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When Love Grows Cold | Sermon May 19, 2024

Updated: Jun 20

When Love Grows Cold


Scripture: John 13:34-35; Matthew 24:12; Ephesians 4:31-5:2  


Good morning, Strangers Rest! The title of my message this morning is “When Love Grows Cold.” Before I go any further, I want you to know that I will be driving on everybody’s street today so when I get to your house it’s okay to say “Amen – that’s where I’m living!” I am saying this so that no one comes up to me after this message and says “That was a great message! They really needed to hear that!!!” because I will ask you “Who is they?” This message is for all of us, me included. Deacon Jones reminded us last Sunday that people will always remember how we make them feel and honestly, some of us are creating memories in others that are not that good. If someone left this Church and never joined another Church, they left Strangers Rest because they were probably hurt and had feelings that they were possibly not welcomed here for whatever reason. And trust me when I say this: they are still carrying that memory. What do you think they might be telling others who are looking for a Church home about Strangers Rest?


You have heard several messages from me focusing on how we need to treat one another. You have heard about forgiveness; you have heard about how memories affect us; you have heard about grace; and you’ve heard about not getting distracted. Every message that you have heard thus far from me, besides my Mother’s day message last week, held elements of this core message: that we must evaluate, and change when needed, how we treat one another. What you will hear this morning is the reason why we must change. As you listen to the message, I want you to ask yourself “Is my love growing cold?” Now I will tell you how to identify if this is happening, but it will be up to you to choose to change. What I can tell you this morning is that for some of you, your love has begun to grow cold, and that is not where you want to be. 


I am not sure that you recognize it, but the Church today, as a corporate body, has an identity problem. Jesus said in John 13:34-35, “(34) A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. (35) By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” Now the Greek word for love in these verses is the work agapao and it means “to love in a social or moral sense.” When the Church loses its ability to love in a moral sense we have a problem. Now the Church has an identity problem because the love of many in the Church is growing cold. It is the love that we show to one another by what we say and how we live that tells others we belong to Christ and that we are His servants. But, when that love starts to grow cold, that identifying trait begins to fade.


Jesus warned His disciples of this when He told them in Matthew 24:12, and I will read this from the Amplified Bible, “(12) And because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will become cold.” (Matthew 24:12 Amp) When you read the verses preceding this one, you will find that what Jesus was saying was prophetic. Now although the word “love” in this verse in English seems to mean the same as when used in the previous verses, here in the Greek it is different. The Greek word for love in this verse is agape. I know you’ve heard that word before. That word in the Greek means our unconditional affection and benevolence for one another – our unconditional desire to care for one another. In this verse Jesus was telling His disciples what would happen to most in the Church after His resurrection. Strangers Rest, he was talking about the Church today and that includes you and that includes me. In those verses Jesus identified some of the signs of the last days and how Christians, His followers, would succumb to the trials and persecutions surrounding them from the “outside” and the apostasies and false prophets from the “inside”. By reason of these trials and persecutions from without, and the apostasies and false prophets from within, most of the Church’s love for Christ, His doctrine and for one another will grow cold.


This is so important to understand. You see, for Christians, in these last days we will be attacked not only from those who do not believe, but the most hurtful attacks will come from those who are members of our spiritual family and who worship alongside of us each week. And this is what Jesus was warning His disciples and each of us about. When those attacks start happening – and they have already started – especially from other believers, the pain from those attacks often causes us to go into protection mode from future attacks. So, what do we do? We withdraw, sit back and stop being involved. When this happens, we have allowed others to dictate our relationship with God by stopping us from doing what He has called us to do. You see, in those moments our love starts to grow cold, and it gets easier and easier to stand back and let things play out from a distance versus remaining steadfast and ensuring that we continue to demonstrate our love for Christ in how we treat others regardless of how they treat us. Some of you know exactly what I am talking about. When our love grows cold the fire we have within us to do right by others slowly begins to go out. And before we know it our lives will be centered solely on self and what we want. And what is so sad is that we won’t recognize that it is happening. We will be so involved in the hurt and rejection that our responses will feel justified. Turn with me to Ephesians chapter four.


Let’s begin reading at verse thirty-one and continue through verse two of chapter five. Now what you are going to see in these verses is what happens when our love begins to grow cold. When the fire of love that once burned within us begins to grow cold, our enemy makes sure something else replaces it. Strangers Rest, what we are going to see in these verses is textbook. If you are currently experiencing any of these symptoms, then your love is starting to cool, and you must take steps to reignite it before the flame goes out. So, let’s begin at verse thirty-one. “(31) Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice.” (Ephesians 4:31) Let me pause here and read this verse from the Amplified Bible. It reads, “(31) Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor [perpetual animosity, resentment, strife, fault-finding] and slander be put away from you, along with every kind of malice [all spitefulness, verbal abuse, malevolence (wickedness, nastiness)].” (Ephesians 4:31 Amp) Here we see six symptoms of a Christian’s love growing cold. Remember, I told you this was textbook. The first is bitterness.


But, before I go further, I want to address something that we seldom talk about. In Church, we talk a lot about sin, but we do not spend much time talking about what often drives our sinful behavior. Do you want to know what fuels our sinful ways? Well, the answer is simple: it’s our emotions, our feelings. Much of what we do in life is connected to how the activity makes us feel and when we disobey God, we can trace that disobedience back to our emotions, our feelings. Strangers Rest, God gave us feelings. He gave us emotions. But He has also given us the ability to rule over our emotions. Do you remember the emotional battle that Jesus had in the garden of Gethsemane? He didn’t allow His emotions to rule over Him. He ruled over His emotions and we see this in Matthew 26:38-39: “(38) Then He said to them, "My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch with Me. (39) He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, "O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.” (Matthew 26:38-39) Feelings can be the driver of sin that can keep us out of heaven, and we see this in the verses we just read in Ephesians 4. Feelings are so important that Jesus said that people will know we are His disciples by the feeling of “love” that we walk in and share with one another. So, if you are not walking in love, your love is starting to grow cold, and people will not recognize you as a disciple of Christ. And, if this is you and you don’t reverse the decline, you will not be Jesus’ disciple. Now let’s examine more closely what the Apostle Paul wrote about some of these feelings. He wrote, “(31) Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice.” (Ephesians 4:31)


Bitterness refers to feelings of sadness and anger, especially those that accumulated anger over time. It is likely a consequence of not feeling valued or appreciated in past situations and relationships. Because feeling bitter involves a mix of emotions, it can often be difficult to identify and express in simple terms. If you find yourself getting frequently irritated (another feeling/emotion), triggered by little things that in the past didn’t bother you, then you’re probably bitter. If when taking inventory of your closest relationships, you feel that others don’t fully understand you or appreciate all that you do, you’re probably bitter. If you’ve come to believe that it’s possible that you may never feel truly happy, you are feeling bitter. And if you are bitter, the love of Christ that is supposed to flow from you is beginning to be restricted.


Next is wrath, another feeling/emotion. Pretty soon it will be obvious why bitterness was listed first in this lineup. Wrath is intense anger (usually on an epic scale); belligerence aroused by a real or supposed wrong. Wrath is personified as one of the seven deadly sins. (and by the way, when you have a moment review the seven deadly sins and see how many of them are attached to a feeling or emotion – it might surprise you.) Then we find anger listed next. Anger is a strong feeling of annoyance, displeasure, or hostility. Mild anger and grow into wrath – intense anger. Anger is an intense emotional state involving a strong uncomfortable and non-cooperative response to a perceived provocation, hurt, or threat. Does this sound remotely familiar? If you are walking around with feelings of wrath and anger, trust me your love is growing cold.


Then Paul mentions a word that might be somewhat unfamiliar to us – clamor. The word means to make a demand loudly; to utter or proclaim insistently and noisily. The Amplified version describes clamor as the perpetual animosity, resentment, strife, and fault-finding that some Christians have refused to put away. Strangers Rest, this is describing Christians who are living in unforgiveness and are not choosing to yield to the love that Jesus placed on the inside of them when they accepted Him as their Lord and Savior. Following clamor Paul mentions evil speaking. Can you see the line of progression here? If you are bitter, full of wrath, anger, and constantly making loud demands, is there any possible way that you will be able to speak in a form other than evil? How can you speak in a loving manner when you’re bitter, full of wrath, angry and constant clamoring? It’s simply not possible. Finally, Paul says get rid of the malice.


Malice is described as spitefulness, verbal abuse, and malevolence (unkindness, wickedness, evil and nastiness.) Can you understand why Paul says that this behavior, these feelings and emotions, must be put away from us? It is not of God! If you read these six symptoms in order, the first five actually lead up to malice. What Paul is describing here is a process that happens over time and one that is very subtle. When you have reached the state of having malice in your heart, your love has grown cold. Malice is defined as “the intention or desire to do evil; ill will.” Is this making sense? When our love begins to grow cold it will not be long before we are thinking about doing evil to someone else or hoping that something evil happens to them, which is just as bad.


Let me pause here and make an observation. I am sure you are aware of the student protests that has been taking place on college campuses across our nation. The source of the emotions and vitriol that we are witnessing in the students, Paul has identified in these words. Whatever is at work inside of them has caused their feelings and emotions to go from bitterness to malice in some instances. And Strangers Rest, our role as Christians is not to pile on criticism but to “pile on love” through our prayers for them. And it saddens me that there are Christians who are also walking down this road and they don’t know it. They might not actively be thinking about doing harm to someone else, but if something did happen to a person who has mistreated them, they might not feel too badly about it. But Paul tells us how to change direction.


In verse thirty-two he continues, “(32) And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32) The first thing he tells us to do is to be kind to one another. Strangers Rest, Paul is talking to Christians. He is talking to you. He is talking to me. He is not saying be kind only to those who treat you right, we must be kind to one another regardless of how we are being treated and this is extremely hard to do in our flesh. But you know what, we are not supposed to be walking in our flesh anyway once we accept Christ. We have been empowered to do and be better. Paul said we are to be tenderhearted – compassionate, tender, and benevolent to one another while also forgiving one another. Why? Because God has forgiven us. Extending forgiveness is the only way we can stop our love from growing cold when we are being mistreated by others. And let me be clear: when we extend forgiveness to someone, we don’t need to tell the person we forgive them; we just do it and move on. These are action steps to counter the attacks coming against us. Again, I told you this is textbook. In verse thirty-one Paul tells us to put away those things that are not of God: bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, evil speaking and malice. Then he tells us what is of God; he tells us how we are to treat others. He wrote in verse thirty-two, “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.” These are the descriptions of behaviors that are displayed in the person who has a true and genuine relationship with God.


When we transition to chapter five, Paul tells us why we must do the things he said in chapter four. He wrote in verses one and two, “(1) Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. (2) And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.” (Ephesians 5:1-2) The Amplified Bible says it this way, “(1) Therefore become imitators of God [copy Him and follow His example], as well-beloved children [imitate their father]; (2) and walk continually in love [that is, value one another –  practice empathy and compassion, unselfishly seeking the best for others], just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and sacrifice to God [slain for you, so that it became] a sweet fragrance.” (Ephesians 5:1-2 Amp) As children of God we are to imitate LOVE! We are to imitate our Father! How do we imitate LOVE? By doing exactly what John says, “…walk in love [esteeming and delighting in one another.]” 


Paul wrote that we should be imitators of God and that will not be possible if we are not willing to yield to the love that lives within us and then walk in it. We cannot imitate God today and Satan tomorrow based on how we choose to interact with our fellow man. Our choice to walk and live by love is the defining decision as to where we will spend eternity. When Jesus was questioned about the greatest commandment, this is what He said, “(30) AND YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, WITH ALL YOUR MIND, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH.’ This is the first commandment. (31) And the second, like it, is this: ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:30-31) John wrote “(16) And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him. (17) Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the Day of Judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. (18) There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. (19) We love Him because He first loved us.”  (First John 4:16-19) 


I want to tell you a quick story about what happens when love grows cold. There was a man who had a brother whom you would assume that he loved. One day both brothers brought an offering to their father, something that each of them had prepared with their own hands. The elder brother’s offering was presented but was rejected by his father. When his younger brother presented his offering, he watched as his father accepted his brother’s offering and praised him for his obedience. When he saw his younger brother being praised, he became angry. His father saw his anger and explained to the elder son that although he chose to disobey – the son knew what the Father’s expectations were, it would be forgiven as long as he did it right the next time. This apparently did not make him feel any better or cause his anger to diminish. Every time he looked at his younger brother, the anger burned within him. His love for his brother grew cold to finally his anger became so great that he killed his brother.


You probably recognize this story from the book of Genesis, the story of Cain and Abel. Cain’s anger grew out of his being envious of the praise that God had given to Abel, his younger brother. His anger grew to the point that it caused his love for his brother to grow cold – to actually cease to be. When you read the story think about how you would have felt if you were Cain. You’re standing there listening to God accept your younger brother’s offering after He had rejected yours. Do you think that you would probably be upset too? Cain’s anger had consumed him to the point he decided to kill Abel. Consider what would have happened if he too had received praise or if he had received the praise and his brother had received the rebuke? The outcome would have been totally different. Cain’s anger towards his brother totally overshadowed the love that had been present beforehand, and this is a lesson for each of us. Regardless of the love that we believe that we have for one another, when we are faced with constantly being hurt or offended by someone or by being constantly compared to someone else, our love can be displaced by our festering feelings of anger. Anger left alone will grow and displace love.


The only way we can truly stop our love from growing cold is to actively stroke it with the love of God that He placed within us when we were saved. Let me explain with this Scriptural reference about Cain and Abel found in the New Testament. First John 3:11-13 says, “(11) For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another; (12) not as Cain, who was of the evil one and slew his brother. And for what reason did he slay him? Because his deeds were evil and his brother’s were righteous. (13) Do not be surprised, brethren, if the world hates you.” When John speaks of us loving each other, he makes the statement that we should not love each other as Cain did. Cain’s love for his brother was perverted because of envy and was demonstrated in his actions when he killed him. Cain wanted something that Abel had and it angered him that he did not have it. That anger turned into an action that caused him to kill his brother. His love for his brother turned cold as his anger towards his brother grew.


First Corinthians 13:4-5 tells us about the love that we have inside of us because of what Jesus did for us. “(4) Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, (5) does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into an account a wrong suffered…” Every time I read through this list of what perfect love looks like, I realize how much work I have yet to do. In all situations and circumstances and when dealing with all sorts of people, “love is patient, kind and never jealous.” No matter how successful you are or the possessions that you may own, “love does not brag and is not arrogant – it never acts unbecomingly.” When you could show off your talents, just remember that “love does not seek its own.” When you deal with people that you know do not have your best interest at heart, remember “love is not easily provoked and does not take into account a wrong suffered.” If we are easily provoked and remember all the wrongs we suffered, then our love is growing cold! This is not who we are in the love of God! In everything that we do, if our actions, thoughts, and intentions are filtered through God’s definition of love, we will do well.  In verse seven and the first part of verse eight Paul says the following, “(7) Bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  (8)  Love never fails….” (First Corinthians 13:7-8) Simply put, love takes pleasure in the things that pleases God. God is love and God always was love and always will be love. Therefore, love always existed and it likewise always will!


Strangers Rest, love is important. There are people doing a lot of good “things” but their love has grown cold. They are going through the motions and things are getting done but the love that is supposed to be their reason why they are doing those things is non-existent. Paul opened the thirteenth chapter of First Corinthians with this from verse two, “(2) And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” (First Corinthians 13:2) Without love we are nothing! Now understand this, we can be something only when we are willing to love and push beyond all things that will attempt to stifle that love.


I want to close with what is captured in Galatians 5:6. It says, “(6) For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love.” Paul wrote to the Galatians that faith working through love is what is important to Christ. Let’s take a minute and think about the words “working through.” The Greek word translated as “working” in this verse is “energeo” which means “brought about by.” The Greek word for “through” in this verse is “agkalizomai” and it means “to embrace; to take into one’s arms.” When we understand these two definitions a new picture of what Paul is telling us begins to unfold. He is telling us that faith is brought about by, as if carried in one’s arms, love. In other words, our faith is activated and supported by love. Put another way: before you can have faith, you must walk in love. The Amplified Bible translates this verse this way, “(6) For [if we are] in Christ Jesus, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith activated and energized and expressed and working through love.” (Galatians 5:6 Amp)   


Strangers Rest, you have come a long way in 99 years and a lot of those years were activated, energized, and existed through love. People cared about one another, and they cared about this Church family. I am not saying that as a corporate body that does not exist today, but what I am saying is that we must reignite the flame that might have cooled over time. I am not concerned about how the community sees this Church. I am concerned about how this Church sees itself and how we treat one another. Every member here must choose to move beyond all perceived hurts, anger, distrust, resentment, and every other negative feeling and/or emotion that represents where you are or were versus where you are going. Some of you might believe that there are no problems at all and that everything is fine, but is that really the case? I want to speak to every heart present here today and watching via live stream. You know how you feel about Strangers Rest and the people in it. You know some of the history and you know how you felt years ago when you were here. Do you feel the same way now? Do you have the same excitement? Do you feel the same love burning within you? If you cannot positively answer each of these questions, then something within you has changed. Your love might be growing cold. Please do not let it go out. Reignite the love of God that is flowing through you. If you remember nothing else from this message, remember this: Jesus said, “(35) By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35) If your love is failing then you must ask yourself if you still belong to Christ. If you cannot treat one another with love and do what Jesus said, can you honestly say you belong to Him – the One you are refusing to obey? If you cannot honestly affirm this, then now is the time to repent. Now is the time to turn things around. So, everyone please stand and repeat this after me. “Father, I thank you for your abundant love and mercy for me and that your heart’s desire is for me to spend an eternity with you. God, I want that too. If my love for you has been growing cold, please forgive me. I know that within my heart, I do love you and today I commit myself to showing your love in everything I say and in everything I do. Amen.”


Until next time, “The Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord make His face shine on you and be gracious to you. May the Lord lift up His countenance on you and give you peace.”  (Numbers 6:24-26)

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