Sermon Two: WHERE LOVE COMES
Reading: 1 John 4:7-10
7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 This is how God showed his love among us: he sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
We are talking about the love that renews us this Lent. Last Sunday we heard the Apostle John say, ‘God is Love”. We heard that because God is love, God is Life. We heard that God is on a mission from God! He is on a mission to love people out of death to life.
That’s what we want to see. This is what we are part of. We do want to see all kinds of people in all kinds of ways coming to life in God’s love.
But we didn’t really get too specific about what love actually is. I know that Forest Gump famously said to his beloved “Jenny”; “I know what love is”. But did he, and do we?
- What is Love?
Our New Testament wasn’t written in English. When John uses this big word so much, he is speaking common Greek of his day. Unlike our English word ‘love’, the Greek language had more words for ‘love’.
Some of you have would know these words. Plenty of people may not yet. When I first came across the different types of love expressed in the Bible it really helped me understand more about my relationships and how I can love others, and how widely God really does love people and me.
John could speak about friend love; love for a friend or a fellow brother or sister in Christ, or erotic love; romantic love for a couple, or family love; love and respect for parents and family. He could use a different word each time in his language. But when translated into English, we are stuck with one word – ‘love’.
In our culture, we seem to hear that word, ‘love’ in a particular way
- Individual and
When people use the word ‘love’ they seem to mainly mean it in the romantic or emotional sense – love means affection, feeling, and is linked to sexuality.
We hear it when we speak of family love and friend love too, but it seems to me that we mainly hear it as the stuff on Married at First Sight or Farmer wants a Wife kind of love.
And we hear it as an individual experience of this emotion. Love tends to be about getting my needs met emotionally by another or by things. Either way, it is very emotion based and individual, not communal or action beyond emotions, so much.
The problem with hearing it mainly these ways is that we transfer that feeling/romantic/individual kind of understanding of ‘love’ to our relationship with God and church – as if God’s love is much more a feeling and emotion for me individually than about action, doing regardless of feelings, community, responsibility…
If God is love, then he is more a way to get to feel good than do some good when we may or may not feel good about it. Things like friendship, loyalty, commitment, duty, public serving without any accompanying good feeling, real actions of kindness despite what I am or may not feel tend to be put on the bench, and we chase this emotional satisfaction kind of love only; as if God is here to make us feel ‘loved’, ‘feel happy’; be our personal waiter meeting our every waking need.
John sees so much more! God’s love is as communal as it is individual. It is deeply personal and surely does include emotions but is not dependent on them, and is a verb – a doing thing, not just for the individual in the personal sphere of life but the actions in the community sphere of our lives.
“Love is not only a feeling. It is primarily an act of your will despite feelings”.
How do I know? John has another word for love. It is the one most used and the one used repeatedly here in this teat and throughout this letter.
The word he finds in his language shows the expansive, complete action orientated love, and it is all God.
“Agape”: That is the word ‘love’ here. “Agape, agape, agape…..” says John to his community.
What is this?
Agape is unique. It has no human parallel and comes from no human source.
Where does agape come from?
For John, Agape is from God. “Agape (love) is from God” (1 John 4:7). God is “agape” (1 John 4:8). It is divine self-giving, self-sacrificing love – the love for us broken people and this broken creation that drove the Father to give up his only Son for the life of the world (John 3:16).
This love is our life as church. This love is how we love in every area of our lives. It is not dependent on how we feel or what we get from loving. It comes not from inner feelings, but God’s promises and makes us unstoppable. We love because are loved like this.
This love drove that first church to change the known world.
The New Testament churches had no large impressive buildings and few resources to speak of. They had very little by way of earthly power. Many of the people in their small local communities were battlers. Lots of them were slaves too.
Often they were persecuted. Suffering was often a daily occurrence. It was often the case that because they were followers of Jesus, they lost the family farm, the family property, the inheritance and the sure future they once had. Paul and the Writer to the Hebrews give us a glimpse of this They tell us that early Christians in these communities were mostly misunderstood, misrepresented and often ridiculed (Hebrews 11, 1 Corinthians 4).
But one thing they had was love. Agape. Love that crossed cultural boundaries, broke down dividing walls, and which transformed cultures and communities, one person at a time; one family at a time. This is the love which enabled them to stand in huge upheavals.
God is still love and still loving with this love and it is this love that brings people and churches and families to life. Maybe Christians living in other situations often know this better than we do.
A Muslim man becomes a Christian and loses his family, his inheritance, and possibly his life. The daughter of a spiritualist medium is cut off by her family and experiences dreadful demonic opposition in her daily life. A prominent Hindu, named after one of the most powerful of the gods, becomes a Christian; he’s ostracised by his family, rejected by his village is ridiculed in public. His barn is burnt down. The son of a village witch doctor believes the gospel. The village cattle get sick and the villagers take revenge for the curse they think he’s brought on them by burning his house down.
But n hint of guilt here, friend. Just love – agape love – God sacrificing himself for you today again right where we live in this Valley and at this time….
In any tough place or situation, this is THE love that will enable you to love the unlovely, do kindness at cost to yourself, to be Jesus’ love and life loving people to life; your partner, your kids, your staff, your boss, your teacher, your lecturer, your parents……
It is why we are church and how we keep going. Agape – the self-giving; self-sacrificing action of a God who wants dead sinners and enemies to be alive friends making friends of dead sinners and enemies.
Question: Do you know this love of God? Have you been ‘agaped’ by his self-giving, self-sacrificing Son; his forgiveness and acceptance for you?
If so, how did he come to you? If not, how does he still?
Agape isn’t a good feeling, or a warm fuzzy emotion. Its “red hands, clotted with blood, thrusting us up to God”!1
Friend, God is still love. God is still agape love – self-sacrificing, self-giving acceptance for you and those around you. Like a couple ‘in love’ his love brings new life into your life. We strain into an unknown future with anticipation and joy, not fear and timidity, because we are loved with this agape love.
God has breathed his agape into us in baptism and sustained us all in his love to this point.
That’s where love comes – Jesus immersing me in his love in baptism. All the Son did to love me when all I could love was myself and my idols has been freely gifted to me and freely sustained in me all this time.
Is this you, friend? Have you known this agape divine love in yourself and are you living by this in all your sins, all your shortcomings, all your concerns and needs and fears? You can. We can. God is love and God is here in all his self-giving acceptance and love.
Did this happen to you at some point but somehow seems far away now? It isn’t. He isn’t. Where even a couple of people gather to listen and pray with Jesus, he is here. Divine love is here now.
Is this strange to you – something you are still trying to get your head around? Can you believe that God is self-sacrificing love for you – that he really has done the unthinkable and the impossible – healed you, restored you, loved you with a love beyond you? No need to get your head around it. You need to open your heart to him first.
God is agape and because he is, these things are happening here….