As a young boy one of my earliest memories of church centered on the joyful time of attending Sunday School.
For me it was always fun to see my friends, hear another account from the Bible, and do some sort of craft connected to the lesson from that day. Sometimes we would get prizes for remembering certain points of the lesson or from memorizing Bible verses. The prize box would have an assortment of plastic toys, bookmarks, stickers and buttons. A consistent message inscribed on these prizes was the simple phrase, “God is Love.” After the fun of playing with my new toy would wear out, it often would end up in my toy box. I remember one time, while cleaning out my toy box, that I found all these prizes with the same message, “God is Love.”
As I grew older, I heard this consistent message shared in the churches I attended: “God is Love.” Today, as I read the Bible, the message of God’s love for all His creation leaps off the pages. In the Bible, otherwise known as God’s love letter to humanity, we see an account describing this love. In John 11, Jesus, being fully God and fully man, is engaging with some friends and an emergency request for him. Jesus had spent a lot of time with these friends: Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. Messengers, on behalf of the sisters, sent him word which said, “Lord, the one you love is sick.” (verse 3)
In the English language the word “love” is used generally to describe one’s affection for many things. The word for love used in this account has a specific meaning. Originally written in Greek, in this context the sisters use the word for love called phileo which describes love found in human relationships. It is the type of love we hear about in songs and in relationships. It involves someone extending love and the other one returning love back.
Jesus responds to the sister’s request and tells the messenger that Lazarus will not die as a result of this sickness and God will be glorified in this situation. In verse 5 it says, “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” The word for love used here is different than the sisters’ understanding of how Jesus’ loves. Jesus uses the word for love called agape. Agape love is the not just something that flows from God, it is who He is. It is the core of His being it is His essence.
Jesus is communicating to the sisters that the love of God is not a human relationship type of love based on reciprocation. The love of God is not something He expresses, it is who He is. God’s love is unconditional. It is relentless. It is persistent. This love reaches into all the brokenness of humanity and declares, “There is nothing you can do to escape the love I have for you.” His love never fails and always remains.
It is natural to think God’s love for us is based on the way we love, on our performance, or on our successes; but God’s love is relentless. I heard it once said, “There is nothing you can do to get Him to love you more, or nothing you can do to cause Him to love you less.” God is Love. He invites humanity to respond to His love and be in relationship with Him.
1 John 4:10 sums up God’s idea of love, “Here is what love is. It is not that we loved God. It is that he loved us and sent his Son to give his life to pay for our sins.” God gives us freedom to respond to His love. How will you respond to this extraordinary love?
Frank Alioto is the pastor of The River Covenant Church: “An Alaskan church for people who would rather come to the River.” We gather on Sundays at 10:30 a.m. at K-Beach Elementary in Soldotna. Call 252-2828 or visit www.therivercovenantchurch.org.