The Measure of Love
See what an incredible quality of love the Father has shown to us, that we would [be permitted to] be named and called and counted the children of God! And so we are! For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. (1 John 3:1)
The text tells us a second way in which the greatness of the love of God shows itself: in the sacrifice that God made for us “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.” The measure of love is sacrifice. You can tell how much anybody loves you by the sacrifice that he is willing to make for you. God has shown the measure of His love by the sacrifice He made. He gave us His very best, the dearest that He had.
No earthly father ever loved his son as God loved Jesus. I have an only son; how I love him! But suppose some day I should see that boy of mine arrested by the enemies of Christ; and suppose they blindfolded him, spat in his face, beat him, and then made a crown of big, cruel thorns and put it on his brow, causing the blood to pour down his face on either side. How do you suppose I would feel?
Then suppose they stripped his garments from him, tied him to a post, and beat him with a stick that had long lashes of leather twisted with bits of brass and lead, until his back was all torn and bleeding. How do you think I would feel?
Suppose they threw him down on a cross laid on the ground, stretched his right hand out on the arm of the cross, put a nail in the hand, lifted the heave hammer, and drove the nail through the hand; then they stretched his left arm on the other arm of the cross, put a nail in the palm of that hand, lifted the heavy hammer, and sent the nail through that hand; then they drove the nail through his feet. Finally, they took that cross and plunged it into a hole and left him hanging there while the agony grew worse every minute. Suppose they left him to die beneath the burning sun. How do you suppose I would feel if I stood and looked as my only boy died in awful agony on a cross?
That is just what God saw. He loved His only begotten Son as you and I never imagined loving our sins. He saw His Son hanging there, aching, all His bones out of joint, tortured in every part of His body! God looked on. Why did He permit it? Because He loves you and me, and it was the only way we could be saved.
Often when we talk about love, we think about being on the receiving end of love. Thousands of songs, poems and stories have been written about a love lost or a love not given or a love not returned. Much is said about not feeling loved or being loved by others. Without downplaying the importance of receiving love, let’s think for a moment about love given. Few people ever think about the display of the love of God
toward them. Often, like children, we perceive love as being something that caters to our every whim or need. Frequently I hear people say, “Well, if God really loved me, He wouldn’t have let that happen to me.” Or the other version, “If God really loved me He would do what I need Him to do and make my life perfect.” However, if we stop and think about how much God loved us in giving us salvation through the sacrifice of His Son, is there really any true question of the love of God?
Love is not a noun although we treat is as one. Love is really a verb for it creates and generates action. It is easy to speak of love, to tell God and others how much we love them but if there is no subsequent supportive actions then the words are empty words. On one of my mission trips I heard one of the Kenyan pastors describe a preacher this way, “an empty man with empty words.” That phrase captured my attention so I asked him to explain it to me. He said, “It’s a person who does not know God trying to tell others about him. All he has is the words of others, he has no personal knowledge of God himself for he has never given himself to God. When he stands to speak, he is nothing more than a parrot who repeats what he has heard.”
Paul, in 1 Corinthians gives us a great understanding of love being a verb. I’m sure we have read or heard this read many times. It is a common scripture read during wedding ceremonies. What I can say is that though it is frequently read, it’s practice is not up to speed with the reading.
God has set the standard of love extremely high in the giving of His Son as an act of love and Jesus gave to the disciples a more intense commandment concerning love. The writers of the New Testament wrote frequently about love being an action word.
Let’s look first at the command of Christ.
“I am giving you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, so you too are to love one another. By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you have love and unselfish concern for one another.” (John 13:34-35)
In the Old Testament the commandment was to love our neighbor as ourself, but here Jesus is moving it to an entirely different level; “Love just a I have loved.” Beyond loving as I love myself, I am now called to love as Jesus loved. Again hear His description of that love:
“No one has greater love [nor stronger commitment] than to lay down his own life for his friends.” (John 15:13)
How does this translate for us? I seriously we will ever be called to literally die for our friends but perhaps we will be called to give up something we hold special to our hearts for the sake of those we love. I know as a parent, we often give up things for the sake of our children. I know that family members will often sacrifice for the good of another family member. I know that there are a lot of grown children who are giving up time and things to care for their parents. These things seem to come naturally, but what about when we are called to give up things for those who are not our immediate family. I think especially of the church especially in these unusual times. The strain of being flexible and creative in continuing to offer worship has called many of us to give up things, customs, rituals and such. In our world, we have been called to limit our contacts, to adjust our lifestyles and to consider the health risks of those around us. This calls for us to operate with the love that Jesus showed and commanded us to do. In John 15:13 Jesus defines this love as something that calls us to lay down our lives. For me, what this is saying is that I give up my preferences, my desires, my wishes if necessary for the best of others. I will confess here that I have never been a fan of wearing masks, for example. But the choice was a simple one, my love and care for others overrode my preferences. Like many of us, I miss parts of our previous worship experiences. I miss, for example, our time of fellowship and the privilege to shake hands and exchange hugs. But, again, I choose to lay down my preferences for the sake of loving and protecting those I love. To be sure I would love for our church family to be together in one place worshipping together. It does feel somewhat strange to meet in the four different times and ways but again because to me everyone is important and because I love them enough to respect their feelings and their management of safety in dealing with Covid I have no issue providing a worship opportunity that is comfortable to them. We may all have our own views and we may all have our own approach as to what is appropriate, but we must all love one another enough to lay down our lives for each other.
When we as the people of God practice love as defined in the Bible, we will find that conflict diminishes if not disappears. When we are more determined to do what’s best for the church as a whole rather than the church providing our preferences we will become healthy and healthy churches are reproductive churches and new babes in Christ are born. As long as we make life and church about us, as long as we see ourselves as the recipient rather than the giver of love and as long as we talk about love with no resulting actions, we will continue to experience conflict, division and decline in all our relationships. God and Christ broke the mold through their ultimate expression of love and we as Christian are called to imitate this love.
Paul breaks down this definition of “laying down our lives” into practical pieces:
“Love endures with patience and serenity, love is kind and thoughtful, and is not jealous or envious; love does not brag and is not proud or arrogant. It is not rude; it is not self-seeking, it is not provoked [nor overly sensitive and easily angered]; it does not take into account a wrong endured. It does not rejoice at injustice, but rejoices with the truth [when right and truth prevail]. Love bears all things [regardless of what comes], believes all things [looking for the best in each one], hopes all things [remaining steadfast during difficult times], endures all things [without weakening].”
(1 Corinthians 13:4-7)
We know that God’s love measures up to this, how does yours? I think for most of us we need to pray that the Holy Spirit will enable us to love this way and God has given us a great place to practice and improve- the church.
The measure of love we give is an indicator of our relationship with God according to 1 John:
“We know that we have passed out of death into Life, because we love the brothers and sisters. He who does not love remains in [spiritual] death. Everyone who hates (works against) his brother [in Christ] is [at heart] a murderer [by God’s standards]; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. By this we know [and have come to understand the depth and essence of His precious] love: that He [willingly] laid down His life for us [because He loved us]. And we ought to lay down our lives for the believers. But whoever has the world’s goods (adequate resources), and sees his brother in need, but has no compassion for him, how does the love of God live in him? Little children (believers, dear ones), let us not love [merely in theory] with word or with tongue [giving lip service to compassion], but in action and in truth [in practice and in sincerity, because practical acts of love are more than words]. By this we will know [without any doubt] that we are of the truth, and will assure our heart and quiet our conscience before Him This is His commandment, that we believe [with personal faith and confident trust] in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and [that we unselfishly] love and seek the best for one another, just as He commanded us. The one who habitually keeps His commandments [obeying His word and following His precepts, abides and] remains in Him, and He in him. By this we know and have the proof that He [really] abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us [as a gift].” (1 John 3:14-19,23-24)
Dr. John Thompson