This thing called love

Sunday 28 July 2018                                    This thingcalled ‘Love’                              Martin Baker


Today, and over the last 3 weeks, we have been reading fromJohn’s 1st letter.

It’s probably written in Ephesus (South West coast of modernTurkey) to a small church that has lost a good number of its leaders.

These leaders could not accept that God’s word, present atthe start of creation, could be embodied in this man called Jesus. God’s son.   Quite commonly, flesh was seen as corrupt andsinful, and so the very thought that God could be fully present in this Jesuswas unacceptable.

John describes these former leaders as antichrists. It’s aname that relates not only to the simple idea that these leaders have turned againstChrist, but anti, in this context can also mean substitute. They havesubstituted Christ and the message for one that fits more into their acceptableworld view.

John insists that God’s word in Jesus was, and is,real.  He says we have heard it, seen itand touched it.  He uses a legal term,paracelete, to describe Jesus as always being with us, for us, understandingour challenges. 

And he uses another Greek word, Koinonia to describe thespecial community that is formed around God’s word, formed around the light ofthat word. A community formed when that word is proclaimed and formed incommunity with God.

John recognises that there are many influences in our livesthat call us in many different directions. And he describes these influences asspirts. He says that we can test which of these influences or spirits is fromGod, by asking the question do they place the reality of Jesus central to ourlives? Does our life and our words and behaviour speak of the reality of Jesus, hislove his words his actions?

Last week I said that there is always a danger that wecommit the same heresy or false teachings as those early Christians. Some ofour words, songs, carols, can make Jesus seem like a disembodied spiritualbeing, or a good feeling, or a principle, at worst a kind of fairy tale. Jesus actuallymeant what he said about forgiving, about seeing him in the poorest and least,about the fundamental importance of hospitality and welcome.  These things were real.  He was executed for the way he showed love. Hewas not executed for his theories on something.

This morning we hear about God being love.  And we probably all think that love is themost important thing.  But what is reallyimportant to think about is that John does not want to relegate this word loveto a feeling or an emotion. It is a word that is so commonly used.  For everything.  Again, it has to be about Jesus, about somethingwe can see and hear and touch.

1 John 4:7-21

7 Beloved, let us love one another, because love is fromGod; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not lovedoes not know God, for God is love. 9 God's love was revealed among us in thisway: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. 10In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son tobe the atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Beloved, since God loved us so much,we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love oneanother, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us. 13 By this we knowthat we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Saviourof the world. 15 God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God,and they abide in God. 16 So we have known and believe the love that God hasfor us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abidesin them. 17 Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldnesson the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. 18 There isno fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do withpunishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. 19 We lovebecause he first loved us. 20 Those who say, "I love God," and hatetheir brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother orsister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. 21 Thecommandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love theirbrothers and sisters also.

Let us pray

There is a challenge in today’s text.

By way of example.

The first Christian missionaries to China were called NestorianChristians. They came from Persia. (Iran)  In the year 635. And one of the challenges theyfaced, and it has been a challenge faced perhaps by every Christian missionary sincethen, was the challenge of translation. How for instance do you translate the Christian word for God, into the Chineselanguage – which then, had no word for God in the way we might understand thatword?

There were words which meant things like true lord, lord ofheaven, or words that meant spirit or soul. But almost all the words they triedended up referring to the concept of emperor - which given the feeling and knowledgeabout the emperor, was difficult. It might be akin to us translating the Hebrewor Greek words for God as President for instance. So some translators of theBible simply left a gap in the text when the word God was mentioned. It wasfelt better for the missionaries to explain the concept of the Christian godrather than to use a word that would be inevitably inaccurate and unhelpful.Especially if God was likened to the emperor.

When the Christian Gospel came to a place like Ephesus, surroundedby so many temples, filled with the worship of so many Gods, how do you speakabout the Christian faith? 

How for instance, do we talk about the single most importantword in the Gospel, the word ‘love’?


I’ll give you some examples.

Have you noticed how bland supermarket tomatoes taste?

Don’t you just love sun ripened tomatoes that can you pickoff the vine in about January or February?

I just hate those little labels they put on all fruit now.It reminds me of that old joke about what is worse than seeing a worm in yourapple. It to see half a worm. The same thing could apply to those littlelabels. I love fruit that doesn’t have labels on them.

How many of us have got really deep friendships? People wejust love to see?

How many of us just love our children, even when they aresomewhat unlovable?

I loved my triumph thunderbird, but do I love my triumph thunderbirdin the same way I love my children? Or tomatoes or sushi.

As a child it was beyond imagination that anyone could loveBrussel sprouts.

Can anything be loved? Is it a feeling? Is it anattitude?  An emotion?

All you need is love the Beetles sang in the midst of theVietnam war.  Were they right? And whatkind of love were they singing about?

What is the difference between liking someone and lovingthem?  Can you love someone withoutliking them? And if you like them a lot, does that mean you could end up lovingthem? What does love at first sight actually mean? And how do we fall out oflove?

The love word, which is repeated many times in ourscripture, and a good number of times this morning, can be applied to almostanything.

And yet, if we were reading scripture, in Greek, thelanguage our New Testament was written in, we would never read the word love inquite any of the ways I’ve just mentioned.

This word we translate as love is mostly quite differentfrom the  word for friendship oraffection or liking something or someone. Even though there are echoes of allthese things in this word.

The word those earliest Christian apostles used, was theuncommon word, agape -   it is the only word used for love in ourreading today .(ar garp a)

7 Beloved, let us love one another, because love is fromGod; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not lovedoes not know God, for God is love.

It is used 6 times alone in different forms, just the versetwo verses. 

Beloved. Let us Love one another. Love is from God. Everyonewho loves is born of God. Whoever does not loved, does not know God, for God islove. 

So John here is not talking about liking someone, nottalking about friendships , not talking first of all about fondness or beingattracted, or even being in love, as we might understand those things.

So it’s difficult, but when we hear this passage today weare challenged to stand back from all the romantic and emotional  - all the feelings we have about this wordlove and understand it first in terms of what God does.

God’s love is what is shown to us in Jesus being among us,what he said, what he did. The circumstances of his suffering and death and inthe proclamation of his resurrection. This is what God is; this is what God’slove is.

And remember it’s not ever the other way around. God islove, we see that in Jesus. But love is not God. God cannot be some emotion orquality or character. Whatever concept we have of love it is never big enoughto completely explain what God is like. God is love, like God is creatorredeemer sustainer of life. God is love but not love is God.

So the Beetles are probably wrong. All you need is love can meanso many things it can almost be meaningless. What we need is God, because it isGod who shows us a particular real love which is unlike any other. A love whichserves, sacrifices,  changes andtransforms and reconciles.

There is a wonderful blessing from the French Protestantchurch,  our Huguenot cousins, for babieswhen they’re baptised”

“For you Jesus Christ came into the world: for you he livedand showed God's love; for you he suffered the darkness of Calvary and cried atthe last, 'It is accomplished'; for you he triumphed over death and rose innewness of life; for you he ascended to reign at God's right hand. All this hedid for you, [name], though you do not know it yet. And so the word ofScripture is fulfilled: "We love because God loved us first."

So when we speak about love today, this agape, we are capturingup this whole event that is central in our history and our lives and our faith.

So this morning

Three things



Let’s give thanks for the ways that love is expressed andcelebrated in our Bibles.  The love wefind in  families – however they’re madeup. The love expressed in sensuality and sexuality. The love of friendships. 


Let us ponder  thisword agape. The divine love of God expressed in Jesus. We are called to love inthis way as well. It’s the words we speak the example we set the things we dowhich gives real expression to the reality of God’s love for all people.  Some of these people might always view us asenemies, as Jesus said.  Some of thesepeople we will have nothing in common with. Some of these people, as Jesusshowed, might even hurt or damage us. Some for these people we may think of asnot deserving. They do things we don’t agree with. Behave in ways we don’tlike.  Spend money in ways we don’tapprove of.   But agape is the  love which got Jesus crucified.  Agape does not depend on the behaviour of theother. Let us pray for God’s help and courage as we seek to express agape forall our brothers and sisters.


And lets acknowledge with a heart of thankfulness the agape lovewe have received.  The experience of lovefrom those wo has forgiven us, from those who have welcomed us for those whohave helped us out when we haven’t been able to help ourselves.

Let’s try to make this command from Jesus central to our lives.Love one another as I have loved you


Further notes:

There are two words wefind for love in scripture. The first word is phileo. Philanthropy.Philadelphia.

In Greek philosophythe purest form of human love was described as the phileo. It wasn’t the lovefelt between husband and wife of even towards children; there were differentwords for that.

It was the deepaffection that came from the nurturing of friendship.  In Paul’s letters in the Bible we areencouraged to see this kind of relationship as a quality of those who are partof the church’s life.

C S warned somedecades ago that so much of modern life undermines the importance of nurturingfriendships of this type. Unlike our ancient forbearers we do not see the valuein time spent nurturing and developing friendship.

When Johns says todaythose wonderful words love casts out fear, he’s not trying to make hiscommunity bad about being afraid, and he’s not saying that love is morepowerful emotion than fear. He is saying to them and us that our whole purposeand identify in life is found in agape in the love God has shown for us inJesus. A love that has conquered the very power and the machinery and mechanismof fear in our lives.  Jesus sort out thesinners the sinner the outcomes the sick the mentally ill, he was God withthem. Fear is a pretty central part of the lives of all those who were sick oroutcast or condemned. Their fear, transformed by Jesus being with them.

 He showed power for sacrifice and service. Allthe very worst that humans could do is brought to this point on the cross. Whenwe confess that Jesus is risen we are saying that this agape this divine loveovercomes all that would seek to undermine our relationship with God and oneanother.

Martin Baker

Martin began his ministry here in March 2015. Martin has been a minister for over 30 years and brings a breadth of experience in church and community leadership roles.