I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. John 13:34 (N.R.S.V.)
How many times a day do you say,
I love you? I've done a little
research on this and have determined that people can be divided into
various categories. Some say,
I love you many times. When one
partner goes into another room, he or she says,
Honey, I'm going
into the other room; I love you. I think this behavior is based on
the theory that during the separation one of them might have a heart
attack and die. It's nice to know that the last words uttered were,
I love you. Other couples virtually never say,
I love you to
one another. They think it's unnecessary, redundant. They said,
love you when they were married, and that should cover it.
Whether spoken often or seldom, we might ask,
What is being
conveyed when we say, This is not an easy
question to answer. Sometimes it is held that love is basically a
feeling. When love is understood primarily as a feeling, one will
frequently hear the following complaint from a spouse:
I love you?
you, but I'm not in love with you. If I'm not in love with you, I
need to fall in love with you all over again. Falling in love is
thought to be something that happens involuntarily, like one might
fall into a ditch. The absence of the feeling of love is felt by
some to be such a severe problem that it is sufficient reason for
separation and divorce.
I've also been doing informal research on greeting cards. I have
discovered that there are several themes that are prominent in cards
of love. One of the themes is,
dependence. A card will read
I would be nothing without you. I wouldn't want to
live my life if it weren't for you. As a matter of fact, if it
weren't for you, I would immediately go to the nearest bridge and
jump off. Why would someone want to send a card like that?
There's another theme in these cards: the idealizing of the
You are the greatest person since Jesus Christ.
Sentimentalizing is also a frequent theme. Sometimes two or three of
these motifs appear on a single card. I go through some of these
cards and ask myself,
Who buys this stuff? Dependence, idealizing,
and sentimentalizing are sometimes thought to be
It might be good to come out with a new line of cards. A
card might say something like,
Dear One I Love: You really make me
mad – quite often. Sometimes I'd actually like to slug you.
However, despite the tension between us and despite the hostility I
sometimes feel toward you, I really value your integrity and love –
and so on and so forth. We could call these the
The Greeks had different words for specific kinds of love. When
they were talking about the love of physical desire, they would use
eros. They would employ the word
phileo to speak of the love of friendship, hence our
City of Brotherly Love.
Just as I have loved you, you also should love one
another. If one wants to speak of love from a Christian
perspective, one looks to the life of Jesus. Sometimes young people
have wrist bands with
W W J D. These initials stand
What would Jesus do? These words remind the young person to
live his or her life in accordance with the life of Christ. The
word for love used in the passage we are considering is
is self-giving love.
Here are two characteristics of the love shown by
Christ. First, to love as Christ loved is to sacrifice for the
other. The word
sacrifice has fallen on hard times.
interested in sacrifice. That's just a way to oppress me. I'm
interested in self-fulfillment. Jesus did not go to the cross
I'm going to the cross, and it's going to give me a great
sense of self-fulfillment. I wish there were some way of
tabulating how many hearts have been pierced, how many lives ruined,
and how many families destroyed because someone was on a determined
quest for self-fulfillment. The goal of self-fulfillment is a goal
for a society no larger than one. As soon as a group is formed – a
family, a church – sacrifice is inevitable, and sacrifice cannot
always be equally shared.
Love as I have loved you involves
commitment. Jesus was committed to his disciples even though he
often felt pain because of the disciples' behavior and
ignorance. Many times relationships are sustained on the basis of
sheer commitment. Maintaining commitment should never be done out of
weakness or fear or because somebody is intimidated. It is a freely
chosen path. Love as commitment in a marriage persists even in the
absence of warm feelings of love. The test of love between people is
their relationship when romance is gone. It is a commitment to
regain something of the emotional closeness that may have been
lost. This feeling of warm emotional intimacy can almost always be
recovered in a marriage if both partners are strongly committed to
The question becomes,
Where do we receive the strength to
love as Christ loved? Jesus said,
Love as I have loved you.
Christ not only gives us the model of love; he brought us this
love. Christ has sacrificed for us; Christ was profoundly committed
to us. We are embraced by the same kind of love that God calls us to
show to others. We are given the strength to exhibit sacrifice and
commitment precisely because these qualities have been extended to
us in Jesus Christ.
Love in all its forms has its place. There is a place for feelings of love – even sometimes dependence, idealization, and sentimentality. There is an important place for the love of physical desire and the love of friendship. However, the love about which Christ spoke is the love of self-sacrifice and commitment. As Christians we are called to undergird love in its various manifestations with this self-giving, sacrificing, and committed love. May we both receive and give this love. Amen.
The above is based on a sermon given by Carl Bickel on May 10, 1998.
© 1998 Carl O. Bickel