I AM: Love

We’re continuing the message series entitled, “I AM” where we learn how God describes Himself.  We are then challenged to go out and be the salt and light of the world in that same way.  Or, as John wrote:
1 John 4:17
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. Or in the KJV: As He is, so are we in this world.
Since our view of who God is can be very easily distorted by our experiences with Him and that they can often reveal more about us than about who He is, we’re going to stick to God’s direct quotes of how He describes Himself. So far, we’ve learned that God is compassionate, holy, and with us.  This week, we’re learning of truth that:
1 John 4:8b
God is love.
Seeing that today is Saint Valentine’s Day, it just seemed appropriate; even though not an exact description by God about Himself.  As we ended the message last week, we were reminded that love that is forced is not love at all.  We learned that love, by it’s essence, is selfless and not selfish.  If I love someone only because of what benefit I can receive from them, then I do not truly love that person.  I am selfishly using them.   No, none of us like to think about it this way, but it’s simply true.  Some of our personal relationships with others are more so business relationships than they are loving relationships.  If we stop receiving some benefit from that relationship, if it instead began to cost us something to maintain, then we would probably end it.
Jesus described love in this way:
John 15:13
Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
In our modern, U.S. English language, the word love can take on many different meanings.  For example, the love that I would share with my spouse should not be the same love that I should show toward my community.  Some people unfortunately get this confused.  Yes, God created sex and created it to be so awesome that only in a lifelong commitment between a man and a woman is it supposed to be experienced.  The love that I have for chocolate should not be the same love that I have toward God.  The love that I have for my best friend should not the same love that I should have for my car.  The love that I have for my parents shouldn’t be the same love that I have for my employer.  We have one single word, love, in our language.  In the original Greek, Aramaic, and Hebrew languages in which the scriptures were written, there were many different words for these different types of love.
Instead of going into a whole new series and teaching on this reality, we’ll instead pick the one type of love that actually does apply in all relationships.  This is the type of love that is so much a part of God’s character that the apostle John equated God with it.  This is the type of love that Jesus referred to when He said:
John 13:34-35
34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
In the same way that God is love, everyone should be able to look at our lives and know beyond a shadow of a doubt that we are disciples of Jesus because of our love.  This love of God is supposed to define who we are so deeply that we can be identified by it.  This is a selfless and sacrificial type of love, the kind that God shows toward us and we are to show toward all others.  It is a love which is becoming rarer and rarer these days.  More and more, especially within the church, the love that we see in action is no love at all.  It is a selfish love that pursues relationships with others because of what benefit we can receive from them and not because of what we could offer to them.  In fact, Jesus gave us this description as one of the many indicators that we are living in the last days:
Matthew 24:12
Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold,
Paul also wrote to Timothy with the same reminder:
2 Timothy 3:1-5
1 But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. 2 People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, 4 treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power.
What we call love today is all to often a deceitful lie as it looks and acts nothing like the love of God.  It is a love grown cold, one that uses its power to control, tear down, and manipulate others, rather than to serve, encourage, and build them up.  In fact, the true love of God is so powerful that if we possess and use it correctly, to simply love is to fulfill the entire law of God.
Mark 12:28-34
28 One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
29 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
32 “Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. 33 To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
34 When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.
The love of God is a powerful force that is able to break through the darkest of places and bring people into a place of hope, freedom, and healing.
1 Peter 4:8
Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.
2 Timothy 1:6-7
6 I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. 7 For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.
To love God and others is to do completely what God desires of us.  This love is not a love that we, on our own, can ever possess or put into action, however.  This pure type of love comes only from God.  Even Jesus, Himself, who loved others perfectly, could only do so because He had received this love from His Heavenly Father:
John 15:9-17
9 “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 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. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other.
On a side note, we may at first read this and think it to be quite contradictory to what has been shared so far.  Jesus said that to remain in His love, that we are to do what He commands of us.  He said that they only reason that He remained in His Father’s love is because He obeyed whatever He commanded.  This initially sounds like a controlling, manipulative, and selfish love.  That is because coming from a sinful human being, well, it would be.  This, however, comes from a perfect, sinless, God who needs nothing from us.
God does not command us to do things for His own comfort or pleasure.  God’s commands to us are not for His benefit by any means.  God’s commands are made out of a selfless love and out of care and compassion toward His own creation.  They are for our benefit alone; to spare us the pain that comes from making bad decisions.  If a loved one commands us to stop doing something that is harming us, it is a command for our own benefit and not for theirs.  God commands us to do certain things and also to abstain from certain things because He actually does love us and wants only the best for us.  He wants to stop the hurt in our lives and to begin healing us.
So first of all, how can I receive this love?  If I am unable to love others with this perfect and pure love unless I first receive it from God, then how can I receive it from Him?  The answer is simple in reality, but difficult in practice.  We must let down our guard and trust Him.  We need to surrender all that we are to Him, break down our walls built by the hurt and abuse we received from others, and give Him our all.  God has already proven His great love for us:
1 John 4:9-10
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.
While we were yet merely sinners, Jesus humbled Himself to become just like us, tempted and weak.  He lived the perfect, sinless life that none of us ever could, He willingly gave up His life on the cross, and He rose again to live victoriously!  That is the power of this love of God!  God showed His great love for us by making a way for us to be reconciled in our relationship with Him before we ever deserved it or even considered accepting it.  He recreated us to be someone that we could have never been on our own.  Once we receive this love of God, we can be forgiven, healed, set free, and transformed into a brand new creation.  We are then called to freely give this same love to others that we, ourselves, received from God.
1 John 4:11-21
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.
How can we recognize the love of God, though?  How can I test my own life to know whether I am acting out of God’s love toward others?  After all, we just read that we are liars if we claim to love God and yet cannot love others.  God’s word, of course, does not leave us to simply wonder about this issue.  In fact, it gives us one of the best definitions of what this love of God looks and acts like:
1 Corinthians 13:1-8
1 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  8 Love never fails.
If you’re not loving this way, then you’re loving wrong.  If you’re not loving this way, then you really need to either accept God’s pure and perfect love for yourself initially, or need to stop hoarding it selfishly and not extending it toward others.  This is the love that we are to have toward everyone.  We are commanded by God throughout the scriptures to love these people in this very way: our enemies, our best friends, our parents, our children, the church, our employers and coworkers, our neighbors, our masters (if we are slaves), the cashier, the drug dealer, the person who just wronged and offended us, that person that just started the most awful rumor about my family, absolutely and entirely everyone.
It is this love, when executed correctly, that leads people to Jesus and saves, heals, and delivers them.  It is this love that transforms others into the person that God created them to be.  It is this love that is unstoppable and unquenchable.  It is this love that can radically transform not only the lives of individuals, but even entire nations for Christ.  There can be no law against this love of God, so even in those that stand against Christianity in the most radical way can still be impacted and transformed by this love.  In fact, there is testimony after testimony of exactly that happening.  In fact, we even heard recently from missionaries within a communist country in which it is unlawful to evangelize seeing that same country transformed through simple love which opens doors to the gospel message.
We’ve been quoting quite a bit from the apostle John this morning about the love of God.  There was a time when even He, much like we often are, did not understand how to execute God’s love correctly.  We read about one sort of humorous instance here:
Luke 9:51-55
51 As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; 53 but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. 54 When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them just as Elijah did?” 55 But Jesus turned and he said, “You do not know what kind of spirit you are of, for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.” and rebuked them.
(Italic words are not used in all manuscripts)
I think that it’s no coincidence that following this encounter, Jesus showed His disciples His love through the example of the Samaritans.  In fact, in the very next chapter, we find the parable of the good Samaritan where Jesus uses a Samaritan man to represent how the love of God should look and act.  He goes on to heal ten men with leprosy and the only one to come back to thank Him was a Samaritan man (Luke 17).  When being accused of being a demon-possessed Samaritan, Jesus only refutes being demon possessed and seemingly ignores that being a Samaritan was a bad thing even though Jews, such as Jesus was, were forbidden to even speak to them (John 8).  We also learn of the Samaritan town where many believed in Jesus after the woman at the well encounter (John 4).
Like James and John, the church today still often uses the authority that Jesus gave us in order to pour out wrath and condemnation on people.  Jesus rebuked them, and I believe still rebukes us today and commands us to instead pour out His love on them.  While allowing a sinful woman to clean His feet, Jesus again encountered a situation when a Pharisee, the “church folk”, thought that He should not allow her to be even near Him.  Jesus gave a parable and reminded them:
Luke 7:41-48
41 “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”
43 Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”
“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.
44 Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet,but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”  48 Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”
Quite often, the very people who would love God the most, who would serve Him wholeheartedly are the very people that we simply refuse to love.  As Jesus taught us and displayed for us all throughout His lifetime, we must love everyone.  After all, it is everyone whom Jesus came to give His life for.  He came not to condemn them, but to save them; not to pour out His wrath upon them, but to make a way for them to be restored to Him.  Until Jesus decides that the end has come, that is still the heart of God and still His desire; to seek and save the lost, to pour out His love on them through us.  Wrath is His and He has appointed a time for it to be poured out.  Until then, He patiently waits for everyone to come to Him and experience His love.
We are called to be patient and kind, not to envy, boast, or to be proud.  We are called to honor others and not to be self-seeking or easily angered.  We are called not to keep a record of wrongs or to delight in evil, but to rather rejoice with the truth.  We are called to always protect, always trust, always hope, and always persevere.  We are called to be like Jesus.
God loves you with an everlasting and ever-faithful love that endures all things.  His love will never fail you and never stop pursuing you.  This morning, won’t you stop resisting Him and give up your entire self to Him?  Won’t you stop holding back and start to trust again?  His desire isn’t to harm us, but to heal us and to give us hope.  He isn’t looking to control and manipulate us, but to make us whole and complete; full of joy!  Yes, because of great His love for us, He directs our paths toward good things and away from evil things that would harm or ensnare us.  All that we have to do to receive God’s love is to let our guard down and allow Him to love us.
Then, and only then, are we called to go into the world and to love people as He has loved us.  Loving them literally with the same love that He has so graciously poured out into our lives.  We fulfill God’s every desire and command simply by loving; Him first and others second.  Our own lives, we put last, trusting that God will take care of all of our needs.  We let God’s love fill our lives, then we let it overflow into all of those around us no matter who they are, what they’ve done, or where they may go.
In closing, I would like to pray over you all those same ancient words of Paul as he wrote to the church in Ephesus, which are still just as fresh and new for us today as they were then:
Ephesians 3:16-21
16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.