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Teddy Bear Hugs from Above

From the series He Holds Me Forever

Teddy bears are only for kids, right? Wrong. No matter how old, or how tough we are, there’s a secret place in our soul that longs to love and be loved, just for who we are. Theresa Ingram talks about reflecting the heart of God as we reach out and love one another.

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Message Transcript

What this lesson is about, is loving one another.

And I was trying to come up with a title for this message. And all I could think of, every time I was thinking of loving one another was teddy bears. That’s the only picture that kept coming to my mind. And you know, when a child is sick or when they are sad, many times they are given a teddy bear. There’s just something about how cuddly they are that brings comfort and helps a child feel loved. And so, I thought a teddy bear would be a good picture for us to remember of loving one another.

We reflect the heart of God when we love one another. It’s a reflection of His heart. And in the book of 1 John, we find out what it means to love one another as children of God. The book of 1 John tells us how it happens. How does it work? Why are we to love one another?

And so, the first thing that we see here is that we are commanded to love one another. It’s a command given to us by God. In 1 John 2:7 and 8, he says, “Dear friends, I am not writing a new commandment for it is an old one you have always had right from the beginning. This commandment to love one another is the same message you heard before, yet, it is also new. This commandment is true in Christ and is true among you, because the darkness is disappearing, and the true light is already shining.”

Now, in the Old Testament, in Leviticus 19:18, we find the commandment to love one another that was given by God to Moses for the people of Israel. And it says, “Never seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.” It was the command given a long time ago by Moses to the people of Israel. And so, John is saying here it’s an old commandment. It’s one that you have always had. And, yet, it is new. It is new because Jesus has now come as an example of what true love really is, of what it looks like. He is an example of what it looks like to love others. And it’s a love that goes beyond just loving those who love you.

It’s a love like Christ’s love. It’s a love that is self-sacrificing. It’s a love that is self-giving. It’s a servanthood kind of love. It’s the kind of love that reaches out to our enemies and loves those who even persecute us.

And Jesus says in Matthew 5:43 to 48, “You have heard that the law of Moses says, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say, love your enemies; pray for those who persecute you. In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For He gives His sunlight to both the evil and the good and He sends rain on the just and on the unjust too. If you love only those who love you, what good is that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.”

And you see, it’s that radical kind of love. It’s not the kind of love that we can stir up within ourselves, but it’s that divine kind of love that comes about as Christ is at home in our hearts. And God says to us that we are to love one another. It’s a commandment that He has given us. It’s not an option.

The second thing is our love for one another is proof that we belong to Him, that we belong to Christ. If we say we belong to Christ and we continually hate someone else, then we need to do some real soul searching to see if we are really in the family of God or not.

In 1 John 2:9 through 11 it says, “Anyone who says, ‘I am in the light,’ but rejects another Christian is still in darkness. But anyone who loves other Christians is walking in the light and does not cause anyone to stumble. Those who reject other Christians are wandering in spiritual darkness and don’t know where they are going, for the darkness has made them blind.”
And then 1 John 3:10, “So now, we can tell who are children of God and who are children of the devil. Anyone who does not obey God’s commands and does not love other Christians does not belong to God.”

1 John 3:14, “If we love other Christians, it proves that we have passed from death to eternal life. But a person who doesn’t love them is still dead.” You see, the love that we have for our brothers and sisters in Christ is evidence, it’s proof that we belong to God. It’s proof! It shows that we have eternal life.

The love expressed through the body of Christ is the greatest testimony of the reality of Jesus that we will ever have in our lives. Jesus says that, “By this shall all men know that you are My disciples when you have love for one another.”

And this is not saying, though, even though we are to love other believers, we are to love one another, it’s not saying that we never get angry with someone. Because we do! And it’s not saying that we never dislike the way a person acts.

And it’s not saying that we have to put up with things that are wrong or damaging to the body of Christ that someone is doing. And it’s not saying that we feel connection with everybody, with every person that we meet, because we won’t. Or we like being around everybody, because I don’t know about you, but I don’t! I don’t connect with every person.

But what it is saying here is that this love is an attitude of the heart and that we have the ability to love others because of this new life that is in us, that has been given to us when we invited Christ into our lives, when the Holy Spirit comes at that moment of salvation and dwells within us, He takes up residence in us for the rest of our earthly lives. And then we begin to take on the nature of God. We become like Christ. And then we allow the Spirit to have control and we begin to love other people with that radical love, with that God-empowered love that is different than the world has to give.

It’s the kind of love that enables us to love our enemies. You know, it enables us to love the people who persecute us. It allows us to forgive the people who mistreat us. It allows us to love others and not expect anything in return. And it’s a love that wants what is best for other people, not matter what the cost may be.

There was a little poem that I read, a short, little thing. It said, “He drew a circle that shut me out – heretic rebel, a thing to flout. But love and I had the wit to win: we drew a circle that took Him in!” You see, it’s a radical kind of love.

The next thing here is that God’s love is poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. 1 John 4:7 to 13, “Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is born of God and knows God. But anyone who does not, love does not know God, for God is love. God showed how much He loved us by sending His only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through Him. This is real love: it is not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. No one has ever seen God; but if we love each other, God lives in us and His love has been brought to full expression through us and God has given us His Spirit as proof that we live in Him and He in us.” His Spirit is proof and He pours out His love through the indwelling of His Holy Spirit in our lives.

In Romans 5:5 it says, “For we know how dearly God loves us, because He has given us His Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with His love.

Now, the Holy Spirit fills us and this means, in other words, that He floods our hearts. He floods us with His love. And as we surrender our lives to the Holy Spirit’s control, we will begin to experience that love and to know and understand it more and understand more the greatness of God’s love for us.

And the Scripture says that we are flooded with it and have you ever seen a flood? Well, where I grew up in West Virginia, there was a large creek that ran right in front of our house. And it was also beside the main road that went by. And every spring, nearly every spring when the storms would come, this stream would begin to rise. And we would watch it as it would many times come to the place that it was overflowing its banks and was in the street. And sometimes even a part of the little town of Smithville was under water.

But the flood as we watched it, it’s a powerful thing. It’s a powerful flow. It’s a strong force. And we would just watch in fascination at all the things that would go down the road that were taken in the force of this flood. Every tree limb, every piece of loose debris that was laying around anywhere floated down the road in front of our house.

And so, we stood there with excitement and watched what was going to float down the road in front of our house. But the force of a flood is a powerful thing. It impacts its surroundings. It changes the way things look. And you can’t stop it, it’s so powerful.

When God’s love is poured out in our hearts, when our hearts are flooded with the love of God, you can’t help but love other people. That’s just the way it is, because the force is so strong that it changes the way things look and it changes how we look at people.

It’s a powerful thing. And it changes other people’s lives as we love them that way. God is the source of our love. We can’t make it happen on our own, but it happens as we grow and spend time with God and His Word and we have fellowship with Him.

Well, next, we are to love others as Christ loved us. 1 John 3:16, “We know what real love is because Christ gave up His life for us and so we ought also to give up our lives for our Christian friends.”

Now, one thing I felt was really wonderful about Jesus’ life is that He modeled for us how to practically love people. He did it in a very practical way. And He gave us such a wonderful example to follow.

He loved sacrificially, but His love was always looking out what was best for other people. And He was turning water into wine at a wedding ceremony. His love was practical. It was looking out for what is best. It was maybe healing a blind man or taking time to hold a child on His lap. Or having concern over the people that were following Him and listening to His teaching, that they were hungry. And He took time to feed them. His love was practical. And it always reached out and it always touched other people’s lives where they needed it the most.

And if we ever have a decision to make, if we are thinking about whether I should love that person and how could I do it? We need to ask the question: how would Jesus love that person? And I think it’ll become really clear how we are to love them.

And we aren’t called upon much, as this passage says, to give up our lives for someone else. We don’t do that much today. But we love as Jesus loved when we sacrifice our time, when we give of our energy, when we share our possessions, when we use our abilities to serve other people, when we reach out to others in need then we are giving our lives for our friends.

Well, love for others is expressed by actions, not just by words. 1 John 3:17 and 18, “But if one of you has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need and refuses to help, how can God’s love be in that person? Dear children, let us stop just saying we love each other, let us really show it by our actions.” Let us really show it.

Love is a verb. It’s an action word.

It responds to others’ needs when we have the resources to do so. The Scripture says, “Love not in word, neither in tongue but in deed and in truth.” It’s an action word.

D.L. Moody who is the founder of Moody Bible Institute used to say that every Bible should be bound in shoe-leather. And I thought that was a really wonderful thing to think about, because it’s easy to say we love others. It’s easy to say how concerned we are and to talk about it. But it’s when we actually put shoe leather to it that God’s love is truly expressed through our lives.

I’m not the kind of person that gets on an airplane and shares my faith. Chip does that all the time. I get so upset with him. Every time he comes home, he has this wild story about how he shared his faith and led someone to Christ on the airplane. Those things never happen to me. And I kind of like to get on the plane and get out my book and that’s not Christ like though.

But this time of all times, I was sitting with this young man and he was in the Navy. And he was very friendly, and we got to talk and we talked the whole way. And the more I talked, the more he wanted to know about the Lord. And I was amazed. I couldn’t believe it. And I would say a few words and he would ask me another question. And then I would say a few more and he would ask me something else. And I just recently mailed him some material. He wanted to know more. And it was the most exciting thing.

And we just had the neatest time. But if I hadn’t responded to the Lord and loved the way He wanted me to, that would never have happened.

My mom had a heart attack and that was followed by open-heart surgery. And so, she was in the hospital clear on the other side of the country and my dad was there with her and they don’t have a lot of family and friends around them to be supportive of them. And she was in critical condition, but she was stable at the time. And my dad was staying there at the hospital and sleeping in a chair for two weeks, because he was so far away from home and he didn’t have any place to go.

And so, it was a difficult situation for them and at the same time, I was really overwhelmed with things that were going on in my own life. And we, right when that happened, we had a trip planned to Atlanta and we were supposed to meet the people at Walk Thru and supposed to look for a house. And we just had all these things going on. And I was preparing for the retreat. And just so many things happening in my life.

And so, I was struggling with, What do I do? How do I respond in this situation? And every day, I would call my dad and I would talk to him and I would tell him that I loved him. And I did this for a few days, but after a week, I just realized that those words felt so empty to me. They just didn’t feel like real love anymore. And so, I prayed, and I asked the Lord what He wanted me to do and He showed me that I needed to go.

And so, I talked that over with Chip and we were in Atlanta and I left Atlanta and went to see my mom and dad. And I put shoe-leather to God’s truth, to my love for them. And I was so amazed at what God did. I let go of all the things that I needed to do, I didn’t find a house, and I didn’t do a lot of other things that I was supposed to do. But I did what God wanted me to do. And that was to love as He would love them. And God opened all kinds of doors.

And I got to share with my parents and open up the Scriptures with them like I never have in my life. And God did a great work.
And so, how do we love by our actions? Well, love for others is a choice that we make. It’s not always a feeling. 1 John 3:23 says, “And this is His commandment: we must believe in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another just as He commanded us.” Because it’s a commandment, then it’s a choice that we have to make.

There’s no condition in this passage of the “who” we are to show love to. It just says, “One another.” It doesn’t say to love those who are always kind to us, and it doesn’t say to love those who you like to be with, or to love those who do things just the way you want them to do it, or to love when that love is reciprocated. But it says, “Love one another.” It’s a command.

And anytime God gives us a command, we always know that He gives us all that we need to be able to obey it. So, if we choose to love then God will help us love other people.

I remember a neighbor that I had once who was very, very hard to love. She just about drove me nuts. And she complained all the time. And she borrowed things all the time. And she would drop by my house just so frequently to use something. And I got so irritated with this lady. And I thought, She is just so robbing me of my privacy. And I didn’t know what to do. She was right next door. I was supposed to be a Christian. Supposed to be loving people!

So, first, I did the spiritual thing. I prayed. I prayed that she would move. I really did. And then I did the human thing. The selfish thing. I planted a great big hedge between my house and her house. And I thought if I couldn’t get rid of her, at least I didn’t have to look at her all the time.

See, Chip really does think I’m nuts sometimes. He sees, he sees the real me. You just see, you see that soft-spoken, you know, those things you say.

Well, but then I did the Christlike thing. And I baked her some cookies and I went to see her, and I took an interest in her kids and I listened to her struggles and there came a time when God gave me the opportunity, in love, to be able to confront her with some of the issues that were causing our relationship to be so hard. And God changed her heart.

And it was amazing to me. We became such good friends. And we are to this day. And so, God will change our hearts when we make that choice to begin to love others the way Christ loves us. And it’s a choice we make to choose to show respect and love for anyone that God brings into our lives, even if we don’t feel a lot of affection for that person.

And God’s desire is so great that we love one another, that He gives us, in 1 Corinthians 13, a very clear definition of what it looks like to be lived out in our lives every day.

1 Corinthians 13 defines divine love, agape love, and how it should be expressed in lives of believers. And so, what we are going to do is I am going to read these passages that you have here and I’m going to define them, and ask you a few questions. And then I’d like you to do just a personal inventory and just open your hearts and ask God to show you how you’re doing in this area. How are you doing? Are we loving others as Christ loves us? Is there a person in your life that God would want you to make the choice to love, even though you don’t feel like loving that person?

Is there any way that you need to put shoe-leather to your words and love other people? Are you living in fellowship with God so His Spirit can freely pour out God’s love through your life so you can love others in the way that He wants you to?

1 Corinthians 13. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience. It’s a fruit of the Holy Spirit. The Greek word for patience in this passage means taking a long time to boil. And so, we need to ask ourselves: are we patient with others when they irritate us? Or do we quickly express our anger to them? Do we quickly express our displeasure? Do we have a short fuse when things don’t go our way?

When a circumstance is out of control, am I impatient with the Lord or do I wait for Him to act? Do I think before I speak and choose words that would build up another, instead of tear them down? Do I patiently endure the faults and weaknesses of others? Do I do that, recognizing God’s sovereignty in my own life and how patient He has been with me in my faults and weaknesses? Am I patient?

Well, God’s love acts kindly. Ephesians 4:32 says, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ has forgiven you.” Love acts kindly because God has shown His unfailing kindness to us. That’s how He has treated us.

In Nehemiah 9:17 it says, “Thou art a God of forgiveness, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness.” He shows His kindness to us. Well, do I graciously reach out to others, even if there is a possibility or I’m afraid that my offer might be rejected? Do I reach out to others? Do I have an eye out for the needs of others? Take the initiative to help them?

Kindness doesn’t rush in front of another car to get the best parking space. Kindness clears another’s plate from the table. Kindness mows the neighbor’s lawn. Kindness looks the checkout person in the eye and says, “Thank you,” and appreciates their service. So, do I treat others in a kind and gracious way, in a way that they would want, uh,

the way that I would want to be treated?

Okay, love does not act jealously. Proverbs 14:30 says, “A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.” A definition for envy is feelings of discontent and ill will because of another’s advantages or possessions. It’s resentful dislike of another who has something that I desire. Jealousy, envy. It’s a destructive thing. It’s destructive in our lives, because when we are envious of others, it’s showing that we are self-centered, that we are not trusting in God. We are telling Him He’s not good to us, or He would have given us that too.

We are not thankful for what God has given us. When we are envious, we are telling God He has given us a raw deal. We are living for things of this world, and not the things of God.

But love, on the other hand, rejoices when God blesses another person’s life. Can I rejoice at her marriage? Can I rejoice when she has a baby? Can I rejoice with her successful ministry, what God is doing through her life? Can I rejoice at the new home she got to move into? The new house she has? At the career she has? How God has given her so much? You see, love is not envious, but rejoices with the blessings and the successes of other people.

Love does not act boastful or proud. Philippians 2:5 to 8 says, “Your attitude should be the same that Christ Jesus had. Though He was God, He did not demand and cling to His rights as God. He made Himself nothing. He took the humble position of a slave and appeared in human form, and in human form He obediently humbled Himself, even further by dying a criminal’s death on the cross.”
You see, love is not focused on making sure that everyone notices how much I know, how spiritual I am, how important I am, and all the sacrifices I made. You see, love is not focused on itself. It doesn’t brag about itself, but it looks to build up others. It looks at others.

Love takes, willingly takes the backseat in the service so someone else can have the front seat. Max Lucado says, “How can I love others if my eyes are only on me? How can I point to God if I am pointing to me? And worse still, how can someone see God if I am fanning my own tail feathers?” You see, love does not act boastful or proud.

Well, love does not act rudely. Matthew 5:16, “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and praise your Father who is in heaven.” To be rude means to tear apart. It means to act discourteously, to act unmannerly. And God says that we should act in such a way that people will see Christ. That they should be drawn to Him through our actions.

Our actions should be courteous, they should be polite, they shouldn’t be improper. Our actions shouldn’t humiliate others. Our actions should treat others with dignity and with respect.

Well, do we treat the Jehovah’s Witness at our door with respect? Or do we rudely get rid of them? Do we just try to get rid of them as fast as we can? Or do we treat them with respect, that they were made in God’s image and He loves them? When you make an appointment with someone, do you try to show up on time? Do you constantly interrupt when others are speaking? Do you respect others’ property? Do you return what you borrowed from your neighbor or your friend?

Do you treat all people, with dignity and respect? Are you gracious and respectful in your own home, with your own family? With your own children? Love does not act rudely.

Love does not demand its own way. Philippians 2:3 and 4, “Don’t be selfish, don’t live to make a good impression on others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourself. Don’t think only about your own affairs, but be interested in others too and what they are doing.”

You see, love doesn’t always look out for number one, but it’s always considering what is best for someone else. Now, as this passage says, we do need to look out, we do need to take care of our own affairs, but it says, “Don’t only look out for yourselves.” But think about what others need. Love means giving up having our own way for the sake of someone else, if that’s what is best for them.

So, do I take time when I am involved in something to think about others’ needs, or am I too busy and focused on myself and making sure that everything works out in a way that is just best for me?

Love is not easily angered. James 1:19, “But let everyone be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger.” See, anger, anger is a God-given emotion that we experience when something doesn’t go the way we want it to.

Or someone responds to us in a way that is hurtful, or in a way that makes us feel rejected. And to be angry is not a sin. It’s not sin. But how we respond to that anger can become a sin, and love on the other hand, has a long fuse. It has a long fuse. It’s not irritable. It’s not touchy, especially over little and unimportant things. It’s not touchy.

Love takes the emotion of anger, which is a good thing in some instances but it takes it and instead of flying off the handle with the situation, as we do sometimes, it runs to God to find help. And it runs to God to deal with the situation.

Love forgives over and over and over again and never stops forgiving. Has someone hurt you? Has someone disappointed you? Have you forgiven them? Do you get easily irritated over little things that don’t go your way, and take it out on your family? Do you defend being irritable, because, well, “It’s just the way I am. It’s just my makeup. It’s just the way I am. I’m just that kind of person.”

But love is not easily angered. Love is not irritable. Love keeps no record of when it has been wronged. Isaiah 43:24, “I, even I, am the one who wipes out your transgressions for My own sake and I will not remember your sins.” Love doesn’t keep a notebook, tallying up the score of people who have disappointed you. It doesn’t keep a notebook. It doesn’t keep a record of the mistakes or sins that others have committed in the past. And it doesn’t keep bringing up other people’s failures.

God doesn’t keep a big scoreboard in heaven on you, and all the things that you have done to mess up. Because He says when we confess our sins, that He forgives us totally. And then He says He remembers them no more. And it’s not because He can’t remember them, it’s because He chooses not to. He doesn’t want to. And so, we need to give people a chance to change and to grow, to overcome and to become victorious. Love keeps no record of wrongs.

Is there any person in your life that you keep reminding them of how they blew it? You just keep bringing it up and you keep reminding them. And you won’t give them the grace to change. Is there anyone you’re doing that to? You keep bringing up their past mistakes and shoving it in their face. Love keeps no record of wrongs.

Love is never glad about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Psalm 119:128, “Therefore, I esteem right all thy precepts concerning everything. I hate every false way.”

You see, love never takes pleasure when somebody else falls. Love never asks somebody to do something that’s wrong. Love never causes a brother or sister to stumble. Love always wants others to follow Christ, to follow God’s truth in their life.

And so, are we living in such a way that our life builds up others in God’s truth and influences them to do what is right? Is that how we are living? Am I modeling Christlike behavior to my children? Am I walking my talk?

Mother Teresa says, “Where does love begin? It begins at home. Let us learn to love in our family, in our own family, we may have very poor people and we do not notice them. We have no time to smile, no time to talk to each other. Let us bring that love, that tenderness into our home and you will see the difference.” You see, we need to start practicing this, first of all, in our homes, and then spread out to every person that we meet.

Love never gives up. “We urge you brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with all men.” Love never gives up on people. God never gives up on us. And He never will. Love keeps on praying. It keeps on encouraging. It keeps on sharing the truth. It keeps on doing whatever is necessary to help others come to know the Lord. To help others want to be like Christ. Love enables a person to grow. It doesn’t disable a person.

And love doesn’t do for someone what they can do for themselves. You see, it’s not love when we enable a person to continue in a lifestyle that’s harmful, or doing things for them that they need to learn to do themselves. Love doesn’t disable. Love enables.

Love encourages the fainthearted to be strong and to walk by faith. And love doesn’t condone unruly behavior, but it brings about discipline in a person’s life, so that Christlikeness would be produced. Love never gives up. Love never gives up.

Love never loses faith in others. “Do not judge, lest you be judged yourself. For in the way you judge, you will be judged and by your standard of measure, it shall be measured to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own.” You see, love thinks the best of others. It gives them the benefit of the doubt. It doesn’t judge other people’s motives. It doesn’t speak in a judgmental way about other people.

Am I quick to judge others? And think about things that are doing wrong or make a judgment of them when I don’t even have all the facts? Love does not judge others. Love says, “I believe in you. I know you can do it.” Love never loses faith.

And love is always hopeful. 2 Corinthians 1:2 and 3 said, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort who comforts us in all our affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”

You see, love instills hope into other people’s lives. Hope for the future. Hope in whatever circumstance that they may find themselves, that God will be their helper, that God will be their comforter, their deliverer.

Have you experienced difficulty in your life in some area and God has helped you through that? Well, love will take that comfort that you have received from God and instill hope in someone else’s life who is going through the same thing.

Maybe there’s a young mom who is struggling with caring for a new baby, and you have been there, and you could encourage her. You can give her hope. Or maybe there’s a teenage daughter who needs to hear about the struggles her mom went through when she was her age and she can say, “Yeah, her mom made it through. I can do that too.” You see, love instills hope into people’s lives. We all need to see that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

And the last thing here in 1 Corinthians 13:7, “Love endures through every circumstance.” Hebrews 10:36, “For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised.” Love endures and it holds on, no matter what difficult circumstances it faces, because of our faith in God and His promises for our life. It holds on. It endures through every circumstance.

It remains steadfast. It remains steadfast. Is there someone in your life that you are just at the end of your rope with, and you have just about had it? You can’t take it anymore with them, with their problems, but God says, “Be patient.” He says, “Persevere and endure,” because nothing is impossible with Him. So, do you have a love that is made in heaven? I hope we are all growing in that way.