What It's All About

Rev. David Bast Uncategorized

READ : 1 John 3:1-18

Love is what the gospel is all about, the Christian life, God’s grace, our response, they all revolve around this one theme: because God loves us, he saves us. Love is the ground and motive for our salvation. Love is also the purpose of our salvation. The Lord saves us so that we will be turned into lovers ourselves, lovers first of him and then of our fellow creatures.

When my children were small, they learned to sing this song in Sunday school:

It’s about love, love, love; that’s what it’s all about.
Because God loves us, we love each other,
Mother, father, sister, brother,
Everybody sing and shout, because that’s what it’s all about.

Admittedly, it’s not exactly Handel’s Messiah, but there’s no arguing with the main idea. Love is what it’s all about. The gospel, the Christian life, God’s grace, our response — they all revolve around this one theme, as does the first letter of the apostle John. Because God loves us, he saves us. Love is the ground and motive of our salvation. Love is also the purpose of our salvation. The Lord saves us so that we will be turned into lovers ourselves, lovers first of him and then of our fellow creatures. And if love is not evident in our lives, it means we’re still dead. We haven’t been born again (vv. 14-15). Love is the infallible mark of an authentic Christian believer.

God’s Love for Us

John begins the third chapter of his first epistle with one of the Bible’s great exclamations: “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” Through the Lord’s love we become his children, and as his children, we are God’s heirs, destined to inherit all that he has. The apostle Paul put it this way: “You have received the Spirit of adoption . . . by whom we cry ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs — heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:15-17). This is our status now, as a result of faith. God, in his lavish love, has adopted us as his daughters and sons. He didn’t just love us in a general way as his creatures. He set his love upon us; he chose us, particularly, individually, when we were strangers to him, the way a parent chooses to adopt a child from a far-off place. That is the greatness of the Father’s love. And someday this will mean unimaginable glory for each one of us. “Beloved,” says John, “we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (v. 2). What a prospect! Though we can’t even imagine what it will be like to actually be like Christ, we know that when he returns in glory he will change us completely, in body, mind and spirit, so that we will be perfectly conformed to his likeness.

But for John, this hope is more than just a glorious expectation for the future. It’s also a stimulus for present action. John writes, “everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure” (v. 3). We don’t just sit around and wait for Christ to appear and make us perfect. We begin here and now to try to live like him: to purify ourselves as he is pure, John says, to turn from our sins because he is without sin (v. 5). Positively, to live a more Christ-like life means to live a life of practicing love.

Our Love for Others

When the New Testament writers came to the subject of love, they ran into a bit of a problem because the love they wanted to talk about was different from all other kinds of love. All human love is, to some degree, need-love. The love between men and women needs to be reciprocated; for love to satisfy, lovers must be loved in return. But God’s love is on an altogether different plane, a love so different that it needed a new word to describe it. The word the New Testament writers chose for it was agape.

Love in this new Christian sense differs from all forms of human love because it’s not need-love at all. Agape is gift love, the way God loves. When John said that “God is love,” what he literally wrote is, “God is agape” (1 John 4:7). Agape is the ultimate form of love because it is the love God shows to us. And agape is also Christian love — the love we extend to others — because when we have experienced God’s undeserved love for ourselves, we also are empowered to begin to love others in the same way. This kind of love is the central theme of John’s letter:

For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. . . . We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love. . . . Whoever does not love abides in death.

1 John 3:11, 14

So what does it really mean to “love one another” in this way? Let me mention four important characteristics of agape love:

1. Agape is disinterested, not self-interested. “Disinterested” does not mean the same thing as “uninterested.” If you are uninterested, you are bored, turned off, unwilling to get involved. If you are self-interested, you are involved for selfish reasons. But if you are disinterested, you are acting for no reason other than to help. There’s nothing in it for you. God’s love is like that. It is selfless, disinterested love. It is not calculating, not an investment looking for a return. God loves just to love, not to get anything for himself. Indeed, how could he? God’s love cannot be need-love because God has no needs. He is complete in himself. He did not have to create anyone. He does not have to redeem anyone. God’s love is, in the purest sense, altruistic, caused only by the needs of those he loves, never by any of his own. It is agape.

2. Agape love is giving, not taking. Agape is measured by what it gives, not what it gets. It’s nice when somebody tells you how much they love you, but the real measure of love is how much one is willing to sacrifice in order to help you when you need it. And Jesus by that measure is the ultimate in love. “By this we know love, says John, that he laid down his life for us (v. 16). God loves us so much he gave his only Son to die for us so that we might have eternal life. If you want to know where the greatest example of love is to be found, look no further than the cross.

And John does not shrink from making the obvious application of this truth to our lives as followers of Jesus. If Jesus shows us supremely what love is, then we had better imitate him. “He laid down his life for us,” writes John, and then adds, “and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers and sisters” (v. 16). Agape doesn’t have to say a lot. It shows itself in actions. “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (v. 18).

3. Agape is generated by its subject, not its object. Maybe you’re tempted to object that needy people are so often unattractive, unappealing, even perhaps undeserving of our love. The Bible rejects that objection as irrelevant. God’s love is not produced by attractive qualities he sees in those whom he loves. It is produced entirely from within himself. In this too, it differs radically from natural human love. We love what is lovable, what is appealing and attractive to us. And we’re attracted primarily to the attractive, whether to people or to things. But agape is love for the unlovely. “God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (Romans. 5:8, rsv).

4. Finally, because of all this, agape is a decision, not a feeling. God loves for one reason only: because he chooses to love. His love is an act of will that produces actions of grace toward those who do not deserve them. God does not fall in love, swept along helplessly by a wave of feeling. God loves because he has decided to, because he chooses to.

Why should we try to love others this way? After all, it’s hard — it even cost Jesus his life! Well, one good reason is that if we don’t love for real — “in deed and in truth,” as John puts it (v. 18), — we can’t be saved. Those who don’t show Christ-like love prove that they’ve never really experienced it themselves. “If anyone has the world’s goods,” says the apostle, “and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” (v. 17). If we claim to have been transformed by the love of God yet show no signs of such love ourselves, our claims are worthless.

Another reason, though, for us to love in the agape way is that this is exactly what the world needs most. Human love is wonderful and good, make no mistake about it. Romantic love, affection, friendship, these are all great things, the best things, really, that life has to offer. God made them all and we enjoy and appreciate them. But these kinds of love are simply not enough in our world. Romance isn’t going to solve the problems that confront us in society, or even in our own families. Appeals to friendship are not going to turn centuries-old enemies into brothers and sisters. Natural feelings will not feed the hungry, shelter and clothe the poor, befriend the lonely, bring reconciliation between races and tribes and nations — or even between quarreling next-door neighbors. Only the power of God’s sacrificial love flowing first into us and transforming us, and then flowing through us out into the world, can really make a difference.

Are you a Christian? Do you know the love of God? What the world really needs right now is that same kind of love acting through you. That really is what it’s all about.