What is Love?

1John 4:7-21

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. 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. 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.


13 This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. 16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.


God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. 17 This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.


19 We love because he first loved us. 20 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.


            I went to the dentist on Tuesday and had a little bit of time to catch up on the daily news as I waited in the waiting room. On the front page of the Richmond newspaper there was a story about a young man, who had just turned 16, that hit a hole in one while golfing. I am not a golfer, and I have only golfed a few times in my life, but I know that this is a big deal. The only hole in one that I have ever hit involved getting around a windmill. So this is big news for the young man! But what made it even more memorable is that on the very next hole, he did it again. He is only 16 and he has hit back-to-back holes in one.

            I tried to imagine what it was like for the young man to achieve such a feat. I imagine that after that first hole in one that he was pretty excited. And after the second hole in one, he was probably like, Ah, nothing special. I’ve done that before.

            No, of course not. There are some things that a person does not get tired of. And I read that the odds of hitting back-to-back holes in one are about the same as winning the Powerball Jackpot. I’m sure that if you were to hit a hole in one every time you swung the club that it might get a little boring. But I’m going to guess that most golfers never get tired of hitting that hole in one.

            I tell that story because I have been preaching from the book of 1st John since Easter, and the message really hasn’t changed. For the last four weeks we have been talking about love. Loving those we disagree with, the love that God has for us, and love working itself out through our service to others. And I hope hearing about love is a bit like hitting a hole in one; I hope that it never gets old, because as I look at the book of 1st John, it is all about love. Almost all of it anyway; next week we will wrap up our series on this book and we will actually talk about something other than love. But, today…another hole in one!

            I begin to get the feeling that John is interested in showing the importance of love. When something comes up time and time again in the Bible, we need to take notice. If it sounds like John is repeating himself a bit here, it is because he is. If we look at verses 7-8 we can get a pretty good synopsis of what we have been studying the last few weeks, “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.”

            Love one another, love comes from God. If you don’t love one another, you don’t know God. That’s what we have been talking about for the last month. And then this new twist is thrown in, one we haven’t seen yet: God is love. And if you didn’t catch it the first time, John says it again in verse 16, God is love. Not God has love or God is loving. God is love. Surely there are other attributes of God like God is just and God is righteous. However, John’s focus is on God being love. And we need to keep all of these attributes in mind when we consider what it means for God to be love. God doesn’t stop being just or righteous so God can start being love. I would say that God’s righteousness and God being just come from his position of being love.

But what is love? Baby don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me no more (HaddawayJ).  My two-year-old son has a very limited understanding of what love is. It is fun to ask him, “Paxton, do you love me?” His response is always, “Nooooo!” Then I ask him if he loves mommy and his answer is still the same. Then I pull out the real test and ask him if he loves ice cream. Then I have to spend the next ten minutes explaining to him that we don’t have any ice cream.

            And we see our understanding of love develop over a period of time. When we are in high school we have a different understanding of what love means. Were any of you in love in high school? It is a little different than what you understand love to be today, isn’t it.

            I have heard it said that love is caring more about someone else than you care about yourself. And that is about as good of an explanation as I could come up with. But it still leaves me with questions like, “How do you know when you care about another person more than you care about yourself?”

            Today we are going to try to understand a little bit better just what love is and in doing so, we will hopefully arrive at a better understanding of who God is. And we will do that by looking at Jesus.

As Christians, we should always try to understand who God is through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Hebrews 1:1-3a says, “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways,  but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heirof all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.”

            In the past, God spoke through the prophets. That was good. That is how the people of Israel were able to understand who God is and what God was calling them to. But now, the author of Hebrews says, God has spoken through Jesus. And this is the clearest representation that we have of God. Jesus is the exact representation of God’s being. Or as Jesus says himself, he and the Father are one. If you have seen Jesus, you have seen the Father. So you want to know what God is like? You want to know how God would react in a certain situation or to certain questions or to certain people? We have four gospels that tell the story of Jesus, how he lived, how he interacted with others, and how he loved others. Sure, we can get some ideas about who God is by looking at God’s creation. I see that God is creative, using a palate of color, texture, and imagination when he formed the heavens and the earth and everything in them. We can get an idea of who God is by looking at the Old Testament. God is a god of order as we find in the Torah, the Law. God is a jealous god and just god; we see that in the prophets. But all of these insights into who God is are incomplete. We know God and what God is like by looking at Jesus. If you ever want to know who God is, just look to Jesus.

            So if God is love and Jesus is the perfect representation of God, we could call Jesus love with skin on. And Jesus shows us that there are going to be times when love means something different than just sitting around the campfire singing Kumbaya and holding hands. Sometimes being loving means getting tough.

            I like the illustration of sand to help us understand love. I’ve been working with sand a bit lately. We have a sandbox in our backyard were Paxton will play for hours at a time. It is a nice surface for a little boy to play on because sand is soft. It is cushy. I recently watched an episode of MacGyver where MacGyver was trying to transport nitroglycerin from an old abandoned mine to a burning oil well in order to blow it up and stop the fire. He had to travel over rough terrain in a large, old, beat-up truck. So to cushion the nitroglycerin in case it fell, MacGyver covered the bed of the truck with sand. Beach volleyball players know that sand absorbs some of the impact when they land after jumping, making the sport easier on the joints than regular volleyball. Sand is soft.

            But sand can be firm as well. I was adding two ingredients to sand this week, something that I will just call Portland and lime. When you mix sand, Portland, and lime together, add a little water, what do you get? Concrete. Concrete is very tough. The strength of concrete comes from the sand (and gravel if you add that).

            So love is like sand in that there are times when it needs to be soft and times when it needs to be firm. Sometimes love can be tender and sometimes love can be tough.

            The synoptic Gospels tell the story a little bit differently, but Matthew, Mark, and Luke all tell the story of the “Would-be disciples.” One man wants to follow Jesus, but Jesus seems to sense that the man isn’t willing to give up his earthly possessions. And Jesus comes right out and tells the guy that he is a homeless, itinerant preacher. If this man wants to follow Jesus, it might mean that guy has to give up some of the luxuries in his life. One guy says he will follow Jesus, if only he can have the opportunity to go back and burry his recently deceased father first. Another account tells of a guy that just wants to go home and say goodbye to his family. One guy just wants to spend some time with his new bride and then he will follow Jesus. And Jesus is tough with these people. He essentially says that if they aren’t willing to drop everything and follow him now that they never will be.

            Jesus speaks strongly to the religious leaders that are making life more difficult for those that they have deemed unfit for the kingdom. He calls the Pharisees whitewashed tombs, noting that they try to look really good on the outside for appearance sake, but inside they are as filthy as the rest of us.

This is tough love! Jesus doesn’t just tell people the things that they want to hear. Sometimes he tells them things that are intended to bring about a change. I believe he always does this out of love for the individual. Unfortunately we don’t.

            I think we all should struggle with when tough love is appropriate. And when I say tough love I never mean violence. I am not advocating that a person strike their spouse “out of love.” But there are times when we have to say no and there are times when we need to correct people out of love.

            When we correct someone out of love, we need to do it lovingly. I believe that so much of the correcting “out of love” that we do is more of an attempt to come off as morally or intellectually superior to the other. We want to correct others and we justify doing so by saying

that we are doing it out of love. But our tough love doesn’t look anything like Jesus.

            I think that a good place to look at how not to give tough love is the field of politics. The right wants to correct the left and the left wants to correct the right. But it doesn’t seem to me like one side is ever interested in helping the other see their perspective. And neither side is any too interested in seeing from the other’s perspective. Instead, what I see is one person misquoting another, taking things out of context, putting a spin on things, and trying to turn the public against the other side. It can be downright ugly. The correcting that I see in politics is not what we are called to practice in the church. Politics is fear based. Christianity is supposed to be love based.

            When we correct someone out of love, we need to do it with someone we have a relationship with and in a one-on-one situation. Matthew 18 talks about correcting a brother or sister and Jesus is very clear in this passage that we are to go to them alone. And this presupposes that you have a relationship with the individual. Jesus doesn’t say to go and call out individual’s sins on the street corner. Yes, Jesus did correct some people that he hadn’t met before. But guess what. You aren’t Jesus. Jesus knew their hearts; Jesus knew their situations. You don’t. So if you don’t have a relationship with someone, your job is to love them and pray for them. Your job is to serve them.

            Let us not get so focused on the tough love of Jesus that we forget the tender love of Jesus and the best examples of tender love can be found on the cross. Jesus’ love is shown on the cross in many ways. The two that I want to lift out to you come in some of his final moments. As Jesus is breathing his last few breaths, he looks as his mother, a widow, and Jesus asks his disciple John to look after her. And then he calls out to God and asks God to forgive the very people who were crucifying him. “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

            I come back to that early definition of love that I used: Love is caring more about other people than yourself. I think Jesus shows how much he loved his mother as he makes sure that she is taken care of. Remember in the 1st Century Mary would not have been able to get a job to support herself. She was a widow and she would have had to rely on the support offered from friends and family. And Jesus showed how much he cared about others, even people that he would have every right to call his enemy, when he asked God to forgive them as he died on the cross.

            The command to love because God is love is no small task. It isn’t just a suggestion that we tolerate one another or get along with one another at holiday gatherings or family reunions. To love because God is love means that we will follow the example of Jesus, giving tough love when necessary, but loving with a tender love as our default. Because sand in its natural state is soft.


About Kevin Gasser

I envision this site to be a place where I can post my weekly sermon text and invite feedback from anyone who is interested in the church, theology, or life in general. Please note that these sermons are rough drafts of what I plan to say from the pulpit, so typos are common.
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