Sept 4, 2011
The Law of Love
Fr. Philip D. Eberhart
The Law of Love
Last Sunday, this Sunday and next we have glimpses of Paul’s theology of the Kingdom in our readings from his letter to the church in Rome. As I said last week, this is the practical section of a deeply theological work that puts on display the depth and complexity of Paul’s mind; it is his systematic theology.
In these chapters Paul gets down and dirty with the people in the church, working out the practical implications of the theological thought he has put forth in the first two-thirds of this letter.
What we have here in this section in our reading this morning is a kind of jewel that Paul holds up for us. When you put all the theology that has gone before it together in a compact thought, like a diamond Paul holds this short passage up and begins to turn it in his hand, to show off its many facets. The diamond here is The Law of Love.
Tied all the way back to the laws of Moses and the “Great Commandments” of Jesus, Paul brings to the fore for us the simplicity of Jesus Gospel: “the one who loves another has fulfilled the law…[in fact] love is the fulfilling of the law!”
We can hear Jesus, as he instructed his disciples in the upper room on the night before he died: “A new commandment I give to you: Love one another as I have loved you. If you love one another in this way, all the world will know that you are my disciples!”
Great Commandment - Great Commission
There is an order of priority that we can see here, in the way Jesus has spoken to his disciples and in the way He speaks to us: 1) Love one another in the same way I have loved you… and 2) the world will know by experience that you are mine, my devoted followers.
Of course the question that this leaves for us is “How has Jesus Loved Us?” What are we to imitate in order to obey his new commandment?
Our first clue is the word that Jesus actually chose as he gave the commandment!
What would it be?
116 times in the New Testament this word is used to define the kind of love that Jesus had for us and that we are to have for one another. The God-kind of love!
We know the other expressions for love in both Greek and Hebrew; words that describe other dimensions of love: friendship, affection, brotherhood and sisterhood, and intimate physical love of marriage. All these words describe aspects of the emotion of love that we all experience throughout our lives, but none reach the height or purity of the kind of love we experience from God in Jesus Christ!
The word AGAPE is a word that was dusty before the New Testament. It was picked up by John, in his gospel and letters, by Paul in his letters and by Peter and Jude in theirs. AGAPE is a rigorous word! Its root is a verb! An action word; and its as such that we see it in Jesus’ own mouth, over and over.
Another 145 times in the New Testament, and in Jesus own words, 7 times in Matthew and Mark, 9 times in Luke and 28 times in John. Jesus uses the action word to describe God’s own love for the world in sending His only Son, in John 3:16.
So we have an extremely clear picture of what Jesus was saying to his disciples as he got up from the table, after washing their feet and sending his betrayer off to do his duty: A new commandment I am giving to you: Love one another as I have loved you.
In Jesus mouth this word is more often an action word:
…but I say to you, LOVE your enemy!
… looking at him, Jesus LOVED him (of the rich young ruler).
… God so LOVED the world, that He gave His one and only Son!
And of course this love for God is shown most clearly in our obedience to His Word!
Jesus in John 14 hammers this home with his disciples, in the discourse which follows the New Commandment at the end of chapter 13. Over and over again Jesus is crystal clear on the sign of obedience as the proof of this active work of love.
Jn 14:15, 21, 23, 24, 28; 31 Six verses with ten uses of this word LOVE.
"If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.
"He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him."
Jesus answered and said to him, "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him.
"He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father's who sent Me.
"You heard that I said to you, 'I go away, and I will come to you.' If you loved Me, you would have rejoiced because I go to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.
but so that the world may know that I love the Father, I do exactly as the Father commanded Me. Get up, let us go from here.
This is the climax of Jesus discourses at the table of the Last Supper, before they “go out”, down through the Kidron Valley and over to the Garden of Gethsemane, for his last night of prayer before the crucifixion. Here Jesus pushes the emphasis on our obedience as a sign of our active love of God and of Himself.
Now let’s look for a moment at the kind of LOVE that this is, this God-kind of LOVE.
First it is SACRIFICIAL. It places the desires of another above its own, every time.
This is why Jesus ties it to obedience and uses his own obedience as its supreme example, in the last verse we read. (v. 31). It is this love that mirrors the love of God that sacrificed His Only Son for the LOVE of the world (3:16). And it is we who are now asked to mirror that love sacrificially, for God and for each other. (Gal 2:20) “The life which I now live I live by faith in the Son of God, who LOVED me and gave Himself up for me!”
Second it is UNCONDITIONAL. Paul tells us in Romans 5 that it is while we were yet sinners that Christ died for us! This was in fact, the way that God put this kind of LOVE on display!! There were no guarantees and no strings attached, unlike so much of our own love. The LOVE of God; the God-kind of LOVE is given to us freely, BEFORE we make a move toward Him! Remember the stance of the Father in the Prodigal story! Waiting at the window day after day, straining to see his wayward son’s form on the road, walking back home. The story isn’t about a wayward son – its about a loving father!! Loving with God’s kind of LOVE.
Thirdly it is a GIFT TO US. This kind of love is beyond our means! Paul tells us that this kind of love is a gift of the Holy Spirit – “shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit” (Ro 5:5) It is something that we seek and keep on seeking for, knock until it is opened to us, ask and ask and ask again, until God gives us his gracious and tender love. And my friends, the gift is most clearly experienced, as we come face to face with the cross of Jesus, our own part in it because of our sin, and hear his words, spoken from the cross, “Father, forgive them…”
Jesus said that the ones who have been forgiven much AGAPE much!! This is primarily how the gift comes to us, through forgiveness of our own sins and it is how the gift is displayed most clearly in us, as we forgive those who sin against us!!
I want to close with a few verses that capture the beauty of this love, where Paul portrays it, among the gifts in 1 Corinthians, as the supreme gift and turns it around in the light, making it sparkle like no other diamond:
I want to read from two versions in sequence, the Amplified and The Message: Just listen and then we will pray together:
4Love endures long and is patient and kind; love never is envious nor boils over with jealousy, is not boastful or vainglorious, does not display itself haughtily.
5It is not conceited (arrogant and inflated with pride); it is not rude (unmannerly) and does not act unbecomingly. Love (God's love in us) does not insist on its own rights or its own way, for it is not self-seeking; it is not touchy or fretful or resentful; it takes no account of the evil done to it [it pays no attention to a suffered wrong].
6It does not rejoice at injustice and unrighteousness, but rejoices when right and truth prevail.
7Love bears up under anything and everything that comes, is ever ready to believe the best of every person, its hopes are fadeless under all circumstances, and it endures everything [without weakening].
8Love never fails [never fades out or becomes obsolete or comes to an end].
And from The Message:
Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn't want what it doesn't have.
Love doesn't strut,
Doesn't have a swelled head,
Doesn't force itself on others,
Isn't always "me first,"
Doesn't fly off the handle,
Doesn't keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn't revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.
Love never dies.