And Love is a word in our culture that has so many different meanings and understanding attached.
In the book ‘The fruit of the Holy Spirit’ (Trask and Goodall, 2000) that I’m using as a basis for this series the chapter on Love starts with two illustrations of that.
They wanted to say ‘for richer and poorer; in sickness and in health; until we no longer love each other.’
In one of his letters he wrote
“ Your Mother is very special. Few men know what it’s like to receive appreciation for taking their wives out to dinner when it entails what it does for us. It means that she has to dress me, shave me, brush my teeth, comb my hair, wheel me out of the house, and down the steps open the garage and put me in the car, take the pedals off the chair, stand me up, sit me in the seat of the car, go around to the other side of the car, twist me around so that i’m comfortable, fold the wheelchair, put it in the car, go round to the other side of the car, start it up, back it out, get out of the car, pull the garage door down, get back in the car, and drive off to the restaurant.
And then, it starts all over again; she gets out of the car, unfolds the wheel chair, opens the door, spins me round, stands me up, seats me in the wheel chair, pushes the pedals out, closes and locks the car, wheels me into the restaurant, then takes the pedals off the wheel chair so I won’t be uncomfortable. We sit down to have dinner, and she feeds me throughout the entire meal. And when it’s all over she pays the bill, pushes the wheel chair out to the car again, and reverses the same routine.
And when it’s over-finished-with real warmth she’ll say “honey, thank you for taking me out to dinner.” I never quite know what to answer.”
We have many different understandings when we use the word Love. The Greeks had four different words for love to articulate these differences. Two that are not used in the New Testament.
The two uses in the New Testament are
In fact this emphasis on love as a virtue is unique to Christianity. There are many lists of virtues in the writing of the ancient world and other faiths and the nowhere is there the emphasis on love as in there in the New Testament. There are many other lists of Christian virtues in the New Testament and the only constant is the one Jesus gave us: That we should love one another.
God’s love is the example of that love we are to share. ’Greater Love has no man’ says Jesus ‘than he lay down his life for his friends’, this as he shared that last meal with his disciples before his crucifixion. This is the example that you and I as followers of Jesus have. This is the Love we have received. A persevering, making the first move, forgiving, restoring, self sacrificial love that we have freely received from Jesus, it is the Love that we abide in and it is the Love that Jesus calls us share for and with each other and that will bear much fruit. I mentioned it last week that the purpose of fruit is to reproduce the tree that it grows on. Jesus reproduces his love in us and we are to allow the spirit to use us to reproduce that in others.
Being communal means it goes beyond simply being in church together. We are simply a crowd when we gather for worship. Jesus ministered to the crowd but he invested most of his time and energy into relating and caring for and loving into a smaller community. The early church meet as a large group for worship and teaching but it also had a whole other raft of relational things happening behind that. People meet in each other’s homes, they shared meals together, they shared resources together with those who had needs. To allow this love for one another to grow we need to move from being a crowd to being a community.
One of the dangers of such a community is that it can become inward looking and inward focused. But the love we have received and that we share is a including and welcoming love. AS we have been welcomed into God’s people so we are to be looking at sharing that love outside ourselves and welcoming people in: In to our church, our homes, our lives, our faith.
Former TV evangelist Jim Bakker, who was sent to prison for fraud, tells of these qualities of love that were shown to him in a very simple act. In his book I Was Wrong he remembers.
"Not long after my release from prison, I joined Franklin Graham and his family at his parents’ old log mountain home for dinner. Ruth Graham (Billy’s wife) had prepared a course dinner. We talked and and laughed and enjoyed a casual meal together like a family.
During our conversation, Ruth asked me a question that required an address. I reached into my back pocket and pulled out an envelope. My wallet had been taken when I went to prison. I had not owned a wallet for over four-and-a-half years.
As I fumbled through the envelope, Ruth asked tenderly, “Don’t you have a wallet, Jim?’
“This is my wallet, I replied.
Ruth left the room, returning with one of Billy’s wallets.
Here is a brand-new wallet Billy has never used. I want you to have it,” she said."
"I still carry that wallet to this day. Over the years I have met thousands of wonderful Christian men and women, but never anyone more humble gracious and in a word,”real” than Ruth Graham and her family. ”
We can talk of this love in great cosmic terms but it is a love that works itself out in everyday small and real actions, in hand's on ways as the spirit leads us and we walk in the spirit.