If we were to tune into a random radio station, how long do you think it would take for us to hear the word ‘love’? How long would it take for us to hear it a hundred times? If we looked at popular movies and television shows, what percentage would have love as some element if not the main?
Society has changed a lot in the last number of decades but there is one thing that has not changed and that is a longing for love. We seem to be built with a need for love. This does not have to be a romantic type of love. There are those who remain single for all their life but still experience love among their family and friends.
Many years ago I confessed something to Amanda. I had come to terms to the fact that our children had autism. But what was really difficult was with them being nonverbal, I would never hear them say, “I love you.” This is something most parents take for granted but it seemed withheld from me. On one Christmas Eve after that conversation, we went to a joint Christmas Eve service. When we came home it was time to put the children to bed. I told Logan that I loved him and he looked at me and said clearly, “I love you.” I finally heard the words that I needed to hear. Best Christmas present ever.
We need love, we all know that. But that is not to say that people look for love in all the right places or in the right ways. Many people have made bad choices because of their desperation to experience love.
Thankfully, the Bible has something to say about love, especially the first letter of John. In John’s letter, he presents a number of tests for the Christian faith and one of those is love. We can learn from John something of the nature of love and ways to express love.
God is Love
What is God like? How do we describe God with human language? We can talk about different aspects of God, but it is difficult to describe him in his entirety. But just because it is challenging doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try. It is when we have wrong ideas about God that our beliefs and practices go wrong. If we see God simply as an angry and vindictive Judge, the way we act as Christians is going to be affected.
In his letter, John is trying to respond to a group that has emerged from the church with heretical beliefs. While John talks about actions, he knows enough to go right to the root. He needs to correct their understanding of God.
We don’t have time to go through the entire letter but elsewhere John tells us that God is light and God is truth. Now in this passage we learn that God is love.
It is important that we understand the importance of this statement. It is not just that God is loving, although he is, but rather God is love. Love is a part of God’s essence. All true love comes from God, whether people acknowledge it or not. This is actually is powerful evidence for the Trinity. God is love. But another aspect of God is that his nature is not determined by his creation. Did God become love when he created the first living beings, whether angels or humans? God cannot change. That must mean that God was love before creation. But who did God love? For is Father, Son and Spirit. Before creation there was a constant flow of love between all three persons of the Trinity.
When we attempt to understand love, we need to begin with God. God is love. Without God, there is no love. You do not have to believe in God, but God must exist for there to be love.
God Shows Love
It is a wonderful concept that God is love. But God did not keep that love to himself. Yes God could have kept the love between the Father, Son and Spirit but he didn’t. How do we know that God shows love? By his actions. We could spend a lot of time looking at how God showed love throughout the Bible but John focuses on one example, that of Jesus Christ.
There are two parts to the sending of Jesus that demonstrate God’s love. They are connected but they need to be looked at separately.
The first thing John says about God’s demonstration of love is, “He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. Sometimes we act as if Jesus’ earthly ministry was just a time filler until the cross. But Jesus’ life and teachings are very important.
The author of Hebrews tells us, “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.” (Hebrews 1:1-2) The sending of Jesus brought the relationship between God and humanity to an entirely new level. The prophets told us something about God but Jesus was able to show us God. John tells us in Gospel about this conversation that Jesus had with one of his disciples. “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9) When we love a person, we don’t just buy them stuff, we reveal who we really are. Self-revelation is a powerful demonstration of love and that is what the Father does through Jesus.
The sending of Jesus is incredible but God does not stop there. John reminds us that God “sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” Jesus’ death on the cross is the greatest act of love ever to take place in history.
I have heard from some that it was not that hard because the Father knew the Son would come back to life on the third day. Imagine if someone wanted to take one of your children and beat them until they could barely stand and then kill them in one of the most painful ways possible but promised that they could bring them back to life a couple of days later. Would you agree and see this as no big deal? Even with the resurrection, what happened to Jesus on the cross was a big deal. God in Jesus, demonstrated self-sacrificial love. It was love because the cross was not just an unfortunate event that arose from Jesus’ religious conflicts, it was the plan for God to rescue humanity. Without an atonement, we are lost. God provided that atonement and revealed that he is indeed love.
We Must Show Love
This is a nice theology lesson but what does it mean for us? This teaching was always meant to be practical. The section begins with John saying, “Dear friends, let us love one another.” In a way the NIV translation is unfortunate as it literally means ‘beloved.’ While it is more natural for us to call someone ‘dear friend,’ we miss that that the Greek root is the same as when John speaks of love elsewhere in this passage.
All of the arguments of God as love and love being demonstrated in Jesus are meant to support the call for us to love one another. An important theme for John is the family resemblance between the Father and Christians who are his sons and daughters. If God is our Father, then we should resemble him in some way. God is love and so we must be loving. God shows love and so we should show love. It is very simple but too often overlooked in the Church.
We want people to believe in God. But God is invisible. We cannot show someone God through a microscope or a telescope. So how can we show God is real? When we show love to one another, we reveal the love of God and God becomes visible to us.
I have spent time studying different religions. All religions have something we can respect but Christianity is unique in that it is the only religion that has love at its core. I’m not saying that a Buddhist or a Muslim cannot be loving. They can. But Buddhism has freedom from suffering at its core and Islam has submission to God at its core. What did Jesus say when he was asked about the greatest commandment? It is about loving God and loving our neighbour. We worship God who does not just occasionally show love but who is love himself. Christianity has love as its core. Christianity without love is not Christianity.
Of course the danger is that we will just give mental assent that love is a part of our theology. John’s test for true Christianity in this letter requires us to act on our love.
How do we show love as Christians? It is not just about doing a major outreach or program such as Out of the Cold, although that is important. People see our involvement in that and suspect that we might be a loving people. But we need to demonstrate love on all levels of our life. How do we treat our families? What kind of employee or student are we? What is the love temperature within our congregation? Do people do things for those in need among us? When we say we will pray, do we actually pray?
Does this sound difficult and rather exhausting? I need to remind you that the source of our love is not our human heart but rather the God that is love. If we want to be the loving person Christians are meant to be, we need to invest in our relationship with God. When we run dry of love, it is time to go back to the well and refill our bucket.
Love. We all need it. We all need to give it. Our inner being reminds us of this every day. But how do we live a life of love? We go to God. God is love. God is the source of all love. Spend time with your Father, seek to become more like him. Reflect on what God has done for. Instead of just feeling love, the Father sent his Son to live among us. God revealed himself in Jesus Christ. Jesus died for us as an act of love. If we really believe all this, then we let God’s love overflow in every area of our life. From our family to our church to our community to our world. Take the love of God and act on it, showing everyone that the God who loves is real.