"God is love." (1 John 4:16).
This is probably the most quoted verse of the Bible. But at times it is so overused, that we lose its meaning. It can become just a sweet saying that can easily be dismissed as meaningless in the daily struggles of life.
But, Jesus will not let us drop the idea. Often, he taught this disciples about his love for them - a love that is so strong that he would give his life for them. Repeatedly, he tells them that this is the love that God has for them.
But this concept of love is often not the one we think of when we hear the word. When we hear the word "love" we tend to think of a feeling or an emotion or a preference. "I love that dress you're wearing." "I love my country." "I love my mother." We use the word "love" so much that it tends to lose its meaning.
However, the word used here is "agape." This is a Greek word which means "self-giving love." This love sacrifices for the sake of others. This is not a feeling or a preference. It is an action for the sake of another, even when that action requires sacrifice. This is the love which Jesus gave when he offered his life for our sake. We didn't earn or deserve his sacrifice. The disciples denied and betrayed him. But he gave all he had for them and for us anyway.
Jesus tells us that he is able to love like this because this is the love that he knows from his Father. He passes this love of God on to us.
Just as he passes that love on to us, Jesus commands us to pass that love on to others: "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you."
A few weeks ago, I heard a news story that exemplified this kind of love. The story was about a teenage girl who runs on a track team. That might seem like an ordinary story, except that the girl is blind. She talked about the exhilaration and freedom that she felt running. But running is not usually a safe activity for someone blind. So, in order for this girl to run, she has a guide who is tethered to her. The guide leads the runner and provides direction. The guide makes sure that there are no obstacles in the way. The guide sees for the runner.
When this challenge first faced the track team, the girls agreed to take turns being the guide, because the guide is unable to compete in the race. But, after the first competition, the guide and the runner were so well matched, that the guide decided to continue to serve for the rest of the season. She agreed to sacrifice her right to race so that this other girl would have the opportunity.
Listening to the story, I realized that this young woman, the guide, had really learned what life is about. She had realized that the point is not the winning. The point is the giving. The point is the loving. And as I listened to her, I saw that in her sacrifice, she found joy.
As we love, we know joy. We know the fullness of life that God has for us. When we know the love of God and when we pass it one to others, life is full; life is complete. This is joy. Does this mean we'll always be happy? Of course not. In fact, at times, loving will be very difficult and sometimes painful. But, as we love, the life of God will live in us and through us. Then the world around us will know that God truly is love.