Sunday Night Live Sermons
Essentials For The Twenty-First Century
I am not an agreeable counsellor. I have taught counselling skills for more than 25 years to well over 2,000 people. I have done the courses and attended lectures in psychology. I have counselled hundreds of people every year for forty-five years, but I am not an agreeable counsellor. An agreeable counsellor listens and believes whatever you say without allowing his personal feelings to intrude, without judging and understands without his own personal prejudices showing. I am not an agreeable counsellor. I want to be directive. I want to confront people on certain issues where they have deeply hurt others, following the lines of Gestalt Therapy.
I want to tell people how they can overcome their problems which a counsellor should not do. And there are people I dislike and I probably will tell them so. I am not agreeable when counselling a man who batters his wife, who regularly punches her in the face and demands she be servile. I find it hard to counsel that inadequate, cowardly man who is so violent. I want to challenge him to take a swing at me. I am not agreeable at counselling the woman who is blatantly racist. I end up telling her how unchristian and stupid she is. I was not agreeable counselling a man who came to me recently to ask if I would speak about his good character in court. Without my testimony he would go to jail. He was a paedophile. He told me he had sexually assaulted 20 children. He said it was all in good fun and everyone had a good time. I was prejudiced and judgemental. I told him I hoped he would go to jail and stay there for many years. I would never give him a character reference in court. I know the damage such people cause in innocent, powerless children.
He was hurt. He asked me how I could call myself a Christian if I refused to love him and help him. I told him I would direct my concern and compassion towards the children he had abused and I would support his wife and children while he was in jail. I did arrange for him to have some basic legal support because even the guilty deserve to be advised on their legal position. The solicitor I arranged to support his court case came to me with the prosecution’s evidence: the man abused more than 170 children. He penetrated little girls with a ballpoint pen and other implements. He was a monster! He deserved imprisonment. Yet I remember someone rebuking me when I said I did not like him one bit: “You call yourself a minister and you do not like him?” “Yes, I am a minister and I do not like people like him. I find it difficult to counsel them. I do not like what they have done. Because I am a Christian I have deep concern for them and the people they have hurt, but I don’t like them.” Just because Christians love others, does not mean we like them. Many people have wrong ideas about loving and liking.
1. LOVE IS FUNDAMENTAL TO CHRISTIANITY.
To love others lies at the heart of the teaching of Jesus and His apostles. Matthew 22:37–8 Jesus said: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’” Ever since, the world has been taught the significance of love. For love is fundamental to Christian belief and behaviour. Christian love makes sense of living.
Christian love is therapeutic and makes for balanced living. “Love is the medicine for the sickness of the world,” said Dr Karl Menninger. He tells his staff that the most important thing they can offer a patient is love. For when people learn to give and receive love, they can recover from most illness, whether physical or emotional. Dr. Menninger likes to repeat: “Love cures. It cures those who give it and it cures those who receive it.” This is the secret behind the amazing success of the Menninger Clinic in Kansas, USA. Other psychologists and psychiatrists agree with Dr Menninger. Dr Erich Fromm believes loneliness and the inability to love are underlying causes of emotional disorders. Dr Paul Tournier talks of the need to remove our masks and to discover and be discovered by others. For love can bring healing. It is our inability to love and be loved, that makes us ill.
Honesty and sharing aid healing. Dr Carl Rogers, founder of Rogerian nondirective counselling, says he can quickly train psychotherapists who come to his University who have “love”. He says there is no other word to describe the quality that makes a good counsellor. Without “love” no amount of training can make a person effective. The evidence mounts in medicine and psychology regarding the therapeutic need for love to be given and received. From every hand the evidence is that love is essential. Professor Alfred Adler, the great psychiatrist, said “all human failures are the result of a lack of love”. People unable to sustain a love relationship are ten times more likely to be chronically ill and five times more likely to be psychiatrically ill.
The command of Jesus that we love one another seems to be a human imperative rather than an option. Unmarried people are more likely to be lonely, hence more likely to fall ill. Loneliness takes its toll of their health. We need love to stay alive. Premature death comes more frequently to those who have not married, or those whose marriages have broken down. Unmarried men are more likely to die of tuberculosis, cirrhosis of the liver, pneumonia, syphilis, accidental fire or explosion, murder, accidental falls, suicide or car accidents. These sorts of deaths are particularly likely among divorced men. Good health needs love. Good marriages do marvels far more than most of us married people ever give credit to our spouses. The right love conquers all.
2. THE RIGHT KIND OF LOVE IS A MATTER OF WILL.
I made an important discovery about the right kind of love. That discovery was liberating. It is that we are called to love people, but not necessarily to like them. I thought you had to like people to love them. But C.S.Lewis in one of his books opened my eyes. There are many people that we may not like because they are evil, vicious or cruel. We do not like a violent man. Nor a racist woman. Nor an abusive man. We do not like that behaviour nor like those people. And Jesus never asked us to like them. He asked us to love them. Love means to have a deep care and concern for their welfare
and future. That is not a matter of feeling but of will. We have debased the Christian concept of love and turned it into an emotional feeling, instead of a spiritual concern. I can care about people I do not like. That is simply a matter of the will, not of how I may feel.
3. PAUL WAS THE APOSTLE OF CARING LOVE.
Jesus taught this deep concern for people and their welfare, even for the people with whom He became so very angry. His great Apostle Paul described that deep concern we should have for others. In tennis love means nothing, but in Christianity it means everything. Paul emphasises three main points:
LOVE ALONE COUNTS. It is the ultimate quality. Not eloquence, though for the Greeks correct speech and rhetoric were regarded highly. But Paul says 1 Corinthians 13:1 “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” Many speak about the problems of our world, but deep concern does something. Neither does education count. The Greeks valued education, but Paul says: 13:2 “If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” Neither do endowments count. Acts of public generosity counted in Greek culture, but Paul says v3 “If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.” Even dying a martyr is not enough if you are not motivated by deep concern.
LOVE ALONE TRIUMPHS. Love is the deep caring for another’s good, and ultimately this attitude towards others wins! Lest you not understand, Paul describes this deep Christian caring in fifteen ways. This love has both negative and positive aspects. Paul describes 8 negatives and 7 positive aspects.
The negatives simply distinguish deep Christian concern from other kinds of behaviour. The Christian’s deep concern: v4–6 “does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.” This distinguishes deep Christian concern from friendship, from family commitment, from sexual lust — all words Paul rejected. Christian love triumphs.
LOVE ALONE ENDURES. That is the message of the seven positives. Paul writes: v4 “Love is patient, love is kind. v7–8 “It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” Our deep concern persists over everything else. A Christian’s deep concern is complete, permanent and supreme. Everything else is transient, partial, limited. Deep Christian concern alone endures. Paul ends, v13 “now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” This deep, abiding concern Christians show in dealing with other people is the basis of our relationships. This is an attitude we must take with us into the twentyfirst century. Only that kind of attitude will enable this world to recover from the wars and divisions we have seen in the twentieth century. Only this kind of attitude will hold families strong amid all the forces that would divide us. There will still be a need for faith and hope as these are essentials to please an eternal God. But love is the greatest of these three graces because through faith love unites the Christian personally to God. Listen to these words from the Bible:
1 John 4:10–19 “This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and His love is made complete in us. We have seen and testify that the Father has sent His Son to be the Saviour of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us. We love because he first loved us.”
Romans 5:5 “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. God demonstrates His own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Through God’s love we are enabled to love one another. John 13:34–35”A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Love communicates grace and identifies us as children of God. The love of God, seen in the death of Jesus upon the Cross is powerful medicine for the sickness of the world. It is the only remedy for the terminal disease in each heart! That deep concern is the most practical way to relate with people, even people you do not like. It was God’s deep concern or you, that led Him to heal your deepest need, forgive your worst sin and enable your reconciliation with Himself. That deep, abiding, Christian, Godly concern is what we must take into the twentyfirst century, to enable us to relate to others.
- “Living with chronic illness: why should I go on?” Christian Century, May 3, 1989.
- “The Bible Exposition Commentary” — Warren W. Wiersbe. Victor Books, 1989
- “The Epistle To The Romans “ Leon Morris. Eerdmans Publishing Co. 1988.