Love is perhaps the most overused word in the English language, the most powerful force in the universe, our most desperate need, and yet the quality the world needs most right now.

Our theme this school year is “love lavishly.” And, I love that the Lord gave us this particular theme in this particular year. As always, He knows just what we need. Our theme is based on 1 John 3:1, and elaborated in later verses:

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! 11 For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another…14

The passage ends with loving others, but it begins with how the Father loves us, and lavishes love upon us. What activates our love for other people, what emboldens and empowers it, is realizing that God loves us, and the depth, the breadth, and the extravagance of His love.

You are indeed loved by our Father, loved with authentic love. “Love” is an overused word, the same word I use to describe how I feel about my mom, the Cowboys, Blue Bell, the faded denim shirt hanging in my closet, my truck, and my dog. But, real love always has reserved as its subject people or groups of people (okay, and, maybe the dog).  You love your parents, and your husband or wife; you love your children, and, if you’re a leader of something, you love the people you lead.  And, you can’t always explain why- God gives that love to you. Your kids’ teachers feel that way about their students, even the stinkers; maybe especially them. God gives you the passion for all these people.

Further, you know from experience that love is never measured by what you get from it, but by what you sacrifice, by what you’re willing to give up. It doesn’t really matter whether these people you love actually love you back. Our children and our students will never, ever love us as much as we love them, and in our hearts we know that, and we don’t really care. We would still do anything for them.

Love is the most amazing, pure way we mirror God, and God gives us this ability to love sacrificially to show us a glimpse of how much He loves us. Even when we’re stinkers. Even when we’ll never love Him as much as He loves us, because we don’t even have the capacity to love like that.

We desperately need this love from our Father today in this fear-drenched culture in which we live. I recently listened to a sermon by Tim Keller, in which he observed that fear is the most primal, basic emotion. The minute we’re born, we’re born crying. We cry not because of grief or sadness, but because of fear, of being pulled outside our protective cocoon and cast into a loud, cold world.  Fear can be good, when it’s focused; it can help us survive. That’s why God gave it to us. Fear is what allows you to move faster than you ever have to snatch your child out from in front of a moving car.  Jesus even felt fear, the night before He died in the Garden, which was absolutely normal and good. But, unfocused, unresolved, sustained fear, over a long period of time, anxious, undirected fear, a kind of existential dread, eats away our insides and distracts us from who God has called us to be and what He has called us to do.

Every day since we came out of our protective cocoon at birth, the temptation for this generalized, unfocused fear surrounds us.  Today, in the COVID-fueled world, media traffics in fear. Fear sells, and so it’s the undercurrent of every story. Fear is apolitical- it doesn’t matter whether you’re watching MSNBC or Fox, whether you’re Republican or Democrat, fear is an equal opportunity victimizer. It’s always there. When death is the end of the road for you, when this life is all there is, as it is increasingly in our increasingly-secularized culture, you’re going to hang onto life with white knuckles, with everything you’ve got. Safety, protecting yourself, is going to go from being simply a wise practice, to being your god, that which consumes your time and your energy. And, as long as we subject ourselves to this world and its messages, we’re as subject to the temptation as anyone. And, it doesn’t have to be COVID. Even if that doesn’t scare you at all, there are plenty of other suitors available to walk you to the altar of fear: fear of change, fear of what others think, fear of loss of what was, whether it was worth keeping or not: it’s all around us.

Yet, God can honestly say to us, “don’t fear,” meaning, don’t live in that state of anxious, continuous, existential dread. Don’t be captivated or enslaved by fear. Because, as He says through John in 1 John 4:18. “There is no fear in love: perfect love casts out fear.”  And, what is this perfect love? 16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.

He loves us so much that He gave the most important relationship in His entire life up for us, so that we could be with Him forever, as His sons and daughters, reigning together with him in the New Jerusalem.

 How deep the Father’s love for us,
How vast beyond all measure,
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure.
How great the pain of searing loss –
The Father turns His face away,
As wounds which mar the Chosen One
Bring many sons to glory.

When we dwell in this knowledge that we are loved simply because we are our Father’s, because it pleases Him to love us, and not only can’t we do anything to earn it, but we’ll never lose it, then we are completely safe and secure and given a hope and an identity and a future.  That knowledge casts out fear. No one can really harm us, and we aren’t looking to them to provide anything we need.

What is our response to this extravagant love? This love beyond all measure? This love that tells you no matter who you are or what you do or what you have or haven’t accomplished, what you have or haven’t become, it really doesn’t matter, because by His blood you are His beloved in whom He is well pleased? What is our response to all that?  11 For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another.  Do not be surprised, my brothers and sisters,[b] if the world hates you. 14 We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death. 

And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.

We’re loved with perfect love, love that casts out fear. We’re to love our brothers and sisters, and to lay down our lives for them. As love has been lavished on us, we’re called to love lavishly.

Jay Ferguson, Ph.D., Head of School at Grace Community School, writes regularly on his blog, JaysBlog.org