If we were to imagine what love language best characterizes God, it would have to include self-sacrifice: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). But God doesn’t just offer Himself up in self-sacrifice for His friends. His substitutionary (=instead of another) death reaches out to the entire world. John makes a point to say, “He is the propitiation [=taking the punishment for our sin, i.e., death, upon Himself], and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2). He died for you and for me (people from all walks of life, every culture, nation, language and people) and by his death on a Roman cross, we get to live. The apostle John masterfully brings these ideas together when he writes about Jesus: “Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). In fact, “God so loved the world, that he gave his only son, so that whoever believes in him, shall not die, but have eternal life (John 3:16). The reach of God’s self-sacrificial love is universal. God’s love language is for real and it isn’t cheap.
Unfortunately, just like your classmate in high school who never reciprocated your hopeless devotion, God’s universal appeal of love is rejected by those who don’t see Jesus for who He really is: God Himself. God loves the World but the World doesn’t love Him back. Jesus, in his discourse to the disciples in John 15:18-25 puts it in very blunt terms: hatred. “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you” (John 15:18) In other words, if you follow Jesus, many will ‘unfollow’ you. This is the cost of discipleship.
Here in Metro-west, proclaiming the Name of Jesus as the only way to God (John 10:30) and equating the name of Jesus with God may cost some unfollows on social media, or a loss of friendship, or, worse yet, a shrug of indifference, but the rejection will be real (John 15:23). In other parts of the world, it may cost a little more (see below).
So what is to be the reaction to being rejected? God never tells us: hate the world in return. He never calls for retreat and isolation from those who have unfollowed us. But he does say, “don’t love the world” (1 John 2:15). In other words, don’t try to force your devotion upon someone who doesn’t love you back. This love/devotion is only reserved for your one true love, the Lord Jesus. If you believe in the name of Jesus, that He came to save us from our sins and from death, we will no cozying up to the world. We will love the world in displaying self-sacrificial love, but we will have our eyes wide open to the fact that it will not always (or often) be reciprocated.
To love the world is framed in ironic terms in 1 John 2:17. In today’s language, Why love something that is so out of style? Why cling to last summer’s fashion, last fall’s iphone, or last year’s model car? The love for the world for us can be reflected in this unhealthy passion to seek the latest and brightest. John precisely points out this craze for the latest and brightest (even if it’s ‘vintage’) is already obsolete in contrast to “doing the will of God” which never, ever goes out of style (“abiding in Him forever.” You want to be passé? Pursue the latest thrill the world has to offer. You want to be cool, pursue the will of God.
This healthy detachment is the catalyst to true fruit bearing. The church in Iran 40 years ago only had some 500 Muslim converts to Christianity. Today estimates vary from 300,000 to one million! How to explain the growth? This is truly an example of revival, and as is often the case, the push back is severe. Followers of Jesus, who declare that Jesus is God, know that to cozy up to an Islamic theocracy would not see their love reciprocated.
Reflection for the week.
My good friend Bill Kerr once told me this chilling story. Someone in an apartment in New York City owned an anaconda snake as a pet. As the snake grew up, he began to be more ‘affectionate’ and started snuggling up to the owner. Intrigued, the owner asked the vet what that meant, to which, the vet told him to get rid of the snake immediately. Why? The anaconda was taking time to ‘size up’ his next meal. What a powerful and scary picture of what it means to cozy up to the world. Why love something that will never love you back?