In addition to my role as a pastor at Queen Street Baptist Church, I also teach the New Testament at Tyndale University College. There are a number of differences between the two roles, even though both focus on teaching the Bible. One of the main differences is that there are no tests in church. Most congregations would not appreciate an exam after the worship service. But since my class is studying to receive a university degree, tests are necessary. In fact, it was requested that I add a quiz to me second lecture, to give students an idea of how they were doing in the class.
Coming back to the church, assuming we are not going to bring in written tests, how do we know how we are doing as Christians? We hear sermons, read our Bible, say prayers, but how do we know if any of it is making a difference?
John in his first letter, actually provides a number of tests that help up to understand where we are at in our discipleship. There is more than one test in this letter, but we are only going to focus on one and that is love. The short version of the test is that those who are growing in the Lord, should also be growing in love. But let’s take a deeper look.
God is the Source of Love
I have had the opportunity to study other religions. While I believe that it is important to respect people with different beliefs, I am convinced that Christianity is unique in that it is the only one that has love at its centre. That is not to say that people of other religions are unloving. Rather, Christianity is the only one that has love as the centre. This is because of our unique way of seeing God.
John tells us that God is love. Not just that God is loving, although he is, but that he is love. Love is his essence. We can see this in the trinity. God does not depend upon his creation for his nature. God was love even before he created the world. When there was only God, there was love between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. There has been an eternity of love.
This divine love is the source of our love. We were created in God’s image and a part of this is the central place of love. All people acknowledge that love is important. The problem comes when we try to define that love. Because of the fall, that image of God is distorted. People end up looking for love in all the wrong places. This leads to all sorts of pain and suffering and yet we still agree that love is important.
At this time we are preparing to celebrate the birth of Jesus. That birth was all about love. Although we don’t often see this as a Christmas verse, it really summarizes the Christmas message: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
God sent his Son because of his love for us. If it was not for the love of God, we would all be lost.
Those who do not believe in God claim that love is nothing more than chemical reactions in the brain and yet they act as if love was more real. That is because God is the source of love, for all people, for those who believe and those who don’t.
God is the Example of Love
I find it very inspiring to think of God as love. But it also seems to be a bit abstract. What does it mean for God to be love? We have already introduced John 3:16 as an example of God’s love. The sending of the Son was an overflowing of God’s love. But let’s take a closer look.
John tells us in his letter as well that the sending of the Son was an example of love. John’s intention in his letter is not just to teach theology but to guide his readers in their actions. Remember, John is providing a test by which Christians can measure their discipleship. For a test to be meaningful, there has to be correct answers. The correct answer for the love test is Jesus.
The Father sending the Son is our example of what true love is. What do we learn about love? Love is more than a feeling. Feelings are great but real love is demonstrated by action. Christmas is the celebration that God put his love into action. Love also is self-sacrificial. Jesus was the most precious gift of the Father. Imagine what that was like first of all for the Son to come from heaven and be limited in the incarnation as a human being. Imagine then what it was like for the Father to watch the Son be crucified. The resurrection does not diminish the suffering. The Father’s love was costly. Finally, the Father’s love benefited others. The sending of the Son means everything to us. Jesus gives us life in this world and the one to come. True love is not about what we get out of it but what others receive from our love.
John wants us to see the example of the Father’s love and to act on it. We are to take what God has done for us and demonstrate love to others.
God is the Encourager of Love
This brings us to our final point. Not only is God the source of love and the example of love, he is the encourager of love. Over and over, in both the Old and New Testaments, God is calling us to live lives of love.It is not enough for it to be just a part of our theology.
Many years ago, before I was a Christian, I was considering becoming a follower of Jesus. However, the impression that I was getting was that it was all about rules. Do this. Don’t do that. I was coming to the conclusion that I could never become a Christian. Then I came across a story in the Gospels. Someone asked Jesus what the most important commandments were. Jesus responded by saying that they were to love God and love people. Not only were these the most important commandments, all the other commandments fell under one of these two categories. It simplifies things tremendously. When you are making a decision, ask yourself it demonstrates love to God and people.
I say it is simple but it is not easy. Jesus tells us that we are not just to love our friends and family, we are to love our enemies. Remember how God is our example of love? God sent his Son to us when we were enemies of God. He showed love to his enemies and we need to show love to our enemies.
This Christmas, as you reflect on love, think about the person it is most difficult to love and try to show love to them. That would really be embracing the message of Christmas.
How are we doing in our role as disciples of Jesus? There is a test. Not a written quiz, but a test of love. God is love, he is the source of all love. God is the example of love. The Father in sending the Son has revealed what real love looks like in action. And now he calls us to love.
Are we reflecting the love of God? Are we following his example? If not, what can we do change that?