This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters (1 John 3:16).
I love hot dogs. Ever since I was a little kid, I have loved hot dogs. And I just love my dog — or at least I did before she passed on. I love football! And I loved coaching youth baseball for 10 years of my life. I love my wife for almost 40 years now. In fact, she is the love of my life, and I can’t imagine what my life would have been like without her.
And I love my kids. Well, not so much little kids anymore — all grown, the youngest is already 40. I absolutely love my grandkids and I love my sister, and my nieces and nephews. And let’s not forget about cars and movies, can’t forget movies! The list goes on and on.
Now, I obviously don’t “love” all of these things in nearly the same way. I do not love my kids or grandkids in the same way that I love my wife. And I certainly don’t love hot dogs or sports in the same way I love my family.
It would certainly seem that in today’s world, the word love is overused and undervalued. What is real love? Obviously, not my love of hot dogs. So, what does love look like? How do we know what love is? More importantly —what does God mean by love?
Why Are We Called to Love?
We have all heard it, haven’t we? Almost every wedding we have ever attended includes the verses from 1 Corinthians about love.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast. It is not proud. It does not dishonor others, 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 (1 Corinthians 13:4-8).
These truly are beautiful verses that describe what a marriage ought to be. The thing is, these verses are actually intended for how we are to love everyone. Did you catch that? Everyone! Every other person with whom we come in contact should be treated as stated in those so very important verses.
One thing I have come to know — what God expects of us, he first gives. When we are called to love, we need only look at the example we have in God’s love for us and in his Son.
“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” (John 3:16).
God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).
This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him (1 John 4:9).
See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! (1 John 3:1).
Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth (1 John 3:18).
With actions and in truth. Of this there can be no doubt — Jesus didn’t just talk about his love for us, he showed it. He put it on full display for the entire world throughout history to see.
The Biblical Definition of Love
We might find the kind of love God expects from us in John 21. John relates a story of a discussion between Jesus and Peter after the resurrection. It took place on the shore of the Sea of Galilee.
You might recall, this would have been after Peter had denied Jesus three times — just as Jesus had told Peter that it would happen — and after Peter had gone off and wept. We can be certain that Peter was still feeling the sting of pain over denying his Lord.
In verse 7, as soon as Peter heard John say “It is the Lord” who they saw on the shoreline, Peter jumped into the water — I’m sure he was anxious to make up for his denials. This conversation took place:
When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep” (John 21:15-17).
Many scholars see this as Jesus’ message to Peter that all is forgiven. But the question remains, what was Jesus asking of Peter?
Jesus indeed was showing Peter that he was forgiven for denying him three times. Jesus then goes on to describe the manner of death Peter will suffer “by which Peter would glorify God” (v 19) — giving up his life for his Lord, just as Jesus had done for us.
Jesus’ message of forgiveness is apparent. Peter confirmed three times his love for Jesus, as he had denied him three times. The message is also clear, Jesus forgives us, just as He forgave Peter.
But also, beneath the forgiveness — Jesus was confirming Peter’s commitment and willingness to sacrifice for that love. He was confirming that love is not just an emotion. Biblical love requires action. Sacrifice.
Who Is My Neighbor?
Jesus was once asked, “Who is my neighbor?” He answered with the parable of the Good Samaritan, as written in the Gospel of Luke (Luke 10: 25-37). It is about a Jewish traveler who is robbed, beaten, stripped of clothing, and left for dead alongside the road. Passed up and carefully avoided by Jewish passersby, a Samaritan happens upon the traveler and helps the injured man.
Jews and Samaritans during that era despised each other. Yet, although he didn’t know the man, the Samaritan gives selflessly of his time and money to provide care for the man who had been beaten.
Selflessly. The Samaritan thought more about his “neighbor” — his enemy — than he did himself. He gave his time, his care, and his money to see that the man was cared for.
This is love.
At one point during his ministry on earth, Jesus was asked which is the greatest commandment in the Law:
Jesus replied: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments (Matthew 22:36-40).
Love God with everything you have. All your heart. All your soul. All your strength. All you’ve got. Do we do that? Are we willing to sacrifice selflessly, giving up our very selves for the Lord?
Love your neighbor as yourself. Love your neighbor in the same way we love God. Selflessly. With everything we have. Giving of our time and money to care for others before ourselves. Do we do that? Do we put others first in our lives?
With this now in mind, the “wedding verse” strikes a different chord.
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast. It is not proud. It does not dishonor others, 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” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8).
Love God. Love Others. This is love.
For further reading:
Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/BrianAJackson
Greg Grandchamp is the author of "In Pursuit of Truth, A Journey Begins" — an easy-to-read search that answers to most common questions about Jesus Christ. Was he real? Who did he claim to be? What did he teach? Greg is an everyday guy on the same journey as everyone else — in pursuit of truth. You can reach Greg by email [email protected] and on Facebook.
LISTEN: Being Complete in Jesus (Understanding Matthew 5:21-48)
Hearing Jesus is a devotional journey through the gospels, where we explore the teachings of Jesus chapter by chapter. If you're seeking to live a life that reflects God's, this podcast is for you.
The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of Salem Web Network and Salem Media Group.
WATCH: 10 Sins Christians Downplay (and Why They're So Destructive)
Stock Footage & Music Courtesy of Soundstripe.com Thumbnail by Getty Images