What is Real Love?
“By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” – 1 John 3:16-18
Check out last week’s sermon here.
Question: How do we know what love is?
Do you know that you are loved? How?
Love is certainly not truly understood through mere words. Case in point, if a husband, with words of loving tenderness said to his wife, “Honey, I love you.” while contradicting himself with physical abuse to her, that wife would hardly say that she felt loved by her man’s flimsy words.
Love is only truly known and proven through actions that align perfectly with that common phrase, “I love you.” We in the world are capable of experiencing varying levels of imperfect love. The bigger the love experienced, the greater the feeling of joy, thankfulness, security, and peace.
When a child is given a hug and kiss from his father, she feels the tender embrace and secure care that her daddy offers. When a coach spends decades of life pouring into his players with time, effort and correction, those players understand that there is a level of love that the coach has for them through his investment into them paired with his joy at their victories and corrections in defeat. When a family gathers to feed the homeless, there is also an element of love in that action toward the needy.
Is that real love?
Yet, every example falls short of a perfect love offered in Jesus Christ.
Apart from Christ, the father’s extension of love to his child is tinged with the imperfections born by sin. The father’s feeble attempts to provide love and safety to his child will only be a temporary safety, never protecting that child from her greatest needs. No matter how much love the child feels, she will only experience the limitations of human love. No sane father would ever claim he loved his child perfectly, with never a tinge of selfishness, pride, angry outburst, or other sin. Because all father’s are sinful, the love they offer is tainted by sin—imperfect love.
Christ-less love from a coach to his players always has some self-preservation in mind. A coach desires to see his players succeed, because he wants to succeed. A coach wants to be praised. Yes, his love has personal motives and conditions. The players will never fully experience from their coach a higher love that exceeds the conditions of human love. A coach cannot offer his players what they truly need in life. Come adversity, failure, the element of time, rejection, or many of the other forms of love-eating challenges, and that imperfect love will prove to be what it is—imperfect.
Without Christ, the helping hand to those in need is meant to both be love for the homeless while also padding one’s “societal” bank account. No one truly loves another without thinking of the praise they will get from others around them. “She’s such a philanthropist.” “He just loves giving back to his fellow man.” And like the rest, this philanthropic love will prove absolutely conditional. When time and finances run out, so dies the philanthropy. Thus, even if that needy person feels love from the kindness of that “do-gooder” their felt love will not be the highest form of love, never reaching what someone needy needs to have fulfilled—love that makes peace with a holy God.
Yet, all these deeds could be seen as pure if humans were actually worthy of other human’s praise. But we are not. When we get praised for our imperfect love, we steal praise from the only One who truly is deserving of praise.
Whether people “love” because of the feeling they get from helping others or to look good to others, I will will stand on this statement that there is not a human in the world who has given their time, resources, a kidney, or even their own life for the sake of self-empowered “love” without some thought or desire for self-satisfying praise in their mind and heart. “People will think kindly of me when I do this.”
If human love and kindness is faulty, then how do I know that I have experienced real love?
Answer: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us.
“This how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.” – 1 John 3:16 (NIV)
Real, perfect love can only be found in the love that Jesus Christ extended, as he laid down His life on the cross. Do you want to to see and know love? Behold Jesus.
“[Jesus,] though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” – Philippians 2:6-8
Only in Jesus was/is desire (the willing to love) coupled with ability (divine God-man who defines perfection in all His deeds) to express real, perfect love. Where fathers, coaches, philanthropists, and the like portray imperfect love from imperfect desires and abilities, Jesus’ expression of love will never fail or be found imperfect.
“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” – Romans 5:6-8
In Jesus, you will find love without condition. Your receiving of Jesus’ love is not based on giving something to Him first. You are a sinner, and Christ died for you. In Jesus you will find love flowing from intentional desire. Jesus Christ laid down His life FOR us. In and only in Jesus will you find words of love expressed fully and completely through His actions—perfect actions that address humankind’s greatest needs.
Where do we go from here?
“Christ wrought, blood bought, sacrificial love does things.” -Pastor Mike
When your understanding of love, experienced in its varied imperfect forms in the world, gets exploded by super-love of Jesus, a life cannot return to normal, ordinary loveless living.
“[Because of Jesus’ love] …we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” – 1 John 3:16b-17 [Brackets adding commentary]
“John is calling for the disconnect between our words and deeds to be utterly destroyed.” -Pastor Mike
The application from the love that John saw Christ express is to love holistically in practical expression to those around us, especially in the Church. John is not calling for self-serving piety. He is calling for people to walk the trail of love that Jesus blazed.
“Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” -1 John 3:18
Two Questions To Probe My Heart
Does my view of what Christ did on the cross lead to me to focus inward on myself, or outward to show the love of Christ to others?
If my understanding of what Christ did on the cross is leading me to self-focus rather than love-to-others-focus, what is missing in my understanding of what Jesus did on the cross?