Do any of you remember seeing a cast member of Seinfeld who declared stoutly that they simply could not love a certain someone? And why? Well, maybe because she eats her peas one at a time. Or because a pretty girl likes a certain Dockers commercial. And of course there can never be a relationship with someone who cuts her candy bar and eats just one bite at a time. How can we love someone like that?
Well, in response to Jerry, Elaine, George, and Kramer, I’d like to suggest that we think about this verse found in Philippians 1:9: And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight.
I have a marvelous war story to tell you today, and it comes from our Adventist archives. Desmond Doss was getting ready for battle on a Saturday morning, May 5, 1945, in the war-torn Ryukyu Islands of Okinawa. It was his Sabbath, of course, but he knew he needed to serve his fellow man, so PFC Desmond Doss was up on the Maeda Escarpment along with 155 men of Company B, under the command of Lieutenant Gornto. The Americans were armed with TNT explosives, planning to knock out pillboxes and Japanese trenches. And it was a day of fierce fighting, so bad the U.S. forces finally decided to retreat.
Now Private Doss, ironically, was a conscientious objector, a religious kid who wouldn’t bear arms. But while the others retreated, scrambling down the cliff to the safety below, he stayed up on top of the hill raked by enemy fire. He didn’t have a gun or mortar shells, but he did have his medical kit; he was the official medic for all of Company B. While the bullets whizzed by on both sides and explosions were going off everywhere, this Christian young man dragged one wounded soldier and then another one over to the edge of the cliff and lowered him with a rope.
He spent a total of five hours, defying all the odds, and just kept rescuing soldiers, one at a time. It was hard to count amid the carnage, but his officers finally estimated that he had singlehandedly rescued 75 GIs.
There’s more irony. You see, for months the battalion had kind of ragged on Desmond Doss. He was a Christian; he wouldn’t carry a gun. He must be some kind of goofball or nut. He was an Adventist who insisted on getting Saturdays off each week so he could go to church. So his tentmates decided he must also be a goldbricker, a lazy bum whose religion conveniently let him off the hook. More than once, Private Doss had a boot thrown at his head while saying evening prayers by the side of his bunk. But now, with death in the air and booby traps and bullets all around, these 75 men were awfully glad to see the skinny kid with a Red Cross armband crawling over to rescue them.
Some of you have seen the classic photo recording the proud moment when young Desmond Doss, on October 12, 1945, stood in the Rose Garden of the White House and received the highest award there is, the Congressional Medal of Honor from President Harry S. Truman himself.
This takes us back to the Apostle Paul, writing to his many friends, all the new Christians living in Philippi. We’ve been studying together the idea that God wants to take infant believers to maturity, full-fledged discipleship.
Now we read about the kind of self-sacrificing love found in this Desmond Doss story. “And this is my prayer, that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight.”
It’s an interesting concept: that love and knowledge and insight all go together. For most of us, and most of time, we think of love as a heart thing, not a head thing. We love someone or something—like our cigarettes or our hobbies—despite our knowledge. Our romantic love is swayed by emotion or our feelings or a person’s perfume. Like the Beatles once sang: “I saw her standing there.” And before long, we’re in love . . . but knowledge and insight have very little to do with it.
Here Paul proposes a love that abounds in knowledge, made deeper by insight. Listen to the same words as expressed in the Clear Word paraphrase: “I pray that the love you have for one another will become deeper and stronger and that it will be intelligent and morally discriminating.”
Let’s think about the most obvious example: our marriages. Yes, we all do grow in married love beyond the honeymoon flutters, the giddiness of stolen kisses and those first glances across the room. But what a good challenge to have intelligent love, a love made wise and morally discriminating by a person’s growing spiritual maturity.
All of us who are married can think of times when our behavior or our thoughtless words caused a barrier between us, created an atmosphere of resentment. Maybe you behave in a way where your spouse now has a right to be mad. She has a right to feed you a bad supper, crawling with brussel sprouts. Sometimes even in a good Christian relationship, a moment of anger or jealousy will hit. Even a saint can get his feelings hurt. You can get discouraged, even angry, waiting for your spouse to do their share. According to the shallow, get-even thinking of the world, when the breezes of temporary emotion blow, it’s a time to retaliate. It’s time for a feud. It’s time to lash out or maybe even move out. Or push your partner out and change all the locks.
But hold on. The Bible, right here, calls for a person to have intelligent love. A love made stronger by knowledge. If you stop and think about what you know regarding the Bible’s challenges and promises, you know a little something about forgiveness. You know God’s promise of a new beginning. You know that God can make you a better person and also your mate. You know you made a spiritual promise back on your wedding day that had something in it about “for better or for worse” and also “as long as we both shall live.”
The same principle holds true regarding the spiritual principle of health, lifestyle, and the many day-by-day decisions we’ve got to make there. I might love a certain food more than I should. I might want to indulge a favorite recreation that takes too much time. But Paul prays here that I might experience the kind of love that is morally discriminating.
What does that mean? That means I want to honor God with my body, with my diet, with how I spend my leisure time. I can still love that occasional bowl of ice cream and enjoy that occasional sporting event. It’s important for the godliest person here to relax and rejuvenate their batteries. But I seek God’s wisdom in knowing how much is enough and how much is too much. It’s an intelligent love, and it’s the Bible and the Holy Spirit which give me the ability to love in a morally discriminating way.
Let’s return in our minds to the island of Okinawa and that blood-bathed Saturday morning. For Desmond Doss, this was his Sabbath, his day of worship. He didn’t want to be out there in the battlefield with the blood and the carnage and the cries of the dying; he’d rather be with Dorothy in a nice, quiet, safe Adventist church. But all around him were wounded men. These were the same men who had tossed curses his way, called him “mama’s boy” and a whole lot worse when he refused to pick up a gun. These were the same men who had almost threatened him when he asked for his weekly passes to get to church. Should he love these men now? Or just leave them? No one would have said a word if he’d just scrambled down the ropes himself.
But this tired, scared principled young man had a love not just made better by his Bible knowledge—it was created entirely from it. From a human point of view, he wouldn’t have loved these fellow soldiers at all! Zero! They’d tormented him and gone out of their way to let him know HE wasn’t much loved. And out on the battlefield, “love your neighbor” is always tempered by “every man for himself” and “save your own skin first.”
But PFC Doss had a love that was created out of the Bible verse in John 15:13: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” It was a love forged out of Second Peter 3:9: “The Lord . . . [does not want] anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” It was a love fortified and made stronger, better, more mature, by Romans chapter 12, where it says: “Love your enemy. . . . Bless those who persecute you. . . . Do not repay anyone evil for evil. . . . Do not take revenge. . . . Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
It’s a powerful war story, and it certainly gives a different slant even to that word “war.” But even more instructive and inspiring is this powerful picture of intelligent love, a love that is given GRIP and tenacity and maturity by Bible wisdom. All through the rest of this wonderful first chapter in Philippians, we see how intelligent love, wise love, heavenly love makes all the difference.
Let’s go to another hardship scenario and think about the fact that Paul did a lot of this writing from prison. Here in this political season (2008), many of us have heard how Senator John McCain spent five-and-a-half years imprisoned in North Vietnam. Normally a person would lash out, curse and complain, scream at the guards, rattle his tin cup against the bars in daily protest, and sink into an abyss of self-pity. But not Paul. He has a mature love; he’s able to rejoice and also reach out in love to his captors.
Listen to what he writes in verses 15-17: It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. . . . [They] preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains.
I know that Christians preachers and media ministries sometimes feel a twinge of frustration whenever someone else takes the spotlight that we’d like to occupy. “Man, that’s our territory!” we grumble. “What is that person doing hogging the limelight?” And Paul had to watch from the sidelines as misguided fakes and charlatans made a lucrative living pretending to preach about Jesus. Some of these smooth preachers’ doctrines are probably wrong. At least a few of them are in it just for the money; they’re the first Rolls Royce televangelists! And here Paul is helplessly languishing in prison while they build up their direct-mail mailing lists and their Web sites.
All right. But here’s his conclusion in verse 18: But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this, I rejoice. “It’s all right,” he says calmly. “Even if these guys are ripoff artists, Jesus is still being preached! Christ isn’t going to be defeated! I can continue to rejoice, because, despite all the problems, the word is still going out!” That’s intelligent love; that’s mature rejoicing through adversity.
At the very end of this chapter, in verse 27, Paul gives an additional challenge: “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.”
It’s only through this miracle of intelligent love that we can do that. That was the only way Desmond Doss did it on that miracle Saturday on the cliff. We can only behave in a worthy manner, acting and living according to the blueprint, when we have inside of us the living Word which makes our love wise and worthy and lasting and forever. Shall we pray?
Lord Jesus, our human love is often so shallow, depending on our emotions and our selfish desires. Please help us to find in our Bibles and in the principles of Your kingdom a new kind of love which is mature, lasting, and christlike. We ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.
Submitted by David B. Smith. Better Sermons © 2005-2009. Click here for usage guidelines.