Have you heard of an “Ear Worm”?  –  It’s a song or tune that goes round and round in your head that you can’t seem to get rid of. Well this song “Love Changes Everything” sung by Michael Ball and from the Andre Lloyd Webber musical ‘Aspects of Love’ has been going round and round in my head for the past two weeks.

(Listen to the video and music)  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OkF2reI4U58

So I really felt this had to be the title of my talk this evening:

‘Love Changes Everything’

The Bible has quite a lot to say about LOVE. However one passage is particularly well known, as it is read out at many wedding services.

1 Corinthians 13

It was read when Anne and I were married; it was also read at both our daughter and sons weddings.

Because we are so familiar with this passage, it is very easy to just gloss over it.

It is however a passage believers need to both study carefully and take very seriously. If you look at the context within which Paul writes this chapter, it will take on a whole new meaning for you.

The previous chapter, (Chapter 12), is all about seeking the Spiritual gifts, particularly speaking in tongues and prophesy. Then suddenly, in the very last verse of Chapter 12, Paul says “But now I will show you the best way of all” and then launches into this amazing chapter on Love. Then just as quickly goes back to speaking about the Spiritual gifts again in Chapter 14.

So here we have this wonderful Chapter 13 all about love sandwiched between two chapters urging us to seek the Spiritual gifts.

We need to take this seriously and try and grasp exactly what Paul is trying to convey to us here in 1 Corinthians 13 below.

“I may speak in the tongues of men, even angels;
but if I lack love, I have become merely
blaring brass or a cymbal clanging.

I may have the gift of prophecy,
I may fathom all mysteries, know all things,
have all faith — enough to move mountains;
but if I lack love, I am nothing.

I may give away everything that I own,
I may even hand over my body to be burned;
but if I lack love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient and kind, not jealous, not boastful,
not proud, rude or selfish, not easily angered,
and it keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not gloat over other people’s sins
but takes its delight in the truth.
Love always bears up, always trusts,
always hopes, always endures.

Love never ends; but prophecies will pass,
tongues will cease, knowledge will pass.
For our knowledge is partial, and our prophecy partial;
10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass.

11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child,
thought like a child, argued like a child;
now that I have become a man,
I have finished with childish ways.

12 For now we see obscurely in a mirror,
but then it will be face to face.
Now I know partly; then I will know fully,
just as God has fully known me.

13 But for now, three things last —
trust, hope, love;
and the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13

The word “LOVE” is often misused. And can be used in very flippant terms.

What do we mean when we use this small but very important word “LOVE”?

I find it a very confusing word.

  • Is it something we can give and take away as we please?
  • Do we all mean the same thing when we tell someone we love them?
  • Is the love we talk about the same as the love Jesus talked about?

The New Testament of the Bible was written in ancient Greek, a rich language that has seven words to describe different aspects of love.

  • Eros: Love of the body. Eros was the Greek God of love and sexual desire. …
  • Philia: Love of the mind. …
  • Ludus: Playful love. …
  • Pragma: Longstanding love. …
  • Agape: Love of the soul. …
  • Philautia: Love of the self. …
  • Storge: Love of the child.

The English language just has the one!

If we want to describe the type of love we mean, we have to place it in a sentence. “I love you like —“

These seven Greek words can be filtered down to four words that describe four different types of love.  

The first word is Eros – it’s the word from which we get our English word “erotic.” It describes the love of attraction between two people. As import as this relationship is in marriage, it is not the love we see in 1 Corinthians 13.

The second is Storge – It refers to family love, the kind of love there is between a parent and child or between family members in general.

It is the word most often used when referring to the love parents have for their children, and as tender as such love is, it is not the love described in 1 Corinthians 13.

The third word for love is Philia – It speaks of a brotherly friendship and affection. It is the love of deep friendship and partnership. It might be described as the highest love of which man, without God’s help, is capable of. And as deep as that love might be, it is still not the love described in 1 Corinthians 13.

The fourth word for love is Agape. This is the love we read about in 1 Corinthians, it is the Love Jesus displayed for us, when He died on the cross.

It is a love that loves without changing. It is a self-giving love that gives without demanding or expecting re-payment. It is love so great that it can be given to the unlovable or unappealing.

It is love that loves even when it is rejected. Agape love gives and loves because it wants to; it does not demand or expect repayment from the love given. It gives because it loves, it does not love in order to receive. Agape love knows no limits; it sets no boundaries.

When we love Agape style, we always look out for the wellbeing of those we love, placing their interests before our own.

When we refer to God’s love this is the type of love we are talking about.

Is it easy – No.

However all things are possible with God’s help.

“I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” Philippians 4:13

Love is a word that is often used selfishly. A wife or a husband can promise to love each other until death, using “love” to refer to a lifelong commitment, a decision to pour one’s life into a specific relationship. However the same husband or wife might have an affair, and then claim to “love” this new person in their life.

In order to make sense out of this contradictory behaviour, the one having the affair may claim to have “fallen out of Love” with the wife or husband they originally promised to love forever, and have “fallen in love” with someone else. They fall out of love and into love.

The language of victimisation helps sooth any nagging guilt (“It’s not my fault – I can’t help it if I fall in love”). And that person undoes the commitment of love they made to their wife or husband in order to pursue “love” with their new interest. In other words, the person having the affair creates and recreates a fluid definition of love that serves their own selfish, self-centred agenda.

We see this type of behaviour almost celebrated in the media, particularly in many gossip magazines and chat shows. Especially when well known celebrities or film stars are involved.

Here is just one recent example, and there are hundreds to choose from!

Angelina Jolie

Angelina Jolie met her first husband, Jonny Lee Miller, on set while filming the movie Hackers. They were together from 1996 to 1999.

Jolie then met Billy Bob Thornton while filming Pushing Tin. The two of were married from 2000 to 2003 and famously wore vials of one another’s blood around their neck.

Jolie met her third husband Brad Pitt while filming Mr. & Mrs. Smith in 2005. The two were married from 2014 to 2016.

8 years of marriage – six children – (three adopted)!

When you begin exploring this idea that ‘Love Changes Everything’, you often come across it expressed this way:

                ‘God’s Love Changes Everything’

Of course ‘God is Love’, we read that here in 1 John 4

7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. By this the love of God was manifestedin us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. 

10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us. 13 By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit.” 1 John 4:7 – 13

There is no doubt that when we read this passage we see that ‘God is Love’, and that God’s love certainly does change everything in a believers life. However I think there is a danger in thinking only in terms of – “God’s Love Changes Everything”.

It can lead to a subconscious thinking that it’s ‘God’s job’, He changes everything.

Let’s look at the passage again:

7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him.

10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins11 Beloved, if God so loved uswe also ought to love one another. 12 No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us13 By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit.” 1 John 4:7 – 13

Yes, the passage does confirm ‘God is love’. However this passage is as much about us as it is about God, there is a partnership here and we have a very big part to play.

As we so often teach here at River Fellowship, God has chosen to partner with us. He has chosen to change us and fill us with his love so that we can demonstrate that love; live that love here in earth right now.

God’s love, will, and does change everything. However He wants us to be actively involved. We have a responsibility to demonstrate and live out that love every day.

  • How do we do that?
  • What does ‘God’s love’ look like?
  • Where do we begin?

Before I set about addressing these and many other questions, let’s take a little moment to look back into the Bible to see how we get to the point where the apostle John wrote this passage in 1 John.

In Jesus’ day, the Jewish Scriptures were called the Torah, meaning “teaching” or “Law”. Jesus definitely treated the Torah as God’s Word, but not God’s final Word. Instead, Jesus acted as if his own teaching, and even his very life was God’s ultimate message to humanity. Matthew 5:17 Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfil.

Jesus did not write, or dictate a book, he was the word itself.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” 1 John 1:1-5

A word is a finite unit of communication. According to John, the Word of God is not just a book that God decided to write one day, but the heart of his relational essence. God’s “Word” (Jesus), represents God’s heart imparted to us see John1:17-18  For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.

This is the central message God wants us to receive: the message of Love. The Word of God is more than a book of dos and don’ts, woulds and shoulds, stories and threats designed to keep us in line. God’s “Word” to humankind is God himself.

But how does he reveal himself? John goes on to explain:

John 1:14 “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the father, full of grace and truth”.

And the Word became flesh.

Down through the centuries God tried to communicate and keep his people on the right track through the written law, (the Torah), through the prophets and Kings.

As we have just read in John1:17-18   For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ. 

But something changed – Jesus came on the scene.

The life of Jesus functions as God’s illustration of everything he has been saying to humanity throughout history.

It is as though God paused from teaching the world lessons and said, “Here’s what I mean – watch this?” When we look at Jesus, we are seeing what all the biblical teaching should look like when lived out the way God intended.

We actually find these words in Hebrews 1:1-2

God’s Final Word in His Son

“God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.” Hebrews 1:1-2

Jesus is God’s ultimate self-disclosure. His entire life, then, is God’s “Word” to us. Everything about Jesus, everything he does as well as says, is God’s Word to us. Jesus is not just the Word of God becoming more words, but the Word of God becoming flesh for all to see.

The Qur’an calls Christians, like Jews, “People of the Book”. Many Christians would agree with that label, but it is born out of a misunderstanding. Christ-followers are not actually people of the book, but people of the Person. We follow Jesus, not a book that Jesus wrote.

Which is quite unique in the main religions of the world.

Judaism and Islam, through Moses and Mohammad were receivers of revelation, God is not revealed in them as persons, but in the word of the Torah and Qur’an. So it is in Buddhism: the Buddha as a person is not the revelation of God; rather, the Buddha’s teachings disclose the path to an enlightenment and compassion.

However, Christianity finds the main revelation of God in a person.

“Follow me”, “Trust me”. “I am the truth”, says Jesus.

The Bible is like a treasure map that points the way to Jesus. But often Christians can treat the map as though it is the treasure itself, and when we do this, we miss the treasure completely.

This may sound to you like I am saying we should follow Jesus and not the Bible!! You may be thinking, “Don’t I have to read the Bible to learn about Jesus?” Of course this is true. And this is my point: If following Jesus is your goal, it will radically change how we read, interpret, and apply the Bible.

Christ-followers value the Bible. Its value comes from the treasure it points us toward. Jesus taught that the purpose of the Torah, (the Hebrew Scriptures), the Bible of his day, were as a pointer to Christ himself. We can find this in the following two passages:

“Then Jesus began to explain everything that had been written about himself in the Scriptures. He started with Moses, and then he talked about what all the prophets had said about him.” Luke 24:27

“Then he said, “When I was with you before, I told you that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and in the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. 46 And he said, “Yes, it was written long ago that the Messiah would suffer and die and rise from the dead on the third day.” Luke 24:44-46

Jesus claims that the Bible has always pointed to him, and especially to his crucifixion as the centre of his mission. The cross is the X on the treasure map.

Unfortunately some very religious people often confuse the treasure map with the treasure. To these people Jesus says,

“You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me! 40 Yet you refuse to come to me to receive this life.” John 5:39-40

Love instead of Law

John1:17-18   For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ. 

This very short passage represents the biggest change in all of human history.

When Jesus came into the world God changed how he dealt with humanity. We go from living under God’s law to living under grace.

We go from Law to Love

When Anne and I were married, we promised to love, honour, and cherish each other for the rest of our lives. Our orientation was toward each other, so we did not have to make a contract with detailed rules about what that loving relationship would look like. We did not need a rule that spelled out “If one party of the marriage is going to be late for home for a meal, he/she must phone the other party within a reasonable amount of time”. And yet, if one of us was subsequently late for a meal, we would know to call the other, simply because it is the other-centred thing to do.

Our relational orientation is towards each other. This is very different from say, a business contract where each party is essentially orientated away from the other since personal gain is usually the main motivation in such a transaction. In business, you need fine print. In marriage, the fine print will kill the relationship.

Knowing this difference is crucial. When there is love, there is no need for law, for “love is the fulfilment of the law” Romans 13:10  Love does no wrong to others, so love fulfils the requirements of God’s law.

Unfortunately rule-based relationships encourage minimum morality. As most of you know, I quite enjoy driving. Our current car has a 0-60mph time of 3.46 seconds, which is way faster than most Ferraris!

When I am driving, I am always trying to work out what speed I can get away with. If I am on the motorway where the speed limit is 70mph, I will set my cruise control to around 73-74mph. On the rural roads I try to work out where I might come across a police car and stick to near the speed limit, but will sometimes exceed the limit if I think I can get away with it. (There are things I needed to change about myself! More about that later!).

I have to admit that the focus of my attention here is not on loving other drivers by travelling at a safe and courteous speed, but on the rule of the law and just how far I can bend it.

Law tends to cultivate a what-can-I-get-away-with mentality. This in turn encourages a self centred morality – living a certain way so we don’t have to pay a fine or go to prison. Law is enough to keep society in line, but it is not enough to change the world. 

Romans chapter 7 deals very well with this whole issue. In the final verse of that chapter Paul writes these words: 25 God’s Law has power over my mind, but sin still has power over my sinful old self. I thank God I can be free through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Yes, we need law to govern our society because people do not automatically love as they should. But in truly loving relationships, whether that is marriage, a friendship, or our relationship with God, law is always second best.

I read in interesting article recently that was talking about something Jesus said when giving his ‘Sermon on the Mount’. (Often referred to as ‘The Golden Rule’).

We read in Matthew 7:12  “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets.

Other religious leaders have taught that we should not do things to people that we would not want them to do to us. Jesus is the only one to call us to take the initiative to do to others what we would want them to do to us if we were in their shoes.

This positive, other-centred orientation is love in action.

This is the crux of what I want to explore a little further this evening.

The thinking in society today seems to go along the lines of – ‘As long as your actions are not harmful to others, then you are free to act according to your own desires, whatever they may be’.

This type of thinking seems quite reasonable; however it is not exactly “Loving”. Love is other-centred and action orientated. According to Jesus, it isn’t good enough NOT to do bad, we must look for opportunities to actively do good! We must look for opportunities to express the practical care and loving concern to others that we would want expressed on us.

You will have heard the phrase  – “To go the extra mile”.

The phrase comes from the words Jesus spoke in Matthew 5

Here is the whole passage, which I find rather challenging!

Matthew 5: 40-44  If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. 41 Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. 42 Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you

This is a radical reorientation of morality for many people, religious or not. To put the emphasis of one’s morality on not harming anyone, as many religions do, is like helping people develop morals similar to that of a piece of rock. A rock doesn’t hurt anyone – it just sits there, doing nothing. But we are made to love.

Jesus emphasises his teaching about “Love your neighbour as yourself”, particularly in the well known parable – The Good Samaritan – see Luke 10:25-37

Again, there can be no doubt about what he is saying here in Matthew 22: 37-40  Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ 40 The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”

In this passage, we also see Jesus emphasising the Old Testament laws and teachings are based on these two commandments to love – 40 The entire law and all the demands of the prophets arebased on these two commandments.”

I must say I have always struggled with this particular command to love my neighbour as myself. There are many things I would like to change in me, things I struggle with on a daily basis – (Driving too fast!). That said, I like being me, and I’m comfortable being me.

However, do I love myself? I really don’t think I do! I have often thought about this and I know I am flawed, I know I need to do better at many things, I therefore find the idea of loving myself very difficult.

I don’t think I am alone in my thinking. Unfortunately this type of thought process can lead us down a very dark path. Our thinking goes like this: “I can’t love others well unless I learn to love myself, so I had better first focus on loving myself more”. And so we begin the cycle of self focus, self interest and selfishness. We become inward looking people rather than outward looking people.

It will change your life when you realise Jesus was not teaching us that we need to learn to love ourselves more –Self-love is assumed.

If we are thirsty, we get ourselves something to drink. If we are hungry, we feed ourselves. If we are uncomfortable, we change our position. We naturally think about ourselves all the time. Jesus, assuming self-love as a foundational reality, encourages us to go beyond self-centeredness to other-centeredness.

The strange thing about Love is – That Love is not love until you give it away.

Agape love always gives away, never expecting anything in return.

Agape love is the self sacrificial love of Jesus who left His heavenly throne to die on the cross for us, in the full knowledge that most of the world would reject Him.

It is exactly the love Jesus was referring to when he gave his disciples their one and only commandment, …. To love one another, John 13:34  A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.

We must constantly look for ways to love people, to surprise people with our love, to astound people with our love.

All with the understanding that we expect nothing in return!

Amen