Posts Tagged "1 John 3:13-18"

What Is Love?

June 21, 2020
By Rev. Peter Heckert

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our meditation for this second Sunday after Trinity is from our Epistle text where John tells his readers, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. … Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” Here ends our text; dear Christian friends …

When I was growing up in the 90s, there was a song popularized by the movie, “A Night at the Roxbury.” The song was called, “What Is Love?” by the artist Haddaway. In the song, he keeps asking the question that is the song’s namesake – “What is love?” followed by the plea, “Baby don’t hurt me no more.” Without psychoanalyzing this pop song or the singer’s apparent unreciprocated feelings, it’s worth looking at because that question is still pertinent today: “What is love?”

The world has its definitions. They range anywhere from “a chemical stimulation in the brain that generates strong emotions toward another” … to “live and let live” and “don’t rock the boat” … to “it’s the feeling I get whenever I’m near her … or him.” With all due respect to those who hold that these pithy sentiments define love, I have to disagree. I do so because they are confusing “love” with the sensation of being loved. It’s a common mistake to make, but it is a mistake nonetheless. Being loved … is great! To know that someone has these strong feelings for you … it feels wonderful! Simply put, you love being loved.

But what happens when that special someone does or says something that is … unlovable? A thoughtless word; a careless deed. What happens when your beau has a bad day and takes out his frustrations on you? What happens if she holds a position different than you regarding something you care about? Do you truly love him, according to those definitions? Does she truly love you? Is there love to be found in those relationships?

Words have meaning, and suffice it to say, the aforementioned “definitions” of love are anything but. Allow me to humbly offer a different definition for what love is: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.” John heard Jesus speak these words, this definition of love, and as he recorded his gospel account, those words were brought to his remembrance. According to John, this definition of love, demonstrated by God … laying down His life for His people… is the definition of love.

He heard those words firsthand … but what’s more, he saw them come to fruition firsthand. Standing beside his rabbi’s mother, John saw Jesus be crucified. He saw the agony that his Lord endured, as He bled from innumerable lacerations and punctures. He heard the words, “Behold your mother” escape Jesus’s lips mere moments before He bowed His head and gave up His spirit. John saw firsthand this working definition of love … as Jesus of Nazareth, true God and true Man … died for the sins of the world. “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us ….”

That’s love. Real sacrifice on behalf of someone who doesn’t deserve it. Paul puts it another way in his letter to the Romans: “For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Humanity did not deserve such great love being shown to us; we’re all born sinners – spiritually blind, dead, and enemies of the one true God. And in spite of that … Christ died for us.

That’s the working definition of love – sacrifice! Telling the truth even when it means someone is going to be angry at you or hurt by you. Suffering alongside another who’s in the depths of sorrow. Forgiving another whose actions would otherwise be unforgivable. Real love is uncomfortable, it’s messy, it can be deadly! And it’s precisely what we are called to show to our brothers.

Can you do it? Think about someone who really grinds your gears – perhaps someone who holds a different political opinion than you. Would you be willing to show them this kind of love? On your own, probably not. You’re a sinner, after all, and sinners love their sin. On your own, you wouldn’t love your neighbor as yourself. But because you have the Spirit of the living God dwelling within you, given through the waters of Holy Baptism, you are compelled to love.

This isn’t about works righteousness. This isn’t about you earning your salvation. This is not prescriptive; John’s words are descriptive. We, who have passed from death to life will show love for our brother, even to the point of emulating (albeit imperfectly) the perfect example of love found in Jesus Christ, crucified and resurrected for you. As a Christian, you are willing to endure the pain of love. You’re willing to endure the scorn and the shame that comes from speaking the truth. You are willing to love the unlovable brother, knowing how unlovable you are and yet seeing the unfathomable love God first showed to you, in sending Jesus to the cross on your behalf.

It’s not easy, friends. We still struggle against our flesh to, as John puts it, “not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” The Old Adam within us still wants to get offended, to hate, to justify his lashing out. But God has given us His promise that we have passed from death to life, and that, even if we don’t know it, recognize it, or see it, He loves the brothers for us, through us, sometimes even in spite of us. “By this we know love, that [Jesus] laid down His life for us.” That’s love – messy, painful, and what God calls us to show, because He first loved us in that way.

+ In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

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