“This is my command – love each other.” It sounds so easy, doesn’t it? Those words that Jesus famously spoke to his friends sound uncontroversial and fairly simple, don’t they? But what does love actually look like in practice? How can we show our love for someone else in real life?
- If you are an adult here this morning, how can we demonstrate our love for our family and our friends, for our community, for our country?
- And children, in what ways can you show love to your mum and dad, to your brother or sister, to your wider family and friends?
Twenty years ago an American author called Gary Chapman wrote a book called The Five Love Languages – some of you may have heard of it. It has sold thousands of copies, it spent six years on the New York Times bestseller list, and special editions of the book have been published for married couples, for single people and for children.
As its name suggests, Chapman’s book says there are five basic ways we can show someone we love them. Five ways children can show love to your parents, five ways we can express our affection for a friend – and five ways we husbands can show our love for our wives (So chaps, pay close attention!).
- The first way we can show our love is with our words. We can tell our spouse how much they mean to us, we can tell them what qualities we love most about them. And kids, you can say thank you to your parents and grandparents, for all the good things they give you. ‘Words of affirmation’ is what Gary Chapman calls them.
- The second way we can express our affection for someone is by physical touch. Even us British, with our ‘stiff upper lip’, still often show our love for those closest to us with a kiss, a cuddle, or a hug.
- Love language number three is time – quality time. For example, one way we can show love to our friends and family is by really listening to them – by giving people our full attention rather than gazing at our mobile phone! We signal our love for someone by spending quality time with them.
- Number four in the list of love languages are gifts, or presents. Buying your mother or your wife a bunch of flowers or a box of chocolates on their birthday or on Mother’s Day never goes amiss. It’s a sure fire way to earn brownie points with your wife! And I expect we will all be buying presents this Christmas for those we know and love the most.
- But its love language number five that I really want us to think about this morning. It’s the type of love that we remember today of all days. It’s the type of love that God holds in highest regard. It’s the type of love that God’s Son, Jesus showed supremely during his time on earth.
Because the fifth love language is acts of service. An act of service is when we do something for someone we love. An act of service is when we do something to help our mum or dad, our husband or wife, our family-member or friend. An act of service is doing something for someone else, even at great cost to ourselves. An act of service is an act of self-sacrifice. So kids might do an act of service for their parents by tidying the house when they’d prefer to watch TV – and a husband might sacrifice a round of golf to go shopping for his wife or to play with his children instead!
But in our Bible reading this morning, the supreme act of service is described for us. The ultimate self-sacrifice is defined by God’s Son. Because Jesus says there that there is “no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” There is no greater act of service than to die for someone else. How could there be? To lay down one’s life is to lay down one’s all.
For the next few minutes, I’d like us to think about two supreme examples of such love. Two occasions in history, when people have laid down their lives for others. The first is symbolized by a Poppy. The second occurred at a Cross.
The Poppy – A sign of soldiers’ love
FIFA, the governing body of world football, has had bad press this year hasn’t it? Engulfed by corruption scandals, FIFA’s President Sepp Blatter and other senior figures have been suspended, and its reputation is severely tarnished. The beautiful game has been blemished by Blatter and co.
Now is not the first time that FIFA has received bad press. Because four years ago, back in November 2011, it made the controversial decision to ban the England football team from wearing poppies on their shirts. They were due to play a match at Wembley, and the players wanted to wear embroidered poppies on their kit as a mark of respect for the fallen. There was a huge public outcry, and after pressure from Prince William and the Prime Minister, FIFA wisely reversed its decision.
Because in this country the poppy is powerfully associated with our war dead. Poppies were the only flowers that survived and thrived in the battlefields of World War 1, and we continue to wear them on Remembrance Day to express our thanks to those men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice for us. It’s a way we can show our appreciation to those soldiers, sailors and airmen who laid down their lives in two world wars – as well many other conflicts before and since.
Out of love for Queen and Country, out of love for their families, friends and fellow citizens, these brave men and women gave up everything. They laid down their lives so others could enjoy freedom, peace and prosperity. Three things we still benefit from today. Our poppies are a small sign of our appreciation of their service – one poignant reminder to us of their supreme sacrifice.
The Cross – A sign of God’s love
“Greater love has no man, than to lay down his life for his friends” When Jesus spoke those words he was within hours of doing just that. He had just eaten his Last Supper with his companions and was about to be arrested, tried and executed by the authorities. He was on the very cusp of dying on a Cross.
Its very easy to see Jesus’ death as a tragic accident, as a premature conclusion to a perfect life. But Jesus didn’t see it that way. Jesus looked to the Cross as the hour for which he had been born. As the climax of what he had come to achieve on Earth. Jesus let himself be arrested, falsely accused and crucified because he knew it was the only way he could rescue the people that he loved. It was the only way God’s Son could save a people he adores – including you and me.
You see, none of us loves our God or our neighbour as we should. If our lives were one long string of love languages there would be no problem with the world. If we only ever gave out words of appreciation, acts of service and quality time we would have no guilt before God, and there would be no conflict between neighbours or between nations.
But we don’t live like that, do we? We all sometimes say and do things that hurt and harm others. We all fall well short of Gary Chapman’s standards, let alone those of our good and perfect God. And so we need saving from God’s justified anger at our selfishness. We need rescuing from God’s rightful hostility to our lack of love.
And that’s why Jesus laid down his life for us. He loved us so much he was willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for our forgiveness. Because as he died on the Cross, Jesus paid the full penalty for our lack of love and took away our guilt before God. He made it possible for us to become God’s forgiven friends forever.
Three days later, of course, Jesus rose from the grave. His resurrection was proof that his rescue mission was complete. Proof that peace with God is really is on offer through faith in him.
At the eleventh hour on the eleventh day of the eleventh month, we remember the cessation of hostilities at the end of World War 1. But at the Cross Jesus achieved a cessation of hostilities between God and humankind. No wonder the Bible calls him our ‘Prince of Peace’.