What’s Love Got To Do With It?

Peter McNamee   -  

Love is best demonstrated through sacrifice. What we are willing to give up will often reveal how deeply we love something. If your love is not costing you anything it may not be true, pure love. For instance, if you love a certain band or musical artist you are willing to pay good money for tickets to see them perform live (looking at you Taylor Swift fans). You want to experience more of that artist thus you are willing to sacrifice some of your resources in order to make that happen. While not always referring to financial sacrifice, the Bible speaks of love in much the same way. Jesus said that, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13 ESV). There is no greater demonstration of love than sacrifice, and there is no greater sacrifice than to give up your own life. Consider also the words from God in Jeremiah 31, “The Lord appeared to him from far away. I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you” (Jer 31:3 ESV). God is making a statement to the people of Israel through the prophet Jeremiah. God’s relationship with Israel in the Old Testament thus far has been complicated to say the least. Israel and God is the most on/off relationship in all the Bible. They have glimmers of hope where they are faithful and full of worship, but alongside those episodes are periods of intense rebellion and crushing idolatry. Amidst every season God’s love remains faithful to His people. He remains committed, He’s all in. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t difficult at times for Him. God was greatly grieved by the sin of Israel and the punishment that ensued as a result. But read the verse from Jeremiah 31 again. Listen to the words God uses to describe His love. It’s everlasting. It won’t run out. Even when who you are loving does not reciprocate. Those moments are the most painful, but all great love is painful from time to time. It is what one is willing to give up that determines the depth to which they love. God was willing to go through it all, and He still is today. 

Circling back around, the beauty of the verse from John 15 is that these were not hollow words, but rather the very call of Jesus’ life. This was not something He was telling His disciples to do; it was something He was demonstrating. We are told in Romans 5, “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” Jesus demonstrated the greater love by dying for the ungodly. Now, if we are familiar with the gospel narrative or have been raised in church it can be easy for us to speed-read through this. We know the story. We know that Jesus came to the earth, died on a cross, and was raised from the dead. It is important for us to remember who Christ died for, and not just that He died. He died for the ungodly. Not the righteous, not the ones whose lives were put together, not the most religious. He died for the ungodly. Those who were far away from God. That’s the wonder of what Paul says next in Romans 5. Sometimes, in extraordinary circumstances, one will die for another. And this will only occur because the person dying views the other as a good or righteous person. This makes sense in our minds. If you believe the other person embodies goodness and righteousness it is easier to lay your own life down, for you believe they are worthy of the sacrifice. But for one to die for an enemy of someone who is unrighteous is madness. This is where Jesus flips the script and changes our expectations, “but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8 ESV). God chose to lay down His life when we were at our worst, when we were trapped in the bondage of sin and rebellion. He died so that you and I might live. His love transforms the very nature of our existence and sets us free to live for righteousness, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24 ESV). Christ didn’t die while we were righteous, but died so that we may live to righteousness. He didn’t save us because we had no sin, He saved us because we had sin. His body broke so ours would be healed. His life ended so ours could begin. Great love is sacrifice. God is great love. 

The love of God cost Him everything. It cost His Son. It cost the pain of watching Him die a death He didn’t deserve to ransom a people who had hardened their hearts toward Him. When we think of love our minds can seamlessly drift to warm feelings and thoughts. We associate love with the butterflies that flutter in our stomach when we are around people we enjoy and respect. While this is a part of love it is not the entire picture. Love demands action. If it were limited to merely a feeling it would be insufficient to affect change. If love were only a feeling and bottled up inside of us we would never tell another that we love them. We would never be intentional in our time with them. This is the fascination of love, it drives us to action. When we love someone or something we are willing to do anything for them. Not because we feel trapped and that we have to do it, but because we want to do it. Love has so transformed our hearts that we can live sacrificially for the other person. The love of God is not warm and fuzzy, but inherently strong, determined and committed. It brings encouragement and comfort, but also resolve and steadfastness. His love is enduring and able to weather the storm. His love is something we are swept up into. It is richly evident in all aspects of our lives as God continues to pour out love even as we continue to sin. His love continues to be sacrificial as He remains committed to us even when we falter and turn aside. Each time we value something over Jesus the sacrificial love of God is put to the test only to be found tried and true once more. 

Love is mentioned roughly 550 times in the Bible. The large quantity highlights the importance of love. Many of these verses declare the love of God Himself. They encourage us to fathom the deep love of God that surpasses understanding. Yet others instruct us on how we too can live in love. The Apostle John guides in this way, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God” (1 John 4:7 ESV) According to John the progression is God is love, we are loved by God, therefore we can love others, and this love establishes that we are born of God and know Him. John will also tell us earlier that it is through loving others that the world will recognize that we are disciples of Jesus. We love because He first loved us. The greater love that God is calling us into is futile apart from Him. We will never be able to sacrificially love others to the furthest extent without God’s love. But the truth is that God is faithful to equip us for every good work. Where we fall short He is able to strengthen and encourage. When loving someone else seems like an impossible task God makes it possible. 

So as we approach this holiday season may we remember what we celebrate. Jesus coming into the world was the greatest act of love for God gave up His own Son to come and save sinful people. This love would echo throughout all history and change the course of the world. It would start in Jerusalem and travel to the ends of the earth. Through this love God is drawing people to Himself. He is bringing life where there was once death. He is continuing to love His enemies, and those who are in sin and unrighteousness. May we always be amazed by this love, and seek to exemplify it in our context. “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Cor 13:13 ESV)