No man will make a great leader who wants to do it all himself or get all the credit for doing it.
Becoming a leader was a great challenge for me. My first responsibility as a leader was as class president. My second was fatherhood, my third was team leader on several campaigns abroad while serving my country. I was blessed to have been raised by a leader in my home. LT. Cornell Johnny Pratt United States Army. Under his grooming I found excuses to rebel. It was uncomfortable learning how to follow not knowing in doing so I was being prepared for great responsibility.
“There’s an ego looking for a place to inflate,” my mom would whisper to me as my siblings entered the room, a prophecy that unfortunately soon proved itself to be true. “The long, dark corridor of life narrows at the end./ And those whose ego grow too tall will have to learn to bend.” I miss my mom who ultimately was the stronger vessel in our home due to all the humility she showed while ministering her faith in Christ to a Islamic domineered home.
I. A place of leadership is a place of honor
Imagine the honor of it. From what may have been two million people 12 men were chosen. One dozen, from two million. Surely, the crowd roared for each name called, the way sports fans cheer for their heroes, the way political rallies yell the name of their candidate. They had a cheering base of more than 150,000 to a man, and the sound must have thundered across the valley.
Moses called them, one by one. Shammua, Shaphat, Caleb, Igal, Hoshea (or Joshua), Palti, Gaddiel, Gaddi, Ammiel, Sethur, Nahbi, Geuel!
Their heads held high, these 12 men chosen as leaders for God’s people, were honored for a lifetime of work, a lifetime of integrity, and a lifetime of courage. The applause must have been sweet to many of them, if not every one of them.
We already know the rest of the story, how 10 out of the 12 would fail miserably in their leadership role. Only Caleb and Joshua would lead with courage and God-led conviction. Before we get to the failures of the 10, however, focus on the truth of the honor. It is a great honor to be chosen as a leader among God’s people.
When Paul briefed Timothy about the qualifications of deacons, he said – If a man serves well as a deacon, he earns an “excellent standing.” (1Timothy 3:13) The phrase for “excellent standing” means, “A step above.” The leader, who would be a deacon or a pastor in a church, is not exalted over the Christians he serves. Instead, he is simply pulled out of the group, like these 12 leaders in the wilderness, and placed in the spotlight. He is given a small step stool so all who are near can see his example. It is as if God says of this leader: “Here’s the example of what it means to be a Christian. Here’s one we will use as a model.”
There is great honor in being selected as a model for God’s people. The danger arrives when a leader wants all of the honor, without taking all of the responsibility.
II. A place of leadership is a place of great responsibility
This is the cost of leadership. This is where the great leaders earn their place in history.
For the generation of God’s people on the edge of the Promised Land, there was never a bigger crisis of leadership than when their 12 leaders were given the responsibility of spying out the land. They were to seek out the land, come back with the reports, and then issue the challenge of faith to all the people. Two would be up to the challenge, but 10 would wilt under the heavy load of responsibility.
Be careful to note this: All 12 of these leaders were courageous, and all 12 took courageous action in the beginning. They slipped into the land of the enemy, managed to live for some time in a dangerous place, and they even stole some prime produce from land owners who were surely protecting their crops. All 12 came home safely, and the entire dozen completed the first portion of the task given them. They had been good spies and had full reports of what they had seen.
However, the responsibility of this group was not simply to spy out the land. They were not chosen to be geologists, real estate agents, or agricultural surveyors. They were chosen to be leaders of God’s people, charged with giving God’s people God’s message. Whatever godly leaders are charged to do, eventually their responsibility is to be faith-driven leaders.
That’s where this group failed. Instead of reporting faith, ten of these leaders would eventually report of the fear they felt. Only two gave the challenge of moving forward in faith. When the people sided with fear instead of faith, their opportunity to live inside the Promised Land vanished.
A place of leadership is a place of tremendous responsibility, for a leader’s faith is on public display. The responsibility of a leader to live in that faith is a great weight.
III. An effective leader does not let problems stop the promise
When the people listened to the ten frightened spies who made a case for fear, instead of the two leaders calling them toward faith, God wanted to destroy them all. Had God done so, the entire exodus from Egypt would have been wasted. The promise of the Promised Land would be delayed by centuries. The nation of God’s people would be destroyed, and God’s reputation, therefore, would be greatly damaged. This was no small problem.
Moses made his best case before God, desperately trying to ward off a deadly, righteous anger.
Amazingly, God relented. Instead of destroying the nation, God only destroyed a generation. Forty years later, Joshua and Caleb would lead the children and grandchildren of this experience into the Promised Land. They would do so only because Moses did his best to not let a problem stop the promise.
If you’re going to lead, you’d better comprehend the truth. There will always be problems along the way. The problems come, and the problems go. Moses might put it this way: Today they complain about manna, tomorrow they’ll complain about quail. One day it’s a problem of thirst, the next it’s a problem of idolatry.
Leaders learn that problems look very large in the present, and very small from the distance. Effective leaders simply refuse to let something that looks so large block out the big picture. If Moses had forgotten the priceless value of God’s promise, his people would have died in the dessert. An effective leader simply cannot let a temporary problem – no matter how large – block the promise of the goal.
Colonel George Washington Goethals, the man responsible for the completion of the Panama Canal, had stifling problems with the climate and the geography of Central America. Driving rains, incredible heat, and deadly disease were problems that never left his task. But his biggest challenge was the growing criticism back home from those who predicted he’d never finish the project. The voices of the critics appeared to be the biggest problem of all.
Finally, a colleague asked him, “Aren’t you going to answer these critics?”
“In time,” answered Geothals.
“When?” his partner asked.
“When the canal is finished.”
IV. The most important quality a leader must have is faith
Moses was humble, he was compassionate, he was consistent. But most of all, he was a man of great faith. The writer of Hebrews said the greatest mark of Moses was that he believed God, and that he led God’s people by faith. History’s summary of this great leader’s life was that he was a man of faith. (see Hebrews 11:23-29)
Moses had been a consistent man of faith among a people who had been consistently faithless. When God listed his complaints about the people, He said they had tested him ten times (see Numbers 14:22). How could people who had escaped Egypt, walked safely across the dry floor of the Red Sea, and eaten miraculous food doubt that God was with them? Had they not seen the Tabernacle, and the fire that glowed over it at night? Could they not remember the plagues that struck Egypt at Moses’ command?
Don’t be too hard on the people surrounding Moses. The disciples of Jesus had trouble walking across the bridge of faith, even after the Resurrection!
The followers around Jesus who were about to see the Lord ascend into heaven had seen the healing of countless sick people, the restoring of sight to the blind, and the raising of the dead. They had seen the crucifixion and the resurrection, and had reflected on the prophecy concerning the Messiah for more than a month. They had been with their resurrected Lord on multiple occasions, and could see him at that very moment. But just before Jesus gave his last instructions, Matthew records these words:
“The 11 disciples traveled to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had directed them. When they saw Him, they worshiped, but some doubted.” Matt 28:16-17 (HCSB) It seems unbelievable. How could they see all that they had seen, and still doubt the power of God?
The end truth is that faith is a tough quality to have, and that if a person is going to lead God’s people, he or she simply cannot lead without faith. You must believe, without doubting. You must be able to believe, and then act confidently upon those beliefs. Perhaps that is why Jesus looked at those struggling, doubting disciples, and then simply said … “Now, go into all the world …” Jesus called his leaders to a faith-based action, just as he does today. You may still have some doubts, but the instruction still comes, loud and clear: “Go!”
What a gift God has given us in the stories of the Bible. While we might be squarely in the middle of a crisis, a problem, or a great challenge, the record of God’s people before us reminds us of the course of action we must take, and of the great reward for the leader who holds fast to the challenge of faith.
When God issued his judgment against the people, he also issued his rewards:
Joshua had the privilege of leading a new generation across the Jordan River, through the crumbling walls of Jericho, and into the Promised Land. Caleb lived a long, vibrant life, and saw the passion of his faith greatly rewarded. Both men outlived every grumbler, complainer, and naysayer around them. They became the only two names we remember from the original 12 leaders who spied out the land. The rewards of leadership are priceless.
Question: “Why did Jesus ask Peter ‘Do you love me?’ three times?”
Answer: Jesus asked Peter three times,“Do you love me?” as recorded in John 21:15–17. This occurred when Jesus was having breakfast with His disciples soon after His resurrection. Jesus used this opportunity to encourage and exhort Peter about his upcoming responsibilities and even to prophesy the manner in which Peter will die. By asking Peter, “Do you love me?” three times, Jesus was emphasizing the importance of Peter’s love and unswerving obedience to his Lord as necessary for his future ministry.
Jesus begins by questioning Peter about His love for Him, and each time Peter answers in the affirmative, Jesus follows up with the command for Peter to feed His sheep. His meaning is that, if Peter truly loves his Master, he is to shepherd and care for those who belong to Christ. His words reveal Peter’s role as the leader of the new Church, the Body of Christ there in Jerusalem that will be responsible for spreading the gospel after Jesus’ ascension into heaven.
It is possible that by His repeated question Jesus is subtly reminding Peter of his three denials. There’s no doubt those denials and how he felt when Jesus turned to look at him at that moment were seared deeply into Peter’s mind (Luke 22:54–62). It wasn’t lost on Peter that Jesus repeated His question to him three times, just as Peter previously denied Him three times.
There is also an interesting contrast when you look at the Greek words for “love” used in John 21:15–17. When Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love me?” in John 21:15–16, He used the Greek word agape, which refers to unconditional love. Both times, Peter responded with “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you,” using the Greek word phileo, which refers more to a brotherly/friendship type of love. It seems that Jesus is trying to get Peter to understand that he must love Jesus unconditionally in order to be the leader God is calling him to be. The third time Jesus asks, “Do you love me?” in John 21:17, He uses the word phileo, and Peter again responds with “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you,” again using phileo. The point in the different Greek words for “love” seems to be that Jesus was stretching Peter to move him from phileo love to agape love.
Whatever the reason for the three-fold “do you love me?” question, Jesus was impressing on Peter how important his new role of tending the flock of Christ’s followers would be. When someone repeats instructions to us over and over, we quickly understand that it’s extremely important for us to heed them. Jesus wanted to make sure Peter understood this vital charge He was tasking him with and the ultimate reason for it, to follow Him and glorify God (John 21:19).
My wife and I were in a pickle two years ago, in a very negative environment and it was very toxic. Our number one goal was to get out of that mind-set and place. We are now ready to heal and get on with our life, to start anew. Yet there are no positives just yet to build on. It takes tenacity and strength to move past a negative stage in life, and we’ve successfully done so. And we are very proud about ourselves.
Where does one begin with nothing at all? A common question many of us ask ourselves is this – How do I get from where I am to where I want to be if there is nothing to build on in the first place?
For example, you want to start a business, but you have no experience in business development. You want to shift to a different career field, but you don’t have knowledge in the area. You want to be the top in what you do but you have no know-how. You want to let go of your past and start on a new journey, but there is nothing for you to start off with. It’s like a catch 22 situation. Like a potter who needs his tools and clay, you can’t create something if there is nothing. And if you can’t create something, you can’t get anything.
Everyone Starts From Nothing
The first thing I want to point out is that everyone starts from nothing. Rich people, poor people, successful people, non-successful people, top achievers, non-achievers – all these people start from a place where they had nothing. Forget about family background, because these aren’t determinants of success – there are as many successful people in this world from poor families as there are from rich families. Let’s focus on one’s personal achievements and knowledge, because these are arguably what one uses to build future success. Let’s take a look at Phillip Buchanon.
Phillip Buchanon is sharing what it’s truly like to become rich — and targeted — in the NFL.
I don’t want to do anything and everything. I want to be a brand that, every time I leverage my name, I want people to feel sure that it’s going to be something good – so whether it be my movies, my perfume, my restaurant, my musical, it’ll be good work, good food and good everything.
Buchanon, a former first-round NFL Draft pick of the Oakland Raiders, played nine years in the NFL and experienced it all; family turning on him, friends stealing from him, and even a robbery that nearly took his life.
But Buchanon survived, and decided that he wants to help the next NFL rookies, who will hopefully avoid all the pitfalls.
This week, Buchanon released his first book, “New Money: Staying Rich“, an in-depth, and at times very scary account of what it’s like to be a professional athlete. Buchanon discusses everything that comes with life in the NFL, and most importantly, what it’s like dealing with the pressures of family members and friends who think that just because you made it big, they did, too.
“When I got to the NFL, I was all dollars and no sense,” “I want to make sure the next generation of athletes doesn’t make the same mistakes.”
The book is the latest venture for Buchanon, who also wrote a comic book on the same subject, and who is continuing to do whatever he can to educate a younger generation. As a matter of fact, he thinks more people in similar situations should also write books.
“I encourage everyone to do stuff like this,” he said. “More people who’ve had success in all fields should be writing these kinds of books.”
Here is Buchanon, discussing how his relationship changed with his mother, once he made it big:
Soon after the draft, she told me that I owed her a million dollars for raising me for the past 18 years. Well, that was news to me. If my mother taught me anything, it’s that this is the most desperate demand that a parent can make on a child. The covenant of having a child is simply that you give your child everything possible, and they owe you nothing beyond a normal amount of love and respect. There is no financial arrangement. If you get old and infirm, and your kids are around to help you out at that point, then you’re lucky. It’s not written in the social contract. The mothers and fathers of the world have been rearing their kids for generations — in every culture imaginable — and it’s a one-way street when it comes to money. If they pay you back someday, and you really are going through hard times, then that’s just a bonus, a gratuity for being a great mother or father.
My mother had said my debt to her was a million dollars before, but this time she was more serious than ever. If you do the math, one million dollars divided by 18 years of raising me was approximately $55,555.55 a year in restitution. Except, at age 17 I decided to move out of my mom’s house, choosing to live with a close friend and his father because I no longer felt secure in my own home. Why, you ask? Because my mother let people come in and out of our house and take what they wanted. So technically, even if we went by her logic, I only owed her $944,444.44 for her services over 17 years.
Is it petty that I’m knocking a year off her calculation? The fact that I have written this paragraph enrages me, merely because I’m entertaining the thought that her argument had any logic at all. Maybe if I had become super rich, I could have written the check and been done with it. But, like blackmail, there is never any end, is there?
Please do not think I’m being ungrateful or cheap. I had already followed the unwritten rule of any NFL New Money Millionaire: I bought my mother a house. I also advised her to sell the old one I grew up in when I put a new roof over her head, but my mother had other plans. Instead of selling my childhood home, she decided to rent it to my aunt. So I had to finance my mother, the budding landlord. Only this wasn’t an investment. It was an encumbrance, because I didn’t share in my mother’s profit-making scheme. For the next seven years, I continued to make mortgage and maintenance payments on both homes.
I learned from this expensive lesson that big-ticket purchases for family members, such as houses and cars, should be evaluated with the following questions in mind: If you were unable to make payments for these purchases, would that particular family member be able to make the payments? Twenty years from now, who will be paying the upkeep on the house? You or your family member?
hen there’s the respect part of the equation. Are these family members respecting the gifts you give? For years, my mother left the lights on in the house without a thought as to how much I paid for electricity. This is a corollary of an old cliche that I’ve heard many times, that your kids won’t turn out the lights when leaving a room until they grow up and have to pay their own utility bills. It used to refer to kids, but in my case it fit right in as applicable to my family of Adult Abusers.
Anger built up inside me as my mother collected rent from our old house and never offered a cent to offset the expenses. It got to a point that I had to kick her boyfriend out. She accused me of messing up her life. What she didn’t see was that her boyfriend was pimping her and me out. He wasn’t bringing anything to the table, just taking.
When I told my mother she would have to take care of the maintenance after I paid off the mortgage on her house, she told me she would not be able to afford the upkeep on a house that big. In fact, she made it seem like it was my fault for picking out a house that big. In part, she was right. I bought her a house with my luxury taste and no real wisdom behind it. It was an uneducated purchase. Many NFL players choose a wiser route: they buy a reasonably sized home, pay for it in cash, keep it in their name, but gift it to their mother.
I tried giving my mother that option the second time around. I offered to buy her a comfortable house in my name for her to live in. This way she wouldn’t have to take out any loans or put my little sister and brothers in a situation where the roof over their heads could be taken away. She’d move out of the house that was too big for her and into this new one. Instead, she opted for $15,000 cash. She told me that if the new house didn’t have space for two living room sets, she didn’t want it.
Here’s what she really meant: She did not want to be embarrassed by downsizing from the home I’d originally bought for her. She was stubborn (a trait I get from her) and decided to take the cash despite my advice. I told her that if I gave her the $15,000, not to come calling when she got into trouble. Needless to say, she ended up calling. And, what’s worse, she lost the house.
I found it ironic that my mother thought she could manage my finances better than I could, yet she could not provide proof of making any money from the schemes she had set up. One day I let my anger get the better of me and asked her, “If you’re so smart, why haven’t you put together a plan to make money off of the money that you are saving from the expenses you aren’t paying?” The year I became a New Money Millionaire, I took every expense off of her hands except for food and fun money. This led her to challenge me to a money-making contest. “Oh, so you think you Phillip f*****g Buchanon? Since you think you’re smarter than your mother, we’re going to have a competition,” she said. “You give me a certain amount of money and you budget yourself a certain amount, and we will see who makes the most money from it.” I laughed, giving her credit for another attempt (a creative one at that), but she tried to fool me again. She even played upon my weaknesses because she knew that I rarely turned down a competition. Of course, I never went for this little scheme because I knew there was no way I could win. My mother would never win either because she’d simply go through the cash in a hurry. Then she’d need another clever idea to get another check. I wasn’t going to make the same mistake again.
I eventually learned how to deal with the numerous “family emergencies.” Early on, I found myself in too many situations where some relative would come to me and claim they needed something fixed. So I’d write them a check; of course, the problem never got fixed. The check, however, always got cashed. By trying to fix a problem, I created an additional one for myself.
I finally learned how to cope with this type of request. I paid the bills directly to the company or handyman doing the work. It was amazing to see how my family responded when I told them I would take care of it. They tried to lay the heaviest guilt number on me. I can still hear their muttering tones with tinges of disgust: “Nah, man, I’m cool. Forget about it.” This response meant they knew I was on to what they were up to. I had caught them red-handed, committing an act of adult abuse.
It took hundreds of thousands of dollars, far more than the cost of an Ivy League education, to learn this lesson. I can at least attribute it to my mother. It’s true; mothers have a way of making you learn the most important lessons in life.
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If any one loves the world, love for the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world passes away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides for ever.
The text begins with a command—it’s the only command in the text and therefore probably the main point. Verse 15a: “Do not love the world or the things in the world.” Everything else in the text is an argument, or incentive, for why we should not love the world.
Love for the World Pushes Out Love for the Father
The first incentive John gives is that “if any one loves the world, love for the Father is not in him” (verse 15b). In other words the reason you shouldn’t love the world is that you can’t love the world and God at the same time. Love for the world pushes out love for God, and love for God pushes out love for the world.
As Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Matthew 6:24). So don’t love the world, because that would put you in the class with the God-haters whether you think you are or not. “If any one loves the world, love for the Father is not in him.” That’s the first reason John gives not to love the world.
Then in verse 16 comes the support and explanation of that first argument. The reason love for the world pushes out love for God is that “all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, is not of the Father but is of the world.” Leave out those three phrases in the middle of verse 16 and it would read like this: The reason love for the world excludes love for God is that all that is in the world is not of God. In other words it’s just empty talk to say that you love God if you love what is not of God.
John could have rested his case at the end of verse 16. Don’t love the world because love for the world can’t coexist with love for God. But he doesn’t rest his case here. He adds two more arguments—two more incentives not to love the world.
The World Is Passing Away and Its Lusts
First, in verse 17a he says, “And the world passes away, and the lust of it.” Nobody buys stock in a company that is sure to go bankrupt. Nobody sets up house in a sinking ship. No reasonable person would lay up treasure where moth and rust destroy and thieves break in and steal, would they? The world is passing away! To set your heart on it is only asking for heartache and misery in the end.
That’s not all: not only is the world passing away, but also the lusts of it. If you share the desires of the world, you will pass away. You will not only lose your treasure. You will lose your life. If you love the world, it will pass away and take you with it. “The world passes away and the lust of it.”
If You Do the Will of the Father, You Will Live Forever
Second, in verse 17b John says, “But he who does the will of God abides for ever.” The opposite of loving the world is not only loving the Father (verse 15), but also doing the will of the Father (verse 17). And that connection is not hard to understand. Jesus said, “If you love me you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). John said in 1 John 5:3, “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.” So loving the Father in verse 15 and doing the will of God in verse 17 are not really separate things.
If you love God, you will love what he wills. It is empty talk to say I love God but I don’t love what God loves. So John is saying in verse 17, “If you love the world, you will perish with the world, but if you don’t love the world but love God, you will do his will and live with him for ever.”
One Commandment and Three Arguments
In summary, then, the text contains one commandment and three arguments, or incentives. The commandment is, “Don’t love the world or the things in the world.” The first incentive is that if you love the world, you don’t love God. The second incentive is that if you love the world, you will perish with the world. And the third incentive is that if you love God instead of the world, you will live with God forever.
Let’s meditate for a few moments on these final two incentives and especially how they relate to saving faith.
Saving Faith and Love for God
We have been well taught that we are saved by FAITH! “BELIEVE on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved!” (Acts 16:31). But we have not been as well taught what saving faith is. For example, how often do we discuss the relationship between trusting Christ and loving Christ. Can you trust him savingly and not love him? Evidently John doesn’t think so, because the issue in this text is whether you love God or love the world, and the result is whether you die with the world or have eternal life with God. But John knows that eternal life comes through faith.
John says in 5:13, “I write this to you who BELIEVE in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.” So eternal life does depend on believing in the Christ. But what is this “believing”? If we are courteous, and let John speak for himself, his letter fills out what he means. When he says that not loving the world but loving God so much that we do his will is what leads to eternal life, we learn that saving faith and love for God are inseparable. Both are the path to eternal life because they are the same path.
In John 5:42–44 Jesus confronts the Jewish leaders who do not believe on him with these words, “I know that you have not the love of God within you. I have come in my Father’s name and you do not receive me . . . How can you believe, who receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?” In other words the reason they do not receive or believe on Jesus is that they do not love God. They love the world—the glory of men—not the glory of God. So Jesus taught his apostles that where there is no love for God, there can be no saving faith. (See John 3:18–19.)
One Way of Salvation
That’s why John, when he comes to write his letter, can take “love for God” and “trust in Christ”, and treat them as one way of salvation. Look how he does this in 5:3–4. “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.” In other words it is our love for God that overcomes the obstacles of disobedience and makes the commandments of God a joy rather than a burden. “Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her” (Genesis 29:20). Love for God makes his service a joy and overcomes the forces of disobedience.
But then look at verse 4. Here he says the same thing but speaks of faith instead of love. “For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that overcomes the world, our faith.” It is FAITH that overcomes the world—it is faith that conquers disobedience and renders the commandments of God a joy rather than a burden.
What shall we say, then, concerning love for God and faith in Christ? The path of victory that overcomes the world and leads to eternal life is the one path of faith toward Christ and love for God. Saving faith is part of love for God and love for God is part of saving faith. There are not two ways to heaven. There is one narrow way—the way of faith which loves God and the way of love which trusts God.
Paul and James in Agreement
This is why not only John but also Paul and James hold out the promises of life only to those who love God:
- Romans 8:28, “All things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to his purpose.”
- 1 Corinthians 2:9, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived . . . God has prepared for those who love him.”
- 1 Corinthians 16:22, “If any one has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed!”
- James 2:5, “Has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which he has promised to those who love him?” (See 2 Timothy 4:8; James 1:12.)
So you can see what John is trying to do for us in verse 17 of our text. He is trying to show us that loving the Father and freeing ourselves from the love of the world is not optional. It is not icing on the cake of saving faith. It is a matter of eternal life and eternal death. It is number one on life’s agenda. Nothing in all the world is more important than experiencing love for God in your heart. This is the first and great commandment, Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Matthew 22:36–40).
Two Possibilities If You Don’t Feel Much Love for God
Perhaps even as I say this, some of you are saying, “I don’t feel very much love for God right now.” There are two possible reasons for that.
1. You Are Not Born Again
One is the possibility that you are not born again. It is possible that you are a cultural Christian or a hereditary Christian. You may have developed patterns of religious talk and behavior because it is socially advantageous or because your parents or peers talked and acted this way. But you may never have experienced a deep change in your nature by the power of the Holy Spirit which gave birth to a stream of new love for God.
Henry Martyn, the brilliant missionary and translator of the last century, looked at his conversion four years afterward and said, “The work is real. I can no more doubt it than I can my own existence. The whole current of my desires is altered, I am walking quite another way, though I am incessantly stumbling in that way.”
So it could be that this has never happened to you and that your religion is all outward form and not inner experience of love for God. Paul said in 2 Timothy 3:1–5, “In the last days there will come times of stress. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money . . . lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding the form of religion but denying the power of it.” In other words we may expect that there will be numerous religious church-goers who know nothing of the new birth and genuine heartfelt love for God.
If you are among that number you should direct your heart to Christ and seek him earnestly in his Word. Peter said that we are born again through the living and abiding Word of God. So if you want to be born again, you should pour over the Word of God. You should cry to Christ that he open your eyes to know the Father (Matthew 11:27). You should plead with God to take out your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh that you might love God with all your heart and all your soul (Deuteronomy 30:6). You should forsake all known sins and give yourself to all the means of grace until the light dawns in your heart and Christ shines so bright in his power and love that he is irresistibly attractive and you fall in worship and love before him. And do not quit the pursuit until you have been born into new life. “You will seek me and find me; when you seek me with all your heart.”
2. Your Love Has Grown Cool and Weak
The other possibility is that you have indeed been born again, but that your love for God has simply grown cool and weak. You’ve tasted what it means to have a heart for God. You can recall how once you felt that to know him was better than anything the world could offer. But this morning the wick is smoldering and the reed is bruised.
The prescription for your ailment is not much different than the prescription for seeking new birth in the first place. The same Spirit that begets life, also nourishes life. The same Word that ignites the fire of love, also rekindles love. The same Christ who once brought you out of darkness into his marvelous light, can take away the long dark night of your soul. So yield yourself to the Holy Spirit. Immerse yourself in the Word of God. Cry out to Christ for a new vision of the glory of his grace. Don’t be content with lukewarmness. Pursue a new passion for Christ.
And whichever of these groups you are in—or if you are here full of love to God this morning—let the remaining admonitions of this text stir you up to count everything as rubbish compared to the surpassing value of knowing Christ.
Love for God and Love for the World Cannot Coexist
According to verse 15 in our text, if your love for God is cool this morning it’s because love for the world has begun to take over your heart and choke your love for God. The love of the world and the love of the Father cannot coexist. And every heart loves something. The very essence of our nature is desire. There is nobody in this room who doesn’t want something. At the center of our heart is a spring of longing. But that’s an awkward image isn’t it? A longing is a craving, a desire, a want, a need. But these aren’t very well described as a spring. A spring of needs is a contradiction in terms. Springs bubble up; needs suck in. A longing is more like a drain—or a vacuum. At the center of our heart is a sucking drain—like at the bottom of a swimming pool. We are endlessly thirsty. But we can’t suck water and air at the same time.
If you try to satisfy your longing by sucking in the air of the world, you will not be able to drink the water of heaven. And eventually your motor will burn up because you were made to pump the water of God not the air of the world.
The “World” We Are Not to Love
But now what is this “world” that we are not to love? Verse 16 says it is characterized by three things: “lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.” The word for “life” does not refer to the state of being alive but rather to the things in the world that make life possible. For example, in 3:17 it is translated “goods”—”Any one who has this world’s GOODS and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” Jesus uses the word in Mark 12:44 when he says that the poor widow in the temple “put in everything that she had, her whole LIVING.”
So the phrase “pride of life” means pride in what you possess—the things you have. Now we can see how the three descriptions of the world relate to each other. The first two—lust of the flesh and lust of the eyes—refer to desires for what we don’t have. And the third—the pride of life—refers to the pride in what we do have. The world is driven by these two things: passion for pleasure and pride in possessions.
And the passion for pleasure is described in two ways because there are two large classes of pleasure—physical and aesthetic. There is the lust of the flesh—bodily pleasures; and the lust of the eyes—aesthetic and intellectual pleasures. John is not naïve. He knows that the world is not limited to Hennepin Avenue.
There is the lust of the gutter and the lust of the gourmet. There is the lust for hard rock and the lust for high Rachmaninoff. There is the lust of Penthouse and the lust of Picasso. There is the lust of the Orpheum and the lust of the Ordway. This book ends with the ringing command: “Little children, KEEP YOURSELVES FROM IDOLS!”—whether they are crude or whether they are cultured.
Anything in this world that is not God can rob your heart of the love of God. Anything that is not God can draw your heart away from God. If you don’t have it, it can fill you with passion to get it. If you get it, it can fill you with pride that you’ve got it.
But against the pride of life the apostle says, “What do you have that you did not receive? And if you received it, why do you boast as though it were not a gift . . . Let him who boasts boast in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 4:7; 1:31). So let there be no boasting in possessions. They are all gods.
And against the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes the psalmist says, “Whom have I in heaven but thee? And there is nothing upon earth that I desire besides thee.” Therefore let us desire nothing but God. Possess nothing but God; pursue nothing but God.
What Shall We Do with Our Desires?
But someone will ask, “Should I not desire dinner? Should I not desire a job? Should I not desire a spouse? Should I not desire the child in my womb? Should I not desire a healthy body or a good night’s rest or the morning sun or a great book or an evening with friends?”
And the answer is no—unless it is a desire for GOD! Do you desire dinner because you desire God? Do you want a job because in it you will discover God and love God? Do you long for a spouse because you are hungry for God and hope to see him and love him in your partner? Do you desire the child and the healthy body and the good night’s rest and the morning sun and the great book and the evening with friends for God’s sake? Do you have an eye for God in everything you desire? (See Colossians 3:17; 1 Corinthians 10:31.)
St. Augustine captured the heart of our text when he prayed to the Father and said, “He loves thee too little who loves anything together with thee which he loves not for thy sake.”
Therefore, brothers and sisters, do not love the world or the things in the world. If any one love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. But if the love of the Father is in you, if you love God with all your heart, then every room you enter will be a temple of love to God, all your work will be a sacrifice of love to God, every meal will be a banquet of love with God, every song will be an overture of love to God.
And if there is any desire of the flesh or any desire of the eyes that is not also a desire for God, then we will put it out of our lives, so that we can say with John and with the psalmist,
Whom have I in heaven but thee,
and on earth there is nothing
that I desire besides thee.
Facing tragedy, or life storms of any kind, can be extremely difficult. But in the midst of heartache and pain, you can find the hope and courage to go on. With God’s help, the help of caring family members and friends, and the encouragement found in the Bible and other resources, you will receive the necessary strength to overcome.
You may be thinking, I don’t know how I could ever get through this. Or you may be battling powerful feelings of despair, suffering, confusion, fear, worry, and even anger. These are all normal responses to tragedy.
But as difficult as this life storm may be, you are not alone. God is with you always. He loves you, and cares about what is going on in your life. He hears your cries and sees your pain. Moreover, He understands.
The Bible says, “And it was necessary for Jesus to be like us, his brothers, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God, a Priest who would be both merciful to us and faithful to God … For since He himself has now been through suffering … He knows what it is like when we suffer … and He is wonderfully able to help us” (Hebrews 2:17-18 TLB). Whatever we endure, His care is certain, His love is unfailing, and His promises are secure.
You Are Not Alone
For he himself has said, “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5c)
On the morning of October 29, 2012, hundreds of thousands of people in portions of the Caribbean and the Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern United States faced their worst nightmare … “Superstorm Sandy.” This post-tropical cyclone with hurricane-force winds and its unusual merge with a frontal system affected 24 states, including the entire eastern seaboard from Florida to Maine and west across the Appalachian Mountains to Michigan and Wisconsin, leaving death, injuries, and utter destruction in its wake. Families everywhere, especially in hard hit New Jersey and New York, were jolted out of normalcy and the comfort and security of the homes and communities they once knew. They were thrust suddenly and unwillingly into the darkness and despair of loss.
If you and your family have ever been affected by a natural disaster like this, you may feel as if you’ve been abandoned by God. However, if trouble has hit your life in some other disaster or form of tragedy—the death of a loved one, a dreaded medical diagnosis, the loss of home and property, or the loss of your job, you are experiencing your own superstorm. You may feel as if your whole world has been turned upside down and wonder how you can possibly survive the loss. In times like these, you can feel very much alone.
But you are not alone. In the midst of unspeakable sorrow, God is with you. Even if you do not feel Him near, God is there. He promises to never leave you alone. Therefore, wherever you are, God is. He is with you before, during, and after the storm, never losing sight of you, or your suffering. Even as you ponder how you will begin picking up the pieces of your life, God is there … loving you beyond understanding, holding you up, and making a way where it seems there is no way. Reach out for Him today. He is a very present help in times of trouble (see Psalm 46:1).
Taking back your life …
- Psalm 139:7-10 says, “I can never be lost to Your Spirit! I can never get away from my God! If I go up to heaven, You are there; if I go down to the place of the dead, You are there. If I ride the morning winds to the farthest oceans, even there Your hand will guide me, Your strength will support me” (TLB). What assurance can you find in these verses of Scripture when you are feeling as if God has forgotten you?
- In Psalm 23, David pictures the Lord as the Great Shepherd who provides for and protects His sheep (His children). In verse 4, he says “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.” A shepherd uses his rod to protect his sheep (by using it to beat off wild beasts), and he uses his staff to guide them. What comfort can you find in knowing that God will protect and guide you during this difficult time?
- In addition to needing God’s presence in our lives, we also need each other. Talk with your family or friends about the way you are feeling, so that you can share one another’s burdens, and not feel so alone in your suffering.