Living a Life of Love
Text: Heb. 13:1-8
Proper 17, C
Do you remember the old one-panel comic strip entitled "Love Is ... " This daily comic featured two little pudgy, naked people. You could only tell from their faces, but one was a boy and one was a girl. Each day this comic strip would begin with the famous words "Love is ... " and then would have some charming little caption. Throughout the years this little comic strip told us that: Love is holding hands. Love is going for a walk. Love is sharing your ice cream. Hundreds and hundreds of cute little sayings tried to encapsulate just what love really is. If only it were that easy! However close these little captions came to the truth they could never really encompass all that love really is. It just doesn’t work that way. Love is much deeper than that. Love can be a hard concept to fully appreciate. Cute one-liners don’t cut it.
Many people in our world today have often tried to sum up what love is. They try to do it in such a way that one doesn’t have to go too deeply into the whole messy business. A nice brief summary of what “love is" seems to do just fine for many people. Maybe that is why there are so many crazy ideas about what love is in this world. Unwilling to face the true reality of what love demands, people instead try to bring it down to size. To something they can love with. Therefore you get such statements as "Love is something that either is or it isn’t. Love isn’t something you can work at. Love can begin in an instant and love can end just as fast. Love and sex always belong together. If you love someone you can’t be mad at them. You have to love yourself before you can love someone else.” I'm sure you have heard all this and so much more well-intentioned nonsense many times before.
While any of these might seem to be true now and again, they are really all based upon a misunderstanding of what love really is. In as much as any of those statements are ever true, they only recognize one small part of what is involved in love. So what, then, does real love look like in our Christian life? The writer of Hebrews gives us a very practical idea of what Christian love looks like. And it is not always so very simple. "Let brotherly love continue" (v.1) His point here is that, as Christians, we must always be looking out for our fellow brothers and sisters in the faith. We are to love one another by supporting and encouraging our faith family.
Love is not just a feeling. It is not only a state of mind. Love is a verb. Love is action. 1 Jo. 3:18 states: "let us not love in word or speech but in deed and truth." Living a life of Christian love means getting your hands dirty. It means pitching in and helping our brothers and sisters in the faith through the good times and the bad. But more than that, it also means helping out those who do not yet believe.
"Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers ... Remember those who are in prison ... and those who are ill—treated" (2-3) A Christian life of love also involves loving strangers, Treating with respect those whom we don‘t know, those who are in prison, those who have been abused. It means stopping to look at the person behind the situation. It means treating those in prison as if we were shackled with them. It means treating those who are abused or ill-treated as if we ourselves were "in their skin." Sometimes, it means that we must even put ourselves at risk for the sake of those who would not do the same for us. Loving fellow believers isn’t always so hard, because they are likely to love us back. Loving the unlovable is something else entirely.
One final word from the text about what Christian love looks like comes in verse 4: "Let marriage be held in honour among all ... and let the marriage bed be undefiled." Real love means making a commitment. Love means being faithful in all that we do, in thoughts, words and in deeds. In the marriage relationship especially, but also in all of our relationships, both with our brothers and sisters and with strangers faithfulness is demanded of us. Love means keeping your promises. Love means being committed.
As you can begin to see, love is a tall order. No wonder it couldn’t possibly be summed up in some pithy little saying! Living a Christian life of love involves loving a whole lot of people in a whole lot of different situations. The picture of love as it is painted by the author of Hebrews is a whole lot different from the common ideas about love that float around our world today. Let's look again, briefly, at some of the statements about what love is, that were made earlier: Love is not something you can work at. Love can begin and end in a moment. Sex equals love, and love equals sex. Love yourself first or you won’t be able to love others. These are statements of what love is not.
While we love our family, we don’t always like them do we'? It isn’t always easy to love others who hurt you. It is something that we all need to work on. The more we do work on loving one another, the better we get at it. If you don’t believe me, just try it. Love is not always immediate. It takes time to get to know others. It takes time to trust. It takes time to care for others. How can you have love if you don’t have these first? Love takes time. Love gets better with time. Love involves every action that we do, not just one specific action. Love is about giving of ourselves, not about what we can get for ourselves. Love is not reserved for things like money. Love is not reserved solely for ourselves. Most people who love themselves first, will ONLY love themselves. If there is one thing that this passage makes abundantly clear, it is that real love is a whole lot more than most of us are willing or able to do.
That is why it is fortunate for us that love doesn’t begin or end with ourselves. Real love comes from God. Real Love is God. Real love is summed up in the last verse of the text; "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today, and for ever." I Jo. 4:9-10 tells us that: "In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that 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 expiation for our sins." Romans 5:8 likewise states: "But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us." God loved us enough to send His only Son to die for us. And while we were still estranged from Him. He loved us not because we first loved Him, but because we needed to be loved.
God looked at us, strangers to Him, and put himself in our place literally. He saw that we were prisoners to sin and death, and so he shackled himself with us. He saw that because of our sins we were abused and ill-treated. He literally walked a mile in our skins. He came to earth and died our death. He was ill-treated for our transgressions. Jesus loved a bunch of sinners enough to put his own life on the line. He loved us enough to do it, even though He knew we could never pay Him back. Jesus made a promise to each of us in our Baptism. A promise that He would always be faithful to us. That He would remain committed to us and would never stop loving us.
Through Baptism, God made each of us members of His family. We are now Jesus’ brothers and sisters. If He loved us so much as strangers, how much more does He now love us as family? Too much to fully explain this morning. It would properly take a whole lifetime to show you how committed He is to you. He is always in our lives, helping us through the good and the bad. He is present in His words of forgiveness. In His words of encouragement. In His words of discipline. He comes to us with His very body and blood; shed for us out of love. Given to us for forgiveness.
Jesus’ love for us is unchanging. It is the same yesterday, when we were strangers to Him. It is the same today, as we live in this world as members of His family. It will be the same tomorrow, when he takes us to live eternally with Him in glory. Let’s face it, God is really fond of you. He likes having you around. He loves you unconditionally. If God had a refrigerator, your picture would be on it! If He had a wallet, your photo would be in it. He loves you, and brags about you, no matter how well you do. He tells you every day how much He cares about you, in His Word. It is only because we are loved so deeply, that we can then in turn love others. You have to be loved by somebody, this much; before you can ever really love in return.
Over the past four weeks, we have looked at what it means to live in this world as a Christian It is not an easy task. It will not get any easier. Living as a Christian in this world means having faith in God. Having faith that there is more than just what meets the eye. It means having faith in the love of God. Living as a Christian means being disciplined. It means that in all that we do we look to the disciplined life of Jesus as an example, and the source of forgiveness when we fail. Living as a Christian in this world means holding fast to promises. Not the promises of the world, but the promises that God made to us out of His great love for us. Promises of forgiveness, salvation, and everlasting life. And finally, living as a Christian means living a life of love. Love carried out in action. Not because we love ourselves first; but because God loved us enough to send us Jesus. Because Jesus loved us enough to die for us. Because the Holy Spirit loves us enough to make us a part of the family of God.
May the love of God, which has begun this wonderful life in each of you, bless and keep you until you rest with Him in heaven.