Pastor Craig Carter
In our current sermon series, we’re looking at some English words consisting of four letters that help us live as God intends us to live. They are not the type we normally associate with the phrase, “four-letter words. Instead, they are Sacred 4-Letter Words that enable us to be holy as God is holy.
The founder of our Methodist denomination, John Wesley, described holiness as “perfect love.” So the ultimate sacred four-letter word is love. The Apostle Paul went so far as to call it “the greatest” of all things:
Three things will last forever – faith, hope, and love – and the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:13 NLT)
On the surface, this seems like a very easy four-letter word to live by. After all, we all know how to love, right? We love ice cream, we love football, we love our dogs, and for the most part, we love our kids (when they behave as youngsters and move out as young adults!).
But scripture takes the definition of love to another level. It speaks of agape love, which is much more than a mere feeling of affection.
Agape is selfless, unconditional love that always acts in others’ best interest. That sort of love is hard to comprehend and even harder to carry out.
Jesus sets a standard that makes living by this four-letter word even more difficult. When asked what is the most important thing in life, Jesus replied, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind…[and] love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37, 39 NLT)
It’s one thing to love God but it’s another thing altogether to love Him wholeheartedly, giving Him and Him alone our undivided loyalty and attention.
Most of us have no problem loving ourselves and acting in our best interest, but what about our neighbor? What about the “neighbor from hell” who curses us across the fence, threatens to shoot our dog, and badgers us that we’re in violation of the neighborhood covenant? If it’s not enough that Jesus tells us we have to love even that guy, Jesus goes even further in the Sermon on the Mount:
“You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies!” (Matthew 5:43-44a NLT)
That’s an easy requirement to fulfill … until you have an enemy!
The truth is: try as we may, you and I cannot live a life of love that meets God’s standard, but that doesn’t mean we can’t fully embrace this sacred four-letter word. That’s because, as is always the case, God does for us what we cannot do ourselves:
God is love…God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. (1 John 4:8, 12 NIV)
We love because [God] first loved us. (1 John 4:19 NIV)
So a failure to live a life of love is not a failure of the will. It is a failure to be fully loved by the God of love.
When God’s love fills our hearts and lives, we are then compelled to love. If you and I are going to live by this sacred four-letter word we must be captured by God’s love. What that looks like is described by the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans.
What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31-35, 37-39 NIV)
According to Paul, love is a sacred four-letter word because it…
1) CONVINCES us that God is on our side
If God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31b NIV)
Whenever someone genuinely loves us, we know that person is on our side. In fact, we question another’s love when they take a position opposite us.
Knowing that someone is in our corner makes all the difference in the world. And Paul tells us that we never have to question whether or not God is on our side: “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8 ESV)
Paul outlines several ways in which Christ tangibly shows that God is on our side:
He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all… (Romans 8:32a NIV). God’s sacrifice of his Son reveals His commitment to us.
It is God who justifies (Romans 8:33b NIV). If God wasn’t on our side, He wouldn’t have done what was necessary to restore us in into a right relationship with Himself
Christ Jesus, who died – more than that, who was raised to life – is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us (Romans 8:34 NIV). The image is that of a legal proceeding where we, as sinners, stand accused. Rather than condemning or even leaving us on our own, Jesus is portrayed as our defense counsel who pleads the case on our behalf.
Have you ever felt like the whole world is against you? It may well be … but the heavens are not, or, at least, the God of the heavens is not. Through the life, death, and resurrection of His Son Jesus, God the Father has demonstrated that He is with us all the way.
As we experience and receive God’s love through faith in Christ’s saving work, we (like Paul) become convinced that we are not alone in our struggle against the forces that oppose us. And, if God is for us, who can be against us?
The second reason that love is a sacred four-letter word is that it…
2) CONNECTS us to God
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? (Romans 8:35 NIV)
Those are all rhetorical questions and the answers are all “no” (in case you were wondering). According to Paul, love forms the connection between God and us. And when genuine love exists, nothing or no one can keep us from the one we love.
Christian love (of the agape variety) stands the test of time and distance. It’s not like attending a class reunion, which are typically quite awkward, at least initially. On the contrary, fellowship among Christian believers always picks up right where it leaves off. That’s because God’s love connects us with one another and to the Father.
How strong is that connection? Let’s read again from Paul:
For I am convinced that neither life nor death, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God… (Romans 8:38-39 NIV)
It doesn’t matter where you go or what you do (or what anyone else does for that matter), God’s love keeps us connected to Him. God’s love connects to Him and that bond is important for a variety of reasons: life, protection, guidance, blessing, and the power that …
3) Enables us to be CONQUERORS
In all these things [see list in v. 36] we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. (Romans 8:37 NIV)
I don’t know about you, but I like to win. This is true for me when it comes to sports (whether as a player or spectator), games (some favorites include Yahtzee and Cornhole), or in the checkout line.
It probably goes without saying that I don’t always win (and usually don’t). But when I’m around certain people, I feel like a winner.
My wife Lee and I had some dear friends in Montgomery who lived into their 90’s and were married for just a month shy of 70 years. They adopted us early in our marriage and took pride in me when I went into the ministry and ultimately became their pastor. Miss Perdue would tell me repeatedly, “You’re tops in my book!” 🙂
When my kids were little, they thought I was the world’s greatest preacher (what did they know?), a champion golfer, and a world class comedian. Now they know (and tell me) the truth! 😮
Why did I feel like a winner when I was around Miss Perdue or my kids? Because they loved me and propped me up.
Because of God’s love, not only can we feel like winners, we are winners. Through Jesus, the Lord has emerged victorious over any and every enemy. I’m talking about sin, sickness, worldly opposition, even death.
Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:57 NIV)
Through a faith connection with Jesus, we become members of the same winning team. Let me point out that the word that Paul uses is literally, “super-conquerors.”
Notice that Paul does not say God’s love prevents us from facing “all these things.” Instead, he says that we can be conquerors in “all these things.” So no matter what trials and difficulties you and I may face, we can be confident that we will win the victory.
It doesn’t ever need to be said of a believer: “He lost the battle against cancer.” Sometimes the battles are won on this side and sometimes on the other. But wherever we may be, God’s love ensures the victory!
God’s love convinces us that God is on our side, connects us to our Heavenly Father, and enables us to be conquerors in all things.
The popular song is correct: “what the world needs now is love, sweet [God’s] love.” Maybe that’s why Paul prayed this prayer for his friends in Ephesus (that I pray for you):
I pray that…your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. (Ephesians 3:16-19 NLT)
Out of all the things we can ask for, Paul says “love” should be on the top of the list. That’s because love, God’s love, enables you and me to experience “the fullness of life and power that comes from God.”
If you’ve never experienced and received God’s love, I pray that today will be the day.
And how does that happen? I’m glad you asked. It is “the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:39 NIV) So Love Incarnate (in human flesh) is found in God’s Son, Jesus. That love becomes ours by making Jesus our Lord.
There are probably some of us who need to receive God’s love for the very first time. There are others of us who need to receive God’s love in a fresh way (perhaps to meet some challenge we’re now facing).
In either case, it comes by putting our faith in Christ’s saving work and making Jesus our Lord. You can do this wherever you are by praying this version of the sinner’s prayer:
Dear God, I know I have sinned, and I ask for your forgiveness. I believe your Son Jesus died for my sins and rose from the dead. I trust and follow Christ as my Lord and Savior. Fill me with Your Holy Spirit and enable me to live a life of love. This I pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
We would love to know that you’ve decided to embrace God’s love and invite Jesus into your life. Please reach out to me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or send an email to our church staff at email@example.com.