Monday, August 10, 2009

Sermon: 1 John 4: 7-12

As we come to our reading this morning, we notice that twice, John writes that we are to ‘love one another’. Now I don’t know about you, but sometimes, I find it hard to get on with some people in church. They like different services, or music style, or whatever, and it’s easier just to talk to the people who like the same things as me. I’m sure it’s not like this in St Jude’s though!

John is writing to the church, and in this short passage out of a much longer letter, he says twice here (and a few more times throughout the letter), that Christians are to love one another. In order to help us understand why this is, and then how to do it, we’re going to use W5. Not the science playground in the Odyssey, but the five w questions, as we look at the passage: Who, What, Where, Why, When, and then when we have used those, the How.

So Who? As I’ve said, John is writing to Christians, to the church. But within the passage, we find another description for them. The NIV says ‘Dear friends’ (7), but other versions (ESV) have the one word ‘beloved’. You who are loved, held in high esteem, you who receive love, here is the command, the What:

‘Let us love one another.’ Well, that’s easy enough, you might think - but what does it really mean? John only says ‘love one another.’ But how do we love one another? We’ll see as we continue through the passage.

So we’ve looked at who - the church; what - love one another; now the where. Where should we love one another? Is it just something for a Sunday morning, so that we’re polite to one another as we come into church and leave from church, but that’s really it? Can we even extend it to Sunday evening, or at the midweek Bible study? Or maybe even if we happen to bump into someone from church on the street or in town?

John doesn’t set a limit on loving one another. It’s not just for inside the building, inside the church, it’s for everywhere!

As we move along, we’re faced with the next W - the why? Why does John tell us to love one another? What is the motivation for loving each other? As we look more closely at the reading, we see four connected reasons: God is love, God’s children also love, love is the response to God’s love, and our love is a way to witness.

Look at verse 8. ‘Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.’ God is love. Do you see what the Bible is teaching us here? Not that God loves, that it is only something that God does - although that would be a strong enough reason to love. but more than that, God IS love. When you think about God, his very nature, his very being, his essence is love. All that he does (which is loving), comes as a result of him being love itself.

Because God is love, we who are his children must share in and copy his love. It’s the family likeness. Have you ever heard someone say to you that you’re the spitting image of your mum or dad? The family likeness is passed on, whether in looks, or in sporting ability, or musical talent. How much more then, when God our Father is love in his very self, that we should share in his likeness, and demonstrate his love!

‘Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.’ We who have been made children of God through adoption, who have been born again and made new - we are called to share in the family likeness, as we become more like Jesus.

But even more than that - as well as God being love, and us being born of God - our love is a grateful response to God’s love in the Gospel. Let’s look at verses 9 and 10 together - ‘This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world, that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.’

This is the essential gospel, the good news of the Lord Jesus. It’s very similar to probably the most famous verse in the Bible: ‘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.’

We had a problem because of our sins - they meant that we would perish, would die. But God, in his great love, sent Jesus to atone for our sins on the cross, to die for them, in our place, so that rather than perishing, we might live through him. God’s love gives us life instead of death, peace instead of dread, joy instead of despair, and hope instead of fear.

When we think of God’s great love for us, the love that sent Jesus to the cross, how can we not love him and others? Or as John writes, ‘Dear friends (beloved), since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.’

As you sit here this morning, pause for a moment, and think of this. You are totally loved by God - as Philip Yancey once wrote ‘there is nothing you can do to make God love you more, and there is nothing you can do to make God love you less’ - because you are totally loved, you are therefore special. But the person next to you is also totally loved by God, and also special. God’s love transforms how we see those around us - those loved by God just as much as he loves us. Therefore: love one another.

Verse 12 gives us another reason to love one another, which is an evangelistic reason. How do those outside see God’s love? How do they come to know God? One of the ways is by seeing the church loving one another. Look at verse 12. ‘No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.’ Say a visitor or a non-Christian came today. Would they see God’s love in you, as you love one another? That is a powerful way for them to see that God is love - as it is reflected in us. Whereas if we were to be fighting and suspicious and critical, it’s a poor reflection of God’s love - they would be wondering where the transformation is.

Our last W is another short one - When? Is there a time limit on loving one another? Should we just do it for the hour or so from 11 to 12 on a Sunday? No, there is no time limit, no conditions, just a continuous command to love one another. It’s not a part-time profession, but a full-time following, a constant commitment to love one another.

We’ve seen the W5 - Who? The beloved. What? Love one another. Where? Everywhere. Why? God is love, and we show our faith as we respond to the gospel of God’s love. When? Always. Yet you might be wondering, how can we do this? What does it actually look like? It’s all very well telling us to love one another, but how?

I don’t know what you think of when you hear the word ‘love.’ Maybe it conjures up images of red hearts on cards around Valentines Day, or of romantic strolls along the river Lagan, or a dozen red roses. The Beatles sang Love is all you need, and Wet Wet Wet sang that Love is all around. Is that what we’re talking about?

Well, no. We’re not talking about a soppy, sentimental gushy flow of emotion. Rather, we’re talking about loving as God loves, loving as Jesus demonstrates.

How do we know what love is like? Our passage points us again to the cross. Just as the cross is our motivation to love God and those around us, so the cross is also our example: ‘This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.’

We are called to follow Jesus, to demonstrate cross-shaped love to those around us. Rather than putting our own needs first, or being comfortable, we put others needs ahead of our own. There’s a sacrificial cost as we put others before ourselves, as we put ourselves out. The Lord Jesus didn’t need to leave heaven, yet he came to seek and save the lost. He loved me and gave himself for me, as Paul said in Galatians 2:20.

Love is not just a word, it is an action. Genuine care, loving concern, yes, but also action. Jesus came into the world, sent by God’s love. Jesus came and also died. As John writes earlier in his letter: ‘This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.’ (1 John 3:16-18).

Can you imagine the Lord Jesus sitting on his throne in heaven saying, yes, of course I love them, but I don’t want to go to die for them. Just saying the words doesn’t mean that we are loving! As we love one another, we must act, and show our love, as a grateful response.

There’s a story about the apostle John, who wrote this letter. He was the last of the Twelve to survive, and when he was very old, he would be brought into the church, and sit up on his bed and say ‘Little children, love one another.’ Why did he keep insisting on it? He was, in the words of his gospel, ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved’. He knew the love of Jesus, which had transformed him from being one of the ‘sons of thunder’ among the disciples who all sought to be greatest, to be content in God’s love, and called the church to do the same.

Dear friends, let us love one another.

This sermon was preached in St Jude's Parish Church, Ballynafeigh on the Ormeau Road, Belfast on Sunday 9th August 2009.

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