Love

Rev. David Bast Uncategorized

READ : John 15:13

Here is the ultimate test of what it means to be human.

It was a Thursday, the evening before Jesus’ death on the cross. Jesus had gathered with his disciples in a room in the upper story of a friend’s house in Jerusalem to share the Passover meal. We have a full account in the Gospels of what occurred during those hours they spent together in that Upper Room. The thing that immediately comes to mind, of course, is the Lord’s Supper, where Jesus instituted a new covenant meal with his disciples by changing the Passover Feast into a sacred memorial of his suffering and death.

But Jesus also taught his friends many new things – and some old ones – during those hours. His words are recorded in the fourth Gospel, in chapters 13-17. This passage, which contains some of Jesus’ most important teachings, is sometimes called his Upper Room Discourse. And in the course of this discourse, Jesus gave his followers a special command.

“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.”

John 15:12-14, niv

LOVE ONE ANOTHER

Legal experts tell us that the law puts a special emphasis upon the statements of a dying person. In fact, when properly attested by competent witnesses, the final instructions of a person can even serve as a verbal will or testament. The words Jesus spoke to his disciples in the upper room on the last night of his life constitute a sort of last will and testament which he left behind for the family of his followers. His central instruction to them – to us – was short and simple: “Love one another, even as I have loved you.”

Why does the Lord care so much about love? Why did Jesus make it his basic command? Not only is love the key to the Christian life, it is not too much to say that love is the key to life itself. When people puzzle over the deep mysteries of the universe, the deepest one of all is the question of why. Why does anything exist at all? The Bible’s answer, in one word, is love. God’s love is the power that called the universe into being. God’s love is the power that supports and carries the whole creation along and keeps it going. God’s love is the reason you and I were made and why we’re still alive to draw breath at this very moment. Love is the very nature of God, and he wants it to be the nature of his people as well.

Despite its importance, though, we still often misunderstand the nature of true love. Most of us tend to think of love primarily as an emotion. We believe it’s a state of feeling a certain way about a thing or a person, a condition that just happens to us and there isn’t much we can do about it. We either love or we don’t. After all, you can’t control your heart when it comes to love, can you? We often talk about “falling in love” as if love were an accident that happens involuntarily, like falling into a lake. In ancient mythology, love, at least love of the romantic variety, was the province of Venus’s son Cupid. He’s represented as a naughty little boy, shooting his arrows blindly at human targets who have no say whatsoever in the matter. Nobody believes in the old mythology, of course, but a great many people accept the understanding of love that it represents. Many still think that love is all a matter of feelings, and therefore that our loves, or for that matter our hates, are all beyond our control, beyond even our understanding.

WHAT LOVE IS LIKE

But when the Bible describes love, it doesn’t really talk about feelings. Did you notice that Jesus adds a definition to his command to his followers that they love each other? “Love one another as I have loved you,” he says. And how did Jesus love them? Well, he was about to show them the next day, Good Friday, by allowing himself to be nailed to a cross on their behalf. Genuine love isn’t measured by how much we say to someone or how deeply we feel about them. It’s measured by how much of ourselves we are willing to give for them, by what we will sacrifice for them.

Now I know sacrifice is not an especially appealing idea. I don’t suppose anyone relishes the thought of loss that it necessarily entails. To sacrifice means to give something up, something of value and importance. We would naturally prefer to have our cake and eat it too. We would like, if we could, to get and keep everything we want without having to surrender anything in exchange, no time or comfort or money. But we also recognize that in a world where everyone cannot always have their own way, sacrifice is sometimes a necessity. For example, both sides have to sacrifice some of their demands in order to reach an agreement in a contract negotiation. A child has to sacrifice half her candy bar to her sister in order to satisfy the demands of parental justice. Workers sacrifice some of their benefits to enable the company to stay in business so they can all keep their jobs. All of us know about those kinds of sacrifices, and when we are called upon, we make them, reluctantly, perhaps, sometimes grudgingly, but we make them.

But with love, sacrifice is different. It’s pure sacrifice, not compromise. To sacrifice one’s self in love for another doesn’t mean giving up something in order to get something back. It doesn’t involve giving up part of what you want so that you can have the rest. It does not consist in taking turns: “I will sacrifice for you this time and then you sacrifice for me next time.” No, love isn’t concerned with striking a balance or equality of results or making sure everybody gets their fair share. Love doesn’t keep track of those kinds of things. It doesn’t keep a tally of who has done what for whom. Love simply gives. It gives itself. It spends itself. It sacrifices itself for the good of the other.

Here is the ultimate in love, according to Jesus: “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” Of course, that is precisely the measure of Jesus’ own love for his friends, for that is exactly what he did for them.

THE GREATEST IS LOVE

Death comes to most of us not in one grand moment of heroic sacrifice, but in gradual, almost imperceptible steps. We usually don’t jump into eternity with a glorious gesture of love; we slide slowly into the grave, protesting all the way. Nothing in the world is more melancholy than the spectacle of encroaching age and approaching death. We live for a while in youth, strength and beauty. But time takes its toll. World-class athletes retire from competition while still in their twenties or thirties, as speed declines and skills erode and reflexes wane. Movie stars and models fight a desperate, often pathetic, always unsuccessful battle against wrinkled skin and fading beauty. The greatest genius among us will someday grow feeble-minded and forgetful. Not only are our natural gifts temporary and passing away; astonishingly, the Bible says the same is true of the supernatural gifts that God gives.

So what does last? Three things at least, according to the apostle Paul in a famous passage from 1 Corinthians 13. “So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” Love is the one permanent thing. Love never ends. Love is forever. Perhaps one reason the apostle says love is greater even than faith or hope is that of these things, love alone will always remain, always be the same thing. Faith and hope will abide, but they will both be changed. We will eternally enjoy the salvation that is the fruit of faith and the object of hope. Faith and hope will always remain in the sense that the things we receive through them will never pass away. But they will be changed. For one day faith will become sight, and hope will become experience.

NO GREATER LOVE

But love is different. Love is the same forever. And that means that nothing done for love will ever be lost. I think that’s why people who love can afford to sacrifice, even if it means the sacrifice of themselves. It won’t really be lost in the end. So what does it mean ultimately to be human? It means to love, the way Jesus loved.

One of the things the Bible makes perfectly clear is that love is the only real measure of a successful life. You say you are a Christian? Well, the real test of that is not how much or how little you talk about it; it’s not how loudly you can sing, “O, how I love Jesus.” No. The real test is whether you love the way he loved, and still does love. Not just the successful Christian life but the successful human life – period – is defined by the presence of love that acts. All other gifts and abilities are negated, every other form of success is rendered null and void where love is lacking. Without love, eloquence, even Spirit-inspired eloquence, is pointless. Without love, knowledge, even knowledge of the Bible and the secret things of God, is meaningless. Without love, power, even power which comes from stupendous faith, is worthless. Without love, zeal, even a martyr’s zeal for a cause, is useless. As the great theologian Karl Barth observed, all of these accomplishments without love are like a string of zeroes without a number in front: however long they are – and you can write zeroes down til you fill the page – unless there is a 1 in front of them, they still add up to nothing.

The insight that God, whose judgment in these matters is the only one that counts, defines success in life not by how much you have accumulated, nor by what you have achieved, nor by whether you are well-known and admired, but by how much you love, comes as both good news and bad news. It’s bad news for proud, ambitious people because it suggests that much of their time has been misspent and much of their energy misdirected. It’s bad news for rich people, unless they belong to that small number who have learned to use their wealth primarily to help others rather than to indulge themselves. It’s bad news for gifted people, at least for those who think that possessing higher than average ability is enough to make them better than average human beings.

However, this is good news if you believe the gospel because the gospel offers love to anyone who wants it. The means of living a tremendously successful life are readily available to anyone. You cannot only be loved by God but you can love the way he loves. A life of love is neither a hopeless ideal nor an impossible burden because it is a gift made real for those who believe in Jesus Christ. The power to love comes from him, to love the way he loved. Success doesn’t depend on whether you have a little or a lot. You don’t have to be someone famous in order to be great. In fact, on the day of judgment, when God finally reveals the truth about who has lived successfully, I think the greatest people are often going to be folks no one has ever heard of. The Bible does say, after all, that the first shall be last and the last first. No. All that really matters is whether you have opened your heart to God’s love in Jesus Christ, and then offered your life in living out this love for others.