#34 Love is the Greatest(20/07/02)

By Robert A. Schuller

This morning I'm sharing some words from St. Paul with you about one of life's greatest gifts and attributes.

He is writing to his friends in Corinth ...

"If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am merely a resounding gong or a clanging symbol.

If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries, and if I have faith to move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing ...

... now abides faith, hope and love, but the greatest of these is love!"
(I Corinthians 13:1, 2, 13)

I summarized it this way: Without love, faith is cold. And without love, hope is grim. For love is the fire that kindles hope and the light which turns faith into certainty.

Yes, faith and hope lose their power without love ... and faith and hope without the infusion of God is nothing. The apostle John in his first letter to the early Christians made this powerful declaration:
"God is love." (I John 4:16)

And the Russian writer, Tolstoy, said it this way, "Where love is, God is." Love is the greatest because love is God. And it is the love of God that inspires us.

Twenty-two years ago, when I was ordained in this Cathedral, I wrote a mission statement so that I would have a guiding compass for my ministry. I was advised that the shorter and more concise I could make my mission statement, the more profound, and the more impacting it would be. So I shortened it to two words: Inspirational Distributor" because I wanted to inspire people to believe. The word, "inspire" actually means "to breathe the breath of life into ..."And that is what has guided me in my ministry since I was ordained in 1980, twenty-two years ago.

1) God is Love - God Creates

When God created the world, "He breathed life into all creation." Read the first chapter in the Holy Bible (Genesis 1) about how God in the beginning, created the heavens and the earth. And as the earth took form God looked at what He had made, and a loving God said, "It is good."

Then God put the vegetation on the hills and the mountains, and seeing what He had made said, "It is good!"

God put the birds in the air, and the cattle on the hill and the fish in the sea and this loving God exclaimed ... "It is good!"

Then God took a clump of clay and shaped the form of Adam, and God "inspired" that clump of clay. He didn't just speak life into Adam. No, God touched, molded and shaped the form until it was just the way He wanted this special creation. Then God breathed the breath of life into him. This time God "inspired" man because God is love!

And seeing what God had made, guess what God said? "It is not good ..." Can you believe that? "It is not good ..." (You know the Bible really supports women. I think what God was really saying is, "I can do better than that.") ... man should not live alone, and God created woman. And He saw man and woman together, and God said, 'It is VERY good.'"

2) God is love - God motivates

When God set the world in motion in six days, and what did God do on the seventh day? He rested. But then, on the eighth day, God went back to work again. He didn't quit after six days. God went back to work and today, 2000 years later, God is still at work as He continues to create, motivate and inspire. God is breathing the breath of life into more and more people as He inspires us with His love. And God wants to motivate us to accept the precious gift of His love.

During the administration of President Andrew Jackson, a postal worker by the name of George Wilson, robbed one of the postal stations. In the process he killed one of the guards. For this murderous act, George Wilson received a death sentence and was sentenced to hang. During that particular time there was a great deal of uproar against capital punishment, and many letters were brought to President Jackson asking him to pardon George Wilson. So Andrew Jackson pardoned George Wilson ... but ... George Wilson refused to accept the pardon from Andrew Jackson! From the President!

So the appeal for pardon was sent to the Supreme Court with the question: "Is it possible for someone to reject the gift of pardon from the President of the United States?" Chief Justice John Marshal handed down the court decision - these were the words: "A pardon is a parchment whose only value must be determined by the receiver of the pardon. It has no value apart from that which the receiver gives it."

George Wilson refused to accept the pardon. We cannot conceive why he would do so, but he has. Therefore, George Wilson must die. So George Wilson was hanged for his crime and for not receiving the gift.

Today God breathes the breath of life into the human family, inspiring people with His acts of love, but no one is forced to accept the gift of God's love. Anyone who will accept this precious gift receives life!
God is Love:

1) God Creates
2) God Motivates
3) God Cultivates

In this love chapter, I Corinthians 13, St. Paul talks about childishness and maturity ... and the need to be aware of our childish ways. The difference between a mature person and a child is that the child has his hand out for a need ... and the mature person has his hand out to satisfy a need. When we discover that God's love is real in our lives, then we want His love to grow within us. But that requires us to examine our attitudes and childish" ways. God wants to cultivate us to weed out any negativity and selfishness and allow the positive generous nature of God to flood our hearts and our souls with His love.

Years ago, I wanted to grow closer to God in my prayer time and I began to journal my meditations to see my prayers in my relationship with my God. This week I read again this entry in my devotional journal. I've never read these words publicly before. It reads:
"Dear friend, I just had to send a letter, a note, to tell you how much I care about you and love you. I saw you yesterday as you were walking with your friends. I waited all day hoping you would want to talk to me. And as evening drew near I gave you a sunset to close your day and a cool breeze to rest you. And I waited for you, but you never came. It hurt Me but I still love you, because I'm your Friend.

I saw you fall asleep last night, and I longed to touch your brow. So I threw moonlight on your pillow and on your face, and again I waited. I waited to rush down so we could talk because I have so many gifts for you. But you awakened late again the next day and rushed off to work. My tears were in the rain. Today you look so sad and so all alone it makes My heart ache, because I understand. My friends have let Me down. It hurts Me so many times, but I love you.

Oh, if you would only listen. I love you. I try to tell you in the blue sky and in the quiet grass. I whisper in the leaves of the trees, and breathe it in the color of the flowers. I shadow the mountain streams. I give little birds a love story to sing.

I clothe you with warm sunshine, and perfume the air with nature's scent. My love for you is deeper than the oceans and bigger than all the needs in your heart. If you only knew how much I want to help you. I want you to meet My Father. He wants to help you too. My Father is that way you know. Just call Me. Ask Me. Talk with Me. I have so much to share with you, but I won't hassle you. I'll wait because I love you. Your friend, Jesus"

God's Love is the Greatest
1) God creates ...
2) God motivates ...
3) God cultivates ...
4) God propagates ...

As a pastor, it is not uncommon for me to counsel people who have been given notice by the doctors that they have only days or months to live. When I sit down with them, we talk about serious issues. And then I ask the question, "Are you ready to die?" Often people will say, W-w-what do you mean? What do you mean, 'am I ready to die?' Do you mean financially? Or some other situation like that?" I answer, No, I mean spiritually. Are you spiritually ready to die? Because until you are ready to die, you truly cannot live." That's one of the greatest paradoxes of life ... that until you are ready to die, you really can't live.

In the way we prepare ourselves for death is the way we prepare ourselves to live. Today, I ask you to be ready to die. Realize the ultimate love of God to inspire you to breathe the breath of life into you, then death loses its sting completely! And we can live without fear and without worry ... and we can live in peace.

"For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, that whoever calls upon Him shall not perish, but shall have everlasting life." (John 3:16)

So I invite you now to live and to experience the love of God. Say "yes" to a friendship with Jesus Christ!

Pray with me: Dear Heavenly Father, You are a God of love. You are a God who creates, who motivates, who cultivates ... and a God who propagates within us the seeds of love. So as we face life and death, we know that we can experience living with confidence and assurance. We know that the greatest is not faith and not hope ... but love. So kindle within us, O Lord, Your unending, eternal love, we pray. Amen.

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