This afternoon Amy spoke at the Mothers Union ecumenical service about loving as Christ has loved us; here are her words.
‘We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.’ – 1 John 4: 19-21
One of the greatest, if not the greatest, characteristics we have as Christians is love. St John told us in his Gospel that God loves us so much that he sent Jesus to live among us and to die one of the brutalist deaths – death on the Cross, I am referring to John 3:16, which I’m sure most, if not all of you will know. We have then heard the writer of 1 John say ‘We love because he first loved us.’ We know how to love because God has loved us first, just as with a parent and a child.
When we are children we go through different developmental stages, learning how to eat, walk, talk and so much more. Our environment and those around us influence our development. We learn to show love and to love through the experiences we have growing up and through being loved. We love because he first loved us. The type of love which is being talked about in these verses is Agape love. Agape is the highest form of love, it is Godlike, or Christlike love and this is the type of love we, as Christians, should have for both God and others.
I’ve lived in Christian communities for the past 5 years. The first time I lived in one was when I was 18 and on a gap year after completing my A Levels. I was working as an intern for the church I go to in Norfolk, where my mum lives, and as part of the internship I went and lived in Essex for just over a month. I was spending the time working with 24/7 Prayer gap year students and living in a house with five strangers. 1 bathroom, 4 girls and 2 boys – often I would be up at 6am to make sure I could be first in the bathroom that morning. I had to learn very quickly to how to compromise my needs for the needs of others, how to tolerate and how to love these people who I had been placed in a house with. Then that autumn I went to study at Cliff College, a bible college in Derbyshire. I found myself living with 50 other Christians. I was a part of that community for 4 years, with different people leaving and joining. Every year was different and as a community we had to adapt. Then I moved to Abergavenny and joined the Holywell Community, and once again I found myself living with strangers who soon became friends.
I have learnt a lot over these past 5 years, namely how to love like Christ. It isn’t easy living with others and learning to accept all the differences between you all. With love comes compromise, tolerance and understanding, it’s not always easy though.
Jesus said; “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, if you love one another.” (John 13: 34-35) This is what the writer of 1 John is telling us, just in a different way – love one another as Christ has loved us – unconditionally and faithfully. A little earlier in 1 John we read; ‘See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.’
‘Children of God’ – a big statement, and then the writer says ‘And that is what we are!’ He is affirming what he has just said, in case we didn’t quite get it the first time. We are all one family, brothers and sisters united in Christ… so then how should we love? Like Christ did, Agape love. Now those who have heard me preach at evensong before will know I’m a fan of the writings of C.S. Lewis, in his book The Four Loves, he says;
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”
Christ was vulnerable, his heart was broken for humankind. We only have to read the Gospels to see how much his heart broke for the sick, the widowed, the orphaned. I strongly believe his heart broke when he was hanging on the cross, saw people casting lots for his clothes and he said, ‘“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”’. At that moment his heart broke for humanity as he truly knew why he had to die.
Lewis continues to say, ‘Do not let your happiness depend on something you may lose. If love is to be a blessing, not a misery, it must be for the only Beloved who will never pass away.’ What Lewis is saying here is that the more we invest ourselves in the natures and temptations of the world, the more we separate ourselves from Christ and his love. It becomes harder to love others unconditionally and we find unsatisfactory worldly happiness. But if we root ourselves in Christ and his love, if we put God first in our lives we will know his deep, unconditional love. Our lives will be joyful, and happy – that’s not to say they will be perfect, we will still have our struggles, but we will know how to love others and God will break our hearts for those less fortunate than us, just like Christ’s heart broke for us. Jesus is risen from the dead, he is never going to pass away, his love will never leave us. Root yourself in Christ’s love and let that overflow into your relationships here on earth.
So, then, what about verses 20 and 21 of today’s passage from 1 John;
‘For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.’
Well these verses sum it all up, how can we fully love God if we cannot love our brothers and sisters, both inside the Church and outside of it, and if we love God and know Gods love how can we not love those around us?
You can listen to the recording here – https://soundcloud.com/ami-pope/we-love-because-he-first-loved-us