God is Love?
“God is love.” John uses that phrase twice in Sunday’s lesson from his first epistle (click here to read it). It is a very popular little phrase still. But I wonder sometimes if what we mean by it is what John meant by it.
Too often, when I see the phrase “God is love,” what is being implied is that if something feels loving then it must be good, approved by God and true to His character. I don’t think that’s what John meant.
First, John points to love as the single, over-arching, defining character of God. He used the Greek word “agape,” a particular kind of love marked by complete self-sacrifice. It is not necessarily what feels warm at the moment, nor is it always what we might perceive as kind, at the moment. Jesus’ supreme act of love was the crucifixion — hardly warm and fuzzy from anyone’s perspective.
In our own experience, think of the child being grounded for failing to get their chores done, or the alcoholic being confronted with their destructive behavior. It may not feel warm and kind in the moment, but we know it to be the truly loving course of action.
Second, John uses the expression to call us to lives of self-sacrifice. If that is the central and defining characteristic of God, and we seek to be God-followers, then self-sacrificing love should be the central, defining character of our lives.
In fact, I think John’s call to us is far more challenging than just being kind or warm, though in many, perhaps most, circumstances, acts of love are warm and kind. Rather, he is calling to follow God’s example in Jesus by laying aside our own lives, wants, priorities and agendas, for the sake of serving the needs of the other.
Next time you see the phrase “God is love,” ask yourself where the true love, self-sacrificing love, is being found. Where is Godly servanthood on display? Let that be your guide.
This column appeared in the May 2, 2021 edition of St. John’s eNews. Click here for the complete issue.
If you are reading this at a different time, you may click here for the current eNews.