Thursday, December 27, 2007


Love that gives itself away

Love that gives itself away - (Anders Nygren)

This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. You, O Lord, are loving.

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. God is love; he who dwells in love is dwelling in God, and God in him. This is for us the perfection of love, to have confidence on the day of judgment, and this we can have, because even in this world we are as he is.

God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. All will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves others has fulfilled the law.

For the whole law is fulfilled on one word, 'You shall love your neighbour as yourself.'

Love contains no fear -- indeed fully-developed love expels every particle of fear, for fear always contains some of the torture of feeling guilty. This means that the person who lives in fear has not yet had love perfected.

(1 John 4: 10, NIV; Psalm 62: 12, NW; 1 John 3: 16, NW; 1 John 4: 16b and 17, NEB; Romans 5: 8, NIV; John 13: 34, NIV; Romans 13: 8, NIV; Galatians 5: 14, RSV; 1 John 4: 18, Phillips)

What is this thing called love? A four letter word, easy to say, but incredibly hard to do. And not all that easy to understand, since (in English at least) the word is used in so many different ways. It carries an enormous freight on its small shoulders: it can be love for God, or for truth, or for having one's back scratched; it can be love for one's family, or for chips with vinegar, or a love affair in illicit circumstances. Has it been so inflated by over-use that it is now devalued?

If love now means everything and therefore nothing, we have a problem. For the apostle John says that God is love! What a risk John took even if the Greeks did have at least four words for love! The biggest danger is that people will make a 'dyslectic' mistake and conclude that Love (capital 'L') is God. A transcendent sexual experience, a sweet revelation of family life, a friendship that passes the love of women, and behold, they think they have been visited by a divinity. And like a god, such love issues commands which they obey to the letter: selfish, mean, manipulative and treacherous acts are defended because it was 'love' that told us to do them.

But John took the risk: 'God', he said, 'is love'. John did more than that, he 're-minted' the word and gave it a character so radical as to shake all ancient (and modern) ethical systems. He taught that love is to give yourself away for the benefit of others regardless of whether or not they attract you or deserve your goodwill. John learned such love at the foot of the cross where God's love-gift of himself was poured out for those who put him there (1 John 3: 16).

The love that gives itself away comes from God. He and such love are inseparables, the 'Siamese twins' of the universe. This love 'has flooded our innermost heart through the Holy Spirit he has given us' (Romans 5: 5, NEB) and what he has worked into us must now be worked out in daily living. Such love is a gift to be received, but making it work will cost us all that we have and all that we are.

If we had not seen the love that is revealed in the cross of Christ, we should not have known what love, in the Christian sense of the word, is. We should doubtless have known what love in general is, but not what love in the highest and deepest sense is, not what divine love, agape, is. What, then, has the cross of Christ to tell us about the nature and content of agape-love? It testifies that it is a love that gives itself away, that sacrifices itself, even to the uttermost.

Anders Nygren, Agape and Eros

The model of suffering love is God himself. Why, a reasonable angel might ask, did the Creator not give up millennia ago on these stupid rebels? Why does God not call a halt to the frustrations of human history? Why does he not let us finish ourselves off with the doomsday bomb? Why does he not come quickly himself to turn the world into his perfect kingdom? Why does he wait so long before taking decisive action? The answer: God is love. Love suffers long.

Lewis Smedes, Love within Limits

For the love of God is broader

than the measures of man's mind;

and the heart of the Eternal

is most wonderfully kind.

If our love were but more simple

we should take him at his word;

and our lives would be illumined

by the goodness of our Lord.

William Faber

In the Bible, love is much more a matter of will and of action than of feeling. Feeling may come into it, but it is not the central thing. Love in the Bible is a steady direction of the will towards another's lasting good. Love means coming to help in time of need; it means saving activity. In the parable of the good Samaritan, when the Samaritan saw the wounded man, he came to his help; a kindly feeling of pity would not have been any use; what was needed was action to save a life. Jesus told that parable not only to show us how we ought to act, but also to show us what God is like, and to make clear to us that God also acts to save.

Stephen Neill, The Christian's God

On the whole, God's love for us is a much safer subject to think about than our love for him. Nobody can always have devout feelings and, even if we could, feelings are not what God principally cares about. Christian love, either towards God or towards others, is an affair of the will. If we are trying to do his will we are obeying the commandment, 'Thou shalt love the Lord thy God'. He will give us feelings of love if he pleases. We cannot create them for ourselves, and we must not demand them as a right. But the great thing to remember is that, though our feelings come and go, his love for us does not. It is not wearied by our sins, or our indifference; and, therefore, it is quite relentless in its determination that we shall be cured of those sins, ,at whatever cost to us, at whatever cost to him.

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

The love of our neighbour is the only door out of the dungeon of self, where we mope and mow, striking sparks, and rubbing phosphorescences out of the walls, and blowing our own breath in our own nostrils, instead of issuing to the fair sunlight of God, the sweet winds of the universe.

George Macdonald, 'Love thy neighbour'

If lovelessness actively repels people from the church and the gospel, thus being the biggest single obstacle to effective witness in a community or a nation, it also evacuates the Christian of his significance before God. He becomes a nonentity, a cipher. God cannot use the loveless Christian for his glory, even if he is gifted with prophetic speaking; even if he is able to understand and explain the deep things of God, man and Satan, even if he is knowledgeable about the vast field of truth and experience; and even if he has the incisive and bold measure of faith envisaged by Jesus himself -- the faith that moves mountains.

William Barclay, Flesh and Spirit

Love sees possibilities that apathy and indifference cannot see. This works on many levels of life. Driven by self-giving love to seek a happier personhood for another, we are able to hear signals in the other person that hint at a will to change. Love keeps us open to possibilities within the loved one. It is only when we lose patience or no longer even care that we say: 'he's hopeless'. At another level, when we experience the love of God, we feel possibilities for newness on every side. The Spirit of God is the agent of love within us. When God takes us into love's embrace -- when all our sins are forgiven, when all our blemished past is accepted, and when we face our future as a tomorrow bathed in the atmosphere of divine love -- we are reborn in hope. Desire is transformed into expectancy. We know all things are possible. The love of the Spirit communicates the wellspring of hope.

Lewis Smedes, Love within Limits

When I want to be free at all costs

I am already beginning to bind myself

When I pursue my own wishes

I throw myself in chains

I do what I don't want to do

I am at my own mercy

And when I finally consider myself free

Freedom becomes a burden

Because 1 must make decisions

Which I am unable to make

And my freedom turns into a new prison

I can only find freedom

In the ropes that bind me

To you

Ulrich Schaffer

Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot wash it away.

Song of Songs

Lord, we might have known that you would be love! If you had not poured yourself into the tiny frame of the Babe of Bethlehem and then gone on to pour yourself out on the cross, somehow this truth about you may just have penetrated our darkened minds. If we had summed up all the best and noblest thoughts that ever came into our thinking, all the beauty, truth and goodness that is possible, and then if we had pushed it to the ultimate, we should perhaps have just managed to see the dim outlines of love. No doubt we would have badly distorted the picture and got much of it wrong, but our poor hungry hearts would somehow have recognised that when we were in touch with love we were in touch with truth, with reality, with you.

But Lord, you did not leave us to guess and to grope in the darkness. You came down to where we were: Love translated into flesh and blood, Love active and living in the dusty lanes and by-ways of the world. You gave yourself utterly all day and every day until on the cross there was nothing more to give. And then Love, which crashed headlong into human sin and selfishness, crashed through into victory and the power of an endless life. Risen Jesus, Risen Love, you reign for ever and ever. Amen.

A Benediction

May the Father's love which gave to the uttermost and spared nothing in its downreach towards men and women, and may the Son's love which touched and healed and bled and died for us, and may the Spirit's love which is poured into our hearts, bless, preserve and keep us in time and in eternity. May the presence of the living God and the power of his crucified love move us and change us and turn us upward to him and outward to others now and forever. Amen.

High Mountains, Deep Valleys ed. By Rowland Croucher pp. 76-81

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