"All You Need Is Love"
1 John 4:7-21
Most of the advice we get about love comes from an odd source. People may check out self-help books about love and loving, but that’s not the main place we find out about what love really is. My guess is, most people find out what love is all about from the songs they listen to.
It used to be that poets and wandering bards were the ones who taught people, by their epic poetry, what true love is. Now, the bards and poets have been replaced by song writers and lyricists. It doesn’t matter if it’s country, pop, rap, or rock-and-roll. All these song writers give us their take on love, what it means to be in love, what happens when love is torn apart, how to find love, the power of love, and on and on. You may listen to it all day, while riding around in your car. Whether you believe what you’re hearing, you are still being bombarded by so-called poetic experts about the subject of love. Their words shape our current day understandings of love, which in my mind, sets us up for constant misery and frustration.
Pop diva, and star of her own Las Vegas stage show, Celine Dion, sang in her hit song, “Have You Ever Been In Love,”:
Have you ever been in love
You could touch the moonlight
When your heart is shooting stars
You’re holding heaven in your arms
Have you ever been so in love.
Have you ever walked on air
Ever felt like you were dreamin’
When you never thought it could
But it will, it feels that good
Have you ever been so in love.
Have you ever said a prayer
And found that it was answered
All my hopes have been restored
And I’m not looking anymore
Have you ever been so in love, have you.
Or, there is the classic Beatles song, from which I took my sermon title for this morning, “All You Need Is Love.” It’s a silly song, totally weak on lyric quality, but somehow became a hit. Part of this agonizingly repetitive song goes:
All you need is love, all you need is love
All you need is love, love, love is all you need.
And then, for all you cynics, who have been hurt by love and don’t think there’s any such thing, there is Tina Turner’s song, “What’s Love Got To Do With It?” The refrain of that song goes:
Oh what’s love got to do, got to do with it
What’s love but a second hand emotion
What’s love got to do, got to do with it
Who needs a heart
When a heart can be broken.
There’s a huge problem with the word love. The problem is the weight of all the meanings that get heaped upon that one word, love. As a kid, I caught a glimpse of the mystery of the many meanings of love. While eating breakfast as a kid, my usual two or three bowls of some super sugary cereal, I might have said something like, “I love Lucky Charms.” Then one of my brothers or sister would shoot back some sarcastic statement like, “Oh yeah; so what are going to do? Marry it?”
So even as kids, we caught a glimpse of an understanding of how many ways we use the word love, and get all those uses mixed up together. Think of how you might use the word love in the course of a day.
“I love that outfit.”
“I love that movie.”
“I love playing basketball.”
“I love that song.”
“I love you.”
“I love that book.”
“I love these cool mornings.”
“I love my grandkids.”
And on and on. We use one word to describe a feeling we have for all kinds of things, people, and situations. The word, love, collapses under the weight of so much usage and meanings. In the dictionary, I counted no less than 18 meanings for the word love. A word with so much meaning, used in so many ways, becomes not full of meaning, but meaningless.
So, my assumption is that most of you sitting here are a little mixed up, if not down right intimidated, by the word love. When you were younger, you may have thought you knew what love meant, and what you meant when you used the word. But now it’s a word awash in sentimentality that you’re not sure of.
And you have changed since you were younger. You are a long history of human experiences. Looking back, you’re not sure now what love is or what was the most loving thing to do in certain situations.
That’s why the words of John in this first letter are so important. John clarifies for us what love is exactly. By telling us what love is, John is at the same time telling us what it is not. John strips the word love from all of its sappy sentiment, all of its cultural baggage.
John is on a mission, making his way into the jungle that has grown up around the singular altar of love. He hacks away all the vines and foliage of meanings that have grown up around the word love. Clearing the word away of all the overgrowth, John brings the word love back to a pristine and pure condition.
John takes the word love, and yanks it out of the world’s control. He brings it back into the realm of God where it belongs, and where love finds its most authentic meaning.
The first thing John states in verse 7 is that “love comes from God.” This statement alone clears away most of the overgrowth and rubbish that has covered over the core of what love is. Most of us say things like, “I love you with all my heart.” Or, “I love you with all that I am.” We, all of us, have made a very basic error by thinking that love, real love, comes from the heart. Comes from within us. Comes from some place deep inside of us.
To think that love is generated from within us is what we have bought into. But not John. If love is a product of the human heart, then it comes from a center that is fickle, that is adulterous, that is full of lies, that is blown about by whim and desire. To think that love is something that comes from deep within us is to acknowledge that that depth is often so shallow. The depth of our love, if it comes from within us is, as C.S. Lewis once put it, more influenced by indigestion and a grizzly bit of beef than by anything else.
All of us know what kind and quality of love we produce when it comes from us. We flux. We flow. Our feelings are up. Then down. We think we love a thing or person so much one day. The next, after a hurtful argument, we wonder what the heck we were thinking. We think that love is, like Celine Dion’s song, a touch of moonlight, shooting stars, or like a dream. Then, another day, what we thought was love becomes a lightless darkness, the stars all fall out of the sky, and the dream is more a nightmare than anything else. A month later, we’re back in the moonlight.
One of the great qualities of authentic love, says John, is its stability. It’s a stability not founded in the human heart, but in the heart of God. It’s the basis of love that we need to get right, says John. If we don’t understand exactly where love comes from, if we get that wrong from the get-go, then we are going to be doomed to a whole lot of pain and misunderstanding in life.
If love comes from God, as John says it does, and if you are experiencing and feeling real love, what you are actually experiencing is a “relationship with God.” It’s the relationship with God that has to come first. John says, “You can’t know love if you don’t know God.” Authentic love is based on an authentic relationship with God. Knowing God is to know love.
The word, “to know,” that is used here in John’s letter, as well as elsewhere in the Bible, means not just knowing about someone or something. I can know about some famous person, a movie star, or political figure. I can read. I can look them up on Wikipedia and find out all about them. But that doesn’t mean I really know them. I have no personal experience with them. That’s what the word, “to know,” means in Greek. It is to have deep and abiding personal experience with another person. It describes having intimate knowledge of another person. It’s not to just know about them, but to really know them.
That’s what John is saying authentic love is all about. It’s not knowing about love. It’s about knowing God—having an intimate relationship with God. It’s knowing God in an ongoing and sustained relationship. It’s wanting to get as close to God as you can.
The fascinating thing is that when you are developing that kind of intimate closeness with God, when you are going deeper and deeper into the heart of God, you are also, at the same time, going deeper and deeper into love. Authentic love.
John goes on to state, “...not that we once upon a time loved God, but that he first loved us ... First we were loved, now we love.” Our love, our best love is a response. God is the initiator of love. Once loved by God we respond to that love with love. That’s how we learn about love. God models it, shows us how, first. We respond by loving God back in the same way God first loved us. And we respond to God by loving others as God first loved us.
There is a Greek legend about the sculptor Pygmalion. According to the legend, Pygmalion was one of the greatest sculptors in all of Greece. His skill at forming women out of stone and ivory brought people from all around the world to witness his sculptures.
Even though he was a master at carving women, he vowed to himself that he would never fall in love. He would never allow his heart to feel love. He would remain single his whole life.
But out of one particular block of pure white ivory, he carved the most beautiful statue of a woman he had ever sculpted. He named her Galatea, a name which means, “she who is milk white.” The more he looked at her, the more he became enamored with her. That infatuation beguiled Pygmalion, and grew into love. It was like the more he loved the statue, the more it glowed. He had fallen in love with his own piece of art—a statue, a thing with no real life of its own.
The more he loved it, the more the capacity to love grew in him. Finally, he asked the gods for a wife that was like Galatea. The gods granted his request, and instead of giving him a wife like Galatea, they made the statue Galatea come to life and become a real woman.
There are many beautiful paintings that have been made depicting the moment in this Greek legend when Galatea came to life and artwork and artist embraced for the first time. It was as if all the love he had heaped upon the statue was somehow received and returned to the artist. He first loved her, and that love brought her to life, and she returned his love.
It’s one of the great legends and love stories. But it’s not as great as the true story of God’s first love for his creation, men and women. Each and every day, God moves about amongst us, looking into each of our eyes, the eyes of his creation, and is more and more in love. That love is heaped upon us, whether we are going through life statue-like or alive.
You can see it in Jesus Christ’s eyes as you read about him in the gospels, walking amongst so many people, now moving amongst us, and upon each person, Jesus looks with so much love. Those who meet Jesus’ eyes, meet God’s eyes. Those who meet God’s eyes, meet love’s eyes. The more we look into God’s eyes of love, the more we love, the more we understand authentic love, the more we want to love, the more we want to give ourselves over to that love—to God himself, who first loved us.