We have spoken about holiness over recent weeks, but one thing I constantly mention is that, rather than being legalistic, judgemental and arrogant about the absolutes we believe God’s Word teaches, we must temper our strong stand with love. So today I want to begin sharing on love, Christ's love in us.
1 John 4:16-20 (ESV Strong's)
So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.
The Beatles sang “All you need is love,” and then they broke up. Nevertheless, no song typifies the cry of the human heart and the sentiment of our culture like that one, and love is a term, often misused, that is on everybody’s lips. In the recent campaign to legalise homosexual marriage, the slogan “love is love” took centre stage.
And who can disagree that love is the supreme virtue, and that if it reigned, the world would be a better place? Love is the prevailing theme in all of our books, movies, TV show and songs. According to Billboard, love has been the dominant theme of more than 60% of successful pop tunes since 1958. I recently shared this at Carlos and Linda’s wedding, both being musicians, so I thought I would use song lyrics to illustrate just how dominant love is as a theme in our culture…
What is this crazy little thing called love? Is it a many slendoured thing, because I wanna know what love is, the greatest love of all, because love will keep us together. And what’s love got to do with it? It means that if I’m all out of love, your love will lead me on, and what the world needs now is love, sweet love. In fact it must have been love, the power of love, that makes me keep on loving you. Some say, I would do anything for love, but I won’t do that, but then how deep is your love? If you’re thinking out loud, if love is all around us, then true love, endless love is when I say I will always love you, ou, ou.
THE MEANING OF LOVE
But what do we mean by “love”? For many in our culture, love is mostly a feeling of positive regard for others, or kind treatment of other people. Christians don’t disagree with John Lennon that all we need is love; we just have a more profound understanding of what love we actually need.
1 John 4:10 (ESV Strong's)
In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
This is not an arrogant statement. I am not saying our love is better than someone else’s. However, English is a very inadequate language when it comes to describing many things, and especially love. In English we have one word… love. So we say, I love my wife, I love Vegemite. I love Jesus, I love football, I love my church. It’s the same word. In Greek the language of the New Testament, there are 7 words for love, although only 4 are used in the Bible… lets start with 3 not in the Bible…
Ludus is playful or uncommitted love, involving overt flirting or seducing, without commitment. The focus is on fun, so it is not necessarily sexual, but it is uncomplicated and undemanding.
Pragma is a kind of practical love founded on reason or duty and longer-term interests. In this love, sexual attraction takes a back seat in favour of personal qualities and compatibilities, shared goals, and making it work. In the days of arranged marriages, pragma was very common, with princes and princesses marrying not for love but for political advantage.
Philautia is self-love, which can be healthy or unhealthy. Today we would probably equate this with self esteem, good or bad.
Ok, now for the types of love mentioned in the Bible, in ascending order…
Eros is erotic, sexual or passionate love, and is the type most akin to our modern construct of romantic love. In Greek mythology, it is a form of madness brought about by one of Cupid’s arrows. It is the gooey feeling inside, the flutters in the stomach, and sexual arousal. While many men just want this type of love, most women hope it grows into one of the next two kinds of love.
Storge is family love, especially the love between parents and children. It is dependent on familiarity and dependence upon, rather than hanging on personal qualities. It’s the love that says, I may not like you or agree with your choices, but I will love you because you are family.”
Philia is friendship love, or shared goodwill. It is friendship founded on mutual benefit, companionship, dependability and goodness. In Aussie lingo it is mateship, inferring close and reliable friends, and in this sense my wife can also be my closest friend.
The highest form of love is agape love, which is unconditional and even unmerited love. It’s the love God has for us, and it is independent of who we are, what we do or what we say. This kind of love stands firm and gives its all, even when it is not reciprocated…
John 3:16 (ESV Strong's)
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
The word agape is demonstrated in Luke 15, where the Father waits and then welcomes so lavishly the wayward son, who is not deserving any love. It is unconditional love! And it makes the recipient of that love very content and secure!
FEED MY SHEEP
A really interesting play between the two most common forms of love in the Bible occurs in John 15.
Peter, you might remember, had publicly denied Christ 3 times, and then the cock crowed. Jesus, after His resurrection, now publicly asks Peter 3 times if he loves Him, and then each time commands him to feed the sheep. It is forgiveness and public restoration, but if we delve deeper, there is an interesting use of two Greek words for love. Twice Jesus uses agape, and Peter answers phileo. The final time, Jesus uses philia… let me paraphrase the passage like this…
John 21:15-17 (ESV Strong's)
“Simon, son of John, do you love me unconditionally more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you as a brother.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me unconditionally?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you like a brother.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you truly love me like a brother?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you like a brother.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.
Could it be that Jesus, calling Peter to unconditional love, saw the difficulty Peter had responding and “lowered the bar” to allow Peter to connect? Some commentators think so. Interestingly, the next verse after this talks about the sacrifice Peter must make, even giving his life, which is an agape form of love!
WHAT DOES LOVE LOOK LIKE?
Let’s be honest, when God speaks of His love, Christ's love, He is talking about the highest form of love. He offers us unconditional, unending, unwavering love in the for, of His Son Jesus, and He asks us to show this kind of love to those around us.
John 15:13 (ESV Strong's)
Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.
Christ's love not demonstrated is nothing more than a feeling, and love demonstrated during times of pain and trials, self-sacrificing love, agape love is something even the world will take notice of!
WHAT DOES CHRIST’S LOVE LOOK LIKE?
John 15:9 (ESV Strong's)
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.
The visible expression of Christ's love is seen in His Son Jesus Christ. So let’s look at the love of Christ…
1. CHRIST’S LOVE IS DIVINE
Christ's love is divine in origin, it’s not something human, but supernatural…
1 John 4:16 (ESV Strong's)
So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.
It does not say that God loves, it says that God IS love. So love is who God is, and that love has existed between the members of the Trinity for all eternity. That means Christ's love never fades or fails.
Psalms 136:1 (ESV Strong's)
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.
When you come to Jesus, a whole new dimension of love opens up to you. After 30 years of walking with Christ, I must confess I still cannot fathom love so divine, so profound and so timeless. We need a love that will not let us down, and this is the love God gives us in Christ.
Ephesians 3:17-19 (ESV Strong's)
that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
2. CHRIST’S LOVE IS SELF-GIVING
Second, Christ’s love is self-giving. We see this in Jesus’ life and especially in his crucifixion—Christ gave his very life for us.
Human love may include feelings of positive regard for another, and it may even include kindness, but divine love takes kindness to the ultimate degree. It involves the willingness to sacrifice oneself for the sake of another.
Romans 5:8 (ESV Strong's)
but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
3. CHRIST’S LOVE IS IMPARTIAL
Jesus Christ’s love is impartial. Jesus did not die only for his friends, He died for the entire world (see Jn 3:16), a world in rebellion against God that hated and despised Him.
Paul explains it well… Human love is usually extended toward those we believe are deserving of it.
Romans 5:7-8 (ESV Strong's)
For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
We tend to love only those who love us. But Christ's love is fundamentally different: while we were sinners, even enemies of God, he sent his Son to die for us. This is agape love, not something that you earn, not even something you deserve, it is love that transcends what we do or say, and it is available to all.
If a Muslim enters our church, can you love him? If a gay person or a transgender comes in here, can you love them? We say yes in principle, but how could you demonstrate that love? Would you have a gay person to your home for dinner? Christ's love is impartial, and Christ ate with sinners when He was on earth. He never condoned their sin, He just loved them!
4. CHRIST’S LOVE IS CREATES THE VALUE OF THE OBJECT
Fourth, Christ’s love creates the value of its object. This is an important fact that we as believers often overlook.
Some people assume that God loves us because he sees something valuable and sacred in us. We reason, “We must be worth something if God loves us.”
The truth is that God does not love us because He sees something of value in us… no, we are worth something simply because God loves us, because we bear His image. Martin Luther said that God’s love creates our attractiveness; it is not our attractiveness that generates God’s love. We are fallen and undeserving of God’s love. Yet he loves us unconditionally with His agape love. God loves us because He is love, not because of anything within us!
Think of the story of the Prodigal son. He wanted out of the family in order to gain his inheritance. His self-centredness and moral destitution didn’t merit his father’s affection. But his father persisted in loving him, so that as soon as he saw he was returning home, his father ran to embrace him.
Luke 15:20 (ESV Strong's)
And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.
This is a picture of Christ's love for us. Just as the father ran to his son, welcoming him with open arms, so God stretched out his arms on the cross and welcomed us home. Today, this divine love is available to you too, and when you come to Him you will find true value as a human being forevermore.
5. CHRIST’S LOVE IS UNDETERRED
Loving someone when they throw it back in your face is hard. It’s hard enough to love someone when they do not even notice you’re alive, but loving someone who actively attacks you and seeks your destruction is a superhuman, even a divine thing.
Jesus in the cross, in pain and agony, facing certain death, looked upon those bent on His destruction, those who hated Him more than anything in the world and said,
Luke 23:34 (ESV Strong's)
And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Christ’s love was undeterred, it never gave up, it loved when it was abused back.
6. CHRIST’S LOVE NEVER FAILS
The beautiful passage of 1 Corinthians 13 includes these verses…
1 Corinthians 13:7-8 (ESV Strong's)
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends.
The love of God never fails. Human love, even that of the best intentions, fails. People get hurt, people move on, people pass away… at some point human love fails. Whatever you face right now, God’s love never fails. However hard things are, however mean or evil people might be, whatever you think of yourself, God’s love never fails. Why? Because God is love and God is eternal, and He never fails.
Christ is the alpha and Omega, He has no beginning and no end. If you don’t give your life to Jesus, you will go to hell. I didn’t say it, God says it, and despite inflation, the wages of sin remains the same… death (Romans 6:23).
But if you come to the love of Christ, His love manifests in you and, because He promises to take you to Heaven, your love becomes eternal too, because it is His love in you.
7. CHRIST’S LOVE IS AVAILABLE FOR YOU THROUGH THE HOLY SPIRIT
I cannot explain Christ’s love for us, but I know we all desperately need it. We need to be saved from our sin, we need to know we have Heaven when we die, and we need to know we have heaven in our hearts right now. Every single one of us needs to know we are loved, to sense this uncompromising, unending, unconditional love that God has for us.
We know we need it, and in this place we sense His love. But how can we share this same love with a sick, twisted and dying world? God in His infinite wisdom chooses to show His love through His people.
John 13:34-35 (ESV Strong's)
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
We are God’s billboard for His love. But this is not about trying to manifest enough love for someone you hate or dislike. It is this… knowing God so closely, so intimately that His love just shines through us.
That is undeterred, divine and supernatural love, and that is Christ's love. In this church, in every church, we need that kind of love.
Let me share a story about undeterred yet divine love shining through.
A REAL LIFE EXAMPLE
Romans 5:5 (ESV Strong's)
hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
Christ's love poured into our hearts, or as the King James says, shed abroad in our hearts... let me share a real-life story of God’s divine, agape love taking over where human love fails.
Corrie Ten Boom was imprisoned in Ravensbrück concentration camp during World War 2 for helping Jews escape Nazi persecution. Her parents and sister died there, but due to a clerical error, she miraculously survived. After the war, she became a Christian speaker, and after speaking at a Munich church in 1947, a bald man stepped forward to greet her.
She knew this man well; he’d been one of the most vicious guards at Ravensbrück, one who had mocked the women prisoners as they showered. “It came back with a rush,” she wrote, “the huge room with its harsh overhead lights; the pathetic pile of dresses and shoes in the center of the floor; the shame of walking naked past this man.
And now this same man was pushing his hand out to shake hers, and saying: “A fine message, Fraulein! How good it is to know that, as you say, all our sins are at the bottom of the sea!”
And I, who had spoken so glibly of forgiveness, fumbled in my pocketbook rather than take that hand. He would not remember me, of course — how could he remember one prisoner among those thousands of women? But I remembered him and the leather crop swinging from his belt. I was face to face with one of my captors, and my blood seemed to freeze.
“You mentioned Ravensbrück in your talk,” he was saying. “I was a guard there… But since that time,” he went on, “I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Fraulein” — again the hand came out —“will you forgive me?”
And I stood there — I whose sins had again and again to be forgiven — and I could not forgive. Betsie had died in that place — could he erase her slow terrible death simply by asking forgiveness?
The soldier stood there expectantly, waiting for Corrie to shake his hand. She wrote, “I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do. For I had to do it — I knew that. The message that God forgives has a prior condition: that we forgive those who have injured us.”
Standing there before the former S.S. man, Corrie remembered that forgiveness is an act of the will — not an emotion. “Jesus, help me!” she prayed. “I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling.” Corrie thrust out her hand. Then she reported this…
”And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.
“I forgive you, brother!” I cried. “With all my heart.”
For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely as I did then. But even so, I realised it was not my love, it was His love in me. I had tried, and did not have the power. It was the power of the Holy Spirit.
WE ALL NEED TO SHOW HIS LOVE TODAY
Have you tried to love someone who seemed unlovable? Have you felt devoid of love, yet known you have to show Christ's love despite how you feel.
Love is a decision, not a feeling. And where our love stops, God’s love takes over!
I have even this past few weeks been attacked without mercy, and I found myself needing to forgive and to show the love of Christ to those who seemingly hate me. Some of you here face this challenge, the challenge of showing God’s love to someone who seems unlovable, someone who maybe even returns hatred for your love, venom for your kindness. Maybe you have tried before, and been hurt, yet you know this person, family member, friend or maybe ex-partner, ex-friend or possibly even a total stranger, need to see God’s limitless love shining through you.
1 John 4:19-21 (ESV Strong's)
We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.