What is Christian love all about? 1.Cori. 12: 27 – 13.13. Deut. 6:4, at Lev. 19:18, and Mark 12: 30+31.

The ancient Greeks had three words for love: firstly; relating to its expression within a marriage; secondly, to its expression within the wider family; and thirdly, to a general love of people.
 
About two-and-a-half centuries before New Testament times: Hebrew scripture was translated into the Greek language. The translators soon came across a problem: for those scriptures dealt with a form of love, for which they had no word – so, they invented one Agape.
 
They did so, to demonstrate that, within the Hebrew religion, there existed a concept of unconditional love: that went far beyond the emotions alone; and was best, and most consistently, expressed through the will, in action.
 
In due course: the love that Christ taught, lived out, and died for, was exactly what those old translators had in mind, when they coined the new word. Agape love may be touched, coloured by, and, from time, even be directed by, the emotions; but, essentially, it is of the will, in action. It has a special strength: that enables it to stand firm, and not get caught up in, and led astray by, misplaced feelings.
 
The love that God poured out, in Christ: was not an abstract quality; that philosophers and poets may enquire into. Instead, it was the giving of some part of his very own self, into our human situations and needs: to become a part of our nature.
 
For divine love to be fully effective in our lives; it must be continually renewed:  - and for it to be fully shown forth, through our lives; it must be continually shared.
 
It is not a contradiction of terms: to say that, for us, ‘heavenly love’ is very much ‘down to earth’: for it is best expressed, and experienced, through its practical application in daily life.
 
The Lord approaches us with a healthy realism: and expects us to respond to him; and to deal with each other, and ourselves, in the same way. Only then can his love; bestowed for a purpose, be given opportunity for its application and fulfilment.
 
Old Testament history, at Hosea 11:1-9, shows that Ephraim was born in Egypt: during the Hebrews’ years of slavery, in that land. The tribe that became named after him: grew to considerable size.
 
When the ancient Jews were on their way to the ‘Promised Land’: the tribe of Ephraim could have used its size and influence to good purpose, during the journey – but it did not.
Instead, it’s worship of false gods: and undertaking evil practices, eventually led to the Hebrew nation being split into two kingdoms.
 
How did God react? He could have destroyed Ephraim, but he did not do so. Hosea 11 ends with the Lord saying: ‘I cannot destroy you: my love toward you, and my compassion for you, is too strong.
 
‘I am God; not man: therefore, I will do things my way; not yours. I, the Holy One, will remain among you’.
 
This Old Testament passage, from about 700 years before New Testament times: marks the beginning of the important and ongoing understanding, that divine love is very personal, with close relationship at its heart.
 
The New Testament illustrates the continuing development of God’s love, in relation to mankind’s struggles and needs: leading on to love’s fulfilment, in the giving of Christ to the world. In so doing, the New Testament also highlights the great cost entailed.
 
At their highest, all forms of love are costly: and agape love most of all.
 
Within lovingly expressive human relationships: difficulties seldom arise out of matters of principle; and mostly come about through a failure to recognize the care, attention and cost involved in maintaining such relationships.
 
Agape love involves particular care, attention and cost: because of its need to stand firm against; and sometimes even to battle against, strong emotions.
 
St. Paul’s famous treatise on Christian love: is often read in warm, emotional and poetic terms.   (1.Cor.12: 27 – 13.13)   I believe that Paul had no such thing in mind: for what he wrote, takes a practical ‘nuts-and-bolts’ approach to a robust quality of life: showing love to be the catalyst that enriches the Christian faith, through making things work.             
                                                                                                             
At Mark 12: 28-34, a lawyer asked Jesus to say which commandment was the most important. He was told that the requirement to love God, completely; and our neighbour, and self, equally completely: was at the top of the list.
 
What is our understanding of these three, great, love-commands?
 
It sounds a matter of fact thing to say that; in confirming their relevance, long ago: Christ also confirmed their ongoing importance to us, in the present. But, it isn’t quite that easy. Those trying to live a Godly life; through loving God, others and self, fully; with no ‘strings’ attached: do their best, and are helped by the Holy Spirit.   (Deut. 6:4, at Lev. 19:18, Mark 12: 30+31).
But: the attitudes of some Christians; cut against Christ’s will in the matter.
 
By attaching a powerful ‘string’ to agape love, and by adding a ‘condition’ to its ‘unconditional’ nature: they do themselves a great disservice.
 
This happens: when they leave themselves out of the 3–part equation – love God, love your neighbour, and love yourself.
 
At Mark 12: Jesus makes it plain that we cannot love our neighbour, in the way that is required of us; if we do not, first, have a proper love for ourselves. But some people find it very difficult to love themselves: fully.
 
Those who love themselves reluctantly, half-heartedly, partially, or even not at all: place themselves outside of Christ’s good intentions for them.
 
In doing so, they not only ‘lose out’, through living unfulfilled lives: they also commit a grave sin against God, Christ and the Holy Spirit. If that sounds over-dramatic: then consider afresh, what was said earlier. 
 
“The love that God poured out, in Christ: was not an abstract quality; that philosophers and poets may enquire into. Instead, it was the giving of some part of his very own self, into our human situations and needs: there to become an ongoing part of our own nature”.
 
If this be true, and I believe it to be so: then, by leaving themselves out of the three-part equation – love God, your neighbour and yourself – such people not only reject God’s acceptance of them; but also reject his desire to enrich and fulfil their lives, through his indwelling presence. That is a sin.
 
Where this comes about, through a lack of proper self-acceptance: the love and care offered by others; can help such people to discover, or to refresh, the joy that comes from ‘counting themselves in’, and being in the place where the Lord wants them to be.
 
By allowing God’s love to fully accept us: we are enabled to fully accept ourselves, as well as each other. Such down-to-earth love enriches our faith. It is never static: but always open to being put to work.
 
The command: to love God, others, and self: is no more than a concept, until it is lived out. As we live it out: our understanding, and experience, of the nature, and strong demands of Agape love, develops and grows.
 
There is a saying: about going that ‘extra mile’. How many ‘extra miles’ have we walked: in living out the love that we profess? 
 
St. Peter must surely have believed that he had walked all the miles that ever there were; for love of Christ: yet he was confronted by him, and asked, three times over; ‘Do you truly love me?’  (John 21:15).
Because Peter accepted Christ’s challenge, then; after each affirmative answer: ‘Lord, you know that I love you’: his future ministries were spelled out to him, and Christ’s ‘follow me’ call was renewed.
 
Does Christ seek to challenge our understanding of our love for him: and to renew his personal ‘follow me’ call, to us?
 
If so, do we answer: ‘Lord; you know that I love you’; and prove it to be so; through following him more closely; and getting on with being, and doing, all that he has called us to be, and to do?      Amen.