What do you think about when you see or hear the words, “What is Love?”
Does a song pop into your head like, “What is Love? By Haddaway, or “L.O.V.E.” by Nat King Cole. Maybe it is the tune, “I Want to Know What Love Is?” by Foreigner for those from the 1980s or the theme song from the 1970s movie, “A Love Story.” Or maybe you think of a twangy tune by Kenny Rogers, “Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places.” Maybe the word “love” reminds you of your wedding day or the love you have for a parent or a child. Or, are you in a place where love feels like something you will never receive or like something you once had but faded after the honeymoon? Do you feel bruised or bitter about love withheld, still longing to hear the words “I love you” from a parent, a spouse, a child, or a friend?
Love…..it is an overused word in our day-to-day living. We “heart” posts on social media or use heart emojis daily to portray love. We are bombarded by definitions of love from every angle: whether it is from family, culture, or entertainment – to name a few. We are led to believe love is just an emotion, it comes and goes easily, and you can have full control of it on your terms. We often are expected to be givers of unconditional love to all. However, if we are in control of love, why do we long for more, often feel empty and devoid of love, or unable to love others who are difficult or not like us? One of the reasons is we cannot agree on the definition of what love is.
I am grateful for God’s clarity on the definition of love expressed by the beloved disciple John. God’s definition of love, His assurance of love, and His commands to us about love are woven throughout the letters of 1, 2, & 3 John that we are reading this month.
God’s Definition of Love
In particular, 1 John chapter 4 focuses on this beautiful thing (or person) called love.
God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent His one and only Son into the world so that we might live through Him. Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. ~1 John 4:9-10 (CSB)
God’s definition of love is not an emotion, it is not conditional, and it is not only for those “good people.” God’s love is His Son, Jesus. He loved us so much He sacrificed His one and only Son to die for me, to die for you. It seems so simple and yet so unbelievable. I want you to really let these words sink in…. “I love you ____________(insert your name). I see you. I loved you before you loved Me. I gave everything for you. All you have to do is believe in Me and receive my love in the person of my Son, Jesus.” Love is the gospel, God’s gift of Jesus sacrificed for you and for me.
God’s Assurance of His Love
So how can you really be assured of God’s love? I mean, how can you love someone you can’t see or touch? How can you really trust this love God gives? How do you know it won’t fade away or hurt you or betray you? I mean, is this Jesus really safe?
And I especially enjoy this scene from the book or movie, “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” by C.S. Lewis where Susan is asking Beaver about Aslan (who is the Christ-type figure in the story). “Aslan is a lion—the Lion, the great Lion.” “Ooh,” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he—quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion”…”Safe?” said Mr. Beaver, …”Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
Jesus, the God-man, may not be “safe,” but He is good. He is the King and He is Love. His character is proved throughout the gospels by the way He lived and the way He loved. We can have confidence and no fear in this radical love God gives.
God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us. This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home and mature in us, so that we’re free of worry on Judgment Day—our standing in the world is identical with Christ’s. There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life—fear of death, fear of judgment—is one not yet fully formed in love. ~1 John 4:17-18 (The Message)
John goes on to share with us how we can be certain of God’s love for us through the gift of Holy Spirit.
This is how we know that we remain in Him and He in us: He has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and we testify that the Father has sent his Son as the world’s Savior. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God—God remains in Him and he in God. And we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. ~1 John 4:13-16 (CSB)
Apostle Paul also wrote of the Holy Spirit as the guarantee of the gift of God’s love.
In Him you also were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and when you believed.” ~Ephesians 1:13 (CSB)
God’s Commands about Love
The definition of love is the gospel and the assurance is the character of God and the gift of the Holy Spirit. So what should our response be?
Dear friends, let us love one another, because love is from God, and everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God…. Dear friends, if God loved us in this way, we also must love one another…. And we have this command from Him: The one who loves God must also love his brother and sister.” ~1 John 4:7, 11, 21 (CSB)
Basically, we are to live out the love we receive. And this isn’t the happy, sappy kind of love you hear in love songs or watch in romantic comedies. This is a radical, self-sacrificing kind of love God asks us to give to others. Not because they deserve it but because God first loved us (1 John 4:19), who were undeserving as well.
My friends, I hope that you will come to rest in God’s definition of love in Jesus this week, be assured by the Holy Spirit, and love those around you radically and sacrificially. I want to close with a quote from Kelly Minter who beautifully illustrates the various ways love may be embodied practically.
“Rest in God’s specific definition of love as demonstrated through Jesus. Sometimes love means sticking it out with a person and other times it means taking a break. Some days it means hanging on for dear life and other days it means release. Love can take the form of an encouraging word or a fiery confrontation. It can mean unmerited mercy or tough lines in the sand. It can look like adopting a child or sending one out the door to fly with his own wings. It can mean staying in the most painful marriage and in some cases being forced to let one go. Love can mean giving up on a career for your family and it can mean asking your family to sacrifice for the sake of your calling. But it will never go against God’s laws. Love will never faceoff with His promises or His design. It won’t go against His word or the quality of who He is. Love will never mean knocking Jesus’ ways around, because He is love.” (Kelly Minter: The Living Room Series: What Love Is: The Letters of 1, 2, 3 John. 2014 LifeWay Press, page 113.)
Music for Worship & Reflection: How Deep the Father’s Love for Us by Austin Stone Worship https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z65YxhqY0_E
- Have you accepted the truth: God loves you ___________(insert name)? He loves you just as you are: imperfect; sinful; regret-laden; care-free; etc. Will you accept His great gift of unconditional love? If you want to accept this gift of love or want to renew your love and commitment to Christ, please contact a local pastor or friend to get more information and share this wonderful news with them.
- Take time this week to write down a prayer of thanksgiving for the specific ways God’s love has pursued you (forgiveness of sins, reconciliation of a relationship, hope you are experiencing, or just the strength to endure another day on this planet). Focus on God’s love for you. “I love you, O Lord, my strength.” (Psalm 18:1)
- Sacrificially show someone love or kindness who has not been easy to love.