Love in Common

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.
- 1 John 3:16a
In today’s passage, John makes a bold claim: we can know what love is. Tomorrow, we’ll look in more depth as to how, but we want to pause today and consider the significance of love’s knowability.
Love is not some mysterious or elusive vapor that we hunt for and never find. Love can be known and we can feel confident that we know what love is.
We live in a wishy-washy era when it comes to love. We try to create space for everyone’s definitions of love even if they contradict each other. We want to allow everyone to find their own path to love. There’s something wonderful and generous and hospitable in that impulse. But where does it lead?
When everyone has their own definitions, when everyone speaks their own private language, communication and connection begins to fray. To put it more philosophically: hyper-subjectivism renders communication impossible or (at least) exponentially expensive. We need a common ground.
John knew that there were many different ways to talk about love. Writing in Greek, he had many linguistic hues to paint with when writing about love: agape, eros, philia, storge, xenia, philautia, pragma, mania, ludus … the list actually gets pretty long. Today’s text talks about agape love, a selfless and self-giving love whose only condition is in the one who loves. But, here, you caught us trying to squeeze our definition into the conversation.
We need common ground and we need someone else to set it for us. If we set the common ground, we’ll think we can control it. Our greedy and broken hands will wrestle with all of our dialogue partners until no one wants to visit this common ground. And, in a pluralistic society, they can opt out.
Healthier by far is the Christian impulse to receive our common ground from Jesus. We come to the common ground – whether it’s discussing love or justice or reconciliation or faith or holiness – humbled and ready to receive what it is the Lord wants us to receive, willing to submit to the one who leads us into life and joy.
Would you ask the Lord today to guide your journey to learn about love?

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