Greater Love, Week 3 — The “I Want To Know What Love Is” Sermon Rewind

Yesterday’s message …

  • Contrasted our needs and our wants;
  • Reminded people that God defines love and not the reverse;
  • Suggested that we don’t have a “happy problem” or a “money problem” or a “potential” problem, but ultimately a “sin problem”;
  • Landed at this bottom line:  Love is not always permissive, but it is always redemptive.


Have you ever thought about the difference between what you WANT and what you NEED? Between the optionals in life and the essentials in it? Like you WANT a chocolate covered donut (AV); you NEED cauliflower (AV). You WANT the mansion at the beach; you NEED a roof over your head and maybe even a paid off mortgage. You WANT that woman you saw in the elevator one time; you NEED more time with your kids and the wife the Lord has given you. I WANT one of those gorgeous Teslas (AV); I NEED my 10 year old Maxima with the best car payment of them all, which is 0. Yeah, there are WANTS and there are NEEDS and, believe it or not, distinguishing between those two has everything – EVERYTHING! – to do with this greater love we have been talking about at Good Shepherd.

Because I know that I know that I know that although we talk about love a lot, and though February is a month usually devoted to love and Valentine’s, the fact remains a lot of you are in situations and relationships where love may be all you need but it’s not what you feel. You wrestle with it ROMANTICALLY, others wrestle with it PARENTALLY, and then others wrestle with it SPIRITUALLY. Like I know some folks here were deeply IN LOVE on your wedding day, but that seems so long ago and most of the water that’s under the bridge is badly polluted, and the tension you felt this morning just getting him or her to church – or, worse, leaving him or her at home – is almost more than you can handle.

And then others you loved that son or daughter when they were a child because they were so cute and now as a young adult they’re kind of … annoying. Different music than you, different values than you, different wardrobe than you, different politics than you. And you wonder how it turned out that way.  And then others of you are that young adult and  you remember when you were 8, 9, or 10 and your parents were so … heroic.  And now they seem so … annoying.

And you really want to love the church person who on this very day at this very church took your parking spot. I mean you had it LINED UP and they just ZOOMED IN right ahead of you. It’s one thing if someone acts like that at the mall; it is another matter entirely if they act like it in God’s parking lot of God’s house! You don’t want to be hateful but you feel yourself getting there.

So yeah, those relationships and those situations and more and little platitudes like love one another seem so hollow and so powerless. Called to love but life has intervened. And yet, and yet, we’re going to wind up this series by looking at one of the most comprehensive YET ONE OF THE BRIEFEST explorations of love in the biblical library: I John 4. As with most of the letters in the NT, John is not writing a term paper here; he is instead writing to Xns in the early church who were very likely embroiled in conflict. Relational conflict that MAY have involved who got the best parking places for their chariots, but more likely stemmed from different understandings of what God did OR DID NOT DO in Jesus. So John, in writing to this collection of churches, has to set the record straight. And what follows is a tour de force about where love comes from, what it is, what it is not, and what it has to do with WANTING that chocolate donut while NEEDING that cauliflower.

Look at how it starts in 4:7a:

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God.

It sounds, again, like a platitude, like a “can’t we all just get along?” moment. But beneath it is this urgency: STOP FIGHTING. How in the world will you convert the world if you’re in conflict with each other? In church, at home, with parents, with kids, look at the source: love comes from God. Just as the sun is the source of light, God is the source of love. 4:7b is more confirmation of that fact:

Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.

And then check 4:8 for one of the most MIS-used verses of them all:

Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.

God is love is NOT the same as love is God. God defines love and not the reverse. And he’s fixing to define it in a most unexpected, NON-sentimental way in just a moment.

Because then John gets really serious in 4:9:

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.

Ah, so love isn’t so much an emotion as an action. Less a feeling than a doing. Less something you wait for to zap you and more the initiative that you take. In this case, it is this emptying, the trading the glory of heaven for the dirt of the manger and the torture of the cross that THROUGH HIM legitimate life happens. All that is simply the runway, the prelude, for 4:10 where the rubber really meets the road:

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

Look at that. The reason it’s so fascinating to me is what it says is the purpose behind God’s visiting earth: atoning sacrifice for sins. Listen: if you asked people then OR NOW what they WANTED from God, they/we’d have said: BRING US HAPPINESS! GIVE ME FINANCIAL FREEDOM! HELP ME REACH MY POTENTIAL! I’d have been like, “Can I please have a head of hair like Fabio does?” That’s what we’d WANT from God; that’s how we would desire he love us. Tell us YES Lord!

But do you see the revolution here? God knew very well the kinds of things we’d want and he didn’t give it to us. Because at a much deeper level he knew what we NEEDED which was to have our sin problem dealt with. We THINK we have a happy problem or a money problem or a potential problem or a hair problem but we actually have a sin problem. So God in Jesus bypasses what we want to deal with what we need which is atonement and redemption. Being bought back and put in right relationship with him. You may not have known that, you may be offended by it, but it is your great need.

And then 4:11 is the closer:

Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

OMG. That’s the pattern and the power for this crazy little thing called love. For reflecting love’s source in our marriages, in our parenting, in our workplaces, and even in this church. It brings clarity to it all for those wondering how do love your child, love your mate, love the person in your LG who monopolizes the conversation. Here it is: Love is not always permissive but it is always redemptive.  Real love doesn’t indulge; it betters. Not about giving that person what they want – which, you know this, is usually an accelerant to their self-destruction – but what they need.

What is so glorious about this truth is that it is rooted and grounded in what Jesus did for you. Ignored your desires, fixed your dilemma. Gave you what you need. And only when you have an acute awareness that you have been SO LOVED will you so love. Loved people love people.  Love is not always permissive but it is always redemptive.

I had a job after college with a boss who was a little bit prickly. He didn’t really understand that my love language is words of affirmation because those were the very things he withheld from me. Anyway, he DID notice that my speaking voice was at too high a pitch (do it) and that a vocal coach could lower it. I was insulted. And impatient. But I went. And a year later I was in seminary. What I thought was punishment was actually preparation! What I thought was disrespect was actually an act of love. He didn’t give me what I wanted – needless affirmation; he gave me what I needed – a new voice, literally. It was the most loving thing a boss could do. Love is not always permissive but it is always redemptive.

Or even my mom. God love her because I times I sure didn’t. I’d go to the Safeway grocery store with her and every time ask for a Baby Ruth. And every time she’d say NO. Not because she couldn’t afford the dime (!) it cost then but because she knew she couldn’t raise an indulged child without paying for it later. WHY DID I KEEP ASKING when the answer never changed? It was the most loving no I could have heard. It’s like every biblical NO that is actually laced with love. Love is not always permissive but it is always redemptive.

See, internalizing this helps you to recognize all the ways that helping isn’t helpful. Like a lot of you have fallen pretty to the mindset that the addiction your loved one has – you LOVE that mate, that child, that friend – is your responsibility. It’s NOT. It’s just not. And you do neither yourself NOR THE ADDICT any favors when you act as if it is. The recovery world calls is ENABLING and all it does is enable more addiction for the addict and more frustration for you. The most loving thing to do in many of those cases is to have the patience to watch that person spiral until they want sobriety for themselves as much as you want it for them. As of now, they don’t. Which is why NO is a complete sentence and Love is not always permissive but it is always redemptive.

Now: please don’t hear what I’m not saying. I John wants you to grow in the ways you reflect God’s love. It wants you soaked in the experience of being loved that you pour that love out to others. Loved people love people. Kinda like the dad who said to his daughter, “If you don’t watch it, honey, I’m gonna pick you up and hug you!” And the rest of the day, the little girl would say, “I’m NOT WATCHING IT DADDY! I’M NOT WATCHING IT!” Oh, Lord, I want that all over and so does I John. I’ve see seen love misused and manipulated in all kinds of relationships and I want your love tied into what these words REALLY say, especially in 4:10-11: READ.

I simply want you to know that love is sometimes hurtful but never hateful.  That’s true for how you give it and how you receive it.  Because there are some folks here who perceive every “no” from the people you love as a personal affront.  You slide effortlessly into victimhood.  If you feel like a victim right now that I’m saying this, thanks for proving my point!  Whether you struggle to give love or to receive love — biblical love, that is, the redemptive kind, Jesus is the source and the power of it. Because you can’t be a loving person on your own. You can’t. You can only be inhabited and animated by the one who is love. Love that unselfishly overlooked what you WANT to give you what you NEED. Not permission, Redemption. To him be the glory.