Recapturing Love

Throughout history we have seen words and expressions that have evolved in their meaning. What one word meant a hundred years ago may not mean the same thing today. Because of our sin nature, words have a tendency to lose their value and meaning. Such has been the case with the word: Love. Warren Wiersbe writes, “Words, like coins, can be in circulation for such a long time that they start wearing out. Unfortunately, the word love (or, as it is now sometimes spelled, luv) is losing its value and is being used to cover a multitude of sins. It is really difficult to understand how a man can use the same word to express his love for his wife as he uses to tell how he feels about baked beans! When words are used that carelessly they really mean little or nothing at all.”[1] We have devalued love in such a way that it has lost its true meaning. As Christians, we should recapture true love and revive its meaning and not be so flippant in using such a strong and deep word. Wiersbe goes on to say, “As John describes the life that is real, he uses three words repeatedly: life, love, and light. In fact, he devotes three sections of his letter to the subject of Christian love. In our present study (1 John 2:7–11), we learn how Christian love is affected by light and darkness. A Christian who is walking in the light (which simply means he is obeying God) is going to love his brother Christian.”[2]

                Brethren. John begins his argument to recapture love by addressing the brethren. Who are the brethren? To whom is John speaking? He is speaking to those who are walking in the light. He is addressing those who have been truly born again. As rendered in other versions, he is writing to his friends. “By addressing his readers as ‘dear friends’ (agapētoi)—the first of six times he does so in this letter (2:7; 3:2, 21; 4:1, 7, 11)—the author reveals again the affectionate regard in which he holds his readers.”[3] John considered fellow Christians as his friends. Because of those who have walked away and have fallen into worldliness and false doctrine, John has a great concern for his friends. As John proceeds to address a very important command, it is important to note that the recipients of this command are those who have put their faith and trust in the Lord Jesus. It is those who are in the light.

                Old and New Command. Notice what John says in verses 7-8, “Brethren, I write no new commandment unto you, but an old commandment which ye had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word which ye have heard from the beginning. Again, a new commandment I write unto you, which thing is true in him and in you: because the darkness is past, and the true light now shineth.”[4] What John says on the surface appears to be a contradiction. In one verse he says that he is not giving them a new commandment but an old one. Yet, in the very next verse he says he is giving them a new commandment. The Pillars New Testament Commentary deals with this issue, “How can the author say, ‘I am not writing you a new command’ (2:7), and then immediately afterwards say, Yet I am writing you a new command? The clue to resolving this apparent contradiction is to be found in John 13:34, where Jesus says, ‘A new commandment I give you: Love one another.’ The command to love one another was described by Jesus himself as a ‘new command’. However, the ministry of the historical Jesus was for the author long past. So the ‘new command’ of Jesus was the ‘old command’ for the author and his readers, and it was something his readers had heard long ago, when they first received the gospel. The striking juxtaposition of what appear to be contradictory statements, then, is the author’s way of saying that he is not imposing some novel obligation upon his readers, but only recalling them to what they have known from the very beginning of their Christian walk.”[5] Essentially, the new commandment is a reiteration of the old commandment. It is a reminder of what the readers have already known and received. What is this old and new commandment? Love one another.

                If we are expected to love one another, we must first understand the real meaning of love. In our modern society we have devalued love. Therefore, we must go back to the original meaning of love as God intended it to be. Christian love is not a mere feeling or simply holding something or someone in high esteem or value. Christian love is what we refer to as ‘agape’. It refers to unconditional love. It is a love that persists no matter what the circumstance. It is the kind of love that a parent has for his children. It is the kind of love that God has for us. True Christian love is sure and concrete. Christian love overcomes all ills. Christian love persists even when sin produces a strain in relationship.

                The best description of Christian love is found in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. One of the best paraphrases of the Bible is a book called, The Message. It interprets 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 this way: “Love never gives up. Love cares more for others than for self. Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have. Love doesn’t strut, Doesn’t have a swelled head, Doesn’t force itself on others, Isn’t always “me first,” Doesn’t fly off the handle, Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others, Doesn’t revel when others grovel, Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth, Puts up with anything, Trusts God always, Always looks for the best, Never looks back, But keeps going to the end.”[6] Let’s break down these characteristics of Christian love one by one. (1) Love never gives up. How easy it is for us to give up on others! Think of the number of times you have given up on someone. They went too far. They did you wrong. You think they are too far gone. But does God give up on them? Of course not! God never gave up on you. When you make mistakes and do stupid things and hurt others, God does not just walk away. If we really love someone, we will never walk away. We will never give up on them. (2) Love cares more for others than for self. Are you at a place in your life where you care more for the well-being of others than you do for yourself? One way to describe this is a mother caring for her sick child. The child can be extremely sick and contagious. Yet, the mother will stay with that child and hold that child and care for that child with no regard for her own personal health. A father will jump in front of a speeding care to save his child or run into a burning building to rescue his family. This is Christian love. It is a love that says I am more  interested in your well-being and success than I am my own. (3) Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have. Christian love is never envious. Someone with Christian love is content with what God has given them and does not envy and lust after the possessions of others. (4) Love doesn’t strut, doesn’t have a swelled head. Christian love is not prideful. Someone who practices real Christian love does not brag and think too highly of himself. If you have Christian love, you will not ‘rub in’ your successes and achievements. (5) Love doesn’t force itself on others. Have you ever met someone that was overbearing? They just would not leave you alone? A Christian, practicing Christian love, will never force themselves or their ways and ideas. Sometimes we try to make people like we are. Listen, we are all different. We all have different ideas and different ways of seeing things. Real love does not force its will on someone else. (6) Love isn’t always ‘me first.’? I think it is funny how in a church pot-luck line, no one wants to be the first one, lest they appear to be selfish. Christian love always let’s others go first. It seeks to praise others rather than lifting up oneself. (7) Love doesn’t fly off the handle. A Christian with the love of God in them should never be overcome with anger issues. A true Christian is not one that is easily provoked and angered. Someone practicing Christian love remains calm in tense moments and does not allow their anger to get the best of them. (8) Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others. This is probably the most difficult characteristic of love to achieve. We say we forgive someone, but it hard to forget what they have done to us. We have a tendency to keep a running total of all the wrongs someone has done to us. This is not an expression of Christian love. Think of how God continually forgives us though we do not deserve it. God does not keep a running total of our sins. When He forgives, He does so completely. If God does not keep score of our sins, why should we keep score of the sins of others? (9) Love doesn’t revel when others grovel. Christian love does not kick someone when they are down. This has become a far too common of a practice amongst believers. When someone is struggling, we tend to remind them of how they got there and how sinful they are. Instead, we should lift them up. We should encourage them and help them. (10) Love takes pleasure in the flowering of truth. Christian love finds its pleasure in that which is true and pure. It takes joy in God’s Word and rejoices when others come to know the truth. The thing that should excite the Christian the most is not his or her own advancement but the advancement of the Gospel. I have seen people before that were more concerned about their own reputation and advancement and making sure they or the church gets credit, rather than simply taking joy in the advancement of the Gospel around the world. It’s not about your church or my church or your position or my position; it is about the truth of the Gospel circling the globe through whatever means necessary. (11) Love puts up with anything. Over the years as a pastor, I have put up with a lot. However, many have put up with me as well. We need to learn that we are family. We are to accept one another no matter how much we may frustrate each other. We all have different personalities. We need to embrace our differences and bear with one another because, as Christians, we are all part of the same family. (12) Love trusts God always. When someone is practicing Christian love, he or she will have a strong faith. They will trust God with every circumstance of their life. They will also trust God with every relationship they have. They do not take matters into their own hands. They have learned to trust God with everything. (13) Love always looks for the best. Christian love always has a positive outlook. A Christian should never be negative. A Christian should always see the positive in everything. The Bible teaches us that God is working everything out for our good. Therefore, we need to look for the good in everything. (14) Love never looks back but keeps going to the end. A true Christian practicing Christian love will not look back on his past life of sin. Christian love always moves forward. If you messed up today, ask God to forgive you and move on with your life. Don’t look back. Move forward. Dust yourself off and keep moving forward. Someone living in Christian love will persevere. They will keep their eyes on the sky looking for that blessed hope of the soon return of Christ.

                The command we are given is both an old command and a new command. It was given to us the moment we believed in Jesus, and it is reiterated to us again: Love one another.

                Love is the greatest evidence of spiritual growth. 1 John 2:9-11 says, “He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now. He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him. But he that hateth his brother is in darkness, and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because that darkness hath blinded his eyes.”[7] The greatest evidence that someone is walking in the light; obeying God’s Word and growing spiritually, is their love for fellow believers. Not loving your brother or sister in Christ does not mean that you are not saved. It means that you are living in darkness as a blind carnal Christian. Living with such blindness will cause you to stumble into more serious carnality which could ultimately lead to premature death due to your life of disobedience. Such premature death, yes, results in the disobedient be called to glory, however, imagine the shame that is felt when standing before God knowing God had to call you home early because of your continually sinful behavior. The Bible Knowledge Commentary says, “Hatred is a kind of internal “stumbling block” which can lead to disastrous spiritual falls. But the calamities to which hatred leads are avoided by one who loves his brother. This is not so, however, for one who hates his brother. Such a person walks around in the darkness and he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him (cf. v. 9). A Christian who harbors hatred for a fellow Christian has lost all real sense of direction. Like a man wandering aimlessly in the dark, he faces potentially grave dangers.”[8]

                In conclusion, Warren Wiersbe writes, “It is easy to talk about Christian love, but much more difficult to practice it. For one thing, such love is not mere talk (1 John 2:9). For a Christian to say (or sing!) that he loves the brethren, while he actually hates another believer, is for him to lie. In other words (and this is a sobering truth), it is impossible to be in fellowship with the Father and out of fellowship with another Christian at the same time. This is one reason why God established the local church, the fellowship of believers. “You can’t be a Christian alone”—a person cannot live a complete and developing Christian life unless he is in fellowship with God’s people. The Christian life has two relationships: the vertical (Godward) and the horizontal (manward). And what God has joined together, man must not put asunder! And each of these two relationships is to be one of love, one for the other.”[9] Are you in right fellowship with other believers? Are you walking in the light evident by your love for your brothers and sisters in Christ or are you walking in darkness evident by your lack of love and fellowship with other believers? To strengthen our fellowship so that our joy would be full, we must grow in our love for one another. May God help us to recapture what Satan has stolen from us. May God help us to recapture love.

[1] Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, p. 485). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[2] Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, p. 485). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[3] Kruse, C. G. (2000). The letters of John (p. 82). Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans Pub.; Apollos.

[4] The Holy Bible: King James Version. (2009). (Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version., 1 Jn 2:7–8). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

[5] Kruse, C. G. (2000). The letters of John (pp. 82–83). Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans Pub.; Apollos.

[6] Peterson, E. H. (2005). The Message: the Bible in contemporary language (1 Co 13:3–7). Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.

[7] The Holy Bible: King James Version. (2009). (Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version., 1 Jn 2:9–11). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

[8] Walvoord, J. F., & Zuck, R. B., Dallas Theological Seminary. (1985). The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 890). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[9] Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, pp. 488–489). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

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