When we think about love, it is good to consider what love is. As complex as we think it is, love is very simple. God is love. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us, demonstrating his love for us. The love that God showed to us extended to the uttermost parts of the world: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
Because God is love and he showed that love by giving his one and only son, he expects us to express that love for him with everything we have: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Deut. 6:4). This is the greatest commandment and the second greatest is like the first: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Sometimes the Lord asks us to prove our love for him by putting us to the test. Jesus asked Peter three times: “Do you love me more than these?” It was three times that Peter denied his Lord and it was three times that his Lord gave him the chance to affirm his love. Jesus, in his gracious forgiveness, gave Peter the chance to wipe out the memory of the threefold denial by a threefold declaration of love.
We see what love brought Peter. It brought him a task. “If you love me,” Jesus said, “then give your life to shepherding the sheep and lambs of my flock.” We can prove that we love Jesus only by loving others. Love is the greatest privilege in the world, but it brings the greatest responsibility. It brought Peter a cross. Jesus told Peter that he would die a similar death, death on a cross. The day came when, in Rome, Peter did die for his Lord; he too went to the cross and he asked to be nailed to it head downward, for he said that he was not worthy to die as his Lord had died. Love brought Peter a task, and it brought him a cross. Love always involves responsibility and it always involves sacrifice. We do not really love Christ unless we are prepared to face his task and take up his cross.
John wrote to the church at Ephesus, commending them for their good works, yet he found one thing against them. It is possible that the Ephesians had not watched carefully enough, and that their virtue produced a related vice. The charge was leveled against them: “You have abandoned the love you had at first.” The text suggests that the love which had abated was primarily love for fellow men. Nevertheless, the conjunction of love to God and love to man, stressed by our Lord, is basic to Christian experience. Where love for God wanes, love for man diminishes, and where love for man is soured, love for God degenerates into religious formalism. Both constitute a denial of the revelation of God in Christ.
If the price paid by the Ephesians for the preservation of true Christianity was the loss of love, the price was too high, for Christianity without love is a perverted faith. The Ephesian believers were not wholly without love. It was their early love, honeymoon love, if you would, which had faded, and that early love must be recovered.
If our first love has faded we must do as the Ephesian church was admonished to do—repent, and do the things we did at first. To cite the parable of C. S. Lewis, embark on a “pilgrims regress” and go back to the cross and empty tomb of Christ, where the love was first kindled. Or as Paul wrote to the Corinthians, all good works done in the name of Christ are empty if they are not motivated by love. God is love.
Pastor Jake StirnemannJuly 1, 2020