The men in our church are studying 1st John. A short letter written by one of Jesus’ closest disciples, John. Much of the themes in the book are centered on love.
John writes about loving God and enjoying fellowship with our Maker and Redeemer. And he writes about love for the church, and our neighbors. But what is love? How does the biblical sense of love differ from our cultural understanding? Are they the same or different?
I find this Frederick Buechner quote helpful:
“In the Christian sense, love is not primarily an emotion, but an act of the will. When Jesus tells us to love our neighbors, he is not telling us to love them in the sense of responding to them with a cozy emotional feeling. You can as easily produce a cozy emotional feeling on demand as you can a yawn or a sneeze. On the contrary, he is telling us to love our neighbors in the sense of being willing to work for their well-being even if it means sacrificing our own well-being to that end, even if it means sometimes just leaving them alone. Thus in Jesus' terms, we can love our neighbors without necessarily liking them. In fact liking them may stand in the way of loving them by making us overprotective sentimentalists instead of reasonably honest friends.” --Originally published in Wishful Thinking and later in Beyond Words
Love in the biblical sense is not cozy and sentimental. It’s not primarily a feeling but an act of the will. Love more often than not will include feelings. But feelings are not the primary driver of love.
John in his short letter didn’t say if we love God we’ll have strong feelings for him. No, he said, if we love God we’ll express it by obedience and doing what he says, and loving our neighbors:
“3 And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. 4 Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, 5 but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him…” -1 John 2:3-5
To say we love someone and dismiss everything they say is indifference. It’s an arrangement. If I say I love my wife, and never listen to her opinions, or pleas to put up the toilet seat and take out the trash. That’s not love. Love involves acts of the will and expression.
Love involves sacrifice and commitment to another for their benefit. With God, we can’t add to Him, or make him more worthy by our love. But with neighbors, we show love by actions, and considering their needs more vital than our own.
Jesus modeled this for us in the greatest act of love in the history of the world.
“16 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 17 But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” -1 John 3:16-18
Jesus laid his life down unto death. He sacrificed for his enemies. Did he feel love in this act of redemption? Sure.
But the act of love showed on the cross was not for sentimental reasons. It was not an act of heroic love for the sake of illustration and example alone. The action of Jesus accomplished something. Mainly, redemption of sinners for all who trust in Him. The atoning work of Jesus made fellowship with God possible.
We could say: Jesus didn’t just say he loved the world, he showed it. He gave his own life for her redemption and restoration.
As much as our culture spouts out the need for loving all people. I think most of what we’re talking about is a form of tolerance and what Buechner describes as: “overprotective sentimentalists.”
What our society needs is a reimagining of love. Not a sentimental and tolerant love which only puts up with others to a point. Our culture needs a kind of love with backbone and heart and action. A love rooted in service, commitment, and sacrifice.
I think only the biblical version of love can create a people who consider the needs of others more important than their own. Only the biblical sense of love with a crucified Messiah at the center has the weight to compel someone to consider loving others, the way Jesus has loved them.
The church needs to be a community of Light where they not only say they love God, but demonstrate love by listening to what their Father tells them, and includes loving their neighbors as themselves.
I’m enjoying this study in John, because it’s much easier for me to love in “word or talk” and not “deed and truth.”
Consider me challenged…