Dear Jesus, You are the very definition of love. You have called upon me to love my neighbor as You have loved me. As I enter into Your presence and that of Your Father to worship this day, open my mouth so that I might confess my sins—my many failures to love! Open my mind, so that I might hear Your Word and grow in love! Move me to lift up my voice in praise of Your love! Finally, lead me to depart from Your house with the determination to fulfill Your desire and love others as You have loved me. Amen.
A godly love is a selfless love. Ruth demonstrated that love when she stayed with Naomi. Naomi demonstrated that love when she sought security for Ruth. God blessed their love when Boaz married Ruth and created a new family.
God is the very definition of love. He revealed His love by sending His Son into the world to be “the propitiation for our sins.” He then calls upon us to love one another accordingly!
God loved the world of sinners, which included each and every one of us, so much that He sent His Son to save the world. Everyone who believes in Jesus as Savior will inherit everlasting life. Those who remain in the darkness of unbelief stand condemned by their own sinful desires.
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.
We love Him because He first loved us.
In Christ Jesus, the heart of God’s plan for our redemption, dear fellow objects of God’s love:
Have you ever noticed how during the winter when a black asphalt street or driveway is covered with ice and snow and the temperatures are still well below freezing, the afternoon sun can warm up that asphalt and melt away the ice and snow?
Our human hearts by nature are like that black asphalt in winter. Because of sin our hearts are cold and selfish—frozen, if you will. The prophet Jeremiah describes those hearts in this way: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (Jer. 17:9). Jesus amplified that description by saying: “Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies” (Mt. 15:19). Even when we come to faith we still struggle with our sinful flesh, which constantly seeks its own benefit over the benefit of others. When describing the last days Jesus said that “lawlessness will abound, [and] the love of many will grow cold” (Mt. 24:12). Paul adds: “In the last days perilous times will come: for men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (2 Tim. 3:1-4).
My dear friends, we are living in such days. We are experiencing what Jesus and Paul predicted, and the sinful world sadly all too often has undue influence upon our hearts and lives as well. Many of us as individuals, as married couples, and as families are facing crises. Our hearts have grown cold, while our lives often lack joy, fulfillment, and hope. What can we do? In the children’s sermon I used the illustration of the story from the movie Frozen to point out the answer—only an act of true love could unfreeze and deliver Anna’s frozen heart. While the story told in Frozen is pure fiction, the moral of the story portrays biblical truth. Consider the following statement of Paul: “For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another. But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Tit. 3:3-7).God’s kindness and love towards us in connection with His Son, Jesus Christ, is the answer to our cold and frozen hearts. God’s love ultimately unlocks and restores our love. Let us, therefore, consider this simple thought—LOVE! We will see, first of all, that God defines love! We will see, secondly, that Jesus commands love!
Near the end of the 1st Century A.D. the apostle John was led by the Spirit to pen the words: “We love Him because He first loved us.” While so very simple, this is a profound thought. God does not love us because we first loved Him, but rather it is God’s love for us, that enables us to love Him! What is the nature of that love? We heard it defined in our Epistle reading. John tells us that “God is love” (1 Jn. 4:8). Note the fact that while love is certainly an attribute of God, just like power, wisdom, or grace, love is also the essence of God. We are nowhere told that God is power, or that God is wisdom. Yes, God is powerful and wise, but God is not just loving, He is “love!” What is the nature of that love? John, in that Epistle reading, further defines love: “In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 Jn. 4:9-10).
Love is not merely a feeling. Love sees the needs of others. Love understands the needs of others. Love seeks to address the needs of others. Love is willing to sacrifice that which is most precious to meet the needs of others. God is such a love! He saw our desperate need for rescue and forgiveness in view of our sin. He understood that we could not save ourselves by anything that we might do. He established a plan for our rescue already in eternity. He sent His Son—His only-begotten Son into this world to redeem us through His own life and substitutionary death. It was Jesus who was the “propitiation”—who paid the satisfactory payment for our sins, so that we might be declared righteous in His sight and be brought back into fellowship with God.
My dear friends, until we understand the depth of our need for God’s help and forgiveness, we cannot possibly appreciate the extent to which the love of God went to provide that help and secure that forgiveness. The people of our world like to think of themselves as being good by nature, or being only slightly flawed and that due to their environment, but ultimately perfectible if only given enough time and effort. This is not true! By nature, the Bible informs us that we are hopelessly lost and condemned creatures—actually dead in sin (cf. Eph. 2:1-4) and, were it not for the love of God, we'd be doomed to eternal destruction. But “God so loved the world,” our Gospel reading states, “that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (Jn. 3:16). God loved us in spite of our sin and still even in our lost condition sent His Son to deliver us.
God did not love us because we were worthy of His love. God did not promise to love us, if only we would promise to be good and therefore loveable. No, in our lost condition God loved us unconditionally and had His Son shed His blood to gain for us the gift of eternal salvation. It is when we understand the nature and depth of God’s love, that our cold and frozen hearts can thaw, become warm, and then grow hot in our love for God! It is then and only then that we can love God and truly love one another. LOVE! God defines love!
Jesus commands love! It was Maundy Thursday night in the upper room that Jesus issued His command. He said: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” Earlier that evening Jesus had illustrated for His disciples the attitude with which He wanted them to serve others. He had removed His outer garments, knelt down, and washed His disciples’ feet. He then instructed them: “Do you know what I have done to you?You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am.If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them” (Jn. 13:12b-17).
Jesus’ command is a call to selfless service in our relationships with others. That is not only accomplished when we literally wash each others’ feet, which I doubt happens all that often, but whenever we deny ourselves and serve the interests of others. The Mosaic Law has requested that you love your neighbor as yourself (cf. Lev. 19:18), but Jesus issued a new command: “Love one another, as I have loved you!” Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice—giving up His life in order to save our lives! This He did for Judas, for the high priests who falsely accused Him, for the soldiers who scourged Him, and for Pilate who wrongly condemned Him. This He did for you and me—all to lift us up out of the miry pit of sin and self-centeredness in which we find ourselves and to place upon our heads His own crown of righteousness!
Now He calls upon us so to love—freely, selflessly, unconditionally, knowing that such love can help heal hearts, mend relationships, and make individuals, couples, and families whole again. It is not easy. Selfless, loving service never is, but Jesus promises that when you practice such love in your lives, you will be blessed!
Consider the example of Ruth and Naomi from our Old Testament Lesson. Ruth and Naomi’s lives were filled with tragedy—both lost their husbands and both experienced the pressures of poverty. Naomi, however, sought the welfare of her daughter-in-law, first by suggesting she remain with her established family in Moab and then later when suggesting she appeal to Boaz to fulfill the role of the kinsman-redeemer. Ruth left her family and everything with which she was familiar behind in order to be a blessing to Naomi. In the end the Lord blessed their selfless love by securing for them both temporal and eternal security—the former through Boaz and the later through the Son of David, the promised Savior who would come.
My dear friends, love involves making daily decisions to see and then meet the needs of those around you—husbands for wives; wives for husbands; parents for children; children for parents; neighbors for neighbors; and co-workers for co-workers. That most often involves a certain degree of selflessness and self-sacrifice. This is not easy, especially when those whom we serve seem not to notice, care about, or appreciate the sacrifices we make. It is hard to love and then feel that you are not being loved back! Satan can easily begin to tempt us to question whether or not it is all worth it. He, of course, wants to lead us down the path towards hopelessness and rebellion. But in those times of desperation, think of Jesus. Think of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane praying, “Not my will, but Yours, be done” (cf. Lk. 22:42). Think of Jesus on the cross crying out in the midst of agony, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Lk. 23:34). God knew what the world was like and what the world would do to His Son—still He loved the world and sent His Son! Jesus knew the hearts of human beings. He knew of our rebellion and stubbornness, but He still moved forward and bore the pain and the shame of the cross in order to bring us His Father’s gifts of forgiveness, spiritual life, and salvation. When we choose to serve, we choose to honor Him, and will surely be blessed by Him.
It is interesting to note that the commands of Jesus given to us are often set within the context of our relationship with Him and our heavenly Father. The last verse of our Epistle reading states: “If God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 Jn. 4:11). Our text from John’s Gospel says: “As I have loved you, that you also love one another.” Paul writes: “If anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also do” (Col. 3:13). How you and I love other human beings is not, in other words, dependent upon their love for us, but rather upon God’s love for us in Christ. Think about that my dear friends! Christ’s love for you and for me is unending, unconditional, and uplifting. When we become discouraged, and at times we will all become discouraged, look up to Christ! Meditate once again upon His passion and recognize that He died for you and for me. Can we not endure that which we must at times endure for Him?
Husbands, God calls upon us to love our wives sacrificially (cf. Eph. 5:25), to strive to understand them and to honor them, recognizing in them a fellow heir within God’s kingdom (cf. 1 Pet. 3:7). Will that always be easy? Perhaps not, but it is not always easy for our wives to honor and respect us either. We are all frail creatures subject to error and lacking in love. In each of our relationships, however, Jesus calls upon us to strive to love as we have been loved. Remember, it is the sunshine of His love, which ultimately will warm our hearts and enable us so to love! Amen.