1 John 4:19-21
Our culture heavily influences what we think or how we feel about certain things. While there are some folks who truly believe that the culture has no bearing on who they are or what morals they hold, I believe that most of us are aware enough to admit the truth, that we are products of our culture.
As I was planning out this series on 1 John 4, trying to figure out how I could draw our attention back to the idea that we are called to love above every other thing, I wanted to look at this text in three parts. The first part was that we had been rescued by love. Last week we talked about how love must be modeled in our lives. But this week’s section kept calling me back to this idea that doesn’t sound quite right, but I believe in this part of the text John is calling us to the idea of love’s war.
In our culture we don’t often link the ideas of love and war in the same sentence. I am sure there are some very well read folks who would like to quote Shakespeare and say, All’s fair in love and war. But that’s 16th century England not 21st Century America. And Shakespeare wasn’t making the same point John is making. While it might not be our cultural norm to associate the two, this morning I want us to consider that love is a war. It's a war between our calling and our hearts. A war between what we were created for, and what our broken spirit longs to do. So John is going to explore this idea of love’s war and how it can be seen in our lives in three different ways.
Love is a war of motivation.
Look back at our text for this morning and underline: We love because he first loved us in verse 19. I have mentioned often how love cannot be motivated by duty or obligation. Real biblical love is rooted in our understanding of how deep the Father loves us. We can only love like we were created to love, when we remember that our lives have been totally transformed by God’s gift of love; a gift we could never earn or deserve.
When we first came to God our hearts and minds were overwhelmed by Gods love for us. It was amazing to think that there was nothing we could do to make God love us more and nothing we had done that would make Him love us less. But, just like in our human relationships, over time we began to take our relationship with God for granted. At one time we were overwhelmed with His love, but we eventually lost our sense of awe. We forgot how much we needed God and began to tell ourselves compared to other people we were pretty good. Actually compared to the pagans out there, God got a great deal when I chose to accept offer.
Eventually we got to the place where we begin to think that we didn’t really need God’s love and grace anymore because we had it all figured out. We pile up an impressive list of our wisdom, our strength and good deeds so we can talk about what a good person we are. The problem is that God tells us the truth and we are miles and miles away from being righteous. This war continually wages in our hearts because we have chosen to take God for granted.
I cannot over state the fact that our ability to love, is rooted in our understanding of God’s grace. We can only be truly motivated to love, when we understand how much God has loved us.
Think back to the parable of the Prodigal boys in Luke 15. A man had two sons and one of them asks for his inheritance before dad dies. And the dad gives the boy what he asked for, and pretty soon the boy goes off into a distant country and wastes all of the money. Left broke and friendless, the boy begins to feed pigs and he is so hungry even the pig slop looks tasty. Finally the boy comes to his senses and realizes that even the servants had it better at dads house. So the boy gets up, dusts himself off, and heads towards dad’s house looking for a job not sure what’s going to happen when he gets there. When the dad sees the boy breaking the horizon, he runs to him and welcomes the son back into the house. This is one of the greatest stories ever told.
Jesus uses the story to teach us about God’s mercy. In an act of mercy the Father welcomes the boy back from the far country, and put a ring on his finger, sandals on his feel and a robe on his shoulders. In an act of mercy the dad had no intention of the boy to come begging his way back, first as a slave, then servant, and then after he proved himself he could be called a son again. It was through the fathers mercy that when the boy decided to come home he was welcomed and restored. What did the boy do to earn or deserve the father’s mercy? What could he have done to earn his forgiveness? Absolutely nothing. When the father saw the boy out on the horizon, it was the fathers love that compelled him to run to his son. It was his love, not the fancy speech, or the boys remorse that caused the father to welcome the boy home.
But it is also a story about God’s grace. It was not enough for the son to merely be welcomed back home. That was an extravagant gift, but God’s grace knows no bounds. So the Father killed the fatted calf and threw a party. The fatted calf, had significant meaning in their culture. This was the calf that the family had kept in a pen since it was weaned from its mother. This calf didn’t get to eat the same grass that the other livestock ate, this was a special calf that only ate grain. It was fattened up and only used for celebrations. There were not several fatted calves, there was the fatted calk, only one. This was an act of extravagant grace. And everyone knew this boy didn’t and couldn’t have earned this party. But that doesn’t mean that folks hadn’t tried, because there was another son.
There was the son who chose to stay home. He chose to live in dad’s house, and eat dad’s food. He was the good son, and we find out that even the good boy couldn’t earn the grace of the father. The story continues that while the family was experiencing the grace of the dad, the older son came home and refused to go in. When the dad came out to get him, the older son said How many years have I been working like a slave for you, performing every duty you’ve asked as a faithful son? And I’ve never once disobeyed you. But you’ve never thrown a party for me.
The son who stayed home was experiencing love’s war. He truly believed that he could earn the mercy and grace of the Father. He thought because of his hard work and obedience, that he could decide who deserved love, or mercy, or grace. His arrogance clouded his vision of who the Father truly was. We know the struggle, because so many of us can see ourselves in the older son. We have been faithful, we have worked in the kingdom, and we believe we deserve God’s favor.
As long as we feel like we deserve God’s love, then we begin to believe that people need to earn our love and favor as well. The war rages in our hearts because we have forgotten how much God loves us, and how we are so unworthy of His love. Our motivation to love can only come from an understanding of how much God first loved us.
Love is a war of contradiction. Underline I love God and hates his brother in verse 20.
While I expect to see John talk about loving God, it is a bit surprising to see him use such strong words like: he hates his brother. John is not one to waste words and He doesn’t pick words for shock value. So, that leaves me thinking that he is telling the truth and there are times when we claim to love God without loving our brother.
What I would like to tell you this morning is that the war that rages in my heart is not that big a deal. I don’t really hate others, I just struggle dealing with folks who irritate me and who are constantly trying my patience. I would like to tell you that these are just mild inconveniences and that I don’t really struggle with jealousy and greed and selfishness. But John calls us back to this truth. We either love or we hate, there is no middle ground. There is no kind of love, or mostly love, it’s one or the other.
John knows that we can say I love God; celebrate His love for me. It’s easy to claim devotion to a God whom I can't see. But it’s a completely different thing to actually live out our self-sacrificing love toward the people that He places in my path. And while we want to make this a war between me and others, John says it’s not that simple. Our love problem is not a second great commandment problem; it is a first great commandment problem. The reason I don't love the people in my life the way that I should is I don't love God in the way that I claim.
It’s easy to forget that while we were the crowning achievement in God’s creation, we were not created to be the center of all creation. The center is a place where only God belongs. Everyone in this room has this desire to be the center of attention. We want people to realize how great we are and how lucky they are to have us as a part of their lives. Fighting over who is the greatest in the Kingdom, was not just something that the Apostles did, that fight has plagued mankind ever since Adam and Eve were in the garden.
We are in a war because we are living contradictions. We push ourselves toward the center, we want to be served, and have our needs met. You see, my greatest problem of love exists inside of me, not outside of me. The truth is we can make any claim we want, we can say that we love God with all of our hearts, but John says the contradiction will be seen in our lives. John closes this section of scripture with these words in verse 21; whoever loves God must also demonstrate love to others.
Finally, Love is a war of deception.
For just a moment, I want you to think about what a mature Christian looks like. What does it look like to live a life of faith? What does it look like to have a solid, healthy relationship with God?
My struggle here is that I'm afraid we approach that question like the guy who dropped his car keys in a parking lot at night. It's dark and he cannot see what’s on the ground, but he noticed there were street lights throughout the parking lot. So he spends all night looking for his keys under the lights and never finds them because he only looks in places that are obvious.
Growing up, we defined mature Christianity by stating things that were obvious. We claimed that a person was a mature Christian if they attended worship services, tithed, and read their Bibles. The problem is those things are false standards. Anyone who is serious about their relationship with Christ is going to do all of those things. Jesus says there will be people who do all those things, and still hear Him say on Judgement day, Depart from me; I never knew you.
Mature biblical faith is not found in public moments, rather maturity is seen in the private recesses of our lives. John says mature Christianity is seen in having a mature relationship 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 closest to us?
How can you claim to love God and struggle to love your wife, who is a gift from God? How can you claim to love God and struggle to love your Husband, who God gave to you? How can you struggle to be patient and kind to your children while claiming to love God? A true test of biblical faith is this willing, self-sacrificing love of your neighbor, the person closest you you. It's only when our selfish heart has been transformed by God’s divine love and grace that we will be able to love the way we were created to love. If you love others as Christ loved you, it’s because grace has visited your soul.
John says in verse 21: And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. Underline must also love. As we draw this text to a close, I wanted to go back to where we began. You may not have been called to be an elder in the church; you may not have been called to serve as a deacon; or a Sunday School teacher. You may not have been called to be a ministry leader taking the gospel into this community or a missionary taking the message of the Gospel around the world. But you have been called to love; it is the inescapable call on your life. You have been called to model love in the Model City, God did not place you here by mistake.
Everyone of God’s Children has been called to love. We live in different neighborhoods, we live in different circumstances, we live among different people, and we all share the same call to love. We are unified in this call to love our community in such a way that it is a powerful explanation for the truthfulness of the Gospel. We are called to love in such a way that, love is our evangelism.
Evangelism isn’t just sharing some abstract message of theology; evangelism is not some 5 step plan, Evangelism is a lifestyle bathed in love. When people who should be selfish, self-absorbed, competitive, angry, and impatient live in peaceful, loving, merciful, grace filled community with one another, that is a testimony to our belief in our God who is filled with mercy and grace.
Dads, when you’re in the yard with one of your children, and your neighbor is watching out the window, and that child is pushing those boundaries you have set, and you choose to respond in patience and grace, you are witnessing the gospel to that person who was watching. By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
Moms, when you're in the grocery store and your child is tired, hungry, and cranky. There are people standing on that aisle watching the meltdown and you choose to respond in patience and grace, you are witnessing the gospel to the people who are watching. By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
If you are at the office and your boss or co-worker is talking down to you, or worse taking the credit for your hard work. Your co-workers are watching the scene unfold and you choose to respond in patience and grace, you are witnessing the gospel to the people who are watching. By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
If your husband or wife or parent, or child is being unreasonable, and they raise their voice in the parking lot. “I’m not yelling, you are yelling". Other people are watching this heated exchange and when you choose to respond in patience and grace, you are witnessing the gospel. By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
That love gets right to the heart of who God is and who we are meant to be. Remember that birds ought to fly, honey ought to be sweet, and Children of God ought to love. Love is the hope of the world and the central message of the Gospel.
God claimed you to be a part of His great work in the redemption of this world. His love is the most powerful force of transformation in the universe. You have been created to love. You have been called to represent a God who is love, full of not only mercy but abundant grace.
We will achieve maturity when we cause the world to look and say, I don't know what these people are about, but I want what they have. Look how they love one another.