Our Lord was not an abstract theologian who sat in a classroom pontificating on the high virtues of love. Instead, Jesus “went about doing good” (Acts 10:38). He healed the sick, fed the multitudes, and preached the gospel to the poor. He exhausted himself in acts of kindness and deeds of compassion for the benefit of needy people. In every way, he lived and modeled a life of love. And after humbly and lovingly washing his disciples’ feet, Jesus said, “For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you” (John 13:15).
God has designed us in such a way that from infancy through adulthood we imitate other people (perhaps more than we would like to admit!). Since imitating others is a fundamental way in which we learn, it is important that we not only teach what the Bible says about love but that we model it. This is why the apostles modeled Christ’s love and why Paul calls all believers to “be imitators of God” and live a life of love like his Son, Jesus Christ (Eph. 5:1-2).
We encourage love in others by our example, and we learn the most about love when we see it lived out in the lives of people. Paul, for example, provided the church in Corinth with a much-needed example of Christlike love for them to see and imitate.37 That is why—without any pride or boasting— he could urge the believers in Corinth to, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). It is also why Paul commends Timothy for following his example of love (2 Tim. 3:10) and instructs him to be an example of love to others (1 Tim. 4:12).
Knowing our need for good role models, God provides in his Word many inspiring examples from whom we can learn how to live a life of love. One of these examples is King David.
A Biblical Role Model of Love
When a newly elected president or prime minister takes office, the first statements or public acts become symbolic of the new administration’s priorities and agenda. In one country, for example, a newly elected prime minister’s first public statement was a promise to protect abortion rights, while in another country a new leader prayed for the nation. In one church, a pastor promised in his first Sunday morning sermon to hire the best youth pastor money can buy, while the pastor of another church preached his first sermon on the cross of Christ and led the congregation in celebrating the Lord’s Supper. In each case, these new officials revealed their priorities and agenda by their first acts and public statements.
In the Old Testament, King David stands out as a role model of love for God. What was one of his first acts? Soon after he became king of Israel (2 Sam. 5:1-5), he built a dwelling place for the ark of God in Jerusalem.38 David, along with tens of thousands of worshipers, priests, and Levites, celebrated as they moved the ark of God into Jerusalem. We read:
So all Israel brought up the ark of the covenant of the LORD with shouting, to the sound of the horn, trumpets, and cymbals, and made loud music on harps and lyres.
And David danced before the LORD with all his might…. (1 Chron. 15:27-28; 2 Sam. 6:13-14)
His initial act of moving the ark into Jerusalem demonstrated his highest priorities to be love for God, worship of God, and love of God’s Law.
The ark of God was the most sacred object in Israel’s worship. It symbolized the presence of the LORD (YHWH) God of Israel. For nearly a hundred years, the ark had been largely neglected. Saul, Israel’s first king, neglected the ark of God and the nation’s spiritual well-being (1 Chron. 13:3). But when David became king, he longed for the presence of God to be at the center of the nation and worship to be the nation’s chief priority. So David wanted the ark to be kept in a permanent place in Jerusalem.
Not only did David bring the ark to Jerusalem, he filled the city with music and songs of praise. He reorganized the priests and Levites and put them all to work in the service and worship of the LORD. He appointed temple musicians and singers “to raise sounds of joy” (1 Chron. 15:16). The city literally was buzzing with the sounds of praise to God (1 Chron. 15-16). David’s example of love for God brought spiritual reformation, revival, and renewal to Israel.
David also expressed his love in many poems and songs of worship to God. His praises are joyful and exuberant. His psalms are not just private musings; they are inspired by the Holy Spirit to help God’s people worship him privately and publicly, in recitation and in song. David’s life and psalms provide inspiration and enrichment that foster a deeper love for God.
In addition to following the examples of heroes of the faith in Scripture (Heb. 11), we can cultivate love by reading Christian biographies. A message of love for God and people is at the heart of Christian biographies. Thus a practical way to cultivate love is to read and share good Christian biographies with other people—especially with young people.
As a teenager, I worked at a summer Bible camp. While there, I was required to read certain biographies. The first two were about Hudson Taylor, founder of the China Inland Mission (now Overseas Missionary Fellowship), and George Müller, founder of the Ashley Down orphanage in Bristol, England.39 Their complete devotion to God, passion for lost people, and sacrificial living exemplified by these two men remain in my mind today as a testimony of Christian love. Their example has not only been a powerful influence in my life, but in the lives of others. I have been amazed to discover how many prominent men and women of God have been trans- formed by reading the biographies of Müller and Taylor—people such as Amy Carmichael, Jim Elliot, Luis Palau, Billy and Ruth Graham, Francis and Edith Schaeffer.
Two additional biographies that have especially influenced my thinking about love are L’Abri and Brother Indeed.
L’Abri is the story of Francis and Edith Schaeffer who opened their home in the mountain village of Huemoz in the Swiss Alps to students and troubled people from all over the world who were seeking answers to the great philosophical and theological questions of life.40 The Schaeffers had observed church communities fighting for orthodox doctrine but missing demonstrative love. So at L’Abri they sought to present biblical, historic Christian teaching within an observable, loving, Christian community. A major theme of the Schaeffers’ life was costly, practical, observable love— the supernatural love of God lived out moment-by-moment in the daily lives of twentieth-century Christians.
The other biography that has lifted my vision of love, Brother Indeed, is the story of Robert Chapman.42 Chapman left his profession as a lawyer in London to become pastor of a small Baptist church in Barnstaple, England. This contentious little congregation had gone through three pastors in the eighteen months prior to his arrival. The story of how Chapman completely turned around this fighting church by his love, patience, and Bible teaching is an inspiring account of loving leadership. By the end of his life, at age 99, Chapman had become so well known for his loving disposition and wisdom that a letter from abroad addressed only to “R. C. Chapman, University of Love, England,” was correctly delivered to his home. May our prayer be that our churches would become known as “Universities of Love.”
Local Church Leaders
Biographies are good, but people also need role models of love that they can see and hear in their own home and in their own church. One of the greatest needs in our churches today is for living examples of Christlike love. A church is blessed indeed if it has leaders who model love for God and love for people. Such leaders delight to worship and sing praises to God. They pray faithfully for the people, visit the sick, care for the needy, evangelize, teach God’s Word, and sacrifice their time and money generously for the sake of others.
Church leaders set the tone for the church community. If local church leaders love, the people will love. If they are thoughtful, kind, and caring, the people will be thoughtful, kind, and caring. If they raise the awareness of people’s needs and establish organizational structures through which people can serve needy members (Acts 6:1-7), the people will respond. If leaders create an environment of love and hold themselves and others accountable to love, the people will flourish spiritually and many will imitate their example. Even other churches may see and be spurred on to greater love (1 Thess. 1:7).
Most Christians long for authentic, living, breathing examples of Christian love. When I asked one Christian woman who is known for her loving spirit and selfless service to others how she had learned to love, she told me it was by watching a body of loving church shepherds care for the congregation in which she was raised. You can be that example to those around you. You may not be a gifted preacher or scholar, but you can have a significant impact on people as you live and model Christlike love. You can be a change agent who initiates the growth of love in your church. “There are many who preach Christ,” said Chapman, “but not many who live Christ. My great aim will be to live Christ.” This can be your aim in life also.
We experience the tenderness of love initially from our parents, so parents (and grandparents) have the greatest opportunities to teach and model God’s love to impressionable children and adolescents. Our parents’ love or lack of love has an enormous impact on our mental, emotional, and spiritual development. Studies have shown the tragic effects on children raised in orphanages where the children are left in cribs all day with little love, touch, affection, or interaction. These children develop lifelong physical, emotional, and mental problems.
In the same way that love matters to healthy human development, it also matters to healthy family and church development. If Christian parents love their children with Christlike love, they will, in most cases, produce children who are mentally, emotionally, and spiritually healthy. Paul, for example, reminds Timothy of the spiritual influence his grandmother Lois and mother Eunice had upon his faith and ministry (2 Tim 1:5; 3:15).
If Christian parents love, serve, and reach out to people, they will, in most cases, produce children who love, serve, and reach out to help others. Many of the leaders and workers in churches today had parents who sacrificially loved and served God’s people. These leaders and workers saw loving service modeled in their homes by their parents and have followed that example. A number of missionaries on the field today are products of missionary parents. In a few cases, fourth and fifth generation missionaries are serving today.
If we want to teach and cultivate love in our churches, begin in the home, with your children and grandchildren. God wants you to be an example of his love to your family. People around you desperately need living examples of Christian love, and you can be that example. Love is the first fruit the Holy Spirit wants to produce and grow in your life (Gal. 5:22). Don’t resist his gentle prodding; respond in obedience to the Spirit’s leading to love as Christ loved. As Paul said to Timothy, “set the believers an example in…love” (1 Tim. 4:12)
Pulpit Magazine – Jul 2013