What is true love? I remember this heart to heart conversation with my mom one day, driving in the truck to drop me off at the train station. I believe I was heading back to college. At that time, I was dating Elissa, my now lovely wife. My mom and I would often talk about deep subjects and that’s one thing I love about her. (Remember that statement). As we drove, she asked me what I thought real love was. I don’t remember how I responded but I do remember her guidance. This was one of those “aha!” moments. It is so simple yet so profound. This is what she said, “Love is not a feeling, it is an action.” This was profound because I had been living life based off the feeling of love. I am an emotional person and I remember young love, all based on how I felt about that person. There were times when that feeling was returned. Those were glorious. But other times I was burned because of my flawed thinking. Not so glorious.
Perhaps you’ve watched people who have fallen for the same trap. There is a not-so-scientific diagnosis for this reaction that perhaps you’ve heard: “love is blind.” On a scientific note, in 2004, University College London did a study that concluded the feelings of love suppresses the part of the brain controlling critical thought. You’ve seen people or been in toxic relationships and don’t want out because of their blindness. There’s another critical flaw. It is all based on feelings. I told you to remember something from my story. I mentioned one thing I love about my mom is that we have rewarding deep discussions. I love her based on what I get from her. Her birthday was last month and I left her a message but she didn’t call back. I not only began to question her love for me but my love for her.
This is what we call, conditional love. Think of the people you love most and ask yourself the question, “Why do I love that person?” Most likely, it is because they can provide something for you. They make you feel good. He was there for you when you needed someone. She builds you up. We love because we get something from the relationship. The opposite is also true. Think of those people that you don’t love. Why don’t you love them? Because they have taken something from you: joy, happiness, time, energy, something dear to you. We base our love on feelings more than we are probably willing to admit. I know you do this too because I do. We all struggle with it.
Wouldn’t it be nice to be free from this toxic view of love so we could love freely? Just like 1 Corinthians 13, is the love chapter of that book. John 13 is the love chapter of his book. This is how John starts this section “1 Before the Passover Festival, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” Jesus loved his disciples. Why did Jesus love them? Prerequisite #1 for receiving love from Jesus was being a sinner. So what did Jesus do for them to show his love? He washed their feet. After a day of walking through the busy streets of Jerusalem which most likely had animal feces along with all the other dust and dirt. When Peter refused this gesture, Jesus metaphorically explained that he needed to wash all of Peter’s sins away. He loved Peter, not just in spite of his sin but because Peter was a sinner.
After Jesus displays his love, he reveals something deeply troubling him. “One of you will betray me.” After such a display of love, how could one of his own do that to Jesus. Jesus identified Judas, that Judas was planning this deceit. John reveals that Satan entered his heart. One of the great hurts (opposite of love) that everyone can probably identify with is betrayal. When someone betrays you, it is hard to love that person. Judas leaves to do just that and Jesus loves.
31 When [Judas] had left, Jesus said, “Do you know what he is about to do? Judas is not going to buy food for the poor. He is going to betray me. That rat is out there in the dark and we are not going to let him back in.” No, Jesus doesn’t say anything like that. Why? Because Jesus loved Judas even though Judas was a sinner. Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is glorified, and God is glorified in him.” This sounds nice. Perhaps Jesus will explain what this is about. 32 “If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once.” Before this, John records several times that Jesus said, “Not yet.” Now the time has come to be glorified. What is this glory? 33 “Children, I am with you a little while longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so now I tell you: ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’” The disciples may have thought, “Where are you going?” They were about to find out in a few hours. Not one of them would want to join Jesus.
So where is he headed in order to be glorified? Betrayal, rejection, condemnation, and crucifixion. This is not our idea of glory. God’s greatest glory is masked in suffering. Whenever Jesus did miracles, often he would shush the people and instruct them, “Don’t tell anyone.” Jesus wanted his cross to be the highlight of his glory. The gory mess of a mutilated face after they were done beating it with their fists and rods. The torn back from the scourge. The life drained from his appearance where once his eyes were comfortable, sweet, and pleasant. Now they were in pain and bitter suffering.
Where’s the glory in that? It was all for you. It was for me. It was because we are at times loveless. We glory in what we can get instead of what we can give. We harbor bitterness, rage, and anger in our hearts. We have outbursts that look nothing like love and we deserve much worse because of it. But Jesus loves us in spite of our sinfulness. “What wonderous love is this, oh my soul, oh my soul! That cause the Lord of bliss to bear the dreadful curse for my soul, for my soul. What wonderous love is this.” It’s honorable to give your life for a friend, family member, or comrade. It’s love to give it for an enemy. Love is a choice. The choice Jesus made to love you was to die for you when you were lost in your own self-satisfying love to free you show you a way to greater glory, a love that is far greater than feelings.
God’s glory is loving, specifically loving you. Jesus wanted his disciples to know the real glory, himself giving his life. Then they could finally understand how to give it. 34 “I give you a new command: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another.” You would think that after Jesus would die for them he would say, “So love me. Prioritize me in your life. I will give mine for you so you can give yours for me.” Instead he turns love away from himself outward to others, even our love. This is one thing I love about the “Pay it forward” movement, it drives love outward. “Pay it forward” means when I do something nice for you, I don’t want anything in return. I want you to pay it forward, not back. I want you to do something nice for someone else, not me.
Jesus didn’t say that you need to change, then he will love you. No he said, “When I love you, you will change.” You will look in the mirror down the road and say about who you were, “What happened to him?” You will change because that’s what happened to those who Jesus loves. The more you are embraced by the love of Jesus and defined by that alone, you can love freely.
35 “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Jesus was passionate about loving people, which is why he left this command with the disciples. He knew that if he stayed on earth, people would glory in him and it wouldn’t spread nearly as far and wide. Through the disciples, the love spread. It spread so far that you’ve been a recipient of that love. It has been paid forward for two thousand years and it is still going. God’s glory is in love, in loving you and in loving through you.
So if you feel like you must change for God to love you. Not a chance. He loves you first and that is what changes you. If you feel like you must change for others here to accept and love you, not a chance. Love is a choice and love is an action. We love like Jesus because Jesus loved us first. Amen