What love looks like
John 13:31-35 When he was gone, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him. 32 If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once. 33 “My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come. 34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
It is Thursday night of Holy Week. Jesus is in the Upper Room with His disciples giving them some last minute instructions before He goes to the cross to die for the sins of the world. As part of those last minute instructions, Jesus teaches them, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”
Some of the most astute observers of what love is like are children. For example, one child said that “Love is when a girl puts on perfume and a boy puts on cologne and they go out and smell each other.”
In our society, love is often about how each other smells, how each other looks, how each other kisses, how we “feel” about each other.
And that’s OK. Feelings are important in love. One child said, “Lovers will just be staring at each other and their food will get cold. Other people care more about the food.” Another child said, “It’s love if they order one of those desserts that are on fire. They like to order those because it’s just like how their hearts on fire.”
Why would that be true? Because of the way those who love each other feel about each other.
Feeling love is OK – in fact God has apparently “hard wired” us to feel love. We are to love one another. We feel love for our spouse, our children, our parents.
But listen to how St. Paul describes love in 1 Corinthians 13. If you listen closely, there is almost no discussion of love as emotion. “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a)
These aren’t feelings, these are actions, behaviors. This is what love “looks like.”
Like I said, children understand love. Perhaps that’s because they don’t think in abstract ways. They understand what they can see, and touch and hear.
One child said, “Love is when my mommy makes coffee for my daddy and she takes a sip before giving it to him, to make sure the taste is OK.” Another child observed:, “Love is when mommy sees daddy smelly and sweaty and still says he is handsomer than Brad Pitt.” And still another child told about “When my grandmother got arthritis, she couldn’t bend over and paint her toenails anymore. So my grandfather does it for her all the time, even when his hands got arthritis, too. That’s love.”
Love - at its best - is far more than emotion. It’s action. It’s something you do. God tells us: “Love is ... love does … love does not”! All actions! Love is more than a feeling it is a verb. It’s an action. It’s an act of our wills.
Jesus teaches His disciples that love is an action. It is demonstrated in following His teachings. “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching” (John 14:23-24).
The problem is that we are not very good disciples of Jesus. That’s because we don’t follow His teachings. Jesus calls for us to love others, but we can’t do that if we don’t first love Jesus. The problem comes in that we assume that because Jesus loves us then we don’t have to demonstrate our love back to Him. We all too often live with the attitude in our hearts that “Jesus loves me this I know … so I can live any way I want to. I’m forgiven! I can be angry with my spouse … I’m forgiven! I can be rude because … I’m forgiven! I can sleep around or live in sin because … I’m forgiven! I can smoke this, get drunk on that, covet those, and hate those because … I’m forgiven! I can indulge. I can spoil. I can coddle and comfort and keep instead of serve and suffer and share. I’m forgiven! I can treat Jesus’ commands more like suggestions. After all, I’m forgiven!”
To that St. Paul declares, “Shall we go on sinning so that I can be forgiven? Certainly not” (Romans 6:1-2)! Or as the principal in Billy Madison so eloquently put it: “What you’ve just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.”
Dearly beloved, living any way you want to really means you want to live in sin. That’s not loving God. That’s loving yourself. That’s not demonstrating love for others. That is demonstrating love toward your sinful nature. That’s not following Jesus’ teachings. That’s making up whatever you want to do and doing it. Living apart from the word of Jesus is not loving Jesus and it is not loving others. Wanting to continue in sin is wanting to live apart from Jesus and His teachings. It is not being a disciple of Jesus. It is being a disciple of Satan. One way shows that you are on the path to heaven. The other way shows that you are on the path to hell.
Love flows from faith. If you love Jesus, that love will flow from faith in Jesus. Your heart will seek to be in harmony with the teachings of Jesus as they are revealed in the Bible – not as you might think, suppose, or feel.
So we turn to the Bible so we can learn what true love is. We learn from Jesus that love is an action. While in the Upper Room on Thursday evening, Jesus gives Judas a morsel of food as a gesture of friendship. Jesus is trying to reach out to His friend. He wants Judas to repent of his actions before he carries them out. Yet, Judas rebuffs Jesus. He leaves to carry out his cowardly betrayal.
After he leaves, Jesus teaches the disciples, “Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once. My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come.”
Jesus wants His disciples to love, but that love cannot come from themselves. It must come from Him. It is a love that only Jesus knows. For this is a love that flows from the cross.
Jesus says that His heavenly Father will glorify the Son. Jesus is talking about the glory of the cross, the suffering, the self-sacrificing love Jesus would demonstrate for His disciples and all of humanity. Jesus then says that where He was going, they could not come. He is again referring to the cross. He is saying, “You can’t follow me to the cross. But because of my cross, you can follow me in love. Therefore, as I have loved you, so you must love one another. Then everyone will know that you are my disciples. As you experience my sacrificial love for you, then you be able to demonstrate that sacrificial love for one another.”
So, what is Jesus’ love? Love can be and is an emotion. But it is so much more. Jesus didn’t just say, “I love you.” He didn’t express His love with gooey sentiments and gushy cards. He expressed His love as a commitment. An action. A sacrifice. On the cross.
Listen to the Bible’s definition of 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. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:10-11).
Jesus Christ, your Savior, God’s Son, went to the cross. He bled and died so that we might have a permanent relationship with God. He was committed. He acted. He sacrificed Himself. He died so that we might live eternally.
As Christ’s disciples, you are to have the same sacrificial love for each other as Jesus has for you. God is really into commitment.
You need to know that God is only requiring of you a small measure of what He requires of Himself. In ways we cannot ever fully understand, God went through hell for us for the sake of love. Jesus is our model of what God thinks about commitment. He held back nothing for our sake. Our entrance into heaven came at the great cost of His life. “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” (1 John 3:16).
Think of the soldier who died battling the Nazis so his wife and kids could live in freedom. Now multiply that passion and devotion by a factor of several billion. That will give you an idea of what motivated God to secure heaven for us. That is the kind of God we are dealing with.
Jesus commissions us to love one another. But we have to admit that our human love is convenient. It suits our needs at the time and fits into our schedule. Christ’s love is eternal. You are always on His itinerary. Human love is emotional. Hormones, sleeplessness, worry, past hurts, Mexican food – all of these things complicate these emotions. God’s love is committed. His love is based not on our obedience or failure to keep His commands to love. Rather, His love is based on His decision to love us. Your actions or inactions don’t increase or decrease His commitment one bit. In fact, if you never loved God or God’s children … He will still love you.
Jesus commissions you to love others. It is more than an emotion. It is a commitment. So that you know that that love looks like, look at Jesus. Amen.