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Love One Another

Love One Another

John 13:31-35; 1 John 4:10-11


I’m going to read a paragraph to you, and I want you to tell me if you think it makes sense. Ready? Here we go:


“A seashore is a better place than the street because you need lots of room. At first it is better to run than to walk. You may have to try several times. It takes some skill, but it is easy to learn. Even young children can enjoy it. Birds seldom get too close. If there are no snags it can be very peaceful. But if it breaks loose, you won’t get another chance.”


Without any context, this paragraph doesn’t make any sense. Now let me read it again, but this time let me provide some context. One word is all you’ll need. That word is “kite.” Now see if it makes sense:


“A seashore is a better place than the street because you need lots of room. At first it is better to run than to walk. You may have to try several times. It takes some skill, but it is easy to learn. Even young children can enjoy it. Birds seldom get too close. If there are no snags it can be very peaceful. But if it breaks loose, you won’t get another chance.”


Having the right context helps the paragraph make sense, doesn’t it? That one word – “kite” – acts kind of like a frame, or a key to interpreting the paragraph. With that one word, it all makes sense. Without it, the paragraph seemed like a jumbled mess of unrelated sentences. Once you have the context or the framework, all of the details start to fall into place.[i]


Today we’re wrapping up our fall series on the “One another” passages in the New Testament, those passage that lay out for us the way we as disciples of Jesus are supposed to relate to and treat one another. Next week, believe it or not, is the first Sunday in Advent. Advent is the time of preparation for the celebration of Christmas and the birth of Christ, and includes the four Sundays leading up to Christmas. So next week we’re starting our Advent series that will carry us through to the New Year, and we’ll be looking at the words the Bible uses to describe what the first coming of Christ means: hope, peace, joy, and love. Those four words are also traditionally the themes for each of the four weeks of Advent.


But today, we’re wrapping up our “One Another” series, and we’re looking at the word that provides the context, the framework, the key to everything we are and everything we do as disciples of Jesus. That word is love. At one point in his life, Jesus was asked, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” “Out of all of the laws that we live by,” the man asked; “out of all of the laws that appear in the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament, that are expounded upon throughout the rest of the Old Testament, is there one that is above all of the others? Is there one that provides context for everything else, that holds it all together?” Look at Jesus’ answer: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it (in other words, on the same level): You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 22:36-40). “Get these two right, and you’ll have covered it all. The rest just spells out how to live out these two commandments.”


Love holds every other commandment together. Once we grasp that love is the framework, the interpretive key, for how we should relate to God and others, everything else about God and others falls into place. The problem is we have no idea what love is. It’s so easy to fool ourselves into thinking that we’re acting in love, that our actions are motivated by love, when they aren’t. The easiest person to fool is yourself. What do we mean by “love”?


If I were to pass out pieces of paper to everyone here and ask you to solve the math problem, what is 2+2, pretty much all of the answers would be the same. But try the same exercise asking each of you to define love, each definition would be unique. There’s something difficult to grasp about love. You can’t quite put your finger on it. Love is hard to put into prose. Poetry maybe. Song. But not prose. Easier to illustrate than to describe. When you experience the real thing, or see it in living color, somehow, you know it.


For years, popular musicians have attempted to answer those questions. There are over 10,000 songs on file at the U.S. Copyright Office in Washington, D.C., that begin with the words “Love Is …” Here are some of them …

“Love Is Like a Dizziness”

“Love Is Like a Shoogy Shoo”

“Love Is a Sickness Full of Woes”

“Love Is a Babe”

“Love Is an I.O.U.”

“Love Is Like the Influenza”

“Love Is Good for Anything That Ails You”

“Love Is a Dimpling Doodle Bug”

“Love Is a Traitor”

“Love Is Doggone Mean”

“Love Is Your Prescription”

“Love Is Atomic”

“Love Is a Glass of Champagne”

“Love Is on the Ten-Yard Line”

“Love Is a Bore”

“Love Is Hell in a Small Hotel”

“Love Is Psychedelic”

“Love Is Groovy”

“Love Is Not One Color, Child”

“Love Is a Heavy Number”

“Love Is a Four-Letter Word”

“Love Is a Five-Letter Word”

“Love Is a Funky Thing”

“Love Is Suicide”

“Love Is a Loaded Gun”

“Love Is for Suckers”

“Love Is Blindness”[ii]


From the sappy to the sarcastic, from the hopeless to the hope-filled, in ways joking and serious, we’ve tried to define love. But we can’t seem to wrap our minds around it.


Truth is, we’ve all experienced love in some form. The love of a parent for a child, a child for a parent. Love between friends who have similar interests. The spark of love ignited between a lovers early in a relationship and the slower-burning flame of love that has lasted for a lifetime. We’ve all known love in some way, some shape, some form. But for most of us, that love has fallen far short of meeting the need we have to be loved, because each one of us has a deep, deep need to be loved without conditions, without strings attached, to be loved in spite of our mistakes, our shortcomings, and our flaws. And although purely human love may be able to do that for a time, in certain instances, and maybe with certain people, on our own we simply cannot love one another the way we need to be loved. But look at what Jesus says. Look at V. 34. “As I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” In the letter of 1 John, the disciple John, the man who recorded the words of Jesus that we are looking at today, wrote “We love because he first loved us.” Our love for one another is rooted in, grounded in, based on, and a reflection of God’s love for us. And Jesus is the living, breathing example of what the love of God is like. Love one another in the same way that I have loved you. Look back up at V. 31.


Who was gone? Judas was gone. The one who was planning to betray Jesus had left to make his final arrangements. The wheel had been set in motion. There was no turning back. And Jesus knew it. The cross was looming on the horizon. Jesus’ entire life had been a living, breathing illustration of the love of God. Every word he spoke, every person he healed, every act he performed made the love of God real, tangible. And now he would show them just how much he loved them. For he would give himself, sacrifice himself, die for them, for their forgiveness, with their sin placed on his shoulders. It was an act of selfless, sacrificial, forgiving love. Love that sought forgiveness, God’s best, even for those who pounded the nails into his hands and feet. Many, men in particular, are uncomfortable talking about love unless they’re talking to or about that someone special. But the love that Jesus lives and breathes is more than that. It’s tougher, grittier. It’s more than an emotion, “More Than a Feeling,” as one of my favorite bands, Boston says. So much more.


The word “love” that Jesus used here pictures an unconditional love. A love that does what is best for the other, whether that other recognizes it or not, accepts it or not, wants it or not. It has the true best interests of the one loved at heart. If Eli had his way, he would live on candy, potato chips, and cereal. Becky and I have to make him eat other things because we know that he needs them, even though he really doesn’t like them. But even the purest love of a parent for a child pales in comparison to the love Jesus describes here. Because the word used here is a word that is only ever used to describe God’s love for us. And now Jesus tells us to exhibit that same love, not human love but God’s love, to one another. Does he expect the impossible?


Look down at John 14:15. What has Jesus just commanded them? To love one another as he has loved them. And now he adds a promise: another Helper, who he calls the Spirit of truth, the Holy Spirit. He will live with you and be in you. Flip over to Galatians 5:22. Just the first phrase: “But the fruit of the Spirit is (first of all) love …” The word “love” there is exactly the same as the word as the word for love in John’s gospel. It is the unconditional, unrelenting love of God. The fruit of the Spirit, the evidence of God’s presence in our lives through our faith in Christ, is, first of all, love. God-like love. Not love the emotion. But love lived out in action. God’s love is made visible in the life, the death, and the resurrection of Jesus. And God’s love in us is made visible in our love for one another.


Look at V. 35. Jesus’ words. Our love for one another is the primary evidence that we follow Jesus. Tertullian, who lived from about 155-240 A.D., wrote that the Romans often said of early Christians, “See, they say, how they love one another, for themselves (the Romans) are animated by mutual hatred; how they are ready even to die for one another, for they themselves (again, the Romans) will sooner put to death.” Their love for one another stood out as the most unusual thing Roman culture saw in the earliest followers of Jesus.


Today, we’ve cheapened love. When many talk about loving one another today, they really mean just accept everything about everyone. That isn’t love. Remember, God’s love wants what is really best for us, even if we don’t like it. It’s a gritty, truly committed love. It’s the love of a parent who sticks to his guns and refuses to allow his teenage children to do whatever they want, even if they yell and scream. But it also refuses to yell and scream back. It is always gentle and respectful, even when it is firm. It doesn’t yell and scream. It doesn’t call names. It is gentle and respectful. Paul uses those words over and over again, reminding us. Gentle and respectful. Gentle and respectful. Why? Because he knows that isn’t our tendency. It is possible to disagree with someone in love, even because of love, without shaming them, without being a jerk.


We’ve been talking about the “One Another’s” of the New Testament this fall. And there are a lot of them. But there are some “One Another’s” that we can’t find in scripture: humble one another, scrutinize one another, pressure one another, embarrass one another, corner one another, interrupt one another, defeat one another, sacrifice one another, shame one another, judge one another, run one another’s lives, confess one another’s sins, intensify one another’s sufferings, point out one another’s failings. Those aren’t there.[iii]


In his book Dad the Family Coach, Dave Simmons describes the shape love took in the life of his daughter:


“I took Helen (8-years-old) and Brandon (5-years-old) to the Cloverleaf Mall in Hattiesburg to do a little shopping. As we drove up, we spotted a Peterbilt 18-wheeler parked with a big sign on it that said “Petting Zoo.” The kids jumped up in a rush and asked, “Daddy, can we go? Please. Please. Can we go?”

“Sure,” I said, flipping them both a quarter before walking into Sears. They bolted away, and I felt free to take my time looking for a scroll saw. A petting zoo consists of a portable fence erected in the mall with about six inches of sawdust and a hundred little furry baby animals of all kinds. Kids pay their money and stay in the enclosure enraptured with the squirmy little critters while their moms and dads shop. A few minutes later, I turned around and saw Helen walking along behind me. I was shocked to see she preferred the hardware department to the petting zoo. I bent down and asked her what was wrong. She looked up at me with those giant, limpid, brown eyes and said sadly, “Well, Daddy, it cost 50 cents. So, I gave Brandon my quarter.” Then she said the most beautiful thing I ever heard: She repeated our family motto. The family motto is, “Love is action!”


She had given Brandon her quarter, and no one loves cuddly furry creatures more than Helen.” That little girl had watched her family live out “Love is action” for years, so much so that she had incorporated it into her little lifestyle. “It had become part of her. What do you think I did?, he continues.” Well, not what you might think. As soon as I finished my errands, I took Helen to the petting zoo. We stood by the fence and watched Brandon go crazy petting and feeding the animals. Helen stood with her hands and chin resting on the fence and just watched Brandon. I had 50 cents burning a hole in my pocket; I never offered it to Helen, and she never asked for it. Because she knew the whole family motto. It’s not, “Love is action.” It’s, “Love is sacrificial action!” Love always pays a price. Love always costs something. Love is expensive. When you love, benefits accrue to another’s account. Love is for you, not for me. Love gives; it doesn’t grab. Helen gave her quarter to Brandon and wanted to follow through with her lesson. She knew she had to taste the sacrifice. She wanted to experience that total family motto. Love is sacrificial action.”[iv] Love isn’t easy, and it’s much more than a feeling. Love, real love, is tough.


“Love one another just as I have loved you. This is the way everyone everywhere will know that you are my disciples.” We’ve hit it from a lot of different angles: forgive, confess to, pray for, serve, admonish, encourage, and bear with one another. Truth is, they’re all summed up here: “Love one another just as I have loved you.” If we do, we’ll forgive easily. We’ll confess our shortcomings and failures quickly. We’ll serve sacrificially. We’ll encourage and admonish well. We’ll hang in there when it’s tough to relate, tough to love. After all, we belong to one another, because we belong to Christ. We love, because he loves us. We are a people of love, because he is a God of love. Real, gritty, committed, sacrificial, forgiving, tough, bleeding love. It’s easy to love others. It’s hard to love one another. But we will. Because we are his. We are Christ’s church. May we never forget that.


[i] Adapted from Christopher West, Fill These Hearts (Image, 2012), pp. 99-101

[ii] Love Is, Harper’s Magazine (February 2003), p. 28

[iii] Ray Ortlund, “‘One Another’s’ I Can’t Find in the New Testament,” The Gospel Coalition blog (5-24-14);

[iv] Dave Simmons, Dad the Family Coach (Victor Books, 1991), pp. 123-124