What is Love? (May 6, 2018)
What is Love?
“Love each other” (Jn 15:17). “Love each other as I have loved you” (Jn 15:12). Look around you. Go ahead, turn your head and look around at the people sitting in this room with you. The people you see here are some of the faces that Jesus was talking about when he said, “Love each other.” Only some of the faces, though. The rest are the billions of people out in the world. But that’s such a huge scope that I’m going to narrow it down. Just think of the people in this room for now, the people you just looked at. You can close your eyes if it helps as I ask you these questions. Are there reasons in your mind that might prevent you from showing love to so-and-so? Do you know something about that other person, perhaps something they did to you or said to you, that makes it hard to love them? Now forget about it. Forget about the things that person did to you. Forget about all the reasons you might have to withhold your love, because the command of Jesus is very simple, “Love each other” (Jn 15:17). There’s no conditions: “Love each other if they…” There’s now limitations: “Love each other, but only until…” Jesus just says, “Love each other.” Love is to be one-sided in motivation.
Love loves because it loves to love – not because of any factor coming from the other person. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple, right? If only we could just flip a switch, put a lock on it, and keep on loving till the cows come home. Our sinful weakness makes it very difficult, if not impossible to love as Jesus commands – to love with one-sided motivation. We feel the unbalance of pouring out love into everyone else. Eventually we run empty and feel the unbalance. We lose our drive to love when it feels like our love is only one-sided. Do you ever feel like that?
If that’s you – or rather, when that’s you, because it happens to every one of us – listen to what Jesus says. “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you” (Jn 15:9). When you feel like you are running on empty, like you have nothing more to pour out because nothing has been poured into you, then turn to Jesus. He’s the one who can, who has, loved perfectly. He is not weakened by the sin that causes our love to run dry because he is perfect. He pours out his love night and day. He pours out his love without considering whether a person deserves it or not. He pours out his love in a way that is accessible to anyone, anytime. I picture a waterfall cascading down the rocks that you can go to any time. When your bucket is empty because you’ve been pouring out your love, go to the unending flow of love that Jesus pours out and fill up your bucket with his love. His love is the agape love. It’s the purest form of love. It’s warm and heartfelt. It’s steadfast and sure. That’s why he adds at the end of his command, ”Remain in my love” (Jn 15:9). He knows that you need to fill up constantly, so remain in his love so that you have something to pour into each other.
But then we have the catch. There’s always a catch, right? Jesus said, “Remain in my love” (Jn 15:9), but then immediately goes into, “If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love” (Jn 15:10). That’s the catch, right? Jesus’ love for us is really just a utilitarian love. He pours out love on us as long as we keep his commands. That’s what it seems like at first, but keep reading. “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete” (Jn 15:11). The purpose of obeying his commands is not for him to benefit. It’s so that you benefit even more. It’s so that your joy may be complete!
Jesus knows and experiences the joy of keeping God’s commands, and he wants you to experience that same joy by obeying his commands! This is completely contrary to what the unbelieving world would tell you. Even that sinful part in ourselves tells us that the greatest joy is having it our own way – doing whatever we want. But Jesus tells you that complete joy, the fullest experience of joy, is found in Christ. Part of that is because God only wants what his best for you. He wants to give you every blessing and provide what is truly best for you. He’s pouring it out, but when we step away from that flow of blessings, we miss out on what he has to offer. The other part of complete joy, found only in Christ, is having a friend who would literally do anything for you.
“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (Jn 15:13). Jesus himself demonstrated the greatest extent of true love for you when he laid down his life in your place; his life for yours. This is more than just a friend who always covers the bill at lunch. This is more than just a friend who stands with you and endures the consequences with you. He pushed you out of harm’s way and took the blow completely onto himself. And it was more than just physically taking the bullet or jumping on a grenade – so to speak. He took on the death that a person really ought to fear: eternal death in hell. He paid the ultimate sacrifice. His love for you is completely one-sided. There is no catch. It’s not based on anything you have done. It doesn’t go away when you mess up. His love is sure and steadfast. It is always warm and heartfelt. Remain in that love.
Why is it, then, that we at times feel like we are running on empty – that we are unbalanced in pouring out love? Often it’s because we forget to turn to Jesus. We forget to crack open our Bibles or devotion books and hold our buckets under the flood of love pouring out of Jesus each and every day. If you ever feel unbalanced, then consider just how off balanced your love really is. But not because you are pouring out and pouring out and pouring out. Your love is unbalanced because Christ is pouring in, pouring in, pouring in. The truth is, you will always feel off balanced if you are doing love correctly. But the off balance will come from the bucket which never runs empty no matter how much you pour out, because Jesus is always filling it back up.
There’s another part of love that Jesus discusses next. Love is also beneficial in application. What I mean is, when someone loves you, you will benefit greatly from it. When Aristotle was attempting to define friendship, he noted that the true mark of friendship is that it consists more of loving than being loved. Think about that as you hear what Jesus calls you. “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you” (Jn 15:15). Jesus calls you his friend. You are the one he is going to love without considering what he gets in return. And being his friend, there are many benefits that go along with it.
There’s a big difference between being a servant and a friend. A servant simply does the work that is asked of him and doesn’t always get the privilege of knowing why he does the work. A friend, however, is on much different terms. Friends share all kinds of things about their lives. Friends tell each other the reasons behind what they do. They are open and free with each other. So as a friend of Jesus, you know what keeping his commands is really about. It’s about living according to God’s will because you know and understand that he has the best in mind for you. You trust that your friend Jesus would never be unfair to you – unless, of course, the unfairness is on his part as he lavishes his love upon you.
Understand just how unfair your friendship with Jesus is. Jesus chose you to be his friend even when you weren’t worthy of friendship – especially not his. Remember when I asked you to think about the people in this room, and the reasons you might have for not loving them? Now think about all the reasons Jesus has for not loving you. I am sinful. I know it, and yet I’m devious about my sin and try to hide it. I’m a repeat offender. Even though Jesus graciously forgives my sin, once I’m cleansed I run right back to it. In fact, it may even look like I am simply using that connection with Jesus as a get out of jail free card. And the Bible calls me out on it saying that I was an enemy of God. And yet, Jesus keeps on loving you with that one-sided kind of love that is all for your benefit. “You did not choose me,” he said, “but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit – fruit that will last” (Jn 15:16). He chose you, knowing you completely, warts and all. But that is what you and I were. He chose you. And when he chose you, “you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of God” (1 Cor 6:11). He cleaned you up and made you the best version of yourself through your friendship with Jesus
Think about what that friendship with Jesus means. What a friend we have in Jesus. We just sang that at the beginning of this service. Is there any other friend that could match up with Jesus? He is the friend who is always there when you need him. Always there to help, and always there to listen. He’s the kind of friend who knows you, and understands what you are going through or what you are feeling even without you even saying a word. He always gives you the right advice. In fact, he’s even the friend that will give you the kind of advice that’s hard to hear when he knows you need to hear it. Your friend, Jesus, never lets you down. He even receives you into his home. That means you are welcomed into his eternal, heavenly home. But it also means something else; something to keep you going on this side of eternity. It means you have access to the Father. “So that whatever you ask in [Jesus’] name the Father will give you” (Jn 15:16).
Now that you know what love is, “Love each other” (Jn 15:17). And to do that you are going to have to remain in Christ’s love. Fill up on his love every day so that you can pour it into others without worrying about whether they deserve it or if you will be loved in return. Pour out love in ways that benefit and help others because it’s a testament to what your friend Jesus did for you. He did everything for your benefit. And there is no end to his love.