These exhortations were given by me between 1999 and 2005. That was a long time ago, and I have grown a lot since then. They may not reflect my current beliefs.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
That is a verse that we all know, and it beautifully sums up the reason why we are all here today; we are here because of love.
Love is a difficult concept to think about. It is one of those things that we all understand – everybody knows what we mean when we say we love our children or we love our parents, but most of us would find it almost impossible to define love the way we could define words like “book” or “chair”, or even words like “prefer” and “like”.
That’s one of the reasons why John 3:16 is so powerful. We can understand the love God felt towards the world, even if that understanding is imperfect. To send your son to save somebody is an act we can all feel, and through that feeling gain understanding.
In John chapter 13, verses 1 to 5 we see a great example of Christ’s love for his disciples.
It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love. The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
Although Christ was undoubtedly his disciples superior, he humbled himself, and took care of their physical needs, and he also took care of their spiritual needs. There was more to his loving washing of their feet than simply cleaning them. There were several messages here.
At verse 14 Christ says “You ought also to wash one another’s feet”, teaching us that we should look after each other. The ecclesia shouldn’t be a pyramid like structure, for example with the sisters at the bottom, then the non-speaking brothers, then the speaking brothers, then the AB and finally the recording brother at the top. It should be a meeting of equals. As Christ said in Matthew 23, verses 11 and 12 “The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”
There is another important lesson in love her, which is also illustrated by the parable of the wheat and the tares, in Matthew 13, verses 24 to 30:
Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.” The owner’s servants came to him and said, `Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’ “`An enemy did this,’ he replied. “The servants asked him, `Do you want us to go and pull them up?’ “`No,’ he answered, `because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.'”
Christ was a man who could tell spiritual wheat from spiritual tares if ever there was one. Christ could have uprooted the weeds without fear of pulling up corn as well. But he didn’t. He allowed Judas to ‘follow’ him, he washed Judas’ feet, and he broke bread with Jesus. And it was Judas who left Christ, not Christ who forced Judas to leave.
Christ could have weeded out false doctrine from among his disciples without fear of error. Anything we do is prone to error. We shouldn’t go on witch hunts, because we will inevitably make mistakes. Part of loving one another is giving one another the benefit of the doubt, even when we feel there is really little doubt at all.
Loving one another is one of the greatest forms of witness we have. After washing the disciples feet, Jesus said “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Paul explains the importance of love in 1st Corinthians 13:
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.
Love is the most important thing we can have. It is more important than faith itself. That is something we can all draw strength from. Even when our faith is weak, our love to one another is still important, and the love we receive from those around us can help us, and help to re- strengthen our faith.
I haven’t actually said what love is yet, and I think there is no better definition than the one Paul gives in the rest of 1st Corinthians 13. I’m going to conclude by reading it.
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. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.