The foundational virtue or character quality of the Bible has to be love.  Love for God and neighbour weaves through the entire fabric of scripture.  It determines the rhythms and habits of Christian life.  It undergirds the structures and practices of Christian community.  Christianity is all about love.  Our worship and our mission is all for love.

Where does the powerful phrase “All for Love” come from?  A quick google search turns up the 1993 power ballad which was the theme song for the 1993 movie The Three Musketeers. “All for Love” is sung by three gravelly voiced old rockers: Bryan Adams, Rod Stewart and Sting. The song became their number one hit.  The chorus of the song goes like this.

Let's make it all for one and all for love. Let the one you hold be the one you want, the one you need, 'cause when it's all for one it's one for all. When there's someone that should know then just let your feelings show and make it all for one and all for love.

You can read the words of this song in three ways: promiscuously, or redemptively as a song about the covenant bond of marriage, or as a song about covenant friendship between brothers and sister.  A number of times the authors of scripture redeem corrupted and even promiscuous language from the cultures of the world to communicate spiritual truth. Paul did so with metaphors from Greek athletics.  In exhorting us to “run the race with patience” he is using language borrowed from the practices of the Greek “gymnasium” which the Jews disdained and rejected. Similarly, the prophet Hosea in the Old Testament uses a word picture taken from the broken sexuality of the Canaanite people.  For the first time in scripture, he describes the relationship between God and his people as a marriage relationship between a man and a woman. That metaphor was first used by the Canaanites.

In a similar way, we can read the song “All for Love” redemptively as covenantal language about relationships between marriage partners and friends.  We can even read it as a word picture about our covenantal relationship with God.  All for one – we can give all we have to Jesus, the darkness and the light, the good and the bad.  One for all – he gave his all for us on the cross at Calvary, and he did it all for love because God is love.  He call us into that same type of covenantal relationship of loving God and loving people sacrificially, whatever it takes. It is that type of love that breaks through our limitations to change lives forever.

A New Song of Love

Where do we find that kind of love language in scripture? The first letter of John is a good place to start.  It is the love song or love letter of the New Testament.  This short letter talks about the love of God, and love for one another more than any other Second Testament book.  As Tom Wright notes, the letters of John are not logical arguments that cover point A, B and C in sequence to support a conclusion.   John’s letters have to be read differently to Paul’s letters.  John writes more like a composer.  His letters are more like songs which repeat a chorus again and again, but along the way the verses introduce different motifs that give added depth and meaning to the main chorus.

The Repeated Chorus of Love

God’s love revealed in Jesus and lived out in his people is the chorus of 1 John.  As the letter builds, we are introduced to various important themes like fellowship (Chapter One), darkness and light (Chapter One and Two), and love and hate (Chapter Three).  These all help us understand the main theme of God’s kind of love in greater depth. For example, Chapters One to Three highlight some of the negative forces that destroy that kind of love in Christian community.  In these chapters, we also discover ways we can counteract these negative forces such as walking in the light, confessing our faults, keeping God’s words, and abiding in Christ. Then in Chapter Four, the song repeats its chorus in a powerful crescendo where love is mentioned no less than 15 times in five verses.  Here the emphasis moves from an inward focus on love for others and the forces that destroy that love, to an upward focus on the ultimate source of love who is God.  The passage clearly points to the ultimate expression of love that God provided when he sent Jesus to die for our sins.  It is an awesome Easter passage that reminds us of God’s gift and how he gave all for love.

In, Up and Out: Thematic Studies of Love Starting in 1 John

Over the month of April and early May, our preaching series has focused on different messages relating to this theme “All for Love.”  Underlying the series, there is an IN, UP and OUT rhythm. It is the underlying rhythm of the scriptures we are reading and the topics we are covering.  Leading up to Easter, the first two weekends have had an IN focus: love in our personal relationships and love within the church community.  Easter weekend has had an UP focus: the Love of God.  The series finishes with World Impact Week, which has an OUT focus on love for our neighbour near and far.

During the first three weekends, the key scriptures come sequentially from the first letter of John – the letter focuses on our inward relationship within the church community and our upward relationships with God and Jesus.  John is speaking to a church going through a difficult time, and thus his focus is inward and upward.  However, in other parts of scripture the theme of love echoes and resonates outward to emphasize love for our neighbour and even love for our enemies. During World Impact Week we extend the “All for Love” theme to an emphasis on “Love Breaking Through.”  The focus shifts towards scriptures that emphasis the outward aspects of love.  So we look at the parable of the Good Samaritan (love your neighbour) and how love breaks through limits such as fear to empower mission.

Five Discussion Studies on Love 

Here is a quick overview of the topics we have been covering week by week with some key bible passages and questions for discussion.  Any one of these (or all of them!) could be a great topic for a Life Group Discussion during the coming weeks.

1. A New Commandment.  1 John 2:7-11. This passage has an inward focus principally on the individual and their personal relationships.  The passage draws on the contrasting metaphors of light and darkness from the previous chapter. At the same time, it introduces the parallel motif of love and hate.  The passage highlights how hate destroys love in Christian community.  It also builds on the practices outlined in Chapter One of walking in the light and confessing our faults to each other. These restorative relational practices of walking in the light and confessing our faults counteract the negative forces of hate and untruth.  Questions to discuss could include: 
• What does it mean to walk in the light?  
• Why is walking in truth such an important quality of love?  
• How can we practically love our brothers and sisters with honesty and transparency?

2. Love One Another. 1 John 3:11-18. This passage also has an inward focus, but this time on the faith community.  The primary image is life. The contrasting image is death. The passage refers back to the foundational story in Genesis of Cain and Abel. The destructive impact of violence in all its forms including our use of words could be discussed in this study. The primary exhortation in the passage is to love one another. The passage is a great way to talk about the importance of healthy relationships in our life groups and church community. Questions to discuss could include: 
• How do negative words impact relationships destructively?  
• How can we overcome destructive cycles of violence and negativity to restore healthy loving relationship in our homes and community?  
• How can we love in deed and in truth and speak life rather than death?

3. Love Comes from God. 1 John 4:7-12. In this passage, the focus shifts to the upward dimension. That dimension was there from the very beginning of the letter, but now John highlights the love of God in powerful repetitive language. He uniquely and memorably says “God IS love.”  Thus we discover God is love in his very nature. In a few short verses, John also reminds us of the entire Easter story and how God gave all for love. The purpose of John’s reverberating love chorus is to remind the reader that without God, trying to love people becomes just another rule which we fail to achieve despite our best efforts. We are sinners who need a saviour.  We can only love because he first loved us. Questions to discuss could include: 
• How has the love of God impacted your life?  
• In what ways does God’s example of love challenge and guide our own life? 
• How can we better demonstrate the love of God in our personal relationships with each other?

4. Love Breaks Through. Luke 10:25-37. It is only God’s love that can transcend the dividing walls of race, colour, religion, ideology, gender, culture, language and economic status. It is this limitless love that can change enemies into friends! It is only when we are immersed in this love that we are empowered to pray for those who persecute us, and bless those who curse us.  Disciples of Jesus can only bring transformation and change in peoples’ lives when they channel this love of God as his conduit. Through love for our neighbours, we can demonstrate the power of God’s love in ways that can even transform nations as the Good Samaritan did in the story. Questions to discuss could include: 
• What does the parable of the Good Samaritan say to you personally?  
• How can we as a church live out the parable of the Good Samaritan in our actions and ministry activities?  
• How can we become involved in showing love to our global neighbours?

5. Love Casts Out Fear.  1 John 4:18; 2 Timothy 1:7.  The enemy uses fear to stop God’s people from stepping out and doing exploits for God.  Fear of financial crises means many do not experience the life of generosity.  Others have repeatedly declined God’s call to ministry or missions work because of the fear of the unknown. The fear of man has stopped many from witnessing about Jesus.  The fear of terrorism has stopped many from going overseas on short term mission trips and experiencing what God is doing in the nations.  It is the power of the Holy Spirit and the out-pouring of God’s love that compels us to break those limitations to unlock the gifts within us to bless others.  It is this love of God and his empowering spirit that pushed the disciples from the Upper-room (Acts 2), where they stayed in fear and intimidation.  God’s love compelled them to come out and proclaim the good news and see 3000 people saved. Questions to discuss could include: 
• What are some of the fears we face which limit our effectiveness in God and our capacity to engage in mission? 
• How can we experience freedom from such fears?  
• What are some small steps each of us can take to step over the limitation of fear and become more involved in God’s mission?

So let's make this season all about love.  May His grace, His peace, and His love guard and keep your hearts, minds and spirits though-out this season and into the seasons to come.

All for one, and one for all, and all for love.

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