Love— a big topic! The word is often misunderstood, misused, abused, twisted. And yet in the current debacle of love (in both the church and the world), there is a genuine love based on truth. What we in the church can do is to hold to that perfect balance of love and truth, sacrificing neither.
Competing views of Love
If someone is claiming to love, but twisting Scripture to support a false view, then we have to speak truth, calling a spade a spade. If abuse is happening in the name of love, then we can be sure that love is not part of the environment, no matter how loudly someone shouts about it being “Biblical love.”
True love described by Paul is the heart of what love looks like, acts like, and speaks like.
Love is patient, love is kind. Love does not envy, is not boastful, is not arrogant, is not rude, is not self-seeking, is not irritable, and does not keep a record of wrongs. Love finds no joy in unrighteousness but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7 CSB)
As Christians we cannot let the world determine love; Scripture does that sufficiently. The people without faith can see problems in the world, even in love problems. In light of the great needs in the world, one suggestive, even tempting quip, is heard: “Let the Christian churches show their love for the hurting, refugees, persecuted.” There is some truth to that, but not the totality of the problems nor the solution of the problems. In other words, many can see the problems with love, but can’t offer a viable, sustainable model of love.
The starting point for Christian love is not the entire social mess in the world. Yes, the needs are pressing, but we cannot let that dictate what love is and looks like. Rather, the as we look at 1 John, we discover love that begins within the Church and moves outward, not the other way around.
1 John Speaks to the Church
This short post is about beginning in the local Christian congregation. If we cannot love those in our own congregation, then what can we offer the world? People will see our congregation and say, “If that is love, I want no part of it!”
John’s first letter proposes a different agenda for the Christians gathered around Word and Sacrament: “love for one another.” Given the atmosphere, attitudes, language among Christians (at least in the U.S.), now is a good time to reflect on what John faced and wrote in the first century.
John minces no words about love in the life of a Christian—specifically love for other Christians:
We know that we have passed from death to life because we love our brothers and sisters. The one who does not love remains in death. Everyone who hates his brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him. (1 John 3:14-15 CSB)
How is love in our congregations? A real problem for Christians is when our love for others is feigned, and ultimately love is replaced by indifference. What does “cooling love” sound like? In the tone of dialog. In the descriptions of others? Of course, we may not always outright reject brothers and sisters in the faith in the congregation or attack them. We don’t have to. We are too subtle for that.
How do we move beyond the superficial love?
This is how we have come to know love: He laid down his life for us. We should also lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. (1 John 3:16 CSB)
Jesus showed exactly what perfect love is. He sacrificed his own life, not for good people, but for sinners, like you and me. He loved in words and in deeds, all in truth. So John asks the first century Christians (and us!) to consider that in our love of other Christians.
If anyone has this world’s goods and sees a fellow believer in need but withholds compassion from him—how does God’s love reside in him? Little children, let us not love in word or speech, but in action and in truth. (1 John 3:17-18 CSB)
So the pattern for loving our brothers and sisters in faith, the very people we meet at worship, on the street, in our homes, is Jesus himself. As you read through the Gospels notice how Jesus loved— openly, freely, deeply. None of his love was based on what the person could do for Jesus, but because most of all the people needed to be loved, uncoditionally. And Jesus could do that—and did that.
John concludes this chapter with a summary of the thoughts above, with one specific addition.
Now this is his command: that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another as he commanded us. The one who keeps his commands remains in him, and he in him. And the way we know that he remains in us is from the Spirit he has given us. (1 John 3:23-24 CSB)
John adds that we know the Christ and his love remains in us: the Spirit who is given to us. Notice then we not only have the example and reality of Christ loving us, we have the Spirit leading us to live in Christ, to love in Christ.
Such description and hope mean that love is the central aspect of our life together in Christ. God continues to nurture our love by means of God’s Word (John 8:1-32), God’s forgiveness (Matt. 18:15-20), the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:23-29), and the daily reminder of our Baptism in Christ (Romans 6:1-7). Our actions reflect that love as Christ remains in us.
Thus, Jesus’ love transforms us so that we see the real problems in the world, not just the visually identified problems. Thus, in the church we see the heartache, abuse, neglect, despair, the broken relationships in our midst and respond with both the truth of God’s Word and the perfect love of Jesus as the solution. We speak with one another not “as if we loved them,” but “because we do love them.”
May the observation from a second century pagan become a tribute to God’s love in our midst: “See how they love one another.”
[more to follow]