Real Love (part 2)

Do you know how Jesus said that his disciples will be recognized throughout the world? It’s not our views on abortion or homosexuality. It’s not our involvement in a Bible-believing church or our doctrinal stance on salvation. No. What arrests people, what causes us to stand out from the world, is not our convictions, as important as those are—it is love. Jesus commanded us to love God, first and foremost. He commanded us to love one another, to love our neighbors, even to love our enemies. “All people will know that you are my followers,” Jesus said, “if you love each other” (John 13:35). When we can live a life of love, the world sits up and takes notice.

That’s a lot easier said than done, though, isn’t it? I think part of the reason for that is that our vision is obscured; we don’t have a clear picture in our minds of what real love looks like. When asked about the true meaning of love, ten-year-old Ricky answered, “True love is when a guy tells a girl she looks beautiful every day, even if she looks like a truck!” That’s not a bad start, but the Bible gives us an ever better picture of real love for real life. The Bible say, “This is what real love is: It is not our love for God; it is God’s love for us” (1 John 4:10).

Last Sunday, we saw how Jesus is the love of God personified. His words and his actions were laced with love—unbridled, unconditional, unrelenting love. And his love—if you’ll let it—can fill your heart and spill into every part of your life.

Today, I want to continue through the first epistle of John—the epistle of love—because next John tells us about the wrong kind of love. Let’s see what he says:

“Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever.” (1 John 2:15-17 NLT)

In these verses, John tells us that there is a worldly kind of love that is diametrically opposed to the love of God. And he specifically identifies three love-killers that can destroy God’s love in our lives.




The first of these three love-killers comes in the form of carnality. John calls it “a craving for physical pleasure” (vs. 16 NLT). This isn’t love; rather it’s lust. In fact, another translation calls it “the lust of the flesh” (vs. 16 NIV) and it’s a cancer that eats away at real love—corroding and corrupting it.

And frankly, this is a much bigger problem for men than it is for women. It reminds me of this husband and wife who were shopping together in the mall. The wife was browsing through this display of hand soaps and lotions in front of Bath & Body Works, when an attractive younger woman in a short skirt walked by. The husband’s eye’s locked onto her and his head turned as she strolled passed. Without even looking up from the display, as if she had eyes in the back of her head, his wife announces, “I hope it was worth all the trouble you’re in now!”

Seriously though, this craving for physical pleasure can destroy men, marriages, and entire families. Pornography is a $13 billion a year business and it’s everywhere today. One in eight online searches (12.5 %) is for pornography and, in fact, a recent survey showed that 24% of smartphone owners admit to having downloaded pornographic material on their phone. And Christians are not immune to this. Another study showed that 50% of all Christian men and 20% of all Christian women say they are addicted to pornography. And yes, if you attend church weekly, you are 26% less likely to be addicted to pornography than those who don’t, but that’s still a lot of Christians sitting in church every week who struggle with this craving for physical pleasure.

That’s why the Bible speaks very candidly about sex and lust. It says, for instance, “Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth, a lovely deer, a graceful doe. Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight; be intoxicated always in her love” (Proverbs 5:18–19). If a man fills his mind with images of other women’s breasts, he will never be satisfied with his wife’s and his love for her will be corroded.

Of course, some men try to justify themselves by saying that they’re not physically cheating on their wives. So, Jesus wisely taught that sexual sins are committed not only in what we do but also in what we think. For example, Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27–28). That’s exactly what pornography is.

Because porn-use thrives in secrecy, many Christians are trapped in a cycle of sin and shame, thinking that they’re the only ones dealing this craving. But they’re not. Listen, if you are struggling with lust in general and pornography in particular please talk to someone about it. It can destroy your marriage. It can ruin your relationship with God. Carnality—this craving for physical pleasure—can kill God’s love in your life.

The next love-killer John identifies is covetousness.


This is really a craving as well. But rather than craving sex, it’s a craving for stuff. The New Living Translation calls it “a craving for everything we see” (vs. 16 NLT). The God’s Word Translation simply calls it “greed” (vs. 16 GWT).

Rather than loving God or loving people, covetousness is loving things—the love of stuff. Our consumer-driven culture breads covetousness, doesn’t it? We’re living in the most marketed-to culture in history. The average American sees over 3,000 advertisements a day.       A child born today will likely see over a million commercials before age 20. And all these ads are working. It seems like everyone wants something—something bigger, faster, nicer, newer, thinner. They don’t want much, mind you. Just one thing will do. One new job. One new car. One new house. One new spouse. Others want more. Children want more toys and more video games. Teenagers want more freedom and more phones. Grown-ups want more stuff and more money. Someone once said, “The only reason a great many American families don’t own an elephant is that they have never been offered an elephant for a zero down and $99 a month.”

Jesus said to his disciples, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15 ESV). Life is not all about stuff. God meant for us to love people and use things, not the other way around!

Do you struggle with the love of stuff? If you feel better when you have more and worse when you have less, you might have a problem. If joy is just one shopping-spree, one promotion, one prize, or one makeover away, then greed has crept into your heart. If your happiness comes from something you deposit, drive, drink or digest, then face it—covetousness is corrupting God’s love in your life. Thankfully the cure for covetousness is contentment and it comes from knowing that in Jesus, we have so much more than we could ever ask or imagine.




The final love-killer John identifies is conceit.

John describes this last love-killer as “pride in our achievements and possessions” (vs. 16 NLT).  Or “the boastful pride of life” (NASB). The Greek word for “pride” was usually used to describe a conceited man who was trying to impress people with his own importance. It reminds of a pompous-looking deacon who was trying to impress upon a class of boys the importance of living the Christian life. “Why do people call me a Christian?” the man asked. After a moment’s pause, one youngster said, “Maybe it’s because they don’t know you.”

If carnality describes a twisted love of sex and covetousness describes the love of stuff, then conceit describes the love of self. When you love yourself more than anything else, there won’t be any room left in your heart for loving God or loving your neighbor.

The great NBA coach, Pat Riley, knows all about that. In his book The Winner Within, he tells about the 1980 World Champion Los Angeles Lakers. They won the NBA Championship that year, and were recognized as the best basketball team in the world. They began their 1980-1981 season considered likely to win back-to-back championships. But within weeks of the season opener, Magic Johnson tore a cartilage in his knee, and he needed a three month recuperation period. The team and the fans rallied and the remaining players played their hearts out. They determined to make it through that period without losing their rank. They were winning seventy percent of their games when the time began to draw near for Magic Johnson to return to action.

As his return grew closer, the publicity surrounding him increased. During time-outs at the games, the announcer would say, “And don’t forget to mark your calendars for February 27th. Magic Johnson returns to the line-up of the World Champion Los Angels Lakers!” During that announcement, the other players would look up and curse. They’d say, “We’re winning now. What’s so great about Magic Johnson?” As the day approached, fewer and fewer things were said about the players that were putting out so much effort. All the media attention was focused on the one player who hadn’t done anything. Finally the 27th came, and as they clicked through the turnstiles every one of the 17,500 ticket holders was handed a button that said, “The Magic is Back!” At least fifty press photographers crowded onto the floor while the players were introduced. At the mention of his name, the arena rocked with a standing ovation.

Meanwhile, the other players who had carried the team for three months and who were totally ignored, were seething with jealousy, resentment, anger, and envy. They were so resentful that they barely won the game that night against a bottom-of-the-barrel team, and eventually the morale of the entire team collapsed, leading to one of the most disastrous records in Lakers’ history. Riley said, “Because of greed, pettiness, and resentment, we executed one of the greatest falls from grace in NBA history. It was the Disease of Me.”

That’s what conceit is—the disease of me. And many Christians suffer from this disease without even realizing it. In a recent survey of 1,000 church attenders, respondents were asked, “Why does the church exist?” 89% answered the church’s purpose was “to take care of my family’s and my spiritual needs” (Greg Laurie, senior pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, California). Many Christians seem to think that church is all about me. And when the worship team sings songs I don’t like, or the preacher says something I don’t like, or the leadership spends my money in a way I don’t like—I grumble and complain or I just take my ball and go home. It’s the disease of me. The Bible says, “Love… does not demand its own way” (1 Corinthians 13:5 NLT) or as another translation puts it: “Love… is not self-seeking” (NIV). When we let pride and ego take up residence in our hearts, it will drive the love of God right out.




So these are the three things that will kill, crush and corrupt real love—carnality (the love sexual gratification), covetousness (the love of stuff), and conceit (the love of self). Each of these is a symptom of a twisted type of love, a worldly love that can draw us away from God’s love. Next week, we’ll continue in 1st John and discover what else John has to tell us about real love. But let me close with the story of Demas.

Demas was a committed Christian. Not just a church-goer. Demas was a missionary who traveled with the Apostle Paul all over the Roman world, sharing the message of God’s love with people who desperately needed. For years Demas led love-starved souls to Christ. But then, toward the end of his life, while sitting in a Roman prison, the Apostle Paul wrote this: “Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me” (2 Timothy 4:10 NIV). How sad that this is the last mention of Demas in the Bible. That was the end of his story. Don’t let it be the end of yours.


If you are struggling with one or more of these love-killers in your life, please talk with someone about it before it’s too late.

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