Early in 2018, a group of leaders travelled to Bowral for a few days to plan for what was then known as Friday Community Group (FCG). This ministry existed long before I (Pastor Elliot) arrived at Gracepoint, and it had a wonderful track record of seeing non-Christians saved and Christians discipled to maturity. We spent time giving thanks to God for all that He had done through this humble ministry, and we prayed that God would give us to faithfulness and willingness to continue this legacy.
The purpose of this annual leaders retreat was (and still is) to pray and plan that our group would grow deeper in their love of Christ and in doing so, greater further in their desire to witness for Christ. While we were doing that, I pitched the idea of possibly renaming our group to reflect something deeper than the fact that we are a community group that meets on Friday. This was challenging because I understand that the name FCG has a long history, but I thought given our renewed and more intentional vision and mission, it would be a good idea to find a name that best reflects and reinforces what we’re on about. Consequently, we sat down for awhile and toyed with a few ideas and in the end, we landed on the name ‘Allelous’ firstly because it is in Greek and that makes the ministry sound fancy almost immediately, but secondly and more significantly, because the word allelous in Greek is actually jam packed with meaning.
The word allelous in its root form actually occurs over 100 times in the New Testament, and it provides some really interesting insight about what Christian community looks like. But fundamentally, what gripped us was the passage 1 John 4:10-11, which is the passage that adopted as the key Bible passage for our group.
It says this:
‘This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another’
The reason this passage stood out for us is because these verses really summarize the Christian faith.
In fact, it speaks about an unexpected type of love.
You see, I’m not sure what you think of when you think about the word ‘love’, but I suspect most people today think of love as a feeling, desire, or intense emotion. And our love ranges from things like our passions – we say ‘I love skiing or I love my job’, to our family and friends – we say ‘I love my mother, father, brother, sister, wife, bff’, to trivial things like ‘I love ice cream’, ‘I love the cold weather’.
Those things are good gifts from God and so it should come as little surprise that we have intense feelings, desires, and affection from them. However, if we examine these things carefully, what you’ll find is that our love for these things are often dependent and reliant on certain things.
More specifically, they are dependent on how they make us feel and reliant on the type of effect it has on us. For example, we naturally love people or things that treat us well, make us feel good, or things that build us up as individuals. Other examples include:
- I love skiing because its fun and it brings me joy.
- I love my job because I find satisfaction in it and it pays my bills.
- I love my parents because they raised me.
- I love my wife because she makes me happy.
- I love ice cream because it puts a smile on my face.
- I love the cold weather because it makes me comfortable.
Do you notice that in all of these sentences, the word ‘me’ is the centre of attention. Often, what we love is so tied up to ‘me’, and the moment it stops benefitting us, we stop loving it. For example, we say:
- I don’t love sitting under the sun because it makes me feel uncomfortable.
- I don’t love green juice because it tastes disgusting.
- I don’t love the heat because it makes me sweaty and cranky.
- I don’t naturally love my enemies because they don’t do much for me and help me in life.
As you can see, our love is often based on self-centred ideals.
And this is why 1 John 4:10 is so revolutionary, because what we find here is God’s unexpected love. This is a type of love that not only defines the very essence of love, but is a type of love that is offered graciously with no hope or expectation of a return.
It is a type of love that is not self-centred, but self-sacrificial. It says that God loved us, not that we loved him.
This is a powerful statement because it says here that God’s love for us is not dependent or contingent on whether or not we love him back or whether or not his love for us benefits him in any way. This is the antithesis of what our society thinks of love. We think ‘I only love when there is something to gain’. Yet here, we see God loving us when he had absolutely nothing to gain.
Romans 5:8 puts it even more sharply. It says that ‘God demonstrates/proves his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us’. A sinner is someone who lives in rebellion and rejection of God. A sinner is someone who both violates God’s law and love, and the Bible tells us that all of us are sinners because the default position of our heart is to prioritise or elevate Created Things rather than the Creator God. A sinner is in essence an enemy of God because we are in opposition to God.
And yet, while we were still sinners, while we were still enemies, while we were utterly opposed to God; God loved us. And his love for us is seen most vividly in his act of sending His Son Jesus for us who has come to pay the penalty of our rebellion and to give us a second chance.
You see, the Bible tells us that sin is worthy of punishment. When you’ve offended someone, naturally amends need to be made. But when you’ve offended God, even greater amends need to be made. The problem is, because the amends of this offence towards God is so great, nothing from a human perspective is able to ever pay for the price of our sin.
This is why God says: I will pay for it. I will forgive you because I love you. And we see this most clearly in Jesus Christ who was sent as an atoning sacrifice for us. This is an unexpected love. A love that demands no return or repayment. A love that is freely given to us.
And all we have to do is to repent of our rebellion against God and trust in Jesus Christ and His work for us.
2. Expected Love
Now I suspect that many of us are quite familiar with these concepts. We are familiar with the unexpected nature of God’s love for us. However, what I think we don’t realize that God’s unexpected love actually places an expectation and obligation on us. And this is the thrust of verse 11:
Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
What we discover here is that the amazing truth about God’s love is the reason and foundation for our love towards others.
The Bible doesn’t give us commands and say ‘do this because that’s what you should do’ or ‘do this because I said so’. Rather, it grounds commands in Gospel-centred motivation, which is meant to move our heads, and then our hearts, and then our hands.
Therefore, commenting on this verse, John Stott writes that:
No-one who has been to the cross and seen God’s immeasurable and unmerited love displayed there can go back to a life of selfishness. Indeed, the implication seems to be that our love should resemble his love: since God so loved us, we also ought – in like manner and to a like degree of self-sacrifice – to love one another.
So what does this mean for us?
Well firstly, I hope that our anchoring in this text always reminds us that the reason we gather together is because of God’s love for us. We are not gathered because of our common interests, our hobbies, our gender, or because of what we study or do.
In fact, we’re reminded of this each week that whenever you look around the room, you’ll find that if it weren’t for Christ, most of you probably wouldn’t be friends. We’ve got geeks, sporty people, techy people, and weird people. Yet we all bond together. It’s amazing isn’t it? It is a powerful testimony of the Gospel which says that we are all united because of God’s love.
So why are we gathered together? Because we are united, brought together, and bonded by God’s love.
But secondly, I hope that our anchoring in this text compels us to not just be with each other, but to genuinely love each other. And remember, love is not an abstract concept. Love according to this passage is self-sacrifice. God sets the standard for love.
He loved us even when he had nothing to gain in return, even when he knew that people would continue to rebel, and even when he knew that many would spit on his face and nail him onto a cross. Yet he loved relentlessly. This is the standard, and my prayer is that our community would model after our Saviour.
Now because we are such a different group, I think there are so many ways that we can love.
We can love by humbly caring for another even when it doesn’t suit our needs or agenda, we can love by speaking kindly to each other even when tearing down with sarcasm feels easier and will make us look witty at the same time, we can love by helping another even when it is inconvenient, we can love by taking initiative, we can love by forgiving – we can love in so many ways.
So, dear Allelous Community Group, we worship a great God.
And his call for us is that His love for us should drive us towards love for one another.
As your leaders, our hope and prayer is that we would grow in our ability to do this, and that in doing so, we would shine as witnesses to the Gospel.
I mean, how powerful would it be when non-believers look into our community and see an odd bunch of people who love each other even when it doesn’t serve themselves?
Well that’s the essence of the Gospel.
And in doing so, we get to express and embody the Gospel to a world that is in search for love but is confused about love, and we can represent the reinforce the Gospel which shows that God is the epitome and very definition of this love that we are all after, and this can be experienced in his community.
This is what we hope to reach for as Allelous Community Group.