The Art of Loving (1 Cor. 13:4-8): The Proper Motivation

The Art of Loving: The Proper Motivation
1 Corinthians 13:4-8

Norma Jean Mortenson was one of the most famous people of the last century. She was also one of the most tragic. Her mom was Gladys Baker who was committed to a mental institution several times. Norma Jean spent her youth in and out of foster homes.

In one of those foster homes, when Norma Jean was 8 years old, she was raped by a man who was renting another room in that home. Her assailant gave her a nickel and told her never to tell anyone what he did.

Norma Jean went ahead and told her foster mom, but did not get the response she was expecting. Her mom beat her and told her that the man who was boarding with her paid good money and Norma Jean should never say anything bad about him! Thus, at 8 years old, Norma Jean learned what it was to be used, paid off, and beaten when you express your hurt.

As Norma Jean matured, she became a pretty young woman and people began to notice. Boys whistled at her and Norma Jean liked that attention. But she also wished that people would notice her for more than just her physical appearance.

Norma Jean eventually became an actress in Hollywood. She relates that a publicist told her that they were going to make a sex symbol out of her. “A cymbal?” She asked. “Cymbals are things people hit together aren’t they?”

The publicist replied, “Honey it doesn’t matter. We’re going to make you the most sizzling sex symbol to ever hit Hollywood.”

They changed Norma Jean Mortenson’s name to Marilyn Monroe and that prophecy became true. She became an overnight movie sensation playing roles that became known as “dumb blond” roles. But through all the publicity and paparazzi, Norma Jean kept asking, “Can’t you see that I’m a person, not just a face and a body? Would you please notice me?”

Norma Jean turned into a self-centered prima donna. She caused trouble on movie sets, making the crew wait for hours before she was ready. What those crews did not know was that Norma Jean was in her room, throwing up, because she was terrified.

No one took her seriously. She went through three marriages, looking for a man who would take her seriously, who would love her as a person. Her pleas for respect and a chance to take serious roles were ignored.

On a Sunday evening in 1962, at the age of 35, that beautiful actress, Norma Jean Mortenson, who was the envy of a lot of little girls, took her own life. A maid found her body the next morning, when the telephone off the hook, dangling beside the star. In the last moments of her life, Norma Jean Mortenson had called another Hollywood actor and told him she had enough sleeping pills to take her own life. That man responded with the famous line from Gone with the Wind: “Frankly, my dear. I don’t care.” “I don’t care” were the last words Norma Jean Mortenson heard before she took her life.

In an article written later by Clare Booth Luce, the writer asked, “What really killed Marilyn Monroe, the love goddess who never found any love?” Ms Luce noted that the dangling phone beside her bed was a metaphor for her entire life; she died because she never got through to anyone who understood. She never, in her entire life, felt truly loved.

Don’t you wish that someone had taken little Norma Jean Mortenson to Bible class one Sunday? And to church? And just loved her and taught her to sing, “Jesus Loves Me, This I Know”?

As human beings, you and I can’t live any better than we can love and be loved. We can have fame and fortune - but without love, we are like clanging cymbals - being hit together by other people for their own purposes. Every single human being needs to be loved like Jesus loved.

Jesus says that people will know we are His disciples if we love one another: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).

As we studied a few Sundays ago, Jesus even tells us to love our enemies: “But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. “Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either. “Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back. “Treat others the same way you want them to treat you. “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. “If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. “If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back the same amount. “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men” (Luke 6:27-35).

Last year, we studied through the Gospel of Mark as we spent time together with Jesus Christ. Is there a more important topic to discuss, after Jesus Christ, than the topic of love? This year, on the first Sunday of each month - unless I’m out of town the 1st Sunday, in which case, it will be the 2nd Sunday - we’ll study a dozen characteristics of a loving heart.

I suspect that every one of us will find some area where we have some room for improvement. Let’s focus on those areas of weakness and let’s grow toward maturity. God began a good work in us, Philippians 1:6, and He’ll carry it through to completion until the day Christ returns.

On one of his many plane trips, General Omar Bradley, one of America’s WWII heroes, was wearing a business suit rather than his army uniform. He sat down, grabbed some papers to look over and a pen. He noticed seated next to him was an army private, kind of a “Gomer-Pyle” type guy. That young private, however, didn’t notice to whom he was talking; he did not recognize Omar Bradley.

“Since we’re going to be traveling together,” the private said, “it would be nice for us to get to know each other. I take it you’re a banker in the city.”

Bradley wanted to get some work done and he did not want to be distracted by this private. So, Bradley said, “No, young man, I’m not a banker. I happen to be General Omar Bradley, a five-star general in the U. S. Army. I’m also Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon in Washington, D. C.”

The young private tried to be encouraging; he responded, “Wow! That sounds like a very important job, sir. I just hope you don’t blow it!”

God has called on us to love others as He has shown love to us. Let’s not blow it!

Soap Pich was from Cambodia. He was in a college class and he had to give a brief life story. Soap said that when he was about 5 years old, his family enjoyed a middle-class lifestyle. In Cambodia, that meant a lot of luxury and social prestige. When the Communists took over, they rounded up all the rich and educated people and led them into a field and shot them like animals.

Soap’s father was one of the few people who were spared. The communists needed him because he could work the phone system. They closely guarded him and kept his family under close observation. Soap recounted how his father would play with him and with their family dog. When the dad rode to the store on his scooter, the dog would go with him. When he dad bought a hat for himself or sunglasses, he would do the same for the dog.

Around 7 years old, the Communists captured him and took him away and Soap never saw him again. “The dog?” The class asked. “No, my dad.” The Communists went ahead and separated the rest of the family too. Soap was alone. He cried himself to sleep every night for three months.

Most of the time Soap’s dad was working on the phone lines, there was only one guard to watch him. His dad could have overpowered him at any point and been free. But the guard warned him if he tried to escape, his family would be killed. Soap’s dad did not doubt they would do it; he had seen it done many times before. Soap’s dad did what was requested of him in order to protect his family.

Soap and the rest of the family escaped to the United States. “My dad died so I could live,” Soap told that college class. “And he always wanted me to get an education.”

Do you think Soap was a good college student or a lazy college student? Love motivated Soap to give himself to his studies and love motivated him to give his best effort every single day. Now, it is possible to do the right thing for the wrong reason. In John 8:1-11, the “teachers of the law” brought to Jesus a woman caught in adultery. It was right and proper for the woman to be punished for her sin. But the text is clear that their motives were impure. They were not about honoring God by respecting God’s law. They were hoping Jesus would say or do something that would allow them to accuse Him of violating the Law of Moses.

They could not have cared less about the Law of God and they could not have cared less about the spiritual health of that woman. Love played no part in their motivation.

The loving heart seeks to do the right thing, for the right reason. The principle is stated about David but it is true of all of us: “The Lord looks at the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7).

Why do we do what we do? Jesus made it clear in Matthew 6:1 that motivation is very, very important: “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.”

Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 13 that if we try to serve and worship God for any reason besides love, we have not gained anything: 13:1-3.

When we are motivated out of love, then (#1) our lives have meaning. The happiest and most successful people in the world are those who believe their lives have meaning and they make their decisions based on that conviction.

Unfortunately, too many people feel no real meaning in life. But God has planted within the heart of each of us a set of talents, skills, and abilities which we are to use for His glory and for the service of our fellow man and that life can be fulfilling beyond “eating, drinking, and being merry.”

Love also (#2) gives our lives direction. How we spend our day is directed by what we love. What is God’s purpose for you? And how do you decide where to go once you realize what God’s purpose for you is? If you had only six months to live, how would you spend your life differently?

There were two minutes left in the football game. The hometown team was ahead by six points. They had possession of the ball. The coach told the quarterback to play it safe, run out the clock, and they would have the win.

The young QB had ideas of his own, however. He went back to the huddle and told the whole team, “Hey, coach says to play it safe. That’s what the other team thinks we’re going to do, so let’s surprise them and run a pass play instead.”

He threw the pass. A defensive back cut in front of the intended receiver, intercepted the pass, and took off running down the side, with the speed of a sprinter. Everyone thought he was going to get the TD and win the game.

The QB wasn’t very fast but he took off after the guy and ran him down at the 5 yard line. That tackle saved the game and the win. The defense was able to hold and the clock ran out.

The losing coach came up to the other coach and said, “All I heard was how slow your quarter back was; yet he ran down my sprinter!”

“Yeah,” the winning coach said. “You have to understand. Your man was running for six points. My man was running for his life!”

Knowing what you are running for makes a difference! You and I are followers of Jesus Christ and our primary goal is to glorify Jesus in all that we say and do - because we love Him! We share the gospel of Christ with others because we love Jesus. We act out of love toward others, because we love Jesus!

Love gives direction to our lives.

Third (#3), love lifts us above criticism. Criticism is a part of life; we all get criticized periodically. But when you love as God wants you to, then it lifts you above the petty criticisms that you feel. The governor of Judah, Nehemiah, stayed focused on his God-give purpose. He wanted to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem after they had been torn down by the Babylonians. The people of God would not be able to live and worship in peace if those walls had not been rebuilt. So Nehemiah rebuilt them, out of love for God and love for worship and love for His people. Nehemiah did not allow criticism to stop him from doing what he loved to do.

When we know that God loves us, it helps us deal with God’s discipline of us; we love Him for it. Paul wrote in Romans 8:29: “those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren.” We love God for disciplining us, because He is conforming us into the image of His Son: “you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons, “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, Nor faint when you are reproved by Him; For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, And He scourges every son whom He receives” (Hebrews 12:5-6).

Love also motivates us to do something constructive with our lives, not self-service but other-service because that is God-service. Jesus said, “You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you” (John 15:16). Along that same line, Paul wrote: “we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them” (Eph. 2:10).

When you have a God-focused life, it lifts you up the mundane frustrations of life. The people who get on our nerves the most, are the people who need God’s love in their lives the most. What is on your schedule for this next week that will produce lasting, even eternal value? If you share the love of Christ with those around you, that will be your answer.

Third, love gives us something worth dying for. Jesus said, “whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:35-36).

How do you want your life to end? Many people have died for money. Some die for loved ones. Our soldiers die for their country, for people they don’t even know. Many have died for their loyalty to Christ. Hebrews 11 reminds us of some who died for their loyalty to God. Many have died for their loyalty to Christ in Muslim countries today or in Communist countries today and in years past.

The Native Americans have a saying: “When you were born, you cried and the world rejoiced. Live your life in such manner that when you die, the world cries and you rejoice.”

Do you know why the lion tamers would use a four-legged stool when they were in the ring with the lion? It is because the lion tries to focus on any one of the legs of the stool and it kind of distracts him and paralyzes him so that he is less aggressive and more manageable.

The distractions in our life are legitimate needs and concerns, in their proper place. But the central focus of our lives, as Jesus says in Matthew 22:37-39, is to love God supremely and serve our fellow man sacrificially. In serving our fellow man sacrificially, in loving our neighbor as ourselves, we have to focus on living out 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 in our lives. Let’s read that text again together…

Let me end with one more football story… There was a coach named Lou Little. He coached at Georgetown College and Columbia in the 1920s to the 1950s. One time, he had this guy on his team who was the third-string. That young man’s dad died right before a game with Fordham. The boy went to Coach Little, asking if he could start against Fordham. Well, the boy wasn’t very good.

Coach thought that maybe he would let the boy play one snap, one play. This was a big event for the boy, it was an emotional game. What could it hurt to let the boy play one snap in honor of his dad? Then they could put their regular starter back in. So he said okay.

That young man started and he played the game of his life. From the opening kick off, he played every single play. He was all over the field, blocking and tackling like a monster. Coach Little left him in for the entire game, and he was part of the key to their victory.

After the game was over, Coach Little talked to the young man in the locker room, put his arm around his shoulder, and said, “Son, I can’t understand you. You never played like that before. What got into you?”

“You know my dad died,” the young player said.

“Yes, I know.”

“You saw my dad and me when he visited campus, and we walked around the grounds a lot, arm in arm, with me leading him?”

“Yes, I remember.”

“Well, what you don’t know - very few people did - was that my father was blind. So today, was the first time my dad ever saw me play.”

Now, I don’t believe that is theologically true. But, a greater point is that the Father sees us. And we show Him we love Him by the love we share with those around us. That makes a difference in what we do and why we do it.

Take home message: Love makes a difference in what we do and why we do it.

Start a conversation with your friend or neighbor: “How do you pursue spiritual growth?”


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