Sweetwater Presbyterian

Small in size, Big in Faith and Love

Its All About Love


Think about songs with love in the title. I imagine if we started right now we could name songs with ‘love’ in the title for the rest of the service. Country songs, pop songs, rock songs, Christian songs - and if we expanded the list into naming songs about love - we’d be here for the rest of the week. Love is a Many Splendid thing, What is Love, It’s all about love, Love theme from Romeo and Juliet, Have I told you lately that I love you, we could go on and on. Then we could start naming movies and books and TV shows about love - what about poems that are about love? We could just name love things forever. We even have a holiday centered around love - it is almost Valentines Day and it is a day about love. We as a culture are obsessed with love. So my next question for you is this, “What is love?” How would you define the word ‘love’? What does love ‘look like’? How do you recognize love in yourself and in another person? Most of us would answer those questions a little differently - or maybe a lot differently.
The Bible also has a lot to say about ‘love’. The Bible answers all these questions for us - it helps us to understand what love is, it helps us understand the attitudes surrounding love and it helps us to learn what love looks like as it is lived out in our lives. What the Bible tries to do is teach us how as followers of Christ we look at love differently than our popular culture. What the Bible tries to do is teach us this concept of ‘perfect love’ - love that produces relationships, peace, respect and understanding between people. It helps us know what is expected of us as God’s people as we interact with each other in the community of faith, in the community around us and as we live in relationship with God.
The word ‘love’ appears over 600 times in the Old and New Testaments. However - you’ve probably heard this before - the Jews and Greeks had different words for ‘love’. There was no one ‘love’ word like we have - we just have the word ‘love’ and it covers a lot of different connotations. I use the word ‘love’ to describe how I feel about a TV show and about how I feel about my children - and clearly that is not the same emotion! In the Old Testament which was written in Hebrew, there are three different words used at different times. ‘Ahab’ is a Hebrew word that means ‘impulsive love’ or ‘spontaneous love’ - it is that love you have for someone when you don’t really know them but you see them and immediately feel some type of attraction. There is ‘hesed’ which is the type of love a married couple has after being married for many years - called ‘covenant love’ - it is a love that comes from a standing relationship and sometime we find it in the Old Testament as the word ‘lovingkindness’.
Then we have ‘raham’ - which is a compassionate love, a caring love. You see someone hurt or sick and that immediate response of wanting to take them in your arms and make it all OK.
When we jump to the New Testament which was written in Greek we have even different words that are used. These you might be a little more familiar with - We have ‘eros’ which is a romantic type of love - that little flip your heart does when you see the one you love; ‘phileo’ which is brotherly love, companionship, friendship - the love you have for someone you know and care about; and finally ‘agape’ - perfect love, the love God has for his people - the type of love we are to strive for as God’s people. Interestingly enough the word ‘agape’ for love is not used anywhere else in literature except in the Bible.
Now you may say this is all pretty interesting and you aren’t going to remember all this and it is nifty information to know - but practically what do all these strange sounding foreign words have to do with trying to figure out this love thing... And the answer is - the Bible points out all these different views of love because in order to understand the scope of how much and in how many different ways God loves us we need all these different illustrations to get the whole picture of God’s love. In all these ways - a romantic love, a compassionate love, a brotherly love, a covenant love.... and so forth. God loves us in
all these different ways. God loves us with such an all encompassing love that it takes six words to get the whole extent of it.
It is not only words that God uses to explain how he loves us. We have story after story especially in the Old Testament about how much God loves his people. When the Jews assembled the Old Testament and named the books they indicated for us the book that was the ultimate book on love - the book that we often find named “Song of Solomon” in many versions of the Bible is actually called ‘Song of Songs’ - and more modern translations used that title. ‘Song of Songs’ was the original title of the book. That name, ‘Song of Songs’, is the Hebrew way of saying - the best of the best. In other words the Jewish scribes wanted the readers of the Hebrew Scriptures to know that this was the ultimate book of the collection - it was the ‘book of all books’. We don’t hardly ever used it but the Jewish authors of the Hebrew Bible felt that this book was essentially the book that should be read first - this is the ‘best book’. ‘If you want to pick a book to read, this is it!‘ is what the Hebrew writers were trying to convey.
For a Jew it is still an important book - every year during the Shabbat - the worship - during Passover, this book is read in its entirety as part of the Passover worship service. It really doesn’t take too long to read aloud and it is truly a beautiful peace of poetry which talks about the love between a young man and a woman he loves. In this poem are just wonderful images of the love between a man and a woman. It is almost sappy and drippy love - ‘your fragrance is like sweet honey’, ‘your eyes are like a dove’, ‘ you are like a lily of the valley; as delicate as a rose‘ ‘You are as beautiful as an apple tree’. Maybe not the same images we would use but you get the point. On and on these two people express this love toward one another. There is even a portion of the poem where we see that famous scene of two people who love each other running across the field toward one another in slow motion with their arms out until they finally meet in the middle in a hug. That is in that poem - 1000s of years before we ever saw it in a movie!
And the reason the Jews think that this love poem is so important is that this is to give us a picture of how God loves us. It says to us - remember that time in your life when you were head over heels in love with someone - those times when you would look at someone and your heart would do a little flutter, where everything about that person was just perfect and they could do no wrong. They could be totally incompetent and homely as all get out, but to you they were the most beautiful thing in the whole world. We remember that - Song of Songs says - that is how God loves you. Think about it - have you ever considered that God loves you in this way. That God’s heart does a little flutter when he sees you, that he looks at you with that same perfection and that same way of overlooking all your faults. That to God you are as beautiful as an apple true and your fragrance is like sweet honey; your eyes are like doves..... That is how God loves each and every one of you. What the Song of Songs does is help us understand when we hear - “God loves you” - now we have a picture of what that looks like.
While the Old Testament spends most of its time teaching us about how God loves us, the New Testament is much more concerned about how God’s loving us compels us to love others. And we learn very quickly that it is not easy. Love your enemies was the thrust of the passage that we read this morning - how easy is that? Love those who strike you and steal from you and persecute you; love those who borrow from you and don’t return what they borrowed, just let them have it; if someone asks something of you - give it to them regardless of what it is. Jesus tells us to wear a Tshirt that says “It doesn’t matter what you do to me, I’m going to love you anyway.” And worse of all, the Apostle Paul in that great description of love in I Corinthians 13 tells us that love has to be patient - patient? It might be easier to love enemies that to love patiently.
A couple things - this is not an all inclusive list. We are not to memorize the things Jesus said and the list Paul gave us and carry it around with us like a little checklist of how we act around other people - what both Jesus and Paul are trying to get us to see that as God’s people, we are to be different that everyone else. Jesus says, ‘anyone can love their friends, but it takes someone special to love their enemies - and that special person is you.’ Show people that living as God’s people makes you different - and this is the best way to do it. It is not a checklist but an attitude towards others.
But there is one more important point - and that is this - none of this is possible for us to do - we can never achieve this ‘different’ attitude, this ‘different’ way of treating people - we can never love our enemies until we truly believe that God loves us; that God loves us just as we are. That God loves us with our warts and our faults and our failures - God loves us like star crossed lovers running across an expanse of waving daisies with open arms. You have to believe that with your whole heart. Not because the Bible tells you to do it, not because I’m telling you to believe it - but because it is true. God loves you just as you are right now.
When that happens - when you finally put aside all these reasons God can’t love you, when you put aside all these things you think you have to do before God can love you, when you finally buy into the fact that God loves you regardless and there is nothing you have to do, then you will not only begin to be able to love your enemies and do all those things Jesus asks you to do - but you will also be able to love yourself.