This is the sixty-second lesson in author and pastor Mel Lawrenz’ How to Live the Bible series. If you know someone or a group who would like to follow along on this journey through Scripture, they can get more info and sign up to receive these essays via email here.
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Many countries have a day when they remember people who paid the ultimate sacrifice—dying in war—for the benefit of others. In the United States it is called Memorial Day, and it happens every year at the end of May.
Sacrifice is part of life. Many small sacrifices, some large ones. Jesus set the model of sacrifice leading to life, and described it as the highest form of love.
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:9-13).
Jesus said, “they hated me without reason.” He was neither the first nor the last person to be subjected to senseless rejection and persecution, but because he was the one perfect, sinless one, the hatred played out against him was the vilest the world would ever see. His haters called light darkness, they saw righteousness and called it wickedness. They even called the work of God the deeds of the devil.
We’ve heard of stories of brave sacrifices–a soldier throwing his body on a hand grenade, a firefighter charging into an inferno only to lose his own life. These are stirring, and they show humanity at its best. But Jesus’ sacrifice was not the impulse of a desperate moment. He moved with resolve toward his own end. There is no greater love. We can look through every page of history and every corner of the universe and we won’t find anything that comes even close. Jesus looked at his friends, told them he would be laying down his life, and then required one simple thing: love each other.
The Scottish theologian P.T. Forsyth believed that there are really two overarching attributes of God: holiness and love. Put the pieces together (because God is a whole and complete reality), and you can speak of the “holy love” of God. His holiness is our assurance that he is different from the defilements of this world, and indeed, different from us, which contradicts any religious notion that God or the gods are just amplified versions of human nature. But because God is love he is not separated from us. He is engaged, connected, involved. He is a God at work. Separate but not separated. Discriminating but not discriminatory. Hating evil but loving good. And, out of that love, he was willing to descend into this corrupt world in a great Incarnation and, in the person of Jesus, draw unholy people toward his holiness.
In 1 John 4 we find this clear, bold summary of the issue: “God is love.” It is a way of saying that this attribute is so central to who God is, this act is so essential to who we must be in God, that we can set our focus there and spend a lifetime asking God to help us understand and live in this reality. Who will ever tire of adoring a God who is love?
“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us” (1 John 4:7-12).
Sometimes sacrifice seems too much. Like it doesn’t make sense. But if it is a gift of love, as it was in the case of Jesus and can be for us, it accomplishes much.
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Mel Lawrenz (@MelLawrenz) trains an international network of Christian leaders, ministry pioneers, and thought-leaders. He served as senior pastor of Elmbrook Church in Brookfield, Wisconsin, for ten years and now serves as Elmbrook’s minister at large. He has a PhD in the history of Christian thought and is on the adjunct faculty of Trinity International University. Mel is the author of 18 books, including How to Understand the Bible—A Simple Guide and Spiritual Influence: the Hidden Power Behind Leadership (Zondervan, 2012). See more of Mel’s writing at WordWay.