1 John 4:7-9
The first time I saw Trista, she was sitting behind a registration table at the Fairhope Church of Christ. I had taken a group of kids to a youth rally and when I approached the table I said, Good evening I’m… that’s when she cut me off and said, Jeremy Houck; I know who you are. I was intrigued, and a bit concerned at the same time. So, I asked a friend of mine who she was. He told me that she also went to Faulkner, which really concerned me since it was such a small school, and I had gone there for two years and had never seen Trista.
We made it back to school, and I found her. I asked her out and she accepted. Several folks made bets on whether we would even finish the first date because we were so different. But we made it through the first one and the second, and the third. We continued dating for several months, and when I thought the time was right I took a deep breath and said, I love you. She looked at me with this expression of suprise and said, I think I love you too.
Perhaps it's the universal question asked by every human being at some moment, What is love? And to be honest when I first said those words to Trista, I was not real sure that I knew the answer to that question myself. Volumes of books and hundreds of songs have been written on this crazy little thing called love. If you Google what is love you'll get over 13 billion websites. But none of those things really ever get below the surface of answering the question what is love anyway.
One of the things that we have talked about repeatedly is that we have been called to Model Love in the Model City. God has placed us in the middle of a community that is trying to figure out what is love and how do you love. And God has given us the answer to that question, if we will just dig a little deeper. I would love for you to take out your Bible or your Bible App and look with me at 1 John chapter 4. There is little doubt that the apostle Jesus loved, wrote the Bible’s most important teaching on love. So I thought it would be beneficial if we spent some time working our way through this text, starting in verse 7.
John starts this part of the text with a universal call to everyone of us, Dear friends, let us love one another. You may not have been called to be a shepherd, or to preach or teach. But if you have accepted the gifts of love, forgiveness, grace, and mercy then you have been called to love. Everyone who's in this room and watching online have been called to love, if you call yourself a Christian.
John follows the call with something that’s really quite humbling because he basically says we are not the source of that love. You and I do not have and we cannot find the natural capacity to do what we are being called to do in this text. This is not some sentimental ooey gooey type of feeling that we manufacture. And this love is not a feeling that we feel when we get a feeling that we never felt before. This is a supernatural, other worldly, miraculous type of love that finds it source in God.
This is so much deeper than merely being respectful. This is something deeper than simply having good manners or being nice. This goes far beyond an occasional act of service. What we are being called to is something so deep and so fundamental that it actually requires a radical change of heart. You cannot live a life of love if you have not made the choice to follow God and leave everything else behind. There is not anything wrong with being respectful, or being nice; but you have been called to be God’s representative in a world that is Godless. And that goes a lot deeper and fuller than merely having good manners. John is trying to introduce us to a supernatural theology of love. He uses two wonderful phrases to explain the breath and depth of this love.
In verse 8 John says God is love, Underline that in your bibles. John wants you to know that love is essential to everything that God is, expressed in everything that God does and says and chooses and desires. God is the definition of what is loving and faithful and pure. It’s not just that God has done some loving things, it’s not just that He loves, He is the complete expression of love.
The source of love in the universe is Go, and if He stopped loving then He would stop being God. I struggle getting my head wrapped around that idea, because that’s not how humans work. If I make the choice to not love I don’t cease to be human. I might not be nice. I might not be a good neighbor, I might be a jerk, but I would be a human jerk.
That’s not the case with God. Love is eternally tied to what it means to be God. You cannot separate love from God and God from love because God is love. Which causes us some issues, because we don’t believe that God always acts in loving ways. We are so short sighted, we only believe that God is loving if He is doing what we feel is loving. And we only feel that something is love, when it benefits me. I don’t care what other people what, or what other people need, my human nature demands that all of my needs and wants are met.
God needs to heal who I want healed, because if someone get’s sick in this broken world then God can’t be good. God needs to keep safe the people I want kept safe because if something bad happens in this broken world then God can’t be good. God needs to bless who I want blessed, because if someone struggles in this broken world then God can’t be good.
We expect to experience the peace of heaven here in this world and that’s not reality. You and I were not created for this world, we were created to share the love of God in the middle of this brokenness until it is time for us to go home. We forget that God loves us too much to leave us stuck in the middle of our mess. He will redeem us, there is coming a day when we will know the full weight of His love. But until that day comes, He offers His love, He offers Himself to us so that we will take our focus off the temporary and turn our eyes to the eternal.
Then underline this phrase found in verse 7 where John says Born of God. I believe that we understand what he is saying on a surface level. We are part of a movement that spends a lot of time and teaching about baptism, so we identify with this idea of being born of God. And yet there are times when I think we are in such a hurry to get to baptism, that we just kind of gloss over a very important detail. Before the one who loves is born of God, first they have to acknowledge and claim that they were dead in their sin.
I was in church before I was a week old. I cannot remember a time when we didn’t go to church, we were at VBS, Gospel Meetings, 3 Unusual Days with Jack Exum, knocked doors, went on mission trips, participated in Bible Call, Open Bible Studies, and I was involved in so many Jule Miller Filmstrips I still instinctively flinch every time I hear a ding. I was a pretty good kid growing up, I mean I was involved in normal mischief, but it was easy to think pretty highly of myself when I compared myself to the pagans who slept in on Sundays. Comparatively speaking I was a good person.
Have you ever noticed that the Biblical writers don’t spend a lot of time talking about the things we call big sins, or the things that make us bad people. There is not a lot of time or space given to a discussion about murder, or stealing, or wantonness. But they spend a lot of time discussing the things that we tend to overlook or even celebrate.
The Old Testament Prophets go back to this idea over and over that God really hates pride. Paul spends a considerable amount of real estate discussing the sin of refusing to honor God with our words and lives. James says that our tongues are evil and full of deadly poison. We try to assign our goodness by classifying big and little sins, while the Bible teaches what we consider a little thing, is actually not a little thing at all. It’s sin, and it’s deadly.
When we made the decision to give our lives to Christ, we were acknowledging that we were actually dead in our sin. I am not sure that I fully grasped that fact. I was so interested in comparing my self to people who were my age, to see how I stacked up against them; I never realized I was comparing myself to the wrong person. My sin is not based on if I am better than you, my sin is based on how I compare to Jesus Christ, and when you stack my life up next to His, it is glaring how dead I was in my sin. I couldn’t manufacture the Spirit inside of me, I only received a new life by an act of grace. I was dead and I needed love to rescue me.
John wants us to understand that our new life is only possible because God moved in. Paul writes it this way; It's no longer I who lives, but Christ who lives in me. Because God is love and we are born of God, now we have God actually living inside of us. I'm not just another person struggling somehow, someway to be moral. You are not just another person struggling to squeak by and do the right thing. We have a new life because God now lives within us.
When we are born of God we are able to live out our love. It's not something we learned out of a text book, it’s not something we learned in a short course, or at a retreat, or lectureship. We don’t have the capacity to do that on our own. That’s what God gives us at the cross, we received His spirit at our baptisms. God not only commands us to love, but He supernaturally gifts us the ability to do this thing we have been called to do.
In verse 9 John takes us a little deeper into this idea: God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. Since love is a call and since love has a source; then we need to acknowledge that the life of love demands a rescue.
The Hebrew writer says that Jesus was tempted just as we are, the only difference being that he did not sin. He was perfect in His word, thought, choice, and action. When He became the sacrifice for our sinfulness, He was perfect in every way so that He could satisfy the wrath of God. The Gospels tell us God not only sent His Son to the cross, but as Jesus carried our sins there that God turned His back and wouldn’t even look at His Son. This was because you and I needed to be rescued. I don't know how much you've thought about this, but the cross of Jesus is a call to love.
When John says, ... so that we might live through him, he’s talking about eternal life; but that's not the focus of this passage. Remember he's in a discussion of the way that God has called us to live in the here and now as the children of His love. He says, Jesus Christ came so that you would have life now living within you so that you would live as you have been called to live, so that you would have the capacity to live a life of love in the here and now. Love has rescued you from sin so that you would be able to love. God who is love saved you through the powerful work of His Son, because that is what love does.
Sin always turns our focus inward, it makes us self-focused and self-absorbed. We look at a week as being a good week or a day as being a good day according to how it has served our agenda. We want; we desire, we strive for the things that bring us pleasure. We want to put ourselves in the center of the universe, the one place reserved for God alone. We are so focused; so busy; so obsessed with loving ourselves that we lose the desire and time to love anyone else.
I want you to think back for a moment how much of your anger in the past week was because someone was in your way? How much of your anger last week was because you were inconvenienced, or you didn’t get your way? The truth is that if I am ever going to love in the way I was created to love, I need to be rescued from myself. I would like to think that you're my biggest problem; I would like to think that I struggle to love because of who you are. But I can sit in a basketball gym for 5 minutes and quickly have to face the truth that I struggle to love because of who I am. That’s why God, who is love, wants to transform us to lives of love.
Maybe you're sitting here this morning, and you're thinking, Okay, I get it, but what do I do about this?
First you have to admit whether or not you have ever really been rescued by love. You may have never faced the scary reality that your deepest problem exists inside of you, not outside of you. You may have never admitted that you are dead in your sin and you need the love of God to bring you new life. You may have never owned your sin and placed your hope in the sacrifice of Jesus. You may have never made your faith a verb, by contacting the saving blood of Jesus in the watery grave of baptism. Don’t put it off, don’t wait. Every day in your life is an argument for your need of rescue.
Maybe you're one of God's children here this morning, maybe you trusted God to rescue you. Let me remind you that it's not enough for you to simply come and sit on a pew on Sunday, sing some beautiful hymns about the love of God. You need to allow God to continue to transform your life into a beacon of His love.
Maybe you're a stay at home mom, and you wonder if you are making any difference in the world. Your day is filled with carpools, lunches, and laundry. There was a time when you believed you would make a difference and now you just go through the motions. You need to remind yourself, that the God who is love is at this moment transforming you by His love. He needs you to be the representative of His love in the lives of your children and their friends. You need to decide this morning that you are going to step forward in the courage of faith, and love as God has called you to love because you are not alone; the God of love lives inside of you.
Maybe you are a husband; you drive home at the end of your busy day, and all you want to do is be left alone, maybe a silent dinner followed by a silent room. But this week make the decision you are not going to be distant and absent from your family. Today you're driving toward a call. You need to preach the Gospel to yourself on the way home. Turn off the the radio, and remind yourself that the God of love lives inside of you and His transforming love is at work. You need to say, I'm going to be a loving dad and husband tonight, even though I feel like I am at the end of my rope.
Maybe you're a young married person, and you've discovered that this is not what you thought it would be. That person who was once the love of your life has the amazing ability to irritate you. And there are times when you just want to rush home first and change the locks. You need to remind yourself that the God who is love is transforming you by His love so that you would be a person of love. You need to make the decision to love your spouse, and to put them first, allowing God to soften your heart so your love will grow.
Maybe you're single and dealing with a boss, teacher, or parent that is arrogant, demanding, and critical. You find yourself doing the easy thing, you catch yourself gossiping and berating them behind their backs. Today you need to accept your calling and begin to live like Christ is living in you. Today you determine to live a life of love.
Maybe you're a child, you've come to realize that your parents are less than-perfect people. They don't always respond to you in grace, and there is great temptation to be distant and bitter. Your broken spirit leans towards rebellion. Today you need to be remind yourself of the Gospel and say, This is why Jesus came. Jesus came so that I would have the capacity to love because He's rescuing me from me.
Everyone of us needs to preach the Gospel to ourselves every day. God who is love, by His grace, is transforming us by that love so that we would be people who love. Wouldn't it be wonderful if people in our community would say, those folks at Greenbrier know how to love not just on Sunday, but on Monday evening and Tuesday morning, Wednesday evening, Saturday afternoon. Jesus’s words still ring true: By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.
Our community still needs love’s rescue. God offers Himself to you this morning. If you will accept His gift of rescue then please come.