Puppy love manifests itself in Valentine's Day cards, friendship rings, and nice dinners. Mature love manifests itself in 12-hour work days, hospital rooms, and nursing homes. One lasts for a moment; the other lasts for a lifetime.
“Beyond Puppy Love”
I Corinthians 13:7-8a
In 1961 Walt Disney came out with the animated film entitled 101 Dalmatians. It was based on the 1956 novel by Dodie Smith. Millions of people watched the movie with their children. About 35 years later Disney came out with another version – this one with real people and dogs. It too was an instant success, earning more than 350 million at the box office. Everybody loved seeing the puppy hating, fur coat making Cruella De Vil being outsmarted by these lovable and witty Dalmatians.
As a result of this most recent movie especially, thousands of people wanted to have their own Dalmatian puppy as a pet. Sales skyrocketed.
When these new owners brought their adorable little black and white spotted puppies home, however, they found that living with a Dalmatian was a lot different than watching them on the big screen.
Dalmatians are a challenging breed to own for a number of reasons. They are rough around children. Especially little children and Dalmatians don’t mix very well. The Dalmatians are rambunctious and energetic.
They were originally bred to run alongside horse drawn carriages as sentries. They were also trained and bred to run in front of the horses pulling fire wagons, sort of clearing the path as an early warning system. To this day, Dalmatians are the firehouse mascot in many locations.
Bottom line: without a lot of activity, Dalmatians become restless and even destructive. But they aren’t true outdoor dogs - they shed year-round. So you can’t keep them in the house and you can’t keep them in the back yard.
Add to all of that the unique challenge with this breed of hearing impairment. 10% of Dalmatians are born deaf which then requires the need for extra training and care.
A spokeswoman for the Wisconsin Humane Society, said, “Dalmatians are beautiful puppies, you just need to know what you’re getting into.”
I found it interesting and somewhat sad that not long after the release of Disney’s 101 Dalmatians, according to the Associated Press, dog shelters across the U.S. saw a dramatic increase in the number of Dalmatian dogs begin abandoned by their owners.
In fact, one Florida organization had been brought into existence merely to rescue this one breed of dog. According to them, 9 months after the release of the Disney movie, they were taking in abandoned Dalmatians at the rate of 1 every week.
Information from Wikipedia.com; k9web.com & Craig Larson, Choice Contemporary Stories (Baker, 1998), p. 161
This redefines “puppy love” doesn’t it. Or better yet, it illustrates perfect what we call, “puppy love.” They’re beautiful, unique . . . soft and cuddly. But they grow up – they create challenges – they have needs – they demand time.
Puppy love can be defined as a temporary infatuation which lacks a willingness to commit when the challenges become apparent.
Agape, on the other hand moves way beyond puppy love. It brings the Dalmatian home, adjusts life and makes arrangements for long walks and chewed up furniture. It discovers deafness and compensates visually and physically.
It refuses the temptation to abandon. It refuses to give up. It refuses to trade in.
It’s one thing to make this type of commitment to a puppy – how much more to a person.
Agape chooses to serve and adjust and learn and adapt and give without any guarantee of a return.
This is the love of God and the reflection of the love of Christ who humbled himself and became a bondservant, taking on the form of a man, becoming submissive and obedient unto death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2).
We immediately think, isn’t God great. Isn’t Christ the epitome of humility? Isn’t it wonderful that He loves us with agape love?!
We conveniently overlook the fact the first part of Philippians 2 tells us to “maintain the same love, united in spirit.”
This passage isn’t just describing the great theological truths of the kenosis – the incarnation of Christ. It is a direct command for us to love like He did; to serve one another with humility like He did; to sacrifice our rights and privileges like He did.
Agape isn’t just for God. It’s for the children of God.
A new commandment I give to you, Jesus said, that you love one another like I have loved you. (John 13:34)
What an assignment . . . Jesus says, “You’ve seen me love . . . now you love in the same way.”
That’s kind of like having Tiger Woods say to me, “Stephen, you’ve seen me swing the golf club, now you do the same thing.”
It’s gonna require an entirely new nature . . . and thinking and balance and coordination and age and in order to swing the club like that. And then I’m gonna need a lot more lessons and I still probably won’t get it.
Jesus Christ says, “Okay, you’ve seen the way I love, now you do the same thing.”
It’s gonna require an entirely new nature – and thinking – all the way down to our DNA. In fact, we’re gonna have to be born all over again into somebody new and then be intimately related and daily surrendered to the Spirit of God.
And then we’re gonna need a lot of lessons in order to love like Christ.
And here is the primary manual on love – I Corinthians 13.
Let me read my paraphrase, based on our previous studies, beginning with verse 4. Love exercises patience toward irritating people; love demonstrates kindness in difficult situations; love doesn’t clutch what it has and want what others have; love doesn’t talk about itself and treat others with arrogance; love doesn’t forget it’s manners and only look out for number 1; love does not become cantankerous when disappointed; love doesn’t keep a list of wrongs but daily erases the offenses from the ledger of its heart; love isn’t interested in sinful things but is very excited about the truth.
Now Paul comes to an end with five distinct positive phrases that summarize true love – agape love.
Notice verse 7. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. And the first part of verse 8, Love never fails.
In this summary, Paul reveals 5 enduring qualities of love.
- The support of agape;
- The simplicity of agape;
- The sweetness of agape;
- The steadfastness of agape;
- And the supremacy of agape.
- Paul writes, “love bears all things”
This is the support of love.
Some take this verb – stego (stegw) to mean “to cover” as a roof covers a house; so that Paul has in mind the idea that true love will cover over anything.
Fritz Rienecker/Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key to the New Testament (Regency, 1976), p. 432
More than likely, this verb here actually refers to the bearing of a load; the strength of the beams which support the roof.
In other words, true love will bear up under a great load – great pressure – great insult and great disappointment.
Adapted from William Barclay, 1 Corinthians (Westminster, 1975), p. 123
One author said it this way, “True love gets underneath the load of life and bears it to the limit.”
Alan Redpath, The Royal Route to Heaven (Revell, 1960), p. 166
James Dobson in his book entitled, “Love for a Lifetime” tells of the time he heard Francis Schaeffer speak to this issue of love. He described the bridges that were built in Europe by the Romans in the 1st and 2nd centuries A.D. And they are still standing today, despite the unreinforced brick and mortar with which they were made. Why haven’t they collapsed in this modern era? Simply for this reason; they remain intact because they are used for nothing but foot traffic. If a large truck were driven across these historic structures, they would crumble in a great cloud of dust and debris. He went on to make this application; marriages that lack determination to hang together at all costs are like these fragile Roman bridges. They appear to be secure and may indeed remain upright, until they are put under heavy pressure. Like unreinforced mud they will not withstand the weighty trials lying ahead or the pressing weight of the daily wear and tear which builds up over time. In fact, it is the daily load accumulates over time which may be more threatening to a marriage than the catastrophic events of life.
Adapted from James Dobson, Love for a Lifetime (Multnomah Press, 1987), p. 56
In marriage and relationships in general, true love helps carry the load of life.
The Apostle Paul is saying in this phrase that true love bears up under the heavy load of life’s problems and sufferings. Despite deprivation, hard work and even opposition.
Agape lends a hand. It shares the burden. It joins another person underneath the pressure of life and lends a shoulder to lift the load.
I had lunch today with 4 prospective seminary students who traveled here this weekend – three from South Carolina and one from Ohio. One was married and already a college graduate, having served now for 15 years as a youth pastor, but sensing the need for training. I asked him about his family and he told me that he has 2 children, 13 and 10. He went on to tell me that his 13 year old son was born with severe brain defects – unable to swallow and mentally retarded. Unable to move, needing to be fed through a tube, under 24 hour care in their home. The boy is very aware of life around him although mentally and emotionally he seems to be around the age of 3. This man’s depth of character had already been apparent to me – but now I knew why. He and his wife had chosen to love and care for a child with great challenges – and he said to me over lunch that God had been so faithful to them and he had such a sweet and kind spirit . . . no bitterness . . . no complaining . . . in fact he said to me, “I know that there are a lot of people who suffer more greatly than we do . . . and our son is such a joy to us.”
This is the strength of agape.
- Next, Paul goes on to tell us of the simplicity of love.
He writes, “love believes all things” in verse 7.
This is the simplicity of love. It is completely trusting.
When we love God like this it means that we take His word for what it means. We trust Him. We don’t complicate His word; twist it or redefine it.
As it relates to other people, this means that we give them the benefit of the doubt. We believe simply the most favorable possibility. We refuse the urge to be suspicious and create complicated conspiracies.
We resist the urge to engage in drama assigning the worst possible motive to what somebody says or does.
Agape believes all things. What Paul means here is that agape takes the kindest view. It takes God at His word and people at face value.
When the scribes and Pharisees saw the worst in others including Christ. When Jesus told the paralyzed man that his sins were forgiven, the Pharisees immediately concluded He was blaspheming God (Luke 5:21). Then the Lord further evidenced His divine claim to forgive sins by healing the paralyzed man of his paralysis and He said to the paralyzed man, “Pick up your stretcher and walk home.” He did. And the scribes and Pharisees remained convinced that the Lord was not of God but an imposter at best, a deceiving blasphemer at worst.
But there He was in broad daylight. He just healed a paralyzed man! But they couldn’t believe the best about Christ – why? Because they hated him.
And hate believes the worst. Love believes the best.
John MacArthur, 1 Corinthians (Moody Press, 1984), p. 354
Leon Morris wrote, “This isn’t like the White Queen in Alice in Wonderland who believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast. This phrase doesn’t mean that love is gullible, easily duped by pretenders. Love is clear sighted, able to recognize wrong. This love is unlike the world which always believes the worst about people. Agape is simply (as Moffat translated it) “eager to believe the best.”
Leon Morris, Testaments of Love (Eerdmans, 1981), p. 250
This is the simplicity of agape.
Uncomplicated . . . without intrigue . . . taking people at their word.
Paul goes on to add a third enduring quality of love. There is not only the strength of agape and the simplicity of agape but
- The sweetness of agape.
You could even call this next phrase the smile of agape; after studying it I’m convinced that a person who demonstrates love has a sweetness in spirit toward others.
Notice where Paul writes, further in verse 7, Love hopes all things.
This is the sweet optimism of agape. It never stops hoping.
It never takes anyone’s failure as final. The world frowns at you – but this person smiles at you.
I thought this was funny – in fact, Pepper Rogers intended it to be; several years ago, when Pepper Rogers was the head football coach at UCLA, he was going through a terrible losing season. He couldn’t win a game. The media was hounding him; the alumni of the school were calling for his job. Football fans were upset with him. His friends were becoming more and more scarce. Pepper Rogers said on one occasion that he wasn’t even sure where his wife was in all this – she’d become really quiet. So he complained to her one day and said, “I guess my best friend now is my dog . . . but a man needs at least 2 friends.” She said, “Well then, you’d better get another dog.”
Steven Lawson, Holman Old Testament Commentary: Job (Holman, 2004), p. 143
The chips are down. The Corinthian church can’t seem to do anything right. But here Paul writes to the Corinthian church with these words, “Great is my confidence in you; great is my boasting on your behalf.” (2 Corinthians 7:4).
You gotta be kidding.
Paul – boasting about this wayward, weak, immature body of believers? Yes. How? He loved them – and love always hopes for the best.
So he writes to them, “I rejoice that in everything I have confidence in you.” (2 Corinthians 7:15).
This is a coach telling his players – a teacher telling her students – “I know you can do it – you can make it.”
There’s something incredibly infusing about this kind of person.
The truth is, we all know very few people like this, don’t we; people that just see the best in everything and everyone; people who are full of the sweetness of agape that engenders even more hope.
Why so few? Because our nature gets hung up on the past.
We hear a new believer talking about how great God is and how interesting the word is and instead of encouraging them we’re thinking, “He’ll eventually learn . . . he’ll grow out of that excitement . . . just give him time.”
You talk to a newly married couple and young bride gushes, “Oh, he’s so sweet,” and you’re thinking, “Just wait.”
We run around pouring cold water on everybody’s fire! We live in the negative and accusative case.
How many Green Bay Packer fans do we have in here?
34 days ago Brett Favre broke Dan Marino’s record for throwing the most touchdown passes in football. 421 touchdown passes.
15 days later Favre broke another record – he is now the most intercepted quarterback in NFL history. Does Green Bay care about that record? No. You get around one of these fans and they’re not dwelling on the failures – they’re focused on the victories. Why? Because they love their team and their quarterback. They know he’s thrown 278 picks, but they choose to think about the 421 touchdown passes.
Preachingtoday.com; citation: ABC News (9-30-07); The Sports Network (10-14-07)
This is the sweet optimism of love. I’m so proud of my children, you say. What, haven’t they ever disappointed you? Of course, but I’m focusing on the hope of agape – like Paul with the Corinthians who chose to focus on what they could be and the good they had done.
One author wrote, “This agape is demonstrated in the hearts of the parents of a backslidden child; the spouse of an unbelieving marriage partner; the church that has disciplined members who do not repent – they all hope in love that the child, the spouse, or the erring brother or sister will be saved or restored. Love refuses to take failure as final. God would not take Israel’s failure as final. Jesus would not take Peter’s failure as final. Paul would not take the Corinthians’ failure as final.”
Adapted from MacArthur, p. 354
This is a great challenge for parents – for Dad’s especially. Your child just might have the record number of failures along with a record number of successes in life –which record will you frame and put on the mantle of your memory?
True love chooses to focus on hopeful things.
Paul reveals a fourth quality of agape; “Love endures all things.”
- This is the steadfastness of love
What a fitting way to end this paragraph – and why not – what good are all the above if you stop? If you quit? If you find some loophole or escape clause.
Agape does not have a back door.
We’re told that God will never leave us nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5) Nothing shall separate us from the agape of Christ (Romans 8:35)
If we are to love one another as Christ loves us then we will endure.
I found it interesting to read about some of the data from the 2007 U. S. Census Bureau regarding the permanency of marriage in America today. The findings seem to reinforce the so-called
7-year itch. They found that on average, couples that separated did so after seven years and divorced after eight. Perhaps, one author concluded, it is this information that has led Gabriele Pauli, one of Germany’s politicians to propose legislation that would make legal marriages dissolved after seven years. Her legislation would allow couples either to extend their marriages or allow them to terminate automatically after seven years without undue legal burden or tiresome litigation.
Preachingtoday.com, citation: Houston Chronicle (09-19-07)
Listen, this kind of legislation is in our own future. And why not; already one author has suggested that we plan on 3 spouses over the course of a lifetime.
The love of the world is self-focused, self-protecting, self-enamored, self-serving. And so a seven year marriage makes a lot of sense. This is puppy-love – love when its soft and cuddly and there are no apparent challenges or pressures.
The love of Christ is not a 7 year affair – it is what? Everlasting! And as we demonstrate the love of Christ – the agape of God, our love for spouses and children and the assembly will not be fickle fancy . . . it will endure.
Not that this makes it easy. In fact, the word Paul used for endure, hupomenei (upomenei) is a word that referred to a soldier in the battle, fighting for his life and refusing to desert the front lines.
This is love for when life gets tough.
In his tremendous book, The Disciplines of a Godly Man, Kent Hughes writes of his friendship with Robertson McQuilkin, the former president of Columbia International University. Robertson’s wife Muriel was in the late stages of Alzheimer’s when Dr. McQuilkin resigned to take care of her. In his resignation letter he wrote, “My dear wife, Muriel, has been in failing mental health for about 8 years. So far I have been able to care for both her ever-growing needs and my leadership responsibilities at Columbia. Recently it has become apparent that Muriel is contented most of the time she is with me and almost none of the time I am away from her. It is not just “discontent.” She is filled with fear – even terror – that she has lost me and always goes in search of me when I leave home. It is clear that she needs me now, full-time. This decision was made, in a way, 42 years ago when I promised to care for her “in sickness and in health . . . till death do us part.” So, as I have already told the students and faculty, as a man of my word, I will do it. She has cared for me fully all these years; if I cared for her for the next 40 years I would not be out of debt. Duty, however, can be grim and stoic. But there is more; I love Muriel. She is a delight to me . . . I do not have to care for her . . . I get to.
Adapted from R. Kent Hughes, The Disciplines of a Godly Man (Crossway, 1991), p. 35
I don’t have to care for her . . . I get to.
This is much more than temporary infatuation when everything is sunshine and roses. This is the love that issues forth during the pressures and challenges of life.
Redpath, p. 155
This is the endurance of true love.
There’s one more enduring quality here. Paul will speak from verse 8 to the end of the chapter
- On the supremacy of love.
Let’s slip down for a moment just to verse 8 as we bring this series to a close.
Paul writes this about agape – I have translated it this way: Love never falls to the ground; if there are gifts of prophecy they will taper off; if there are tongues, they will stop; if there is knowledge, it will be taper off as well.
Now you might remember from verses 1-3, Paul told us that all tongues and all knowledge and all prophecy and all faith was worthless without love – we just make a lot of noise, like the crashing of cymbals.
Now he informs us that these wonderful gifts are temporary, but love is eternal.
This is the exclamation point of agape.
Nothing outlasts true love
This is the supremacy of love.
The word here for “fails or falls” (piptw) is a word the Greeks used to speak of the petal of a flower or a leaf falling to the ground, withering and dying.
MacArthur, p. 358
Paul says true love – like the love of Christ for us – never falls down . . . it will not wither away.
This is the constancy, the loyalty, the persistence, the devotion, the faithfulness, the dedication and dependability of true love.
One day, Charles Spurgeon the well known London pastor of the 1800’s was walking through the English countryside with a friend. As they strolled along, the pastor noticed a barn with a weather vane on its roof. At the top of the vane were these words: ‘God is Love’. Spurgeon remarked to his companion that he thought this was a rather inappropriate place for such a message, “Weather vanes are changeable,” he said, “but God’s love is constant.” His friend responded, “No Charles, I think you misunderstand the meaning. That weather vane is indicating a truth: regardless of which way the wind blows, God is love.”
Robert Morgan, Nelson’s Complete Book of Stories, Illustrations & Quotes, (Thomas Nelson, 2000), p. 357
Agape is simply the description of the character of God. And these are the enduring qualities of true love which not only mirror the nature of God but demonstrate His love through us:
- there is the support of love – it bears up under the pressure of all things;
- there is the simplicity of love – it believes the best of all things;
- there is the sweetness of love – it chooses to infuse itself and others with hope;
- there is the steadfastness of love – it refuses to run from the challenges of life;
- and there is finally the supremacy of love – for it outlasts any gift and any act of piety and every demonstration of ministry or philanthropy; it is greater than all faith and all hope.
Who do we know that loves like this? Christ Himself. And as we are conformed into His image and confess our dependence upon Him we also can demonstrate a little agape as well. But it’s gonna take a lifetime of practice – and we’ll never fully master it. But we strive for the goal – ultimately of pleasing Him and then as we pursue Him we bear the fruit of His Spirit which is agape love. And we, like Him, demonstrate to those around us, lives marked by true love.