This is the second post from my Advent thoughts this week on love. Rather than thinking about power, this story begins as I sat in Greek class as a college freshman. We were translating John 3:16, that old standby. And the Professor said something that distracted me for the rest of class. He said “ουτως.” You see, every English translation of that famous verse I had heard growing up said, “For God so loved the world that he gave us his son…”
And, thanks to all of my very enthusiastic Sunday School teachers (that’s a sincere compliment), I had always interpreted that “so” to mean “THIS MUCH (with arms held out wide).” He didn’t just love you a little bit. He loved you SO MUCH that he gave his son.
But that’s not what the Greek says. It says God loved the world ουτως or “in this way.” In other words, there are not two kinds of love, according to the Incarnation. You cannot say “I love you but not enough to sacrifice myself for you,” which is what my old reading of John 3:16 would have implied. No, love, in John 3:16 is defined by sacrifice. This is the way God loved us, by giving up his only son.
I spent the rest of that class looking up passages on love in the New Testament and was amazed at how many times the writers follow this same pattern that we see in the Incarnation:
25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her… (Eph 5:25)
16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. (1 John 3:16)
20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Gal 2:20)
2 walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Eph 5:2)
16 For God loved the world in this way: he gave his one and only Son… (John 3:16a)
This leads to my second conclusion:
Love Necessarily Includes “Giving Up”: For those who have (power, status, money, safety, security, divinity), love necessarily includes “giving up” that advantage to be “with” those whom you love (see esp. Paul’s famous passage in Phil 2). The Incarnation says that love is “being with.” But “being with” almost always involves sacrifice of some sort, some giving up, whether that is our time, our space, our advantage, our comfort, our fear of embarrassment, etc.
This forces me to ask the tough question: have I sacrificed myself lately for the people I say I love? If not, the Christmas story calls me above such hypocrisy. It is not the words “I love you” that embody love, nor is it that positive feeling that embodies love. If it were, God could have saved himself of the trouble and just loved us in some abstract or emotional way. Rather, love is embodied in the action of giving up on behalf of…
“Love in Him was pure action. There was no moment, not a single one in His life, when love in Him was merely the inactivity of feeling…or a mood, which is self-satisfying, dwelling on itself with no task to perform. No, His love was pure action”
-S. Kierkegaard, Works of Love, 106