In the season of Easter, we have a weekly lesson from the letter of 1 John, a letter often known for talking about love and community. It's because of these themes that I've decided to preach on these texts for the season of Easter, but as I'm re-reading this book one of the ideas I can't get out of my head is how difficult it is to talk about love. Why? Because it comes with a lot of baggage.
Love is a word we throw around a lot in English. We use it to talk about family members and potato chips, about top 40 music and the character of God. We usually use it to mean something like "affection" or "emotional attraction" or "I agree and think this is similar to me."
If that's how we understand the word "love," it's no wonder that we stop short when Jesus says to "love your enemies" (Matt. 5:44; Luke 6:27). How can feel affection for a murderer or approve of a rapist?
But 1 John lays out how that idea of love is one dimensional and shallow. In 3:16, the author says, "We know love by this, that [Jesus] laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for each other." In other words, love isn't just feeling good about something; we recognize it in sacrifice, in working to make someone else the best version of themselves.
Because I love my children, I don't stand by and approve of them hitting another kid; I step in and stop them, I teach them to apologize and respect others. Even if they get angry with me or the punishment or correction causes me trouble or pain. Because I love them, I want them to be better people.
So how do we love a murderer? By stopping them and providing resources for their hearts to change so they can attempt to make recompense. By working for a world that has less root causes of violence and hatred, such as bullying, prejudice, unending poverty, or untreated mental and physical health issues. By praying and working for them to become the best version of themselves, the version of themselves God has created them to be.
And in learning to love others into the best version of themselves, hopefully I am being changed into the best version of myself because God is patiently giving Godself to me for that purpose.
If we're going to understand the love God has given us and calls us to practice, we need to get past the images of Hollywood and Hallmark. Love isn't just positive emotions and giving chocolates, it's giving our lives for others as God did for us.
From the Gray,
"Sometimes love has to drive a nail into its own hand." -Chris Rice, "Sometimes Love"