Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.
By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world. God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God. So we have known and believe the love that God has for us.
God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because he first loved us. Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.
1 John 4:7-21 (NRSV)
I love love. Don’t you? How can anyone think any different, right? I mean, there must be a reason why millions of folks find themselves cozied up under a blanket each year to watch the endless badgering of Hallmark movies. Nauseating instances of bizarre and predictable love stories over and over. And we love it!
Even a curmudgeon like myself cannot help but smile whenever the beautiful blonde ex-lawyer from the Big City™ moves back to her Small Hometown™ and falls madly in love with hunky, but definitely once awkward, country boy who saves her from the ice hole that she fell in while ice skating as practice for the Olympics. Every cheesy joke, every cutesy line, every washed-up child actor - man, I eat it up every single time.
Why do you think it is that we love these stories enough to produce an entire movie genre? I grew up in a Small Hometown™ and I can certify that I never once witnessed a climactic meet-cute like in a Hallmark flick.
Is it just our active imaginations? Do we really want that kind of hook-up for ourselves? Is Tinder not enough? Where is the movie where the girl puts her ice cold feet on the man’s back and he screams in icy-hot pain? Now, that’s real love.
One of my favorite aspects of preaching, writing, and teaching are the opportunities where I get to talk about love. I am crazy head-over-heels in love with my high-school sweetheart. I fall more in love with our beautiful daughter by the minute.
But even those two instances of love that I experience every single day do not quite manage to encompass the incredible love that I experience from Christ. When I get to share that kind of love with others… man, I just get so excited about it.
I think that the Biblical authors loved love, too. Have you ever read the Song of Solomon? If you think Hallmark movies are cheesy, dive deep in the steamy intimacy of that Old Testament book.
In the NRSV, the word ‘love’ appears 538 times. Out of 1,189 available chapters, that word could be nearly divided out to every other chapter. Of course, that’s not how it works - the passage above uses the word 28 times alone. That’s a lot of love.
This passage also makes one of my favorite claims in all of the Bible: God is love.
This truth from John the Evangelist is, in my opinion, just as incredible of a revelation as John’s other bold proclamation from John 1 about the Word. John is not being shy or pulling any punches in this passage - make no mistake that this truly is a bold proclamation.
I remember when I first learned that there were different types of love present in the Bible. No doubt you have heard of them, as well, but we will brush up on them for our purposes here.
Eros - Romantic love. The intense sexual desire for someone. Found in Samson’s love for Delilah or King David’s pursuit of Bathsheba.
Philia - Affectionate love, also known as brotherly love. No passion or sexual impulse, founded on respect or admiration. Love amongst the disciples and the early church.
Storge - Familiar love. Typically viewed as the love that a parent might have for a child and potentially vice versa. A deeper bond by blood or strong family-like ties. Like the love from the mother to her demon-possessed daughter.
Pragma - Enduring love. Practical love that continues after the ‘honeymoon phase’ ends. This is a matured love that continues past the passion of the eros love. This can be seen in Jacob and Rachel or Ruth and Boaz.
Philautia - Self love. This is a healthy corollary for self-esteem. It can also be seen as good self-discipline or spiritual discipline. Think of Daniel refusing to eat unclean food that the King tried to serve him.
Ludas - Playful love. This is the gross Song of Solomon stuff I was referring to earlier. Imagine the butterfly feeling of a first kiss - or perhaps whenever the small town hunk rescues us from an ice hole.
Agape - Unconditional love. This is the love that Jesus calls us to in the Greatest Commandment. The desire to love others as we love ourselves. Without condition or respect, the act of loving someone like this is based on nothing but fellow humanity.
Whenever I was first taught these, I was told that agape love is the love that represents God. Whenever John tells us that ‘God is love,’ this is what I was taught that meant. As I’ve grown older and experienced more of the love from God, I’ve discovered that this understanding falls a bit short.
If there is one pet peeve that you will find in my ministry, I am especially nit-picky anytime that someone attempts to limit God. Acknowledging human shortcomings, that is easy. Finding Biblical contradictions, we can talk about it. Interpretive differences, we are all good. But… telling me that something is impossible for God - we are gonna have problems.
Now, I am not suggesting that the person who taught me the forms of love directly tried to limit God - but it is an unfortunate oversight to think that the awesome and perfecting agape love is the only form present in God.
God is love. But not just any love. God is all love.
Those butterfly feelings when you catch the eyesight of someone across the bar? Yeah, God’s there. Putting a bandaid on the latest boo-boo of your precocious progeny? There’s God! Seeing those adorable two retiree’s sitting on the same side of the booth after 45 years of marriage? God. Taking a day of self-care and getting that massage you’ve needed? God’s giving that backrub, bb. And - yes - God wants you to have a happy and fulfilling sex life. Stop blushing - it’s true!
God is love and love is everywhere.
Can we mess that up? Yes, of course. Giving in to those butterfly feelings while our spouse sits next to us, helicoptering over our kid to the point they cannot breathe, abusing your spouse for those 45 years, self-medicating and avoiding responsibility in attempted acts of self-care, or only satisfying our own carnal desires in the act of sex - those are ways that we sap God out of the love and replace with something more sinister.
So, what can we do about it? If God is love, what does John want us to do with the information? How can that radically change our lives? How can change anything as we prepare for this season of Advent? What should we do in our anticipation?
John helps us out with two ways to best do this.
We must see that if God is love and Jesus wants us to become like God, then we are the final product of the equation.
God is love → we are called to be like God → we are love.
Once we acknowledge that we are called to be love in this world, as God is love in this world, then we have to figure out how.
One of my favorite anime of all time is Fullmetal Alchemist. I first watched it when I would sneak downstairs and stay up late to watch Adult Swim on Cartoon Network. It was haunting, smart, and changed my life forever. I got hooked and bought the manga as they were translated in the United States. I watched both series and all of the movies - I even played the DS and PS2 game adaptations.
The best part of Fullmetal Alchemist has to be the incredible characters that have been lovingly crafted by Hiromu Arakawa. They all have depth and epic backstories - many of which she lets the reader imagine on their own. Some of these characters are incredibly sad or even downright heartbreaking - Rose, Hughes, Tucker and Nina; even ‘bad guys’ like Greed bring a tear to your eye.
Some of these characters are just downright silly.
One fan favorite is the inhumanly muscular Major Alex Louis Armstrong. Perfectly voiced by Chris Sabat in the English dub, this character comes to life in every scene and is immediately the focus of attention. He appears to be a literal giant with a body made entirely of muscles - which are often seen, given that his shirt rips off with every flex (and he flexes often).
He is mostly bald, with the exception of a single golden curl on his head and a perfectly coiffed blonde mustache. His eyes are serious and piercing with beautiful eyelashes and his shiny dome is almost always accompanied by his trademark pink shine marks floating around like a halo.
Amongst the many absurd lines spouted by Armstrong, there is one that stands out in the minds of even the most casual fan. Nearly every action done by Armstrong - whether it be his signature alchemy style, chopping wood, cooking dinner, taking walks, beautification techniques, whatever - is one that has been passed down in the Armstrong Family from GENERATION TO GENERATION!
Aside from being a gag that always makes me laugh, it seems that everything that Armstrong does spawns from a central place: his lineage. Armstrong is, without a doubt, one who is incredibly proud about where he comes from. He is proud of who he is and how he got there. Taken a step further, Armstrong is a representative of his family and - with every act that he does - he bears the honor of his family as his burden. Imagine if he were to fail… that is a stain on the Armstrong legacy.
For Armstrong, it is not just a blessing. It is a burden. His lineage is not something taken lightly - it is an honor and one that he takes very, very seriously.
What if this is what is lacking from our lives that gives us such love for Hallmark movies?
Do we watch these cheesy films not because we want that for ourselves, but instead because we want to remember those warm, fuzzy feelings of sitting down with our parents and thinking about our future love lives? Are we using these movies just to fill a void that we really just want to pass on a childlike love to our children, family, and friends?
I think that John would be amazed by the passionate honor present in Major Alex Louis Armstrong. I also think it might be that exact kind of honor that John wants to commend upon all those who have experienced God’s all-encompassing love.
Imagine, if you will, that we saw the love that we have experienced from God not just as the incredible blessing that it is - but that we also saw it as an honorable burden. What if we went around loving people in ways that were truly unbelievable - not for our own sake, but because of the love that has been given to us from ‘GENERATION TO GENERATION?’
It is an honor to be able to share with someone the gift of love. It is also an incredible burden - because we have the capacity to royally screw it up. Consider this the next time you’re given the chance to love someone - any kind of love.
Where has God been in your life? Where have you experienced the love you are offering? God is there - what did God do for you? How can you do that - how can you be someone’s next experience of God? What an awesome challenge!
Most importantly, I hope you will consider that love is an infectious force of nature. Like Armstrong’s family values, how we love is not limited to just ourselves - it continues on in the lives of those affected forever. It is a generational thing. I hope you will consider not just the love you are experiencing - but think of the love passed down.