Love is a word that we are so used to hearing, as Christians, it would be a rare Sunday in church if you didn’t hear it spoken: between the readings; songs; sermon or prayers. Even if you had never entered walked into a church ‘love’ as a word and concept is so ingrained in our society, speech and out thinking that is has lost its depth and power. Love has become shallow and when you look modern definitions it shows how far it has drifted from the biblical picture, definitions like:
- Love is a strong feeling of affection
- Love is taking a great interest in or finding pleasure in something.
- Love is sexual or deep attraction
To the world today, Love is a feeling an emotion so when we try to understand what it means to ‘love others’ as Christians, we must frame the question properly and stop reducing it to something that requires so little of us. That to love someone means nothing at all. How the world thinks of love is pathetic, especially, when we compare it to the biblical picture of God’s love which is our standard.
“Our culture has accepted two huge lies. The first is that if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle, you must fear or hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do. Both are nonsense. You don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate.” – Rick Warren
The passage which deals with loving others the best is 1 John 4:7-21, From the offset John demands that we love one another because God first loved us. This truth is the cornerstone of why as Christians we chose to love others, because God chose to Love us and one of His greatest attributes is love. But we have to place the command to love one another in the context of a proper understanding of God’s love. Which means looking to the Bible and discerning what it teaches us about Love. As God is the prime example of Love, the perfect place to see this is the Old Testament, which reveals a four pronged understanding of love. The bible understands love as:
- A love that is present: God is forever with Israel in spite of her sin and rebellion. Something we see form the moment of the exodus – God is present in the pillar of fire and smoke and as the story progresses we see his presence dwelling in the Tabernacle and then the Temple.
- God is committed: Repeatedly and without taking a break Israel sins and rebels against God who bears it because of his Love and commitment to them.
- God’s love is for them: God is not present and committed to them, he wants to see them improve to become more of what he has created them for and through that process become more like Jesus.
- It is Sacrificial: God gives without receiving. Something we see this on the cross, when Jesus came to die and bear the cost of our rebellion. He gave of himself for our sake out of love, not a necessity. He sacrificed himself for us and defeated death
The first verse that we are looking at outlines the reality of God’s love for us today. That to truly love people as God loves them means that first, we Love God. It is impossible to love others without first loving God. Love is a consequence of, not a precondition to being saved and as we move forward in the passage we see three different things outlined (8-10) that are vital to our understanding of what it means to love other people.
- If you say “You know God” meaning you are claiming to know Jesus as your Lord and Saviour and have not love – you are a liar. These are strong words, words that almost shock us. What it means is that when God is truly present in your life slowly things should change. So if we are truly in relationship with Jesus then our hearts will be filled with love for everyone. This does not mean that instantly once we entered into a relationship with Christ any hate we feel towards others disappear but that over time the desire to love should consume the hate in our life. That as you start to become the Image of Jesus, you start to love the world as he did.
- God’s Love is real and tangible not some mystic fog that you can sense but not fully grasp. It realness is shown by Jesus coming down to this world and living as one of us. To say you love someone means in some way being present for them, love is more than words spoken it is a presence given. Think of family and friendship where Love grows because you are present with the people and sharing life with them.
- God’s love is the standard we are called to which is shown with a short phrase in verse 10 which declares: “This is love” followed by an example which happens to be the greatest act of love we humanity will ever know. Jesus coming to this world and dying for our sin – this is the standard of the love we are called to, because when we truly know God he will help us love as he loves. When we are called to love the world as Christ did it is the presence of the Holy Spirit who empowers you to love.
“You can always give without loving, but you can never love without giving” – Amy Carmicheal
These three truths demand something of us as John writes, ‘if God loved you this much then how much then should we strive to love one another.’ The love God grants us should compel us to love one another. When Jesus died for us, his love held no preconditions and so should ours. Furthermore, in loving one another as brothers and sisters in Christ we are living out discipleship and showing God to the world while he makes complete his work in us.
There are two ways in which we love others. Firstly, we love our brothers and sisters in Christ and seek to disciple and grow together within the context of the church. Secondly, we love the world around us sacrificially so that they can come to know Jesus and enter into his kingdom. Today and everyday Christians must exist between both: Loving others within the Church as discipleship and loving others outside the church so they can come to know Jesus as Saviour. We do this first by Testifying about Jesus (14-16) we are only able to love others because God has first loved us, so the first proper response to this love is to testify of the risen Christ who is the saviour of the world through our words and deeds. To love others is to tell them the truth that allows us to love which means we are sharing the Gospel and If you are sharing the Gospel, you are acknowledging God which means you know his love and rely on it (16).
Then there is the second mode of loving others: being Jesus in this world a phrase which we see in verse 17. A passage I think bests shows what this means is John Chapter 13
This is a scene we all know so well; Jesus ministry is coming to an end. He and the disciples are together for a meal which is well underway the food is coming out and the place is alive. But, something important is yet to happen their feet have not been washed. Normally a servant would do this, someone who would be considered less important, one must not have been present which means someone in the crowd should do it. One of the disciples should do it but out of pride none of them wants to declare themselves the least: pride is the opposite of love. Suddenly Jesus arises to his feet and you could see all eyes on the room landing on him, the one who is the greatest. You can picture the sweat running down their forehead’s when he starts to take off his garments, they know what’s coming and they know it’s too late to show love or humility. He is taking off his outer garments because this is going to hard work, messy work, he wraps a towel around his waist and fills a basin full of water; gets down on his knees and begins. Their teacher has become the servant, one by one he washes and dries every inch of their feet. Then he gets to Peter who tries to somehow come out positively: “you are not washing my feet” – he cries – “If I don’t wash them you have no part of me…” the discussion sound ends with Jesus putting Peter back in his place. Eventually, when he has washed the feet of Andrew, Bartholomew, James the elder, James the younger, John, Judas, Jude, Matthew, Peter, Simon and Thomas two more incidents happen that show us the depth of biblical love. Jesus predicts his betrayal and then identifies the betrayer as Judas the only one to know who it is John, who happened to be sitting closest to Jesus at the table and in the commotion of it all Judas is sent out to fulfil Gods plan before anyone else can know. Then Jesus predicts the denial of Peter and as we come to the end of the chapter Jesus commands the disciples to love one another as he had loved them.
This is one of the most powerful passages in the bible and I want to draw in on is how it applies to loving others, I want us to see several different things. Jesus washed the feet of every person at the table, he washed the feet of all twelve regardless of how he might have been feeling toward them. He washed the feet of the betrayer and He washed the feet of the denier.
When we love others as Christ loved, there is a presence, action and no discrimination. This is the command he gives to us consider John who because he was close to Jesus had some idea of what was happening he just witnessed him washing the feet of the betrayer and seen Judas go out the door to enact the betrayal and then listened to the words ‘love one another as I have loved you.’ Words he heard echoed in one of the most shameful of betrayals ever acted out by mankind. For us to love others it means washing their feet regardless of their status or relationship with us. Loving others means having a love that is practical, present and real and does not discriminate and drives people to Jesus.
Conclusion and Application
God teaches us to love by putting some unlovely people around us. It takes no character to love people who are lovely and loving to you – Rick Warren
(19 )We love because God first loved us, and we love in the same way God loves us. So if you say: “I love God” yet you hate your brother or sister, then you have not love and are a liar. 1 John 4:20 basically says; “You cannot love the God who you cannot see if you cannot have love for the brothers and sisters who are present in your life.” To love others means loving God, if we are not capable of loving others then we are not capable of loving God.
If you want to truly be able to love others, then you need to first Love God. Firstly, this means taking an honest look at ourselves against the standard of what Love is, God. Asking is our love based on his and is we able to say that we have no fear and have confidence because we have the assurance of things hoped for (17-18)
- We are only able to love first if we are in a relationship with Christ, our love is a response to his love. So today if that is not the case then please respond, make yourself know to the guys doing prayer ministry and bask in the glory of a God who loves you and wants to transform you.
- Secondly we need to consider our relationship in life, whom are we hating? Not just maybe individuals but where in life do we hold mistrust and disgust. Let the Holy Spirit challenge you and reveal to you where you need to work, on those feelings that you need to give to God.
- Thirdly let us love one and another. 1 Peter 5 outlines a list that captures this:
- Praying; If we love others we are praying for them, no matter who they are
- Loving deeply, because it covers a multitude of sin
- Offering hospitality without moaning are we willing to be present with people and share with them?
- Using the Gifts God has given us to serve others, with the strength God has giving us.
- Speaking as if we are speaking Gods word. Which simply means knowing the power our words can have.
Loving others is hard if it was easy it would not be worth it which is why God calls us to it. He is our example when we are confident in his love for us we are truly able to love one and another. So through the power of the spirit within us let us love one another today, tomorrow and the week ahead and in doing so become more like Jesus.