Certainly, we have all kinds of ideas about what love means to us. In our culture, when we think of love, we think of love primarily in romantic terms and secondarily in familial terms. But as Christ followers, we're called to think of love from a third perspective—one that does not come naturally to us, as self-centered human beings, because it is a Christ-like way of love that has nothing to do with the way we feel or what we think about it.
Around Christmas time, if we're not too busy with hectic family arrangements or fervent material concerns, we take some time to think about what God's love means. We reflect on the Christmas story. All over the nation, we ponder the idyllic manger scene. Maybe those of us out here in farm country have a slightly different perspective. We weren't all born in a barn, but we sure know what one smells like. As my lead pastor asked during Sunday service, "Can you smell the stink of the stable this Christmas?"
The love of Christ is counter-intuitive from the beginning. Here is the coming of our Savior: born in the cow poop, sent to deal with our B.S. This isn't exactly the stuff of Hollywood romance. Yet this birth scene is graphically illustrative of the self-forgetting act of love immortalized in that touchstone verse of all Christianity. John 3:16—"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."
That's the kind of love we're going to consider from another one of the books named for John, but first, let’s look a bit more at this idea of love as we know it.