By Jeff Cloeter
Editor’s note: This article is adapted from Sermon 1 of the Loved & Sent sermons written by Jeff Cloeter to be used with his book Loved & Sent. You can find the sermons and other resources, such as discussion guides, lessons for youth, and lessons for children here.
What is the core of a Christian’s identity? What is our purpose? Why do we speak about what we believe? How do we share our faith in today’s world in a clear, concise, consistent, and compelling way? Those questions are answered in two simple words that define who we are and why we matter: loved and sent. Let’s begin with the first word: loved.
I must be honest. I have always been frustrated by the word love. First, the word love is a cliché, so overused in our culture that it’s empty of meaning. In our culture, it can mean a fuzzy feeling, an emotion. It can mean a romantic sentiment like roller-skating backwards, holding your girlfriend’s hand. You can use the word love to describe how you feel about bacon or how you feel about your mother.
So, what does love mean in the truest sense? How can we know?
One of the great expositions on love in the Bible is found in 1 John 4. John writes, “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:8 ESV). Be careful with the phrase “God is love.” These are dangerous words when taken out of context. By themselves, they can be taken as generic and cliché.
John gets more specific in the next verse: “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him” (1 John 4:9 ESV). John is narrowing his definition. “Love made manifest” means this is how love is shown in real life. By itself, love is just a word or a sentiment—until you actually see it. So, John says, this is what love looks like in real life. Love is only an idea until it is acted upon. So how did God “do” love?
“God sent his only Son.” Love is not a feeling, emotion, or philosophy. Love is choice and action. The fundamental choice and action of love is always selfless. The biblical use of the word love is the giving up of oneself for the sake of another, with absolutely no expectation of anything in return.
The word sent is critical here. To send is to give away. To send is risky, selfless, and perilous. God’s love is proven in the costly mission of Jesus Christ. He deployed his one and only Son to the ghetto of rebel humanity, knowing full well the fatal cost.
Verse 10 takes this even further. “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10 ESV). So, John says, “This is love, not that we have loved God” (emphasis added). In other words, love in its purest form does not originate in us. Not that we are incapable of love, but when talking about love, we must always talk about the first love.
“This is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us” (emphasis added). He loved us! Now we’re at the true definition. God is the originator and ultimate definition of love because he himself is love. He is the fountain and the headwaters.
God loved us and sent Jesus to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Love is ultimately and fully defined in the costly act of Jesus. He suffered death by love. Love is not about heart-shaped chocolates; it’s about cross-shaped wood. It’s not butterflies in the stomach; it’s a selfless resolve deep in Christ’s gut. It’s not the ecstasy of a romantic high; it’s a willingness to put yourself lower than another person. It’s not about feeling good; it’s about feeling pain for someone else’s sake.
God proves his love in self-giving action. In God sending his most precious Son, we see that genuine love is in it for the long haul. It’s persistent. It’s willing to suffer. It requires no payment in return. It asks no questions.
In a world filled with so many fears, we can never hear these words—“I love you”—often enough. You’ve known about God’s love for a long time, but maybe you’ve never heard that you are loved by God. You’ve been called a failure, a sinner, and an idiot. Maybe your self-worth has taken a beating. And maybe you’ve never been called beloved son, or beloved daughter, of the Most High. I am here today to tell you something very simple but profound: You are loved by God. You have value.
You might have trouble believing me. The word love has been thrown around carelessly throughout your life. Hear this: every relationship needs to show proof of love—a kiss, a hug, a gift. God’s proof is death. Death by love. You are loved by God more than you can imagine and sent with more purpose than you’ve ever thought.
Maybe you’ve been betrayed by love and hurt by those closest to you. If so, you have One, who understands you. Jesus was betrayed. For him, love hurt. Love got him killed. But your life was worth the price. Lay down your fears. You are loved by God. Your Lord has no conditions or limits. Precisely when you were unlovable, he loved you.
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