1 John 4:7-21
“Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God.” Webster’s dictionary defines love as something “profoundly tender, a passionate affection for another person, a feeling of warm personal attachment or deep affection, such as for a parent, child, or friend.” Love in the English language, is such a misused word today. How can one word convey such a variety of meanings? For instance, the word “Love” is used sometimes to describe a fanciful feeling about an object. “I just love my new golf clubs.” “I love that dress you are wearing.” “I love that chocolate cake you baked.” The word “Love” is used sometimes to describe the progression of a relational a connection. “We are IN love versus, I love so and so.” The word “Love” can even be used as a softening phrase for a voicemail grocery reminder to your spouse, “I love you, can’t wait to see you tonight, and would you please pickup some coffee on the way home.” (Not that I’ve ever used that)
Confused about love yet? Well, now if that were not enough, over the years culture has complicated the notion of love by trying to capture it’s meaning in the lyrics of songs. Do you remember the ballad, “Can you feel the love tonight” by Elton John (1994)? How about “That’s the Power of Love” by Huey Lewis and the News (1985)? Maybe you can recall, “All you need is Love” by The Beatles (1967). These are great songs and great attempts to capture the nuances of love, but not one of them even mentions the source of love. You may have noticed that none of these songs explicitly mention God, but the reality is, embedded in those words, God can be found, because “love is from God.”
Scripture offers us a bit more insight about the love than popular culture might. In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 13, the verses describe what love is and what love is not. The following comes from a paraphrase of scripture called The Message.
Love never gives up. Love cares more for others than for self. Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have. Love doesn’t strut, Doesn’t have a swelled head, Doesn’t force itself on others, Isn’t always “me first,” Doesn’t fly off the handle, Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others, Doesn’t revel when others grovel, Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth, Puts up with anything, Trusts God always, Always looks for the best, Never looks back, But keeps going to the end.
You may be thinking, “well, that all sounds well and good, but that kind of love seems almost impossible Eric. How in the world can we love like that?” Honestly, we cannot on our own, because we can do nothing apart from God. It is through God alone that we can even attempt to love like this. It is only through the Holy Spirit’s work in us that we can even begin to participate in the circle of love, which comes from God.
First, we begin to participate by forgiving, by letting go of our petty differences. Next, we begin by trying to walk in the shoes of our sisters and brothers, when circumstances seem to warrant walking away. We begin by accepting our own failures, which make the failures of others seem so acceptable. We begin by forgiving when another has failed to forgive us. We begin by recognizing that the relationship we share, this common binding in Christ, is of greater importance than our differences. We begin when we begin to see the face of Christ in others, when we look beyond that which separates us, and when we learn to abide in God’s perfect love with each other, even when things become uncomfortable, when hanging seems fruitless, when waiting seems like forever.
Jesus said, “Abide in me.” (Silence) Let’s pause for a second and sit with this phrase for a bit. “Abide in me.” (Silence) Let’s be patient and stay with this phrase and wait for its meaning to emerge. “Abide in me.” (Silence) Uncomfortable? Waiting, enduring, staying with, remaining, accepting; it is through these practices that we begin to understand what it means to abide; to love as God loves. Abiding is all about remaining with the other. Hanging in there when it gets tough, staying with the discomfort for the sake of the relationship, and waiting patiently as the Spirit works through the other is what abiding is all about. Granted, there are some instances where abiding with another may not be possible. Abusive, coercive, unhealthy relationships are examples where abiding may have to take on another form. Some relationships and connections are not best served by mutual physical presence, but abiding love can still be possible. It may be in those instances, that abiding with another may take place through intercessory prayer. When we pray for those with whom we cannot abide in a healthy way, we are still effectively participating in the perfect love of God. Prayer for another is loving the other.
“Since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.” Let me read that again. “Since God loved us so much, we also OUGHT to love one another.” The English word “ought”used here seems a little insufficient to capture the intent of this piece of scripture. We may have heard “ought” used in phrases like “you ought to clean your room,” or “you ought to go back and get that third college degree,” or “you ought to have another helping of potatoes.” Used in this way, we hear it as more like a suggestion versus its real meaning.
OK, let’s try again. “Since God loved us so much, we also (have an obligation, a duty, and are indebted) to love one another. This version is not a friendly little “Well you ought to love each other, but its ok if you choose not to do so” kind of suggestion. NO! It is clear that we have an obligation, a duty, and we are indebted to love our sisters and brothers. Why? In so doing, God’s love comes to completion. T
he circle of love is complete if we can wait patiently on our sister and brother, if we can endure the imperfections of our sister and brother, and if we can stay with our sister and brother when difficulties arrive. In other words, if we can love one another, then God lives in us, because his love is coming to completion in us. Love, a word that despite its so many meanings, all seems so simple when we but accept what Our Lord proclaims over and over again. Abide with me. In a song by the contemporary Christian band Third Day, the abiding love of Christ are beautifully captured in these words, “Just to be with you, I will do anything, There’s no price I would not pay. Just to be with you, I would give everything. I would give my life away.” (Lyrics from “Love Song” by Third Day) Can we love like that? Can we give ourselves away? Are we able to love as Christ loves us?
Remember . . . Love … it is more than mere words.