Thursday, May 25, 2017

What Love Is (1 John 4:7-10)

As followers of Jesus, we are commanded repeatedly in the New Testament to love one another. (Just in this passage we get the exhortation multiple times: 4:7,8,11,16,19,21; 5:1.) Unlike becoming a follower—which we are incapable of doing anything to facilitate—being a follower is characterized by what we do. Being a follower of Jesus means that we are loving towards others.

So, what does that look like? How can we know if we are behaving in a way that would characterize us as true children of God? To know that we must first know what love is.

This is actually a huge problem for us. We have so many distinct understandings and ideas of what love is, that we can come up with a lot of different ways to be “Christian.” Some of them have so pervaded our culture that people have decided that we can live with the “benefits” of Christianity without having to believe in God or Jesus at all.

How does the world define love?

Most see it as a feeling. It comes and goes like a mood or a craving. It is hardly the sort of thing upon which to base anything substantial. But it is certainly a positive feeling. These people would argue for a Christianity where people simply remain positive and nice. It is the religion of politeness. This may seem like an other-centered idea of love, but it is really just about self, love as feeling is all about how the world treats me. I feel good when things are good. My goal in life is to be nice because I want the world to be nice. It is the most vacuous understanding of the Golden Rule. This is not the love that the Bible shows us.

Others—and this may be the majority position on the matter—see love as being all about sex. The warm-fuzzy feeling induced by a biological imperative to propagate the species. Or, in today’s culture, we can even drop any thought of reproduction. It is all about brain chemistry and there are any number of things that can trigger our pleasure centers. It is hard to imagine basing any form of Christianity on this base-level understanding of love. Only creepy-cultists and criminal-priests would try to build a theology here.

Higher minded people look to the sacrificial love of a parent or a soldier. And they come closer to the biblical idea of love, but again they fall short. Humanity can fathom sacrificing oneself for a child or a home-land. But this is still tangentially based on a cult of self.

The biblical concept of love is actually foreign to us. All of these other ideas may point in some way towards the concept, but they all fall hopelessly short. John tells us here that God IS love, so to begin with we are dealing with something beyond our created reality. But, God is knowable because He has revealed Himself to His creation. So, love is also something we can know, as we come to know God.

And the best picture of love ever put on display is presented here as the definition: Christ on the cross. God sending His only Son to die for people who had declared Him to be their enemy; people who had rejected and hated Him. The Gospel is our best example of love. It is the love that we aim for in our lives as we interact with other. It is John’s best test for authenticity in the follower of Christ. If we claim to know God, we will know Him as He showed Himself in the Gospel. If we claim to know God we will live our lives as examples of God’s love.

So, Christianity based on the Biblical idea of love is one where people no longer live for themselves. They don’t even live and love their own, the people of their family and community. True followers of Jesus live loving sacrificially towards everyone; even their enemies.

How is that even possible? Keep reading…

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