us to.

Two reasons we should love love.

1) Love makes us lovable 

Proverbs 3v3-4; 11v25.

READ 3v1-4.
Do you see the Father figure trying to help his son love love?
Don’t let it leave you! Love and faithfulness are precious, you don’t want to let them out of your sight!
Bind them around your neck! Tatoo them on your arm! Love and faithfulness matter that much!
But more than constantly being reminded of love and faithfulness, it needs to go deep. Son, write them on the tablet of your heart.

Who knew they had ipads back then! Take the ipad of your heart, the tablet, and write on it! Love and faithfulness.

He’s right isn’t he? It needs to be etched on our hearts.
This is part of the reason why we struggle to love. We have our songs, we know love is good. But that’s not enough, if it was our world would be all peace and love!
Love’s not etched onto our hearts with the permanence it needs.

Our hearts struggle to love because there are all sorts of other things written on our hearts. Self being one of them. Right alongside our culture saying things like “Love is all you need” we also have proverbs like “you’ve got to look out for number one.” And those two just don’t fit together.

So, we need love to supremely grip our hearts more than self.
And God can do that.

So, in 3v4 we get what I think is a surprising motivation to love love: love makes you lovable.
v4 attracts us to love by showing that when we’re loving and faithful, that will make us lovable, it helps others love us.
READ 3v4.

If love saturates your heart and life, then, the result will be, you will win favour with God and man.

First, how being loving will bring us favour with God.

*Works righteousness* alarm! If I’m a loving person, I can win God’s favour?! I thought I’m loved because grace, not because of what I’ve done. Yes.
The favour here isn’t being in or out of God’s love. The favour here is more like a Dad’s favour for his child.

Rosie has my love. She is in my family, she’s my girl. But let me be honest, she doesn’t always have my favour. In one sense she does, I’m always for her. But she can act in such a way that makes me mad. It really endears Rosie to me when she’s kind and generous. There are times when she is lovable and delights me because of the way she acts.

And Proverbs is written for God’s people, his family- this verse isn’t telling us how to get into God’s family.
 It is about living rightly as one of God’s family in his world.

*And you know what, you and I can act in a way that wins God’s favour and ways which displease him.
Sometimes God looks on at what I do and says ‘that’s my boy, I love what I see’, and sometimes he’s sad at what I’ve done.

When I’m un-loving he’s not kicking me out the family- I’m in by Christ’s work. But it’s important for us to know that God doesn’t watch us sin and say- yeah, I love it!
It grieves him when we sin just like it grieves me when my daughter disobeys me.

So this is perhaps a surprising but brilliant motivation for us to want to be loving.
When love grips our hearts and drives how we live, that makes God smile.
And as one of God’s children, don’t you want to please God?

When he sees us show care and interest for that person at work no-one else likes- God loves that.
When God sees his church forgive each other, grow in patience and kindness with each other, we win favour and a good name in his eyes- it delights him when we’re loving because, well, we’re acting just like him.

Why should we pursue being loving and faithful? In a sense it makes you lovable to God, he loves what he sees in us when we love like him.

Secondly, being a loving and faithful person also makes you lovable to others- 3V4.

Let’s also READ 11v25.

Proverbs says- if you love others, you’ll become lovable to them. You’ll win favour with them.
If you refresh others, they’ll refresh you.
That means- if you make it your aim to care for others, to do what will take a burden off them, to give them rest, to refresh them in God, then that will come back to you. Whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.

Think of those who have been really generous to you. People who have gone well out of their way to help you in life. Maybe at a time when you were broken, at their own expense they refreshed you.
How do you feel about them now? You probably love them back! See- they’ve won favour with you.

You probably want to love and refresh them back.
You may feel that towards your parents- you gave me so much- all those nappies, all those sleepless nights, I want to care for you.
Those friends who stepped in just when you needed them- don’t you want to return that to them?

You see- their being loving makes them lovable- it makes them easy to love.

Which is a helpful way to reflect on our own lives.
Do we make ourselves easy to love, by being loving?

It might be that there are certain relationships, at home, at church, where you find that people aren’t warm to you. You aren’t feeling the love. Now, there could be all sorts of reasons. They might just be not very nice people, you might be doing all you can.

But maybe, *the reason you’re not receiving much love is because you’re not giving much love. You’re actually very unlovable.

You’re not finding favour with people because you’re not being loving to them.
They’re not refreshing you because you’re not refreshing them.

An example from marriage:
As Vicki has been chatting to some of her friends about their marriages she’s heard this description of their husbands come up: man child.
These ladies are struggling in their marriages because they say their husbands are like teenage adults.
There’s little affection and engagement from them. They don’t help out much in family life.
They come in from work and expect to be served, they don’t show much willing to do much helping after work and at the weekends.

Now, I’m sure there’s fault on both sides, but at least this is going on:
These husbands, man children, are making it very hard for their wives to love them, because they aren’t being loving themselves.

They’re not refreshing their wives and are surprised to find their wives aren’t much interested in refreshing them.
They’re not living out other centred, self-sacrificial love and so they don’t have a good name with their wives- they get the name “man child.”

But if they refreshed and loved their wives they would simply become much more lovable. They’d likely find that they’d receive much more love back.
And of course it works both ways for husbands and wives.

I certainly find that those times I’m least attentive, or most sarcastic, or distant, I get the same back from Vicki. But when I’m dedicated in tangible love, in ways she appreciates, it comes right back to me.
That’s a good reason to love love.

I wonder if there are any man children in this church. Or women children for that matter, where we’re neglecting making the effort to love and refresh our spouses
and are actually making it increasingly hard for them to love us?

How about our church relationships? Wouldn’t our church community be blessed if we all made it easier for other people to love us by pouring ourselves out to refresh them?

There’s no place in the Christian life for “it’s just the way I am, I easily get my back up, I’m a bit marmite, I know I’m a bit abrasive”. God wants to change us, and to refuse to seek to change is profoundly unloving.

Each one of us can probably identify things about our character that make us hard to love, if you don’t, ask someone who knows you.
Whether at church, or at work, with housemates, or a spouse.

What are the things we say or do, or fail to do which we know rile people around us?

With God’s help, what are the ways I could change to becoming more loving and refreshing of others?
What a great question to ask yourself each day- how can I refresh my housemates, my children, my colleagues, my church family?

I think we’ll be amazed at the refreshment and favour that will come back our way.

Why should we love love? Because if we’re loving it will make us lovable.

Interlude
I don’t know how you’re feeling about how loving you are.
If we’ve been honest about ourselves, we might feel pretty un-lovely.
We can see the ways we’ve not loved those closest to us, the ways in which we know we displease our Father.

I said Proverbs is trying to get us to desire a life of love but right now maybe it feels like it’s beating us with a big stick- I just feel unlovely!

Proverbs has an answer for our failure to love God and others. 

2) Love deals with unlovely.
READ 16v6 and 10v12

We said earlier that it’s hard to love even those we like.
But perhaps most bafflingly of all, we really struggle to love God.

It’s baffling because as Christians we’ve seen how amazing God is! We’ve seen the cross, the self sacrifice for us to bring us into his family. We call him Father, he calls us his children!

You’d think that would be enough to secure our love for God! But we find our hearts wandering off hoping in and loving all sorts of other things.

Sin is baffling - why would we love anything more than our saving God?! But we do.

And 16v6 is calling us to love God, and be faithful to him.

This isn’t about God’s love for us, it’s about our love and faithfulness to God. We know that because the second part is also about our attitude of fear of the LORD.

*Proverbs wants us to realise that it’s by love and faithfulness to God our sin is atoned for.
It’s by loving God that our unloveliness can be fully dealt with.
That’s what atonement is. God dealing with our unloveliness. Atonement is God fully dealing with all our wrong.

 

We talk about skeletons in the closet.
Atonement is God taking our closet full of skeletons, our failures to be loving, and closing the door.
 Then he sets fire to the closet and burns it to ash.

He fully deals with all our unloveliness. No more sin, no more skeletons, no more guilt to stand in the way between us and God.

When God gave Christ Jesus to die on the cross it was to deal with our unloveliness towards God and others.
The Bible says Christ was an atoning sacrifice for our sin, closing the door on it and completely getting rid of it.

So, if tonight you’ve realised just how unlovely you can be- this is the answer- Christ’s death deals with our unlovely- he atones for it.

But I said that this verse was about our love and faithfulness.
So how does our love and faithfulness to God atone for our sin? Surely it’s God’s love which atones. True, it does, but that’s not the focus here.

Imagine a little boy who is in danger. And their Dad reaches out to them- “take my hand and you’ll be safe!”
It is his love and faithfulness that is rescuing the child.

From the child’s point of view:
in love and faithfulness to his dad the little boy reaches out his hand and lets his Dad pull him to safety.

Because of his love for his Dad- a deep, heartfelt trusting love for him, he is rescued.

And as God lovingly provides atonement in Christ- dealing with our unloveliness, *in love we reach out to him, and in faithfulness we cling on to him.

“God you’re the only one who can completely deal with all my wrong, you’re my only hope till the day I die.”

We cling to God who atones for our sin. Through love and faithfulness our sin is atoned for.

Devoted, faithful love to God is hard.
Do you find yourself at times cold towards God, it’s a functional relationship.
 Actually you’re finding it pretty hard to stay faithful to him.

Proverbs says, let this draw you in love to God: *God will atone for your momentous unloveliness.
Let that draw you like a magnet to him in love and faithfulness.
Put your hand in his and leave it there.

Have you put your hand in his to deal with your unloveliness? In faithful love, are you clinging on to him for dear life?

So that’s how love deals with our unloveliness before God.

But can love deal with each other’s unloveliness?

We carry scars of failed love.
 Friendships, marriages, Christian brothers and sisters where lack of love has strained and ruptured relationships.
How can love deal with that painful unloveliness?

READ 10v12.

Have you ever been in the situation where you’ve wronged someone and frankly they just hold it over your head, they will not let you forget it.

You’ve said sorry but now they’ll just dance on your grave and worse, they’ll try and turn others against you. That’s hatred that stirs up conflict.

But love covers over all wrongs.
This doesn’t mean it brushes it under the carpet as if it’s unimportant.

When people say sorry to us we have this silly habit of replying “it’s Ok, it doesn’t matter”. No, it does matter.
What we should say is- I forgive you: that’s covering wrong. Forgiveness deals with the wrong.

And loving forgiveness means we don’t go around telling people about other’s sin. We don’t make a big song and dance, we don’t rub it in their face or hold a grudge.

*Love deals with each other’s unlovable. It covers all wrong.

But we struggle with this. God has taken that closet of skeletons and completely done away with it- atoned for.
But then we keep on bringing each other’s closets out again and opening the door and showing other people!

It is profoundly unloving to keep bringing up people’s sin. It is deeply cruel to even use someone’s past sin to hold some kind of power of them-a kind of ‘don’t you forget what you did.’

There will be people in this church or in your life who have deeply, deeply wronged you. And you could spend the rest of your life feeling angry and reminding them of it.
But love has a better way- let go, cover it over.

If God’s forgiven that sin and remembers it no more, who are we to say- “not so fast God, I’m going to hold onto this one for a while longer. “

When we’ve had God deal with our unloveliness, we can turn to each other and show the same wrong covering, sin forgetting, love.

Perhaps there’s the sin of others that you haven’t let love deal with yet.
It’s like there’s the cross where Jesus died to take their punishment but you’ve got another cross where you just want to punish them a little but longer.

That will make everyone miserable.

There’s only one cross, one moment where God deals with unloveliness once and for all.
And it’s not our job to continue to be judge jury and executioner of each other’s unloveliness.

*Love leaves each other’s sins at the cross, as well as our own.

“God, what they have done deeply hurts me. But your love has shown me a better way. Lord, this is so hard for me, but please help me to cover over their wrongs, all of them, just as you have covered over my wrongs by the blood of your dear son.”

And it’s not only other Christians we’re called to love and forgive.

Rachael Denhollander testified against Larry Nassar who abused countless girls in the USA gymnastics team.

While addressing Larry Nassar, Rachael Denhollander, a Christian said,
In our early hearings, you brought your Bible into the courtroom and you have spoken of praying for forgiveness. And so it is on that basis that I appeal to you. If you have read the Bible you carry, you know the definition of sacrificial love portrayed is of God himself loving so sacrificially that he gave up everything to pay a penalty for the sin he did not commit. By his grace, I, too, choose to love this way.

I pray you experience the soul crushing weight of guilt so you may someday experience true repentance and true forgiveness from God, which you need far more than forgiveness from me — though I extend that to you as well.

Love rooted in the cross can empower us to deal with the most wicked unloveliness.

Love deals with our and other people’s deep unloveliness. Or as Paul put it “love keeps no… record of wrongs”.


You’ve got to agree, that’s a beautiful vision of love and faithfulness. Refreshing each other, covering over all wrongs.

Who could love like this?

I am constantly flawed by one thing Jesus said: Father forgive them.

You know who he was seeking forgiveness for- his executioners, while they were executing him!

The kind of love Proverbs calls us to may feel out of reach for us, but it wasn’t for Christ.

Love is so etched on his heart that he could call for forgiveness in the moment of the greatest wickedness the universe has ever known- the execution of the innocent Son of God!

He is the one who is truly loveable, who acts towards us in such radical generosity and refreshment that he makes us want to love him.

He is the one who died to cover over the wrongs, not of his friends, but of you and me, his enemies.

He could look down from the cross, and ask “Father forgive them.”

Jesus has loved like this, and in faithfulness he will love us like this every day into eternity.

And he can and will help us to love like him.

 

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