Defining Love

If Jesus identified love as the greatest command, He also identified the greatest expression of love. John 15:11-12 12  My command is this: love each other as I have loved you.  13  Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. Jesus’ command is that we love each other in the same way that He has loved us. That sets the bar extraordinarily high. Our love is to be the same as His and Jesus was exceptionally loving. Indeed, John says that God is love. 1 John 4:8 Whoever does not love does not know God because God is love. Jesus therefore was love in the flesh; love embodied; love made visible. That is going to mean that we can describe love by describing Jesus. Jesus’ actions tell us what love looks like. John’s first epistle says that we understand love by looking at Jesus. 1 John 3:16-18 16  This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.  17  If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?  18   Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. Jesus’ laying down of His life for us is the epitome of love and we are to act likewise. None of us can die for the sins of the world. Jesus alone could be that perfect sacrifice and He has done all that is necessary. Nevertheless, we are called to “lay down our lives”. For some Christians, that might mean a literal death – a willingness to die for others. John 15:13 is, for example, often quoted when remembering those who have died in war, fighting for freedom for their country. More often, the laying down of our lives will mean “dying to self”, that is, counting ourselves as of little worth and sacrificing for others. The example given in 1 John 3:16-18 is the giving of our possessions to someone in need. Love means preferring someone else over ourselves. John says that love is not to be a matter of words only but of action and in truth. James makes the same point (although he is illustrating a different point. Just as so-called “love” without action is useless, so faith without works is dead.) James 2:15-16 15  Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food.  16  If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? Our love for others is to be like Jesus’ for us. That means radically sacrificial (to the point of dying to ourselves) and intensely practical. Any discussion about the Christian’s relationship (or the church’s relationship) with practising homosexuals has to take seriously the call to love and the radical nature of Christian love. It must be radically sacrificial and intensely practical. 1 Corinthians 13:1-8a is the best known description of love. Illustrating how Jesus is the embodiment of love, people have noted how appropriately His name can be substituted for the word ‘love’. Having talked about spiritual gifts, Paul highlights the superiority of love – indeed, the uselessness of the gifts without love. 1 Corinthians 12:31 – 13:8a And yet I will show you the most excellent way. If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.  2  If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.  3   If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. 4  Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  5  It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  6   Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  7  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8  Love never fails. Each phrase in verses 4 to 8 can be explored to discover the nature of love. Love is patient. What does that mean in practice? Love is kind. What would that mean for the Christian’s attitude towards the homosexual? The chapter finishes by listing faith, hope and love as three things that remain but Paul states that the greatest of them is love (1 Cor 13:13). It has to be admitted that much of the church’s response to homosexuals has not been loving and especially not loving in this radical way. Some of it has been quite hateful. It would be instructive for churches to ask questions such as: What do we understand laying down our lives to mean in practical terms? How can we lay down our lives for the sexually immoral? In what ways is Jesus asking us to sacrifice for them? What examples of Jesus’ love provide a model for us? How can we apply each phrase from 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 to this particular issue? However, we have not said enough to do justice to the biblical material. There is a view of love (and of God) that says that love is always gentle, nice, affirming, accepting… The love some proclaim is merely sentimentalism. It would never say that anyone was wrong, or challenge, or warn. That is not true of Jesus. He did criticise, challenge, warn. He was very blunt at times. It is not credible that people should suggest that God accepts everybody irrespective of their character and lifestyle. The Bible is a long record of God telling us that we have got things wrong and need to repent. The prophets continually railed against the people, identifying their sin and calling them to turn back to God. True love cares about people’s eternal salvation and is never content to let people continue in sin without desperately pleading with them to repent. Amongst the qualities listed in 1 Corinthians 13 we are told that “Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.” Likewise, (and perhaps more pointedly) in Romans 12:9, Paul says, “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.” Sincere love hates evil. It is insincere love that never challenges evil and that encourages people into hell. In our fallen world the difficulty is getting the balance right – being genuinely Christ-like. In defining love we must hear the radical nature of biblical love. We are to love as Jesus loved. That means being radically compassionate and gracious. It means love that is expressed in costly, sacrificial action. But it also means love that honours truth and cares about people’s salvation. It is love that will not shrink back from hard realities nor from confronting. It is love that is willing to be rejected (just as Jesus was and God so often is) because it doesn’t always say what people want to hear. Biblical, God-like love is not sentimental and soft.

Related pages

· · · ·
© 2017 Peter Cheyne
A Christian’s Guide To Homosexuality
Truth In Love
Main sections Main sections

Defining Love

If Jesus identified love as the greatest command, He also identified the greatest expression of love. John 15:11-12 12  My command is this: love each other as I have loved you.  13  Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. Jesus’ command is that we love each other in the same way that He has loved us. That sets the bar extraordinarily high. Our love is to be the same as His and Jesus was exceptionally loving. Indeed, John says that God is love. 1 John 4:8 Whoever does not love does not know God because God is love. Jesus therefore was love in the flesh; love embodied; love made visible. That is going to mean that we can describe love by describing Jesus. Jesus’ actions tell us what love looks like. John’s first epistle says that we understand love by looking at Jesus. 1 John 3:16-18 16  This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.  17  If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?  18  Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. Jesus’ laying down of His life for us is the epitome of love and we are to act likewise. None of us can die for the sins of the world. Jesus alone could be that perfect sacrifice and He has done all that is necessary. Nevertheless, we are called to “lay down our lives”. For some Christians, that might mean a literal death – a willingness to die for others. John 15:13 is, for example, often quoted when remembering those who have died in war, fighting for freedom for their country. More often, the laying down of our lives will mean “dying to self”, that is, counting ourselves as of little worth and sacrificing for others. The example given in 1 John 3:16-18 is the giving of our possessions to someone in need. Love means preferring someone else over ourselves. John says that love is not to be a matter of words only but of action and in truth. James makes the same point (although he is illustrating a different point. Just as so-called “love” without action is useless, so faith without works is dead.) James 2:15-16 15  Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food.  16  If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? Our love for others is to be like Jesus’ for us. That means radically sacrificial (to the point of dying to ourselves) and intensely practical. Any discussion about the Christian’s relationship (or the church’s relationship) with practising homosexuals has to take seriously the call to love and the radical nature of Christian love. It must be radically sacrificial and intensely practical. 1 Corinthians 13:1-8a is the best known description of love. Illustrating how Jesus is the embodiment of love, people have noted how appropriately His name can be substituted for the word ‘love’. Having talked about spiritual gifts, Paul highlights the superiority of love – indeed, the uselessness of the gifts without love. 1 Corinthians 12:31 – 13:8a And yet I will show you the most excellent way. If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.  2  If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.  3  If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. 4  Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  5  It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  6  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  7  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8  Love never fails. Each phrase in verses 4 to 8 can be explored to discover the nature of love. Love is patient. What does that mean in practice? Love is kind. What would that mean for the Christian’s attitude towards the homosexual? The chapter finishes by listing faith, hope and love as three things that remain but Paul states that the greatest of them is love (1 Cor 13:13). It has to be admitted that much of the church’s response to homosexuals has not been loving and especially not loving in this radical way. Some of it has been quite hateful. It would be instructive for churches to ask questions such as: What do we understand laying down our lives to mean in practical terms? How can we lay down our lives for the sexually immoral? In what ways is Jesus asking us to sacrifice for them? What examples of Jesus’ love provide a model for us? How can we apply each phrase from 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 to this particular issue? However, we have not said enough to do justice to the biblical material. There is a view of love (and of God) that says that love is always gentle, nice, affirming, accepting… The love some proclaim is merely sentimentalism. It would never say that anyone was wrong, or challenge, or warn. That is not true of Jesus. He did criticise, challenge, warn. He was very blunt at times. It is not credible that people should suggest that God accepts everybody irrespective of their character and lifestyle. The Bible is a long record of God telling us that we have got things wrong and need to repent. The prophets continually railed against the people, identifying their sin and calling them to turn back to God. True love cares about people’s eternal salvation and is never content to let people continue in sin without desperately pleading with them to repent. Amongst the qualities listed in 1 Corinthians 13 we are told that “Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.” Likewise, (and perhaps more pointedly) in Romans 12:9, Paul says, “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.” Sincere love hates evil. It is insincere love that never challenges evil and that encourages people into hell. In our fallen world the difficulty is getting the balance right – being genuinely Christ-like. In defining love we must hear the radical nature of biblical love. We are to love as Jesus loved. That means being radically compassionate and gracious. It means love that is expressed in costly, sacrificial action. But it also means love that honours truth and cares about people’s salvation. It is love that will not shrink back from hard realities nor from confronting. It is love that is willing to be rejected (just as Jesus was and God so often is) because it doesn’t always say what people want to hear. Biblical, God-like love is not sentimental and soft.

Related pages

· · · ·
© Peter Cheyne 2017.
A Christian’s Guide To Homosexuality
Truth In Love
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