April 25, 2021

“Love in Truth and Action”

(From 1John 3: 16-24)

 We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister[a] in need and yet refuses help?  Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him.  And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.  All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.

     “And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three, and the greatest of these is love.” So ends the Apostle Paul’s dissertation on love found in 1Corinthians Chapter 13.  It is most often heard at marriage covenant celebrations, when it reminds couples of the foundation of true love upon which their covenant vows are intended to be shared.  I would agree with Paul that love is the greatest and most important of commandments impacting all aspects of our life as Christians; and that it is, in Paul’s own words, the “more excellent way.” But what is the greatest love?  That question is the basis of our message for this morning.

     Our English language uses one word, love, to describe a multitude of complex interpersonal human relationships.  In fact, we even use the word love to describe many of the inanimate objects that we find pleasing, such as clothing, jewelry, cars and even foods, when the use of the word like is more appropriate..  The Greeks, however, understood that the language of love was reserved strictly for human relationships, and that love exists in various forms which were recognized as four types.  Perhaps the most familiar form of love is the Greek Eros.  Eros love describes the love of romantic attraction between individuals.  It creates an emotional bond that is based upon mutual physical attraction and desire.  It is the love that is associated with Cupid’s arrows and Valentines with intricately laced edges. We seek to be in relationship with the one to whom we are physically and romantically attracted, and that love is Eros love.

     The city of Philadelphia is named after the next form of love the Greek language recognizes.  Philadelphia is called the city of brotherly love, named from the Greek root word Philia.  This is the non-romantic and companionship form of love found with close friends.  It is characterized by attributes of care, mutual respect and benevolence for and between individuals who experience the Philia form of love.

     The third type of love found in the Greek language is Storge love.  This is the name given to the deep familial love-bond that is most commonly found between parents and children, or close siblings.  It is a love that is considered to be the instinctual and natural bond that is created between close relatives.

     The fourth and highest form of love that is recognized in Greek language is Agape love.  Agape love is the highest form of love because it is understood to be defined in its purest sense by the love of God for us.  It is an unconditional, selfless and sacrificial love, as was the love Christ displayed when he sacrificed his very life for our sin. When we are our most selfless and self-sacrificing selves, willing to step out of our own comfort zone and turn intention into action on behalf of the needs and best interests of others unconditionally, then we are displaying Agape love.  It is this form of love that Paul referred to as “the greatest of these” in Chapter 13 of his letter to the Corinthian Church.  It calls us to become our best selves because it calls us to love in truth and action, just as our scripture lesson for this morning described to us.  Paul wrote:

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never ends. (1Corinthians 13: 4-8, NRSV).

This is how the Apostle Paul described his understanding of Agape love, a love that is, in his words, both “the greatest” and “the more excellent way”.  It is a love which the Greek language places above all other forms of love because it calls us to place our love beyond thoughts and words, and to put love into action.

     Christian Psychiatrist and best-selling author, Dr. M. Scott Peck, in his book The Road Less Traveled, has echoed Paul’s belief about the nature of true love-the love Greek language refers to as agape love.  Peck wrote:

When we love someone our love becomes demonstrable or real only through our exertion-through the fact that for that someone we take an extra step or walk an extra mile. Love is not effortless.  To the contrary, love [true agape love] is effortful.  

     So, Church, we now have love more fully defined.  We now understand that love exists in many forms, even though our English language may use just one word for all of them.  We also understand that the greatest love we can show is love in truth and action-love that calls us out of our comfort zone and into real effort and action on behalf of others.  It takes us beyond our feelings, emotions and self-imposed conditions, and into the realm of self-sacrifice without the accompanying personal conditions.  When we step out and inconvenience ourselves to make a caring call to someone we do not know well, to serve a meal to strangers, to offer someone a needed ride to the market, doctors appointment or pharmacy, or if we stop at the scene of an accident to offer help or call 911, we show our love for others in real, tangible and unconditional ways.  When we stand up for those who are marginalized or treated unfairly, we show Agape love. Agape love is love in truth through action, and that is why it is understood to be the highest form of love.  God showed us this love in God’s plan of salvation through Christ Jesus, and God continuously loves us with Agape love in numerous ways, both great and small, throughout our lives. This love calls, in fact commands a similar love response from us. I will close this message with the words of 1John Chapter 3 from our lesson this morning, “let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action”. Amen, and let it be so.

Hymn: “The Gift of Love”

(words and arrangement-Hal Hopson, 1972).

Thou I may speak with bravest fire, and have the gift to all inspire, and have not love, my words are vain, as sounding brass, and hopeless gain.

Thou I may give all I possess, and striving so my love profess, but not be given by love within, the profit soon turns strangely thin.

Come, Spirit, come, our hearts control, our spirits long to be made whole. Let inward love guide every deed; by this we worship, and are freed.

Mission for Easter Giving:

Bishop Tracy Malone is promoting a capital campaign called Teach, Reach, Bless to build a dormitory on the campus of Africa University for women students to give them an opportunity to focus on their studies and keep them safe from often dangerous commutes. 

More information can be found at www.EOCUMC.com/teachreachbless/.  Contributions can be made to PUMC with “Africa” in the memo line.