The title of this post just sends the mind humming along with Foreigner’s epic question put to classic rock-ballad tune back in 1984. “Love” is the most sung about, and written about, subject known to man (no data, just guessing here). Whether coming from the perspective of a hyper-sexualized segment of society, or the ultra-conservative religious right, the question is posed and answered… What is love?
You don’t have to look far into the headlines to see how culture answers that question… Tolerance, Equality, Rights, Freedom, Sex, Benevolence, Acceptance, Giving
While I would be uncomfortable defining love solely by any of the above words, they could be descriptive of the defining biblical answer…
Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.
(1 John 4:8 ESV)
We assert this to be true, because the Scriptures are true and God is true. Therefore, everyone, willing or not, will (eventually) understand love as it’s defined by God (His nature & His work). Essentially, when we cease to view Scripture as sufficient, thereby sufficiently depicting God, then we will skew love to mean what our nature tends toward…all inclusive, never exclusive, without accountability, only what supports “the way we are.”
What’s astounding about 1 John to me is that the wonderfully pastoral book, written to give the believer assurance, is so focused on the fruit of love for God and one another. What we can surmise is that to love, genuinely love, what God loves is to be assured of His love for us in salvation. With that, when we grasp the fact that this Divine love for us is articulated in terms of His divine nature, we see that there is no room for sentimentality or duplicity in our understanding of love. He loves because He loves. We love because He loved us first.
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 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. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.
(1 John 4:7-12 ESV)
Church, love is our evidence that we are born of God AND it is evidence to the world that God exists. Love is tough. It’s hard to love because we want to be loved, made much of, but not necessarily driven to make much of loving others. But if we are aiming to live in God then we will aim to live in love. His nature and work are consistent, so if we bear His nature, we will bear His work.
To bear His work of love, we must know the essence of His love. This is seen in the passage above, “In this is love…” First, love is not defined by our love for Him. This is a crucial truth. We innately believe that God loves us because we are either lovable, or have shown Him enough “love” to cause Him to love us back. This is the antithesis of love, actually. We despise the cross of God, His ultimate act of love, by even acting like the brutality of the cross, in its entirety, was not necessary for our salvation in total. Basically, we bring nothing good, or loving, to the table.
Love is shown in the fact that God loves us…broken, fallen, enemy…us. And this love is shown in Christ’s propitiatory work. This “Bible” word, propitiation, simply means atonement, but particularly atoning in satisfying God’s wrath. This means that we deserved the death that Christ bore, and if we are to know love we must first completely own up to this fact. Therefore, we DO NOT own up to His atoning work if we feel that any portion of ourselves doesn’t need atonement. His love is total, sufficient…totally sufficient!
So, if we are His people, atoned for and made righteous before God, then we ought to love others who have been atoned for as well. However, to love what God loves isn’t bound only to the redeemed, but also the lost world. We know that God hates sin, and even despises some sinners (Romans 9:13), but His love is displayed to the lost world in Christ’s atoning work, and that work is on display in the love the redeemed in Christ have for one another.
Do you notice what John says in verse 12 above? “No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.” Astounding, really. There is an evangelistic apologetic in our love for the body of Christ. In a sense, the gospel becomes incarnational when the church noticeably loves one another. The world doesn’t see God, but the world can see the evidence of God’s existence in our mutual love. This is no surprise, John already recorded this theme in his gospel letter…
When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once. Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’ 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.”
(John 13:31-35 ESV)
Look, I know love is hard. I’m a pastor and I’m supposed to either be natural at this sort of thing, or at least taught how to do it in seminary. No. It’s a struggle. I tend to love others more than it seems, yet if that’s true then every effort would be made to make sure love is known. This isn’t about “people pleasing” but it is about God’s pleasure. Let us seek to work love out in our midst so that the glory of God is seen and felt in our midst, and evidence of His existence supported by our unusually redemptive love for one another.
Make it your aim this week to find one tangible way to love someone in the church, not to gain God’s favor, but to put on display His love for you for His sake!