On June 25, 1967, the Beatles performed 'All You Need Is Love' as Britain's contribution to 'Our World,' the first live global television link. It was watched by 400 million people in 25 countries. The song, part of what has been known as the Summer of Love, captured the utopian hopes and sentiments of the younger generation.
Within this song lies a profound truth: human beings, people like you and me, are in desperate need of love and affection from the moment we draw our first breath to our dying day.
It appears that the capacity for love is hardwired into the human heart—'all you need is love.'
Just as a baby requires milk to grow physically, so does a newborn require love and affection for emotional growth. Study after study has shown that for an infant to flourish, they require love and affection. Those who did not receive this love as children often find that their cognitive and emotional development is impaired. The void created by this lack of love during childhood can often be filled in adulthood with addictive behaviors or self-destructive relationships. The utopian dream for many is merely an illusion. We all seek love, but sometimes we look in the wrong places.
So, what does this word 'love' mean? In the English language, this single word encompasses a wide range of emotions and actions. It can refer to the love of friends, romantic love, the warm fuzzies, the contentment of deep friendships, affection for children and family members, and a love for outsiders demonstrated through actions.
Love can be described as a feeling, a choice, and an action. It is a deep, multifaceted word that points to the depth and height of human experience.
The ancient poet, whose poems comprise the biblical book 'Song of Solomon,' spoke these words about romantic love, but they hold true for love in general:
'Many waters cannot quench love;
rivers cannot sweep it away.
If one were to give
all the wealth of one’s house for love,
it would be utterly scorned.' (Song of Solomon 8:7)
Yet, although the longing for love is hardwired into the human heart, there are many reasons why, as individuals and as a society, we choose not to love. And this lack of love has consequences.
To turn away from love is to fuel racism, oppression, war, and injustice. To turn away from love or not receive love is to leave a gaping ache within us, which opens us up to bitterness, loneliness, unforgiveness, and hate.
At some point or another, we all become disconnected from the hardwiring of our human hearts, falling short of what we were called to be.
Before we delve into our passage, let me suggest one thing that obstructs our ability to receive, enjoy, and give love.
Consumerism, which is rampant in Western culture, acts as a powerful noise-cancelling headphone that prevents us from hearing the sweet melodies of love and affection.
Allow me to explain: We were born to be lovers, yet a potent worldview has saturated our hearts through the liturgy of advertising, peer pressure, and modern media. We desire objects and possessions, sometimes prioritizing them over the pursuit and reception of divine or human love. Through consumerism, we are being trained to overvalue 'things' and undervalue love, humanity, and relationships.
As a western society we have never consumed so much (whether that be objects, things, experiences or social media) and yet as recent studies are showing loneliness and disconnection, have never been so high.
"In the 'world of things,' we change and upgrade to whatever takes our fancy, and these thoughts can be transferred to how we treat relationships.
Within consumerism, relationships become commodities there for our entertainment, and humans become objects to be used for our own gratification. Marching to the beat of consumerism, we put profit before people and the quality of our lifestyles above justice and compassion.
Into the Text
As we turn to our reading in 1 John, we hear the words of the old Apostle John. John was a fisherman, a businessman with hired servants, who became a follower of Jesus and later a church leader in Ephesus. Later in his life, he was exiled and suffered persecution for his belief that a new age had dawned in King Jesus.
In 1 John, the apostle John uses the word 'love' 38 times. In fact, we could call old man John the 'Apostle of Love.' Those of us who are younger here may find wisdom about love and community from the older generation.
The Apostle of Love speaks to his readers on the topic of love. We may assume that these first readers in the church of Ephesus, just like St George’s today, were a diverse congregation made up of men, women, children, and were likely ethically, racially, and economically mixed.
Notice that twice in our passage he says to the church to love one another.
'Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God' (1 Jn 4:7).
'Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another' (1 Jn 4:11).
Twice he says we should 'love one another.' The word used for love in this passage is 'agape,' which refers not to sexual love ('eros') or the love within a family unit but to 'Agape.'
Agape love refers to faithfulness, commitment; it’s an act of the will. It is distinguished from other types of love by its lofty moral nature and strong character.
John is encouraging, commanding, and urging his readers to show affection to each other, to demonstrate commitment and faithfulness. They are to choose love even if the warm fuzzies are not present. He does not say love those who are like you; he does not say love those you like; he does not say love when you feel like it, but rather he says love one another.
Today, this is a word from the Lord, a command for us to love each other.
If we do not love each other, then our services, teaching, alpha courses, small groups, beautiful building, and our work with those who are vulnerable are nothing but a clanging cymbal to a world that desperately needs to hear the sweet melodies of love. Elsewhere in scripture, it says,
'If I speak in human or angelic tongues, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 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. 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.'
God is Love
For John, love ('agape') is to be part of our DNA because we are born of God, and God is Love. This is mentioned twice in this passage and serves as twin peaks from which we should frame all questions of theology and discipleship.
'Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love' (1 Jn 4:8).
'God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them' (1 Jn 4:16).
At the very heart of God, flowing from his divine center, is the eternal love of the Trinity. The Father has always loved the Son and the Spirit. The Son has always loved the Father and the Spirit. A Trinity of Love from which everything they do comes out of that place of love, affection, commitment, and fidelity. A triune love that creates a universe, embraces humanity, and never gives up even in the face of sin or death.
Let the love of God be our compass and guide when we study scripture or face suffering.
God is not a moral monster. He is love.
God is not an absent landlord. He is love.
God is not a puppet master, bringing evil and pain to the world. He is love.
God is not wrath, God is not violence. He is love.
He has always been love; He is love and will always be love.
God is Love: Love Looks like Something
John goes on to tell us how God, who is love, shows his love. Look at verse 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' (1 Jn 4:9).
God shows his love by sending his one and only Son that we might live in him. Without the loving action of God, we would be lost and dead in our trespasses and sins. For God so loved the world, and his love is love in action, so he sent his one and only Son.
Love here is not just some feeling of affection but is a love that looks like something.
A love that looks like Jesus, the child in weakness,
A love that looks like Jesus blessing the broken, healing the hurt, feeding the hungry, eating with sinners.
A love that looks like God rolling up his sleeves, getting his hands dirty, washing his disciples' feet, entering into the human condition so that we, who were spiritually dead, can live in love and live in Him.
God is Love: Love Costs
God's love is not only something that looks like something, but it is also a costly love.
"This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins." (1 John 4:9–11)
God's love is demonstrated not just in the sending of Jesus but also in His death. Scripture reminds us that "God demonstrates his own love for us that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."
In 1 John, His death is described as an atoning sacrifice. In the ancient world, sacrifices were often used by worshippers to appease angry gods. They would choose a lamb or bull, often at great personal cost, and offer it as a sacrifice to win the gods' favor.
In Jesus, we see God Himself putting His head on the block, going to the cross to let evil do its worst. This isn't about twisting God's arm to show affection but revealing that God is love—self-giving, sacrificial love. He'd rather die for His enemies than smite them. He'd rather forgive His enemies than condemn them. Turning to those who crucified Him, He said, 'Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.'
With outstretched arms on the cross, we see the love of God—a revelation of His true heart as agape, self-giving, sacrificial love. In the rivers of His blood, 2000 years before Enoch Powell's speech, we see the walls of violence broken down and the futility of racial and ethnic divides.
John writes elsewhere that when Jesus is lifted up, He will draw all people to Himself. Jesus' death is God's way of saying to a lost and broken world, "I love you, I love you, I love you."
Jesus' death is a sacrifice to end all sacrifices. He exposes our violence and sins, draws them into Himself, and nails them to the cross. His resurrection demonstrates that life triumphs over death, forgiveness triumphs over sin, and love triumphs over hate.
Love One Another: Love Looks like Something
Returning to the command we are to obey, "Beloved, love one another." In Jesus, we see what love is like, and His DNA is in us. We are to love each other, and love looks like something—it's a verb, an action. We can choose to love, to show affection for each other, and treat each other as Jesus treats us.
The apostle in 1 Corinthians 13 tells us what love looks like. As we love each other, we become like Jesus. Our true calling is to be a community of embodied love. This is not a utopian fantasy but a kingdom dream where the radical ethic of love in 1 Corinthians 13 is lived out.
We are patient, kind, not envious, not boastful, not proud, not dishonoring, not self-seeking, not easily angered, keeping no record of wrongs. We do not delight in evil but rejoice with the truth. We always protect, trust, hope, and persevere.
We can demonstrate this love by forgiving each other, befriending each other, helping each other in practical acts of loving service—caring for the sick, comforting the lonely, calming the anxious, and blessing the broken. We are to love one another so that the claim that we are brothers and sisters rings true.
Agape: Love is Costly
Like Jesus, the love we share is self-sacrificial and costly. John writes elsewhere, "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 and sisters."
As a community, we need to be those who lay down our lives for each other. In church history and within the global church, especially under persecution, there are those who quite literally lay down their lives.
In the early Church, pagans were struck by the witness of Christian love. "See how they love one another!" they would remark.
The dream of the Kingdom, empowered by the Spirit of God, is that people look at us and say the same.
It is love—the love of God revealed in Jesus and the love of Jesus revealed in His people—that offers hope, justice, and compassion to our world hardwired for love.
It is love—the love of God revealed in Jesus and the love Jesus revealed in His people—that offers peace, justice, and compassion to a consumerist world bent toward violence.
Jesus said, "By this all people will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another" (John 13:35).
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The Holy Trinity of Love.