Ok, another little example of engaging with non-Christian world-views. This is from a wedding sermon I gave a few weeks ago. The great majority of the congregation were not Christians. The couple asked me to speak from 1 John 4:7-12. I'll quote a part of the sermon and then make some comments. (Just so you know I've tweaked the last paragraph since giving the sermon.)
Why is virtually every film, every TV show, every novel, every pop song obsessed with people falling in love and getting together? If they're not obsessed with falling in love and getting together, they're obsessed with falling out of love and drifting apart. You can't get around it: this kind of committed, mutually self-giving relationship consumes our culture and consumes our hearts.
Why? Why do all the songs say ‘Love is the greatest thing'?
Craig and Debbie know. That's why they chose this reading from the bible. Why does the world say ‘Love is the greatest thing.'?? Because God, the greatest thing, is love.
That's the famous phrase from our reading. Verse 8: "God is love." Coming into church this afternooon you may not have known any verse of the bible - now you know one. "God is love."
God's not just in a long-term relationship. God is an eternal relationship of committed love. God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit love one another, uphold one another, pour their life into one another from eternity past to eternity future.
The committed love of marriage is a faint picture of the incredible love that binds the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Whether you believe in Him or not, whatever concept of God you've brought to church this afternoon, allow it to be shaped by God's own word. God is love.
God doesn't just do love. God is love. His very existence is an existence of love. Love is the very stuff of His being. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are who they are because they are constantly giving and receiving love.
Why do the songs say love is the greatest thing? Because the greatest thing, God, is love. To put your finger on the ultimate pulse of reality you will find the committed love of these three Persons. Of course the whole world sings of love. How could it not?!
But here's the terrible tragedy. The world doesn't know why love's the greatest thing. And so the world is left with this groundless, abstract thing called love. It becomes a mere feeling for us to praise and magnify, and, in all probability, to watch slip through our fingers. Love, without this grounding in God, becomes only a sentiment to be admired. But if that is all that love is, then today is robbed of it's meaning. If love is just a feeling, we may well smile at the happy couple, we will praise their participation in this grand myth called love. But then we'll go home wondering if there's any real substance to it all. But to all that, the bible says Perish the thought!! Love has a grounding. As verse 7 says "Love comes from God". That's why Craig and Debbie want us to think about these verses. The God who is love will breathe meaning back into that old cliche that 'love is the greatest thing'. And in doing so He will provide a foundation not only for Craig and Debbie's marriage but for all of our lives. So let's pay attention to these verses for the next couple of minutes...
First, the Christian can take upon their lips non-Christian sentiments and use them truly. But in doing so we commandeer those propositions and press them into a quite different service. So 'love is the greatest thing' on the lips of a non-Christian means what? Well it could mean many things but at the end of the day it effectively boils down to 'love is God.' Love itself becomes the object of worship. But what does 'love is the greatest thing' mean on the lips of a Christian? Well in the kind of context I tried to give in the sermon, it becomes testimony to the entirely different truth 'God is love'.
Secondly, I really mean it when I wonder out loud How can the world not sing of love? I am happy to draw attention to this universal sentiment that 'love is the greatest thing.' But I will tell the non-Christian that he or she doesn't really know why it's their sentiment. And that even the terms of that sentiment are distorted into falsehood. 'Love is God' seems a hairs-breadth from the truth, in fact it's idolatry. And idolatry is not a stepping stone to true worship.
Thirdly, none of this depends on agreeing with a non-Christian definition of love. It's not a case of saying 'Hey, you love love, I love love, everyone loves love. Lemme show you the best love.' We can't do that because verse 10 describes love in terms that are completely off our natural radar screen. According to God's word, love is bloody, sacrificial, atoning death. And that for enemies. I've never found the non-Christian who will agree to that definition of love in advance! We simply do not share a common understanding of love from which we can argue to divine reality.
Fourth, I'm very fond of that kind of phrase: 'Allow yourself to be told...' I don't know where I first picked it up but it's kind of my whole theology of revelation. Preaching (but in fact all speaking of Christian truth) is declaring with divinely delegated authority: 'Allow yourself to be told something you do not know, could never anticipate and will never have under your belt... Put yourself in the path of this meteor from above... Receive something that you absolutely do not already have in your grasp.' It is news that we tell. Revelation. I try to have my rhetoric shaped by that.