‘God’s Love Language’

Easter 6

John 14:15-31 (15:9-17)

In 1992 Baptist pastor and relationship counsellor Gary Chapman published a book titled The Five Love Languages. His basic idea was that everyone shows and experiences love differently. It has had a phenomenal success and continues to influence the way people look at how love is expressed between parents and children, couples and friends. It turns out that if someone feels they are loved when they are given gifts, this is how they assume others experience love. So a mother might buy her child gifts, or a husband might buy his wife gifts, thinking this is how they will know that they are loved. But if the other person experiences love through spending quality time with them, the efforts will fall flat and both parties will be left frustrated.

For those unfamiliar with the love languages concept, the five love languages are:

  • Words of Affirmation
  • Acts of Service
  • Receiving gifts
  • Quality time
  • Physical touch

Of course, everyone appreciates all of these things. But each one of us, according to this approach, has a particular way that someone can best show their love to us.

My wife is really big on the love languages concept. She has given much thought to what the love language of each of our children is. She has given me a copy of the book (on more than one occasion) to read. She said I should work out her love language. Well, I have made a start. For the past forty years I have bought her gifts to show her that I love her. She politely thanks me and the gift disappears into a drawer, is regifted to someone else, or if I am really lucky, ends up somewhere on her dresser top. So I think I can safely cross off ‘receiving gifts’ from the list as her primary love language. Now I’ve just got four more to work through to find the right one!

As you can see, finding someone’s love language can take some effort. It would be easier if she just told me!

But today’s text raises an even more basic question: What is God’s love language.

In other words, how does God show his love for us? And how do we show our love for God?

We find the answer to the first question, how does God show his love for us, in many places in the Bible. But perhaps no where more poignantly than in John 15, the very next chapter after the one we are reading this morning. In fact, for those who were paying close attention – and I know we all were, these were the words we opened our service with this morning: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (v. 13).

Simply put, God shows his love for us by giving his life for us. God shows his love for us by embracing all of our pain and loneliness and brokenness on the cross.

You have to admit, as gestures of love go, its big! And it was entirely unexpected. It’s not the sort of thing a self-respecting deity would do. The gods of the ancient world asked their followers to make sacrifices for them, to give to them. But in Jesus, God turns that idea upside down. God sacrifices himself for us. He gives his life for us. That’s how he showed his love for us.

But how do we respond to such love. How do we show our love to God? Which brings us back to the question: does God have a love language? A way in which we can show God that we love him?

Actually, it turns out that God does have a love language. And he doesn’t make us work it out ourselves. He tells us plainly. And it is described in today’s text.

Out Gospel text today begins with a line about how we show our love to Jesus. Jesus says to his disciples: ‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments.’ Three more forms of this saying follow. Then the reading finishes with statement about Jesus’ love for the Father, to drive home the point.

If the lines are read out together, without the intervening material, they would form a very nice stanza of Hebrew poetry. In Hebrew poetry, for instance the Psalms, the poem is not built on rhyme or metre, but on the repetition of lines, but each time with a chance of words, reversing the order of the words, or in some other way making the same point in a different way.

So, if these key lines were all read together, like a piece of Hebrew poetry, the stanza would read like this.

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (v. 15)

 “They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me.” (v. 21)

“Those who love me will keep my word.” (v. 23)

“Whoever does not love me does not keep my words.” (v. 24)

“I do what the Father has commanded so the world knows that I love the Father” (v. 31)

We begin with the key statement. ‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments.’

Then the same point is made, but the order of the thought is inverted. That is, it is turned inside out. ‘Those who keep my commandments are those who love me. Together, these two lines form what is called a chiasm. Those who love me keep my commands, those who keep my commands love me.

The third time the thought recurs the word commandment is replaced by ‘word’. ‘Those who love me will keep my word.’ What Jesus commands is what Jesus says, that is, his word. It is another way of saying the same thing, but using a different key word. It is a device any readers familiar with Hebrew thought and Hebrew poetry would have been very familiar with. And they disciples would have certainly understood it. And this line comes with a promise. Jesus says that those who love him, who keep his word, will be loved by the Father. And he and the Father will come and make their home with them. That’s a relationship built entirely on love. We love Jesus because Jesus loved us and gave his life for us. And when we show our love for Jesus, he and the Father come and make their home within us. So just as Jesus and the Father are one, as Jesus has explained earlier to his disciples, now he show how in love we also become one with God.

The fourth line of this sequence keeps the key words of love and word, but now the idea is stated in the negative. ‘The one who does not love me does not keep my words.’ Once again the same point is made, for the fourth time in succession, but in yet a different way.

And in case the disciples have missed the point Jesus is making, he finishes this part of his talk with yet a fifth in this series of parallel statements. And you might think by now he would be running out of ways to say the same thing differently. But Jesus drives home his point by going back to the key words of love and doing what is commanded. But this time he substitutes the Father for himself as the object of the obedience and he himself becomes the subject. Jesus say, ‘I do what the Father has commanded so that the world will see that I love the Father.’

So Jesus is asking us to do as he does. Jesus is asking us to be his disciples by imitating him. Because that’s what disciples do. They watch their teacher and do as he does. Once more in this final talk of Jesus with his disciples during the Last Supper he shows them (and us) the way to show our love for him. Just as he began his talk by setting the example of humility by washing their feet, now he is asking us all to follow his example of love.

So that is the answer to the question of how we show Jesus that we love him. We show our love for Jesus just as he showed his love for the Father, but doing what his Father asked, which was to give his life for us. Now Jesus asks us to show his love for him by doing what he asks.

Jesus’ love language, God’s own love language, is simply this. To do what Jesus has asked or commanded us to do.

Easy? Right?

Oh, but there is a question. And it is the obvious one. You will likely be wondering, just what does Jesus command us to do, in order to show that we love him?

We could try to work this out ourselves. What might God want us to do for him. The ancient world was full of gods and the all wanted the same thing: altars, temples, sacrifices. But Jesus doesn’t call us to show his love for him by building yet more altars and temples. The ancient world had more than enough of these. Jesus doesn’t ask us to show his love for him by building a 90 foot statue of him. He doesn’t ask us to show his love for him by going off on some unholy ‘holy’ war. Jesus doesn’t ask for any of these things.

When Jesus uses the word command repeatedly in this part of his talk, together with the word love, he is reminding his disciples of how he began this talk to them. Just after he washed their feet he asked them to serve one another by following his example. Then he said these well-known words: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you should love one another. By this everyone know that you are by disciples, if you love one another.”

These words would have still been echoing in the disciples’ ears when Jesus repeatedly asks them to show their love for him by keeping his commandments, by keeping his word. And this is the one commandment Jesus singles out to say to his disciples before he goes to his death: love each other, just like I have loved you.

And again, in the very next chapter, in case we or the disciples are in any doubt about what Jesus asks of us, he says again: ‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. … I have given you these commands so that you love one another’ (15:13,17).

No altars. No temples. No 90 foot statues. And certainly no holy wars. These are not God’s love language.

God’s love language is simply that we love each other as God loved us in and through Jesus.

And when we love one another, we are reminded of the One who first loved us. Who showed his love for us by giving his life for us.


Pastor Mark Worthing.
Port Macquarie.