Last Sunday we kicked off a series that has been burning on my heart for a while now. It aims to get at the heart of what love really is and what God means for it to be. Not an easy undertaking but one that is so needed in these days. In our “pop” culture the term, word, and endearment of love is thrown and tossed around in trivial, lustful, and incorrect ways. People love those who love them. They relate love to what they get. Advertising and marketing campaigns don’t help. People who are in love “for better and for worse” and who profess this love to one another before their family and friends in wedding ceremonies are signing the divorce papers quicker and at even higher percentages. Those inside the church have virtually the same divorce rates as those who have never crossed the threshold of any Church.
So, we started last Sunday (on 2-2-14) with these statements: “I love pizza!” “I love football!” “I love my new job!” “I love my dog.” And how can be forget this one: “I love God.” So the question is and has to be: Is the word “love” overused? How can the same word apply to all these things and hundreds more? It’s really no wonder or no great mystery on how people get tripped up and how we can miss (not in part, but entirely) the action-oriented, present-tense, servant-focused type of love that God calls and commands us to express toward not just our faves and fams but to all…the whole world…even those we perceive to be enemies.
Yes, the love that God commands us to have for others is so radical that it includes loving our enemies and persecutors (Matthew 5, vv.43-48) and loving without expectation of receiving love in return (Luke 6, vv.26-37). But the most challenging call to love is the Command of Christ (found in Matthew 22).
To truly love, we must first know God. Love starts with God and ends with Him because God is love. We see this when John writes: “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” (1 John 4, vv.7-8). God acts, and operates, and directs out of His love. His display and demonstration of love is the purest and truest there is; He loves perfectly. And because we are made in God’s image, we too can love. We have the capability and the power to love as His presence lives and dwells in us through the Holy Spirit. Not of our own accord; not because of who we are or what we do; not because we think it is our ‘religious’ duty.
Love isn’t something that is derived from within us. It is radical. It is supernatural. The kind of love that God calls us to ~ the love that loves our neighbor as much as we love ourselves ~ that must come from Him. We cannot love like that without first being born of God. God’s common grace allows for all men made in His image to love, but there is a love that is set apart for the Christian. And it is also God’s enabling Spirit that allows us to love God. We love God because He first loved us (see 1 John 4, v.19).
This should cause us to pause. If we are enabled by His Spirit to love and if this love is set apart, we should be seeking to express it and to know it. Our love for each other has great implications. Jesus states that, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13, v.35). This command to love is essential and foundational. It isn’t a haphazard imperative to be tossed around. God never says, “if you feel like loving, then love.” It’s also challenging in that the entire world and those who are staunchly opposed to God, who don’t believe, would see something in us, something, that would demonstrate the fact, reality, and presence of His love.
Christ died so we might live for Him, and we die to ourselves as we learn to love others in both practical and non-practical ways. This includes ways that sometimes makes no sense and seems risky. We have to move past how we feel about a situation or a person and ask God to give us His genuine love for others.
Through the Word, the Holy Spirit puts within the people of God a conviction to love people and to ensure they know that they are loved. We fail miserably at this when we try to love in our own strength. We will never love God or anyone with our whole heart if the love we have is in our own power. It will fail. But with God, all things are possible! I don’t always want to love, but I can choose to. Let us thank our Lord and Savior Who came and died for our half-hearted love – now we can love in His power and victory. Yes, we can love lavishly and generously, and we must!
Grateful for the love that came down, remained, and is here today! His love remains! It’s the love that can change the world, one life and one heart at a time!