I had a difficult time finding the picture above, the one with a man holding an umbrella for another guy. My difficulty didn’t have to do with the photo, but with the fact that I couldn’t figure out how to get the search algorithm to give me what I wanted.
I use Unsplash for free quality photos for my most of my blog posts. It is an astounding resource. As I was writing this post, I knew I needed a photo that illustrated love. So I typed “love” in the Unsplash.com search bar. I don’t know how Unsplash’s algorithm works, but I suspect it has something to do with the tags photographers attach to their photos. The photos my search returned were all about hearts, weddings, and people hugging and looking dreamily into each others’ eyes. Pretty standard depictions of love, wouldn’t you say?
But that’s not the aspect of love I was looking for.
Eventually I discovered that I couldn’t use Unsplash to find a photo for this post. No matter what word or phrase I typed in the search bar, I couldn’t find words that gave me pictures of the kind of love we’re talking about in the post. We’re talking about a complete love. Those depictions of love I saw on Unsplash are incomplete. How are they incomplete? What we learn as we continue our study of Honest Advent, which in week 2 is about giving Jesus the gift of love, is that love isn’t love unless it costs you.
What we have already seen in our previous posts here and here is that love is participatory in helping those in love, and today we will learn that love is selfless and sacrificial within a church family. John repeats this over and over again in the letter we’ve been studying this week, the New Testament book of 1st John. For example, he describes this kind of love in 1st John 2:7-8 as a command that we heard from the beginning. He curiously calls it an old command that is also new. What command is John talking about?
John is referring to something he mentioned in another New Testament book he wrote, the Gospel of John. Keep your finger in 1st John, and turn to John 13:34-35. The scene in John 13 is the Upper Room, the place where Jesus had a final meal with his disciples on the night before he was arrested. Scan through chapters 13-17 and see all the teaching from Jesus, loads of it, all on that same final evening. In 13:34-35, Jesus says this to his disciples: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, that you love one another.”
That command applied not only to Jesus’ disciples, but also to all his followers since. In our church families, therefore, we should be known for loving one another. Even when we think differently about things, we still love one another. If we disagree about how to handle political or cultural situations, we love one another. If someone in the church family rubs us the wrong way, we love one another.
John repeats this over and over throughout 1st John. For example, read 1st John 4:19-20. “You cannot love God while you hate your brother. Whoever loves God must also love his brother.” These are such important statements. If you have a broken relationship with someone in your church family, then John is saying this is a serious concern. This is why the famous love chapter of the Bible, 1st Corinthians 13, is so helpful because it is a great place to learn what love is like. “Love is patient, love is kind, love bears all things.” We also need the words in Ephesians 4, “Speak the truth in love.” What we learn about love through these various teachers is that love is not a feeling. Love is active, participatory. Love sacrifices. Jesus is our example in that. If your love is not sacrificial, it is likely not love. True love will cost you.
For example: A key part of loving well is listening to the one you love, getting to know them. Paul writes in Philippians 1, “I pray that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight.” Love is willing to sacrifice what one feels one needs, and it asks, “What does the other need?” What the other person needs might not be what we want to give them. What the other person needs might not be easy for us to give them. Instead love asks, “What is going on in someone else’s world? What things might be going on beneath the surface?” Love is really getting to know them. Love listens.
God is love. He knows what we need. He sacrificed for that need. You and I, though, don’t always know what the other person needs. Loving them means learning about their needs. In fact, loving people will look different depending on the person. It might mean meeting a financial need, it might mean giving them extra time to themselves. It might mean just sitting quietly with them. One thing we know for certain is that real love, love that looks like Jesus loves will require sacrifice. Loving someone will require giving up something of yourself in some way for another. Loving someone will almost certainly go beyond giving them gifts that are material possessions wrapped in a package with a bow that are opened on Christmas.
True love will cost you. And it will be 100% worth it!