“Real love isn’t our love for God, but His love for us. God sent His Son to be the sacrifice by which our sins are forgiven.” 1 John 4:10 Contemporary English Version
Is it possible we use the word “love” more inclusively than the Lord intends?
We love everything from ice cream to idols. Where we come from – Egypt, dust, this old world – love is desire, fondness, affection, even sacrifice. Many different kinds of people endure many different kinds of hardship in the name of love. Love for their gods, for their ideals, for their nations, and for their cultures drives people to feuds, wars, and suicide missions. Consider the Kamikaze pilots of World War II, or the Jihadist pilots of 9/11. As they took their seats at the flight controls, they would have said it was done out of love.
In his first letter, that apostle whom Jesus loved, John, challenged us Christians to comprehend a different kind of love than we could ever have known from our experience in the world. To quote another apostle, this love only comes from God and is poured into our hearts by His Spirit (Romans 5:5). This love, John said, doesn’t originate from us toward God. It only flows from Him to us. From us it flows to the world.
Have you ever noticed the kinds of things The New Testament says about our love toward God? It’s a bit of an eye opener when you compare the Scriptures with the way we talk. We’re always going on about how much we love the Lord. But the earliest Christian writers were always going on about how much the Lord loves us, and how important it is that we love one another.
What meaning does it really have when we say we love God? What substance can our words possibly have beyond the consideration, deference, preference, respect and affection we express toward one another? Beloved John asked point blank, How can we say love God whom we can’t see if we don’t love people whom we can? (1 John 4:20)
Frankly, I’ve read that sentence for years and thought, “Well it’s easy to love God – look at all He’s done for me. My notion of Him is very loveable indeed. But people, well, people aren’t that easy to love or even to like, a lot of the time.” That’s true. You know it is. Absence makes the heart grow fonder. Nevertheless, John was speaking of evidence. What evidence is there, really, that we love God?
The love John describes – in the Greek, agape – is not an amped-up version of any love we produce. It must be something different, apart from, and entirely unrelated to anything else we call love. Real love isn’t found in any love we direct toward God. Real love is His love for us, given in the form of a pure and unblemished Lamb, sacrificed in the confidence we humans would respond.
In his book, Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis wrote, “Fallen man is not simply an imperfect creature who needs improvement: he is a rebel who must lay down his arms.” Our love is not simply in need of being amplified and improved by the Lord: we need new wine.
I recently heard a pastor say this about witnesses: “Witnesses provide evidence.” Our witness is intended to serve as evidence that God’s rule, the Kingdom of Heaven, a viable option, is at hand. Hard evidence – the world needs hard evidence. John the Beloved recorded the Lord Jesus as saying, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35) Three times. He said “love one another” three times.
I must confess I’m not living daily by such a priority, and sadly, I’m not alone in that respect. Maybe we can start by praying for one another, as Paul prayed for the Ephesians, “…that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height – to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:17-19)
The weary world just might rejoice.
© Melissa Kay Simonds