No Greater Love

1 John 3:11-24; 4:7-21

Intro: Fiddler on the Roof – Tevye to Goldie: “Do you love me?”

Husbands and wives will often ask each other, “Do you love me?” And the anticipated answer is, “Of course I love you!” It’s not so much an inquiry for information as an affirmation of what we already know is true.

The apostle John asks, “Do you love people?”
Don’t jump to answer, “Of course!” Do a little soul searching with the apostle John this morning. Do you really love people? Because it goes a lot deeper than simply and glibly saying, “I love you.” When John talks about loving people, there are some conditions and demands that stretch us out and hold our feet to the fire. He says, “this is what love looks like” – is this what you look like?

Love isn’t just a feeling that fluctuates with moods and circumstances. It is not dependent upon the other person’s response or reaction. When Paul describes love in 1 Cor. 13, it is completely self-less and servant-hearted : “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”

John though, is really the apostle who drives home the need to love one another, more strongly than any other writer in the NT. Of the 105 verses in the brief little letter we call 1 John, 32 deal directly with loving one another.

And this is rather ironic when you think about it. John’s nickname was “son of thunder.” He had a hot head and a quick temper. He was the one who wanted to take revenge on those who had rejected Jesus, “Lord, shall we call down fire from heaven?” (Lk 9) But as Jesus worked on John and as the grace of God sanded down those sharp corners and rough edges, John, by the end of his life was called “the apostle of love.”

And so he writes in 1 John 3 and 4: This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another… 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? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.
In ch. 4, he goes on, “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. 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. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us….
God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him… 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. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.”

I don’t picture John as the jovial, grandfatherly type who just goes around talking about love this, love that. There is a substance to him – and when he talks about love, it is from years in the classroom of God’s love – seeing how it acts, watching how it responds, experiencing its powerful forgiveness. It is not motivated by his own weaknesses and lack of maturity, but by the example of Jesus Christ and the nature of God himself.

Notice a few things in those verses: Vs. 11 – “This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another.”
Remember back in ch. 2, John said this was not a new commandment, but an old one – its roots reach as far back as God himself. And so, John tells us over and over – “God is love, love comes from God, this is love, God so loved us…”

Now, if you define love according to what Hollywood dishes out, you might think love is that chemical reaction that happens when guy meets girl, sparks fly and they end up in bed, and then ask, “what did you say your name is?” That might be lust, but that’s not love.

If you haven’t noticed, people usually do whatever serves their purposes, whatever meets their needs. Instinct teaches you self-gratification and self-promotion. But love cuts through all that. Love is not instinct, but a choice. Real love connects people. Real love is self-sacrificing and self-revealing. It is a choice to do what is, in fact, the very opposite of what our instincts tell us. It is a choice we make to treat people like God treats people.

And so, in vs. 13 John begins to define and describe love to us: “This is how we know what love is…”

It begins with the cross – “Jesus laid down his life for us.” It was the most self-less act ever committed. It is the central defining moment in all of history, and of the biblical story. Everything that precedes it is pointing toward it. Everything that follows is looking back on it.

It is the defining action of love –he echoes Jesus’ own words in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son…” Jesus said there is no greater love than laying down your life for a friend.

Well, of course, we can lift it up and depersonalize it and make it into something that is so noble and ethereal that it is complete impractical: “just love one another!” Or turning it into a fuzzy feeling on a bumper sticker – “love means never having to say you’re sorry.” But John doesn’t do that. He throws us in after it – “And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.”

What Jesus did was not meant to be admired, but imitated. Not by getting nailed to a cross or dying an agonizing death, but in a very practical, powerful way: In vs. 17 “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?” John says, here is the substantive expression of love: Take care of the needs of people. If you love God, you will serve people. Is God living in you? Act like he acts – with compassion and generosity, giving from your very self.

God’s people take care of people – it is their nature, because it is God’s nature – 4:10-11 “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”

God’s love doesn’t let you sit on the sidelines and keep people at arm’s length – to say, “I love God, it’s just people I can’t stand.”
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. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.”

It’s one thing to love people that love you back and are nice to you – it’s a whole different thing to love people that dislike you and treat you badly. Some people think it’s spiritual to say, “I love God,” but if you love like God loves, you love even your enemies, just like God loves you.

The bottom line for John on love comes in vs. 18 – “Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.”
Don’t just say you love me, show me. Now, saying “I love you” is important, and there are so many ways and opportunities we should use to say to our wives / husbands / children / parents / brothers and sisters in Christ – “I love you.” But let’s back up what we say with what we do.

Illustration – Schroeder on love A Peanuts cartoon shows Schroeder, the intellectual pianist, intensely at practice over the keyboard. Lucy, his greatest admirer, interrupts him with a curious question: "Schroeder, do you know what love is?" Schroeder stops his practicing, stands to attention, and in very somber, straightforward tones says, "Love: Noun, a strong affection for or attachment or devotion to a person or persons." He then reassumes his position over the keyboard, once again ignoring Lucy. Lucy gazes into space in deep reflection. Then she says, "On paper, he's great."

What does love look like? I hope you’ve seen it, I hope you’ve experienced it. But every now and then, we need a reminder – a refresher course. I want to offer three things this morning, that if you practice them genuinely and regularly will transform your relationships and communicate your love for the people around you.

Meaningful touch
God didn’t send a book, he sent his son. And that son didn’t sit in the library of a university writing books and giving lectures on love. He lived among people, not just talking about, but demonstrating what it means to love. He could have sat back and healed people from afar – just say a word and make it so, but more often, he reached out and touched. He touched people who were hurting and helpless. He touched lepers and blind and beggars and outcast. Why? They needed to feel the human touch of compassion and love.

Your touch means so much in the lives of others. Holding a hand, an arm around the shoulders, a hug. I’m sure you’ve heard about the physical healing power of touch in orphanages and cancer wards and nursing homes. And it is true – there is clinical evidence for the power of touch. We crave physical contact with others and we physically struggle without it. Someone has said we need 4 hugs a day for survival, 8 a day for maintenance and 12 a day for growth. And the nice thing is, when you give one away, you’re getting one in return – and you never run out.

Everybody needs touch – from the very young to the very old, and everybody in between. Your kids don’t get too old for touch, and every marriage can be renewed by touch. We communicate caring and compassion and affirmation and connection with a simple act of touch.
And I know, some of you are thinking – “I’m not a hugger.” You need to be. What meaningful touch communicates to others is so important and such a blessing, you can’t afford not to be.

Affirming words
Every time you open your mouth you have to choose what kind of words will come out – words that hurt or words that help. I cringe when I hear couples speak disparagingly toward each other, or when parents speak to or about their children in ways that destroy – when they use words that put down and tear down and humiliate, when they are critical and contemptuous. And I know if they use those words in public, what they say in private is even harsher.

And I suspect they don’t really have a clue what damage they are doing. Paul writes in Eph. 4:29-5:1 “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us”

When you use words that are upbuilding and blessing, you are imitating God and living a life of love.
“…only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs…” That means you have to think about what you are saying before you say it, who it is you are saying it to, and whether it is going to build up or tear down. Our problem with our words, many times, is that we don’t think before we speak – we just let words burst out from our anger or resentment or unhappiness.

Love considers the person, their needs and the effect. What a powerful effect words can have for good. When you use words like, “I appreciate what you’ve done,” “I believe in you,” “You are special,” “Tell me about your day,” “How can I help,” “I enjoy being around you.” What a transforming effect that will have on the people you love.

Active commitment
Love involves commitment – an active commitment to a person. And what do I mean by that? Have you ever told someone, “I’m there for you”? What did you mean? What you probably meant is that you are available when they need you, that they are a high priority in your life, that you will work for their very best, that if something comes up they can call you and know you will come. That’s something of what I’m talking about. It’s the nature of a close friendship.

Let me add a couple of things to what I mean by an active commitment:
1) You spend time getting to know a person. You learn about them, their interests, their goals, their needs. Inherent within loving someone is knowing them. If you are married, you need to become a student of your husband or wife – you need to know more about them than anybody else in the world. If you are a parent, you need to know what’s going on with your children – you need to know what makes them tick, what their dreams are, what they long to be and do.

2) You pray for them. I’m not sure how you could say that you love someone and not invest time each day praying for them. And they need to know you pray for them.

Ultimately, loving someone means feeling about them and treating them as God would. And God’s love is so deep and strong it can never be broken. I think of what Paul wrote in Romans 8 – “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? (31-32). Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? (35) No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom. 8:37-39).

Do the people you love know that’s how you feel about them?

Illustration – The Notebook: She has Alzheimer’s – she lives in a nursing home, disoriented and confused – she no longer knows her husband. He lives there also, though he is healthy and able to live on his own. Every day, he cares for her and reads to her from a notebook in which she had written the story of their life together – hoping that it will jog her memory and he will have her back.
Their children and grand-children come for a visit and she asks who these people are. When she returns to her room, they beg him to come home. He says, “I am home. My home is with her.”
He makes incredible sacrifices to be with her, but it is obvious that to him they are not sacrifices.

That’s what love does. It chooses the other before self. It is God sending his only son to bring salvation to a world that will kill him.