These three last forever – faith, hope and love. And the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:13)
God loves us so much
11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. 19 We love because he first loved us.
God’s love is unlimited – it holds nothing back
9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
Most of us know John 3:16 off by heart. We ought to learn 1 John 3:16 off by heart as well –
1 John 3:16 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.
Christ’s sacrifice on the cross for us is the standard and supreme example of the kind of love we should show to other Christians. Not just love when it suits us, love when we can spare the time, but love which costs, love which pays the ultimate price! Think of how much it cost Christ to die for you. Be honest! How much does it really cost you to live for him? Laying down our lives not just for God but for our brothers.
God’s love is totally undeserved
We can never ever do anything to earn or deserve God’s love!
God’s forgiveness is Unilateral Forgiveness
The essence of Christian forgiveness is that God makes a way for us to be forgiven BEFORE we repent. “It was while we were still sinners that Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6-8) As Jackie Pullinger puts it, “Jesus didn’t wait for me to make good before he died for me.”
The Father is out looking waiting for the prodigal to return BEFORE the prodigal comes to his senses and returns to his Father and confesses and repents. (Luke 15) The paralysed man in Mark 2:5 and the woman caught in adultery in John 8:11 are forgiven BEFORE they repent.
Our repentance is then the channel by which we come to enjoy the benefits of forgiveness. But it is God’s gracious act of forgiving us which prompts our repentance, NOT our repentance which earns or even opens the door to God forgiving us. The initiative comes from God.
This is NOT to say that everybody is saved. Only those who receive God’s forgiveness by repentance enjoy the blessings of salvation. But God’s forgiveness is UNILATERAL – originating from within his merciful character and made possible through the death of Christ on the cross. God’s forgiveness is NOT BILATERAL – not forgiveness as a response to human acknowledgement of sin. Human acknowledgement is necessary in the process of us experiencing God’s forgiveness and enjoying a reconciled relationship, but not necessary for God to forgive us.
Most human forgiveness is Bilateral – a response to confession and repentance:
Acknowledgement by the guilty -> forgiveness by the injured -> reconciliation
God’s kind of forgiveness is Unilateral – all from God’s side:
God forgives -> this prompts sinners to confess and repent -> reconciliation
THIS is the mystery of God’s amazing grace!
God loves us!
So we love God in return
When we realise how much God loves us – we will love God!
They asked Jesus what are the greatest commandments. And He replied.
Luke 10:27 He answered: “`Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, `Love your neighbour as yourself.'”
Loving God is NOT romantic love. Loving God has nothing to do with “being in love with God” 20th century charismatics are to blame for that wrong idea, as are certain popular songwriters. You could blame it on a misunderstanding of the interpretation of the Song of Solomon as a love poem between God and the church. But when the Bible says we are to love God, that concept does NOT include any notion of “being in love with God”
The proper pictures for our love of God are the love of a devoted child for a parent. Or the love the apostles showed for Jesus during His ministry. To put it in the negative, we should never address God in a way that a loving child would not address their parent. We should never address the Lord Jesus Christ, King of Kings and Lord of Lords, in a way that apostles like Peter, James and John would not have done!
We love God, and we also love each other
When we realise how much God loves us – we will love God! And we will love other Christians too.
1 JOHN 4:7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. …. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No-one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
1 John 4:20 If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. (NIV)
if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we have not seen? (NEW LIVING TRANSLATION)
Loving our brothers and sisters in the church – easy in theory, harder in practice!
“To dwell above with saints we love, that will be grace and glory–
To live below with saints we know … that’s another story!”
We need to show our love for our fellow Christians in practical ways. In hospitality. In just spending time together. And in forgiving one another.
C.S.Lewis – Everybody agrees forgiveness is a beautiful idea until we have something to forgive.
The parable of the two debtors remind us that the more conscious we are of how much God has forgiven us, the more we will be able to forgive others who sin against us.
George Herbert wrote, “He that cannot forgive others breaks the bridge over which he himself must pass if he would ever reach heaven, for everyone has need to be forgiven.”
Jesus reminds us that the love Christians have for each other is our witness to the world.
John 13 34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
And it is only our love for our fellow Christians which gives us assurance that we are actually saved.
1 John 3:14 We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers.
How can we be sure we are saved? Because we love our brothers. Not because of what we say we believe – but because we love other Christians! It’s not our beliefs which are the test – but how much love we show! This is embarrassing. This is challenging. This is the kind of verse we would like to ignore – and if it were just that one verse we might be able to ignore it. But hear what else John says
14 ¶ We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death. 15 Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him.
John is very clear. If we are not loving your fellow Christians, we don’t have eternal life! And again:-
3:10 Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother.
When Leonardo da Vinci was painting the Last Supper, he had an intense, bitter argument with a fellow painter. Leonardo was so enraged that he decided to paint the face of his enemy into the face of Judas. That way the hated painter’s face would be preserved for ages in the face of the betraying disciple. When Leonardo finished Judas, everyone easily recognized the face of the painter with whom Leonardo quarreled.
Leonardo continued to work on the painting. But as much as he tried, he could not paint the face of Christ. Something was holding him back.
Leonardo decided his hatred toward his fellow painter was the problem. So he worked through his hatred by repainting Judas’ face, replacing the image of his fellow painter with another face. Only then was he able to paint Jesus’ face and complete the masterpiece.
We love God, we love other Christians, and we love our neighbours
When we realise how much God loves us – we will love God! And we will love other Christians. And then we will love our neighbour as well!
This is the second of the greatest commandments. `Love your neighbour as yourself.'”
The challenge for Christians in this day and age is to get to know our neighbours. Not to be so busy with church activities that we never meet our neighbours and get the opportunities to show God’s love to them. We all think loving our neighbours is a good idea, but many Christians just never get around to it!
Love isn’t always easy. There is a story of a certain professor of psychology which reminds me how difficult it can be to love other people. Whenever he saw his neighbour scolding his child for some wrongdoing, the professor would say, “You should love your boy, not punish him.” One hot summer afternoon the professor was repairing the concrete driveway leading to his garage. After several hours of work in the sunshine, he laid down his towel, wiped the perspiration from his forehead, and started back towards his house. Just then out of the corner of his eye he saw that mischievous boy deliberately putting his foot into the wet cement. The professor rushed over, grabbed him, and was about to throttle him when his neighbour leaned out from a window and said, “Watch out, Professor! Don’t you remember? You must always ‘love’ the child!” The professor yelled back, “I do love him in the abstract, just not in the concrete!”
It is easy to love – in abstract, in theory. What is difficult is to show true love in practice, in everyday life, with real people. It should be so simple. God loves us. So we should love God. We love should each other. We should love our neighbours.
But let’s be honest about this challenge to love each other as Christ has loved us? What about this standard of loving our neighbour as much as we love ourselves? These are the ideals God calls us to aim at, by his grace. But we have to admit that all of us have times when we fail to show the kind of love God calls us to show. That leads us to an important question.
Does love have limits?
God’s love for us does not have limits. But does our obligation to love other people have limits? Jesus tells us in the Sermon on the Mount that we are not allowed to retaliate – we must always turn the other cheek and walk the extra mile. We are obliged to keep on forgiving.
Matthew 1821 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?”
22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.
We must keep on forgiving. But there may occasionally come a point when we are allowed to stop loving. There can be situations when loving with God’s love is simply beyond us. And in an extreme situation, if we find ourselves completely unable to show God’s love, then
We are allowed to walk away.
A woman or equally a man might find themselves trapped in a loveless and abusive relationship. Because they are Christians they might think they are obliged to stay with that partner and obliged to keep on being rejected and hurt, emotionally and maybe even physically. It seems very clear to me that God says that a person in that situation is not obliged to keep on suffering. They are allowed to walk away.
I believe the same is true for people who are trapped in jobs which are destroying them, with bosses exploiting and mistreating them. You are allowed to walk away. Trust in God for what you are going to do next – but don’t keep on suffering. Walk away.
I have even said the same to Ministers where the church they are seeking to serve is treating them unacceptably. Making unreasonable demands on them. Failing to love them and support them. Gossiping about them. They are allowed to just walk away.
We aren’t allowed to retaliate. We do have to keep on forgiving. But in the interests of self-preservation, Christians are allowed to walk away. The obligation to love DOES have limits.
Remember at the beginning of his ministry, the apostle Paul was fiercely opposed by the Jews.
Acts 923 After many days had gone by, the Jews conspired to kill him, 24 but Saul learned of their plan. Day and night they kept close watch on the city gates in order to kill him. 25 But his followers took him by night and lowered him in a basket through an opening in the wall.
So Paul escaped. Just think how different the history of the church would have looked if the apostle Paul had NOT walked away at that point. No second half of the book of Acts. None of Paul’s letters. There are times when it is alright to walk away! It is not the first resort. Or the second. But as a last resort, walking and even running away is an acceptable option. Walking away can be the right thing to do. But one last thing.
The reason God loves us is NOT because we love Him or anybody else
Whether we love Him back as much as we should – or not – God loves us just the same.
Whether we love each other as much as God loves us – or not – God loves us just the same. Whether we love our neighbours as much as we should – or not – God loves us just the same. If our love runs out and we just can’t love any more and so we walk away – God loves us just the same! That is the amazing love of God! So we don’t love God because that will make God love us more. We don’t love other people because that will make God love us more. We love because God first loved us.