Love Doesn’t Lie
1 John 4:20
Last week we had the opportunity to introduce Sadie Grace Lindsey to the church family. That’s one of my favorite parts of what I get to do. We get to see the baby, promise to love them and pray that they will grow like Jesus did, in wisdom, in physical stature, in favor with God, and in favor with others. (Luke 2:52)
During the introduction Emily snapped this picture. For a moment I want you to focus on Reid and what he is doing in the picture. When I see this picture I see a big brother that has adoration and love in his eyes for his little sister. He feels the joy and warmth of love because he is a big brother. But for those of us who have raised children, or were at one time children, do you believe that Reid will always have those same feelings for his little sister? How will he feel towards her when she sneaks into his room and plays with his toys? Do you think that he will look at her the same way in those times when she breaks the string on his guitar or drives his power wheels Silverado truck into a ditch?
Before you answer that question let’s go back and look at what John says: If people say, "I love God," but hate their brothers or sisters, they are liars. When we read that passage usually our attention turns to the word hate. I am not sure what comes to mind when you hear the word hate. Maybe you think of people who you despise; people who have hurt you in some kind of awful way. Maybe you think of good old fashion hatred that shows itself through prejudice and acts of violence. Maybe you think of folks who hate the current or former presidents, or folks who burn the American flag in their town squares and chant death to America. Maybe you think of hate groups like the KKK or the Black Separatists who hate people based on the color of their skin or culture. And all of these would be perfectly normal people or groups to think that John was talking about.
It’s easy to reason that John is not talking about me, because I’m not a a part of a neo-Nazi group, or an anti-Muslim group. I have never hated someone like that so let’s just head out to the restaurant because I love God and I love people. And that might be true, but let’s slow down for just a moment and look at the word hate. John actually uses the word μισ?ω (Miseo pronounced Ma-say-O) and it means that having ill will in the words you say or the way that you act. So the Jeremy Houck translation would read this way: If you say, "I belong to God” and then turn around and say things that would cause someone to think poorly about another person, or act with bitterness towards someone then you are a liar!
I am a bit taken back by the strength of the language John uses. Hate and liar are strong words; I don’t want to think that I hate anyone, and I’m certainly not comfortable being identified as a liar by God. But the truth is that I am a contradiction. I wish that wasn’t the truth, but it’s much easier to proclaim a verbal allegiance to a God I can’t see than it is to love the people I see every day.
But just maybe when we focus on the words hate and liar, we are getting a little ahead of ourselves. John is pointing us in a very important direction, but it might not be the direction you first think of. When you read, If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, it is easy to think that we just need to figure out how to love our brother more. But that’s not the problem. Our love problem is not a second great commandment problem but a first great commandment problem. The reason I don’t love people in my life the way I should is because I don’t love God in the way I claim. Our problem is vertical before it is ever horizontal.
Jerrie Barber used to tell me: Love is not a feeling you feel when you get a feeling that you never felt before. Actually love is not a felling at all, love is an action. Love is a decision. I don’t want to seem cold or take the sentiment out of love, but we have to get out of this mindset that love is a feeling of warm tenderness. I mean sappy, warm, fuzzy love will sell a few million books, some hallmark cards, or make a great movie, but it’s not real. We understand that Reid will not only love Sadie when he feels like it. Real love is so much more than a feeling. Real love is a verb, real love causes movement and action. Remember that John wrote, God loved the world so much that He gave… (John 3:16)
One of the reasons that it is so important that we get together and share life, spend time reflecting and remembering during communion is because we need to be reminded that we are eternally loved by God. I need to remind you and be reminded by you that we are constantly being transformed by the love of God. When we recognize that every good and perfect gift comes from above, we will be motivated to love and bless others.
We were created to grow and mature in our relationship with God and with one another. You would think that the longer you walk with the Lord, the more you would be amazed by His character. In a sense, the longer you walk with God, the more loving you will become. But I haven’t always found that to be true. Sometime we drift away from our real mission.
Let me try to unwrap that a bit. When I became a Christian, I came to God with this sense of need. I needed God to help me. Actually, that’s not a strong enough word, I needed God to save me from myself. I was addicted to Jeremy, to doing what made me happy, doing what I wanted to do regardless of how that affected anyone else. So God offered to save me from my soul destructive choices. I felt peace and joy because God filled my greatest need. When I first gave my life to Christ, I was constantly filled with a sense of how much I needed God. My selfishness, my sinful habits, kept popping up and it was a daily reminder of how much I needed God’s help.
But after a while I began to drift. I began to act like, what a Christian was expected to act like. It became harder and harder for me to see my deep need because I was blinded by my self-righteousness. I mean I was a part of a the good crowd. I knew about theology and doctrine. I would look at the sin in other peoples lives and pat myself on the back because I was living better than they were. I felt like I had arrived and I drifted from needing Jesus to feeling self righteous.
There is a real fear that you have done the same thing. We have this tendency to rate our relationship with God like the guy who lost his keys in the parking lot one night. It was dark, he didn’t have a flashlight, and he was having a difficult time seeing anything. But at least there were several street lights providing a bit of light. So as the man began to look for his keys he tended to stay under the lights but he never found them because he only looked in places that are obvious.
We have this tendency to base our love for God by looking at how well we do in the places that are obvious. We think we love God if we show up on Sundays and Wednesday nights. We think we love God if we tithe. We think we love God if we read or bible or can even quote scripture and some theology. We tend to think that living under the streetlights makes you a mature Christian, a beacon of faith.
The problem is that those actions and activities are a false standard. If you are serious about your relationship to Christ, you will do all of those. The problem with those things is that they’re too obvious; those are the basics, Christianity 101. Using those as the markers for Christianity is like looking for your keys around the streetlights. As a matter of fact Jesus says that there will be people who do all of those things and hear Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. (Matthew 25:41)
I need to be reminded that biblical love is not found under the streetlights, it’s not found in those public moments when we are on our best behavior. Our true character and the true depth of our love for God is found in the private moments, the dark spaces, of our lives.
John is telling us if you want to know the true quality of your relationship with God, examine the quality of the relationships you have with the people that you live closest to. Because how can we possibly say that we love God when we struggle to love the people that are nearest to us? Essentially, the way that we love our neighbor, tells the truth about how we actually love God.
When you get to preach for a living, folks tend to think that God has let you in on the secret of who is saved and who is lost. On more than one occasion someone has asked me, Do you think I am a Christian? There was a time when I would start working through the five steps of salvation or the five acts of worship. John doesn’t have time for that self righteous stuff. He would simply ask them how well do you love people. John says that love the defining mark of who is in and who is out. A child of God cannot hate anyone. Actually your love for others, for people who have a different culture, different belief system, different way of life, shows the truth about your actual conviction.
Several times Jesus is talking to the Pharisee’s, Sadducees, or teachers of the law and they have a conversation like the one we find in Matthew 12. It’s the Sabbath, Jesus and is disciples are walking through a field and they are hungry. So they pluck off a few of the heads of grain, rub them in their hands to get the grain out of the chaff and eat them. Well the Pharisees just loose their minds. They ask Jesus why are they breaking the law, why is He allowing His disciples to have a blatant disregard for the law and Jesus responds, Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? (Matthew 12:3)
The short answer is of course they had read. They spent their life studying and interpreting the law. They knew the story, they knew what the story meant, but they had forgotten that they needed to apply what they had read. Over the last 8 weeks I have been reminding you about the call to model love in the model city. This is our, Have you read moment. Our text this morning John is asking a haven’t you read question.
My ability to love other people is tied to my ability to love God. But unless I allow God to sit on the throne of my life I won’t have the ability to love like I was created to love. If someone is not loving people, being compassionate, forgiving, and merciful it’s because God is no longer the center of their lives. They have removed God from the center and taken His place on the throne of their lives. We originally came to God because we realized that what a huge mess we made by following our own selfish desires. But once we got comfortable with God we allowed ourselves to take back the throne.
We cannot occupy the center, because that place belongs to God and God alone. But we are so tempted to push ourselves back into the throne of our lives because that's where we want to be. And once we get back on that throne, we convince ourselves that we should be served, we don’t have time to serve others. Folks should meet our needs, and be kind and compassionate to us because we are so awesome. When we are at the center it is easy to come here and sing songs about loving, to do the obvious things. It is hard to love as we have been loved.
I understand that we are very quick to say that we love God, but John reminds us that the depth of our love for God is seen in the way that we love our brother, neighbor, and enemy. This is not new information, we have read, we know, we understand that the identifying mark of a child of God is the ability to love one another. We can fool a lot of people into thinking we are something we are not. We can even fool ourselves at times, but in when it comes down to it, our life always tells the truth about our relationship with God. You can tell a lot about my relationship with God by the way that I love the people that He loves.
The call to love God is not for the elders, deacons, Sunday School teachers, or ministry leaders. John is asking everyone who wears the name of Christ, haven’t you read? Don’t you remember? You have been called to love God in such depth that it spills over into the way that you love the people who occupy the space where God has placed you. We live in different places. We live in different circumstances. We live with different people; we’re called to different things, but we all share the call to love.
That call to love is our most powerful testimony for the truthfulness of the Gospel. Our ability to love is how we will evangelize the world. God doesn’t call you to walk out these doors and share a 5 step plan of salvation. Love is the language of evangelism, love must be our lifestyle. There is not a greater testimony to the Existence of God than when people who should be selfish, self-absorbed, competitive, angry, irritable, and impatient live a life of love. Your testimony to the depth of your love for God is seen in the dark moments of your life when you exhibit peace, love, mercy, and grace. Without love, then nothing else matters and nothing else can be accomplished.
When I was a little boy my parents thought that it would be a great idea if I would learn how to play the piano. They signed me up for lessons, bought second hand piano and I went to my first lesson. I had thought that I was going to learn how to play a song my first lesson, at least figure out how to play Mary had a little lamb, or happy birthday or something. But that first lesson my teacher introduced me to the scale. And for the first hour I played those 7 notes over and over again. Mrs April encouraged me to go home and work on my scale for at least an hour a day.
So that week I went home and worked on my scale, playing those same 7 notes over and over until I could do it with my eyes closed. I just knew at the next lesson I would get a sticker or a cookie for learning the scale and then I could learn how to play a song. But the next class we spent the hour playing the scale and I was instructed to go home and practice those same awful 7 notes. This went on for weeks, until I reached my breaking point. I asked Mrs. April when I was going to learn something useful?
I still remember her smile, she played a short piece by Beethoven, then went into a flourish written by Wagner, and ended with a simple piece by Chopin. And she said you want to learn how to do that? Yes, that’s what I am here for, and she said then you first must master this, and played those first 7 notes.
What I have since learned is that those 7 notes are the basics, they are the most important part of knowing music. Throughout the centuries and hundreds of great composers, they have never had a need greater than those 7 notes. Godly love is like that. Love is the basics of Christianity. Love can use the seemingly insignificant things of daily life to produce the greatest results in human nature. Love controls temper and guides reason. It seeks to overcome the worst qualities and develop the best. Under the guidance and in the power of the Holy Spirit, it transforms men and women into the likeness of Jesus Christ. Our ability to love finds it’s origins in God, because God is love. This morning we can only love more, when we understand that first we must need more of God.