I. The OLD Definition of Love
The lesson for this morning comes from a letter written by the Apostle John written to believers everywhere and describing the aspects of a Christianity. Now – remember that Christianity was still relatively new. Jesus had died and risen within 15 years of this letter. For many believers, they were very recent converts from Old Testament Judaism or Greek Mythology. In this part of the letter, John reminds the believers that not every concept of Christianity is new. In fact, he points out that the heart of Christianity is an ancient command. Check out verse 11, “This is the message you have heard from the beginning: We should love one another.”
In Genesis 1 (which is as beginning as it goes), God creates a marvelous world for all of humanity. He loves humanity and he teaches them to love. He tells them to love by caring for the animals, by caring for one another and by caring enough to not eat that the fruit on that one tree that God asked them not to eat from.
It’s a simple way to show God love, but it’s a good way. (It’d be similar to not eating your mom’s chocolate brownies that she spent hours creating from scratch until she gives the ok. It’s loving to respect her wishes, since she’s the one who made them in the first place.)
In the very first loveless act of all time…
God selflessly gives them everything and they selfishly take something.
God loves, and people fail to love.
But let’s not dwell there. Surely, that little mistake can’t change everything? Surely the formerly love filled world, won’t plunge into lovelessness…
Fast forward a generation. Adam and Eve have two sons – one named Cain and another named Abel. And since Adam and Eve had failed so miserably at showing love, I am certain they went out of their way to tell their boys TO love….
Their mom and dad.
Now by this time, the tree that Adam and Eve could show love by not eating from it, was gone. They no longer lived in the beautiful garden; they had been banished to the wilderness. So, they would show love to God in a different way. They would take the best of their resources, put them on a stone, dedicate them to the Lord and set them on fire. It was a way to give back to God who had given them all things.
It looked like this:
Abel was a shepherd. He would bring one of his favorite sheep. One of his best sheep. One of his prized possessions, put it on an altar and set fire to it.
And Cain was a farmer. Cain would bring some of his vegetables, even his best vegetables, put them in a pile, place them on an altar and set fire to it.
Outwardly, the two offerings looked about the same.
Abel loved God.
Cain? Not so much.
“This is such a dumb rule. Why should I have to give something back to God? Sure, he gave us this world. Sure, he makes the sun rise up, but sometimes the sun burns the food. And he’s not the one working like I work. I sweat. I bleed. I get blisters. I break my back to make this stuff grow and he wants me to give it back to him? Really? I will. I don’t want him to strike me dead, but…I won’t be happy about it.
And look over there? It’s my stupid brother with his big old goofy grin on his face. “Praise God from whom all blessing flow!” What a joke. Tell you what -- I’ll make something flow. It won’t be praise. It’ll be blood. From his head.
And… …That’s what happened:
While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him. (Genesis 4:8)
This is pretty awful.
This is pretty cold blooded.
This is not love in the slightest.
Good thing we are so much farther along and would never stoop to such awful lovelessness…
Agree or Disagree?
Love is following your heart.
To be fair, the world would tell us that this is true. Have you ever seen Once Upon a Time? It’s a TV show where storybook characters come to life and live in the modern 21st century. Snow White is in it. Prince Charming is in it. Pinocchio is in it. It’s kind of fun and interesting to watch these characters in our environment. Snow White trying to talk to bunch of real life robins. Prince Charming is not so charming. Pinocchio lives in the forest and lights a fire…of wood.
There’s a phrase that gets used over and over again on the drama “The heart wants what the heart wants.”
The idea is that if the beautiful Belle’s heart longs for the ugly beast, she should go for it. “The heart wants what the heart wants.”
Or if the pauper Aladdin wants the royal Jasmine, then he should go for it: “The heart wants what the heart wants.”
But what if that same logic gets applied to the villains?
What if what the Evil Queen wants to destroy Snow White? Reason to do it?
What if the evil Jafar wants to put Aladdin in a bottle? It’s cool right – the heart wants what the heart wants.
What if the selfish Gaston wants Belle just as much as the Beast does? Is it cool when he kidnaps her and forces her to be his?
Of course not. The reality is that following your heart does not always lead to noble choices.
Oftentimes it leads to hateful choices.
That’s what happened with Cain. Look at what it says about him, “Do not be like Cain, who (was of evil) and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brothers were righteous.”
Cain followed his heart.
His heart hated giving offerings.
His heart hated his brother.
His heart hated his heavenly Father.
And the murder was just Cain following his heart.
But it wasn’t love.
I would submit that you and I have the same problem.
When we follow our hearts, it isn’t always love.
I felt really, really angry at her pastor, that’s why I flew off the handle and called her those ugly names. My heart felt upset. I was just following it.
I know I promised to be faithful to my spouse, but that other person is so sexy….and well…the heart wants what the heart wants. You don’t want to stop love…do you?
Follow my heart is absolutely how I live my life, Pastor. I just do whatever I feel like. Which is why I’m in jail for drinking too much and driving.
Here’s the truth: Love is NOT following your heart.
Because we have sinful hearts.
Sinful hearts always do sinful actions.
And sin--filled actions aren’t love.
They are hatred.
It’s like opening up a jar of peanut butter and expecting to find fresh asparagus. It’s foolish! Peanut butter is made from peanuts. Asparagus is not on the ingredients list. There isn’t any in sight. (And if there is…you need to find a new place to buy asparagus)
Our hearts are filled with sin.
We can’t expect their desires to lead us to true love!
Only to true sin.
Only to hatred.
And if there’s one thing that God hates – it’s hatred. In fact, God hates hatred so much that he must destroy it! In fact, the Bible says this: “Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murder and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him.” (1 Jn. 3:14-15)
Do you see the warning?
Stop following your sinful hearts.
Those desires will lead you to death.
II. a NEW definition of love
But…if following your heart isn’t the definition of love…then what is?
Remember what we read earlier: This is a message that has been there from the beginning: Love one another. (v.10)
That means love was a concept that was possible for Adam and Eve to accomplish even though they failed miserably at it.
It also means that love was a concept that was in existence before Adam and Eve…were.
And who “was” before Adam and Eve?
And that only leave one option:
God is love (1 Jn. 4:8.)
Because God is not sinful.
God is holy.
God is not hateful.
God is loving.
God is not selfish.
God doesn’t take.
God doesn’t kill,
And God gives you an excellent example of all this: Look at verse 16: This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. In a complete reversal of Cain, God gives up his own life. Rather than killing someone else when he was mad, God is killed in order to save those who sinned against him! He gives himself as a sacrifice in order to appease his own hatred of hatred.
Do you get what I am saying?
Jesus died for Cain.
Jesus died for Abel.
Jesus died for you.
Even when there was nothing he desired about you.
Remember – he hates sin. It’s like if God had a dating profile, he would list sin as the one trait that he is totally unattracted to. Picture your sin like the most unattractive traits that you can imagine. A bunch of pimples. A terrible stench. Broccoli stuck between his teeth. A 1970s mullet and conversation that only revolves around himself.
That’s how God views our sin, totally and completely unattractive.
And that’s how we look to him.
But God didn’t ignore you.
He didn’t swipe left.
He didn’t forget all about you.
He loved you.
He loved you enough to die for you.
Here’s the truth then:
Love is NOT following your heart.
Love is following God’s heart.
It’s thinking of his desires first, not my own.
It’s loving like he loves, not like I love.
III. What Now?
And what is God’s love like? Three things to keep in mind as you strive to love like him.
1) Love by Giving Up
Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in them? (V.16-17) God gave up heaven and came to earth for us. He gave up perfection and entered a sinful world for us. He gave up his life and purchased eternal life for us.
May we give up as God gives up.
Here’s what I want you to do. Right now – write down one practical thing that you can give up this week in order to show love.
Maybe it’s money – you give up some of your “fun budget” to help a friend in need.
Maybe it’s time – and you give up that binge watch on Netflix to spend time with your spouse.
Maybe it’s strength – and you give up your strength as you finally attack that honey-do-list that’s been sitting on the fridge for the past 12 months.
Remember – love is not about taking for yourself.
But giving up for others.
Just like God gave up himself for us.
2) Love with Action
Because one of the easiest things to do is to mistake the phrase “I love you” as actual love.
It’s like the husband sitting on the couch playing Fortnight for three hours and shouting, “I love you honey,” as his wife vacuums the house for him. And then is offended when his wife asks him later, “Do you really love me?” “I told you while I was playing video games. Isn’t that enough?”
Nope. That’s not what love is.
Love is an action.
It’s why John writes, “Dear children, let us not love with words…but with actions.” (v.18)
It’s how God loved us. He didn’t just say “I love you,” but he showed that he loved us.
He acted by coming to earth, living perfectly, dying innocently and rising triumphantly for us.
Put your love into practice by acting in love for your family.
Put your love into practice by acting in love for your friends.
Put your love into practice by acting in love for your church family.
Put your love into practice by acting in love for your enemies.
Love with action.
3) Love in Truth
Because it wouldn’t be very loving if you saw a black widow spider hanging off a spiderweb and dangling near your friend’s ear and your response was: “Don’t worry about him. He’s not poisonous. If he bites you, you’ll be fine.”
That’s not loving.
That’s a lie.
And God teaches the same thing. “Dear children, let us not love with…speech, but in truth.” (v.18)
Love tells your friends when they are making bad life choices.
Love tells your husband when that tie doesn’t match with that jacket.
Love tells your wife when she has a piece of lettuce stuck in her teeth.
Love tells the truth.
And there’s no greater truth than the message of Jesus’ loves.
Some of you may know this already. A few weeks ago, Southwest Flight 1380 was en route from New York to Dallas. About 20 minutes in to the flight, the engine blew up and it hit one of the windows on the plane – busted it completely open, sucking a woman half way out the window and sending the plane hurtling to the earth.
Pastor Tim Bourman and his wife Amanda were on that plane.
Friends of mine.
A pastor in our synod.
He said that while he was in the air he was very scared, very frightened, very horrified. He thought that he was about to die.
But what can you do? He couldn’t fly the plane. So…he did all that he could.
He reached into his pocket.
He pulled out his phone.
He texted his two kids who were on the ground safe at home.
He texted them.
But not them.
His message said this:
“Never lose your faith in God. Jesus loves you.”
Amazing. That’s true.
You do the same.
Share that truth this week.
Share that love of Jesus – today.
Love like Jesus today. Amen.