Being Valentine’s Day, I thought it appropriate that we speak this morning about love. I don’t want to limit this morning’s sermon to romantic love, but rather I want to look at how do we define love, who do we love, and lastly to understand how God loves.
The world has created a poor imitation of love. On the internet the other day, I stumbled across a Love Calculator. The way it works is that there are two blocks to fill in the names of two people, and then it tells what the chances are of your relationship working. I entered Sam and my name, and the love calculator gave us a 14 % chance.
Here is what the self proclaimed “love doctor” said about Mike and Samantha.
Dr. Love thinks a relationship might work out between Mike and Samantha, but the chance is very small. A successful relationship is possible, but you both have to work on it. Do not sit back and think that it will all work out fine, because it might not be working out the way you wanted it to. Spend as much time with each other as possible. Again, the chance of this relationship working out is very small, so even when you do work hard on it, it still might not work out.
I wonder how the Love Doctor defines “Love”
On Valentine’s Day 1970, the Comic strip “Love Is…” made its debut in newspapers across America. The idea started when a young lady used to sit and doodle on pieces of paper when she thought about her fiancé.
For her, they were an attempt to define the love she felt, and a way to give expression to her emotions.
Do you remember some of them?
Love is… Being able to say sorry
Love is… Letting her take over the bathroom Slide 2
Love is… Not asking how much her new dress cost Slide 3
Love is… Realising that cold feet are a cure for snoring Slide 4
ASK CONGREGATION: How would you define love?
The best definition I’ve encountered so far is that love is “seeking the best for the person, even if it is at your cost”. SLIDE 6
And that makes more sense to me when I place it next to a definition of lust, because lust is “seeking the best for you, even at the expense of others”.
The other day, a mother told me of all the things she does for her children because she loves them, but she felt abused because the more she does, the less it seemed her children appreciate her. When we spoke about it for a while, she realised that actually her actions weren’t motivated by the best interests of her children at all; she wasn’t doing it for them. She was doing it for herself. Slide 8
She was doing things so that her children would love her. The question in her head was not, “How do I make my child feel loved?” She was asking, “What can I do to make my children love me?” She was the subject of her own love.
She realised that she was practicing lust.
Love is centered on the other person, on what is best for them.
With lust, the focus is on ourselves.
Love says, “Even if I get nothing out of this, I am doing this because you will benefit from this and I love you.”
Lust asks, “How much do I have to do to get what I want?”
In English we are quite limited in the vocabulary when we talk about love. We use that same word in so many different ways.
The result is that I love my wife, but I also love my children.
But then I also love my cats, I love my job, I love eating Nachos.
In the car Lauren often says, “I love this song, it’s my favourite” and when the next song starts she says, “I love this song, it’s really my favourite.”
So if I say “I love you”, do I mean I love you in the same way I love Sam, or do I mean I love you like a McDonalds meal I will eat and forget in a few hours?
The Biblical languages of Hebrew and Greek are both much richer in the words they offer for love.
Maybe the first word in Hebrew is rēa., which speaks of friendship or neighbourliness. Rea was the way any Jew related to his fellow Jew. This word was used exclusively for other Jews. Slide 9
A similar Greek word is Philos, which means to befriend, brotherly love.
This Greek word philos is the root to a lot of English words. A philanthropist is a person who phileo’s people. Philharmonic means the phileo of harmony.
I am sure you can think of a few people you have a rēa or a “phileo” relationship with. But in Israel this word was usually reserved for people just like you.
The second Hebrew word is ǎ∙hǎḇā(h). Slide 10
ǎ∙hǎḇā(h) is beyond sheer neighbourliness, it speaks of a strong affection between people which is more special, more exclusive. A man and lady may start out as mere friends, but a time comes when they realise, “My relationship with you is different to anyone else. I am more committed, I am more connected to you”. I Ahabah you.
At that point love escalates from Rea to Ahabah.
AT school I had 30 classmates, rēa, but I had a friend from Grade 2 who is still my dearest friend today. That is Ahabah.
Ahabah is not romantic or sexual, the Hebrew word for that kind of love is (dôḏ), Ahabah is a soul mate kind of connection. The Greek word for sexual love is Eros, from which we get the word erotic. Slide 11
When people visit prostitutes, or have casual sex, they have (dôḏ), without Ahabah, without a committed love. They have Eros without Phileo, they have sex without friendship. Sex without the other two forms of love is a cheap imitation of God’s design for us.
Leviticus 19: 18 says, Love your neighbour as yourself”.
In Hebrew it says, Ahabah your rēa as yourself.
What that means is that we are not just to be friendly to our friends, we are not just to be neighbourly to our neighbours, but we are to be passionately, committedly loving our neighbour as if they were the most important person in our lives.
Back to my school analogy. For me to practice that, I would need to transform the casual nature of my relationship with my 30 classmates, to treat every one of the like my best friend. I have to escalate my love from casual to deliberate and committed.
But it is not just treating them all as my best friends, it is understanding that we are inseparably connected. I don’t love them as I love myself, I love them as myself. They are me, we are inseparable. Every good I do them is actually good to myself. But when I hurt them, I hurt myself.
In marriage we speak of two people becoming one. In Ahabah, we become one, we are joined, fused, inseparable. An image the Bible gives is that we become parts of the same body.
1 Samuel 18: 3 says that Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he Ahabah David AS HIS OWN SOUL.
Jonathan loved David as himself, because he can’t see where David stops and he starts. For David to be killed by Saul would be the death of Jonathan.
Jonathan didn’t love David in the same way or to the same measure he loved himself, he loved David asif David were his own soul, the essential part of his own life.
That is the same message as Leviticus 19. We are to love our neighbours and our friends asif they are our very soul, the center of our own existence, inseparable joined in the same body.
Imagine loving each of your friends asif they were the only one. Imagine loving your neighbour asif they are the centre of your universe. And then imagine loving all your other neighbours in exactly the same way.
Luke’s Gospel is written in Greek. In Luke 10, Luke recorded an incident between Jesus and an expert in the Law. The lawyer came to Jesus and he quoted Leviticus 19: 18, but he had to find a Greek word for love, for Ahabah. The Lawyer said we are to Agapaoh God with every bit of my being, and AGAPAOH my neighbour, my friend, as myself. Slide 12
What’s amazing is that the kind of love we love God with, is exactly the same as the way God calls us to love our neighbour. The way you are meant to centre your life on Jesus, is reflected in the way you centre your life on your neighbour, because your neighbour is made in the image of God. 1 John 4: 20 if you say you love God but hate your brother, you must be a liar.
The Greeks had another class of love, Agapaoh. There were two distinctives of Agapaoh love.
The first was that it was unconditional love. Agapaoh did not question whether the person deserved to be loved or not. This love was not about worthiness, it was unconditional.
The second thing was that this love was not dependent on emotions, but was an act of the will. You don’t wait until you feel AGAPAOH, you choose to AGAPAOH.
So the lawyer said to Jesus, “I must love God and my neighbour with the same unconditional love, a love that does not depend on emotion, but is an act of my will, I must choose to love my neighbour asif we are one person”.
There is only one escape hatch left for the lawyer. For the Jews, only other Jews were their neighbour. A Samaritan was never a friend. We can love that much, if we can choose who we want to love.
So Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan. What is striking is that the man in the ditch is beaten and left naked. You could identify whether a man was a Jew or not by his facial features. He could work out his social status by looking at his clothes. With this man, both are destroyed. Yet the Samaritan loves him unconditionally, it doesn’t matter what nationality he is. It is impossible to tell whether he is rich or poor. It is impossible to tell whether he could ever repay the debt. The Samaritan loves him because he needs to be loved.
If you had a car accident and you were lying in a ditch, dying, who would you accept help from?
Would you let a Muslim help you?
Would you let a gay person help you?
Would you let a homeless person help you?
Then that person is your neighbour.
If I was lying in a ditch, dying from my injuries, I would take help from anybody, and so everybody is my neighbour.
How do we define love?
1 John 3: 16 “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us”.
How does it feel to be loved that much? That the God who flung the stars into the sky, the God who wrote the songs for the birds, would strip Himself of all His glory and become a person just like us, and then lay down His life to die a cruel death for you. How does it feel to be loved that much?
Because John goes on to say, “And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.”
If we cannot define love, if you got lost in translation between Ahabah and Agapaoh, then there is a practical example to measure against. We should look at the love Jesus has poured out on us, and strive to imitate Him.
John says, “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.”
In closing, I want to pick up on John’s last phrase, “let us not love with words or tongue, but with actions and in truth”
We need to make our love practical. Love is a verb, it is an action.
As much as words spoken without love are nothing more than a resounding gong, or the giving away of everything you possess without love achieves nothing. Love cannot exist in our hearts without breaking out to those around us.
That would be like having a hospital filled with state of the art equipment, but no personnel to use it.
God loved so much that He gave His only begotten Son. God’s love was expressed in action. Jesus loved so much he died on the cross.
We are all worried about the drought. I heard from two people who are in the know, that even though we have water restrictions, PE’s water consumption has not dropped. What does that say about love for our neighbours?
I heard that wealthy residents of Walmer and Summerstrand are sinking boreholes to water their gardens, but that when the water is depleted in the underground lakes, sea water will fill those cavities and destroy their capacity for storing water.
What does that say about love for our neighbour?
Many of us have heard about Rick Warren who wrote “The Purpose Driven Life”. At his church they had a massive parking problem. So they bought land the other side of the freeway and build a parking lot and a footbridge.
The policy of Saddleback Church is that the core members of the church park across the freeway and walk to church, to free up the parking for others.
What does that say about love?
When Jesus met the lawyer, and the lawyer answered Jesus question by saying, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
Jesus said to him, “You have answered correctly, Do this and you will live.”
Jesus was not speaking of eternal life, He was speaking of an exceptional quality of life here on earth. He was saying, “If you actually do this, you will experience a quality of life, a beauty of life which is on a different plain to anything you have ever experienced before.”
AT the end of the conversation with the lawyer, Jesus said, “Go and DO likewise”.