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The Righteousness of Love
Growing up in the church, I remember hearing a lot of talk about love, so much so that it almost seemed to be a buzzword. It really didn’t mean much to me, however, beyond the fact that treating other people properly was what I was supposed to do. But two years ago I noticed something interesting when reading 1 John 4, it was simple, yet generated something of a “paradigm shift” for me.

1 John 4:11 and 12
(11) Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
(12) No one has ever seen [1] God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

Consider the first half of the bolded sentence. You would almost expect John to say something along the lines of: No one has ever seen God; but one day we will. Or maybe, No one has ever seen God, but I can tell you what he probably looks like. Instead he says, “No one has ever seen God, but if we love….” What does love have to do with seeing God? Keep in mind the context of this section of Scripture. Go back a little and start reading from verse 7. The context is all about others! Allow me to paraphrase 1 John a bit:

“No one has ever seen God, but if we love one another, people WILL see him, because they’ll see in us the love and care that can come only from him. They will see what God’s character looks like in physical reality and they will understand who he is.”

The ancient Greek language contained four different words for “love.” In this article, I am referring to what the Greeks called agape. This kind of love is not based upon how you might feel toward another person! In other words, whether or not you have the “warm fuzzies” is irrelevant. Agape means choosing to love someone in obedience to God. E. W. Bullinger’s Critical Lexicon and Concordance to the English and Greek New Testament says: “Agape denotes the love which springs from admiration and veneration, and which chooses its object with decision of will, and devotes a self-denying and compassionate devotion to it.” For us, the greatest example of agape is the redemptive work of Jesus, loving his captors from a cross that was anything but warm and fuzzy. [2]

Many of us (including myself) were drawn to the good news of Christ for precisely this reason. Remember 1 John 4:8 where it says: “God is love!” Some person in our lives made an effort and showed a concern for us that we had not seen before, and that caught our attention. On page 9 of the September/October 2006 issue of The Sower, there is a definition of love that very much mirrors 1 John 4: 11 and 12: “Loving” someone is to obey God on another’s behalf, seeking his or her long-term blessing and profit.

Jesus declared that the greatest commandments focused on loving God and loving one’s neighbor. Note, however, that the first and greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Why? Because, by nature, loving God involves loving people [3] (1 John 4:20). I am reminded of Matthew 25:35 ff: “…whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” Just as in human relationships, loving God involves being concerned with what he is concerned with, which is people! God always has His people’s best interests in mind, and He asks us to do likewise (Luke 6:35 and 36).

Unfortunately, many of the Jews of Jesus’ day did not understand this. While they were concerned about loving God via their strict adherence to the Law, they weren’t really loving because they had very little true concern for their fellow man. Consider Romans 13:8-10, where Paul says, “…for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law…Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” Micah 6:8 is just as powerful: “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” See also Hosea 6:6 and 10:12; Jeremiah 22:15b-16; Philippians 1:9-11; and Galatians 6:2.

Even more unfortunate is that many people still do not understand this today, because legalism, a supposed adherence to the commands of God that actually are the doctrines of men, abounds in the modern church. My question to all of us is, “How are people going to see who God is unless they see it and learn it from us, the people He has commissioned to show them (Rom.10:13-17)?”

In contrast, 1 Corinthians 13:1 shows us what acting or speaking without love does to people: “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” If you have ever been in a middle school band room, you can relate to Paul’s analogy. Clanging cymbals cause you to do one thing, and do it quickly—plug your ears and leave the room!

This brings us full-circle back to 1 John 4. Keep in mind that we are the only Bible that some people will ever read. [4] Loving will take some time and effort (learning a person’s culture, understanding his views, putting aside your own plans to help someone else, etc.), but is it not worth it for the possibility of saving someone’s life? Christians have a new, spiritual nature that was created in us when we became born again, and we can live a life of genuine love. As we do, it will be a blessing to us and those whose lives we touch. It is worth the effort to learn to live in love, so people can see God, and then we can say we are becoming like Christ.

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