40. Practical Love

Meditations in 1 John : 40 : Practical Love

1 John  3:16,17   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. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?

You sometimes hear silly complaints about the Christian faith that it is ‘pie in the sky’ or that it is of no earthly use to anyone. Communists make great play on caring for all classes but it is an enforced (and unreal) caring that is a poor copy by the enemy of the Christian faith. Our verses above lay the axe to the lie of the Christian faith being impractical and it all starts with love.

There can be much debate about what love is but you have to come to the Bible to find any real meaning. If you belong to the school of “no God, world just a chance accident, material is all there is”, then love is just an odd jumbling of the molecules in the body, something that somehow in millions of years has become a genetic oddity. But John challenges the world and says, “You want to know what love is all about? Then look at Jesus Christ! He, the perfect, sinless Son of God laid down his life for us very imperfect sinners, so that our sin could dealt with in such a way that justice is satisfied, and we can be forgiven and even brought into a living relationship with God Himself. This is a demonstration of what love is all about.” This brings me to conclude that real, genuine love is ‘selfless, sacrificial, unrestricted good-will towards all others’. Watch a mother’s feelings towards her small child: selfless, sacrificial, unrestricted good-will towards her child. See a young man who has fallen head over heels in love with a young woman: selfless, sacrificial, unrestricted good-will towards her!

And the model for that love is Jesus. But it doesn’t just stop in describing Jesus’ love for us, because we have now joined his family and we are becoming like him and so “we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.”   If he is like that, our goal is to be like that because we are becoming like him. But what does that actually mean, this laying down our lives for one another? Is that just a nice religious platitude? No, John doesn’t allow us to make it that; for him it has very practical outworkings: If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?  To lay down you life for another means you put others first.  The apostle Paul writes, “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Phil 2:4)

It has been this outlook that has stirred Christians through the ages to stand up for others, to care for the weak and the poor or as one writer put it speaking about the activity of the Church down through the ages, it was known for its care of widows and orphans, its alms houses, hospitals, foundling homes, schools, shelters, relief organizations, soup kitchens, medical missions, charitable aid societies and so on.”  Yes, down through the ages it has been the church that has worked into society providing the things that today the Welfare State tends to provide. When there was no Welfare State, when no one particularly cared for the needy, it was the Church who stepped forward, expressing the love of Jesus to his world.

But let’s apply this to our own church group, for it must have very practical outworkings right on our doorstep otherwise it is mere words. If there are people who come in with real physical or financial needs, how do we look at them? Do we leave it to the ‘church administration’ to do something or does compassion move us to provide when we see need? Of course it is very easy to say, “Well here in the Western world there is no real need because the State provides for the really needy.” Is that always so? Are there people in your congregation who cannot do things they would like to do, because of lack of funds, things you can do because you do have the funds? What does love say?

Are there opportunities just waiting there, for us to bless young people who would love to enter some particular career but don’t feel they can afford it?  Is there someone yearning to set up a small business but just don’t have the funds to do it? Yes, we not have the chronically poor with us, but we may have those not so well off as us whose lives are restricted because of that, restricted in ways that we could deal with. The difficulty here is getting people to open up and share such needs or desires, and that only comes about in a loving, caring, accepting and compassionate community of God’s people, where each one feels sufficiently secure in the love of those around them, that they feel they can open up and be honest. There is the real challenge.

But the big challenge to all of us is to make love real, not just something we talk about: Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” (v.18) The apostle Paul in 1 Cor 13 says we might have various spiritual gifts but if we don’t have love we are just like a noisy gong. John goes further than that and challenges us to ensure we don’t just talk about love, but make sure that our actions reflect love and flow from love, and that we are thus being truthful. If we say we have love but don’t show it through our actions we are not telling and living the truth. Beware!

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45. Sacrificial Love

Ephesians Meditations No.45

Eph  5:25-28 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.

‘Love’ has a variety of meanings. In modern life it has acquired a strong link with sexual relationship but that is not the love that is referred to in the Bible. In the New Testament, there are two words used for love. One of them refers to brotherly love, the other, the main one, refers to a commitment; this is ‘agape’ love and it is the love of God and the love between Father and the Son, and it is the Son’s love for is. It is not about warm fuzzy emotional feelings, it is about commitment. Modern love goes through sexual relationship to friendship to commitment, but that is not the way God has designed us to work best and the numbers of cohabiting partnerships or even marriages based on this approach but which break up, are a testimony to this. God’s order is friendship first, then commitment, then sex as the outworking of that commitment. Real love, as the Bible sees it, goes through the phase of getting to know a person well and then, despite what you know (!) you come to a place of commitment. Yes feelings do have a part in it all but the feelings of love have content, first of all knowing about the person and then committing to that person.

Now what is interesting is that Paul in these verses in Ephesians, chapter 5, doesn’t ask the woman to ‘love’ the man, but to submit to him. Now that isn’t a cultural or simply historical reason, I suggest; it is to do with the fact that the woman, with her child-bearing capabilities, lives very much more on the basis of emotions, and of course emotions go up and down. So, implied Paul in the verses we considered previously, let the man take the responsibility before God for your lives together. Now when it comes to the man, the command is quite different: Husbands, love your wives,” and love here means be totally committed to your wife.

Now I have to suggest that some of our ideas about why ‘submit’ and why ‘love’ are purely speculation for Paul doesn’t really tell us why the distinction. It may be something quite different from what I have suggested above. It may be that Paul knows that the woman’s tendency (sinfully) is to seek to dominate her husband by words, and thus his call to submit, puts that tendency to death. It may be that Paul knows that men are far more open to be driven or motivated purely by sex and vulnerable to illicit relationships, and therefore to counteract that tendency, he calls for total commitment which gives no leeway for that to happen.

In case there is any question in the mind of the man reading Paul’s words, he makes it quite clear: “just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.” In other words, men, if you want to know what Paul is calling you to, it is to a life that a) lays down self for the other, and b) is totally committed to working to bless the other to bring them into being the very best person they can be.

Observe, first of all, the first of those two things.  This love is sacrificial. It means that you will lay down your life for the wellbeing of your wife. That is the starting attitude that is required. This means that you lay down your own personal desires and preferences to bless your partner. But then I suggested that the second part, looking at what Christ IS doing for the church, means that your life is committed to be working to bless your wife so much that she is changed for the better. This is not you trying to get her to conform to your ideas of what makes a perfect wife, but you simply express your love for her so much that she is changed by the love.

Se how Paul finishes it off: “In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.” Perhaps Paul has in mind here the oneness that is found in Genesis: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” (Gen 2:24). Paul knows that we ‘love’ our own bodies, we care for them, protect them and look after them, so he instructs us men to love our wives in the same way as we love ourselves and because in marriage there is this oneness, when we love our wife like this, we love ourselves.