A sermon on 1 John 4:7-21 by Rev Richard Keith on Sunday 25 April 2021
Love. We are familiar with love. We think we know all about it. For example, there is a kind of love that admires lovely things, that celebrates what is beautiful in the world. And there is a kind of love that loves home and family and friends, that gives itself for my community, my town and my country. And there is a kind of love that cherishes the music I like, and the food I like, that throws itself into the job I like and the sports or hobbies I like, that revels in those precious moments when everything feels right and you think to yourself, “I love this.”
These are kinds of love. But they are not Christian love. This morning we turn to 1 John chapter 4, verses 7 to 21, where we find that God is love, that love begins with God, that Christian love is made possible by God’s love.
Firstly, God is love. John says in chapter 4 verses 7 and 8,
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.
If one thing is true it is that the Christian faith is a religion of love. Many people have tried to turn it into something else. A vehicle for personal pride and advancement. An institution to control the behaviour of others. An excuse to incite war and hatred. But these are perversions of what our faith is really about. Because at its core, at its true heart, we believe in, we follow, we trust, we serve, we love a God of love. Because God is love.
The ancient Greek philosophers believed in a distant, uncaring God who wasn’t moved by any prayer or suffering of his creatures far below. But the Bible reveals a God who moves himself for the sake of his creation and of his creatures. A God of love and patience and kindness and mercy. A God who gives life and preserves life and restores life. Who when humanity had turned against him and gone their own way, chose for himself one man, Abraham. And made of him a great nation, Israel. And rescued them from their slavery in Egypt. And led them through the desert to their own land. And gave them his law and his promises. Who promised to be for them, not just a God. Not just the God. But their God and they would be his people. And even when they proved unfaithful, he would not let go of them.
In Hosea chapter 11, the Lord’s heart bursts with his love for his wayward people,
How can I give you up, Israel? How can I hand you over, Israel? My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused. I will not carry out my fierce anger, nor will I devastate you again. For I am God, and not a man – the Holy One among you.
He is not holy so that his wrath is unrelenting against his sinful people. He is holy so that he relents from his wrath to save his people. He is a God of love. He is love. And love, true love comes from him.
Therefore, secondly, love begins with God. As John said in verses 9 and 10:
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.
God not only is love, but he loves us. And he did not leave us to discover hints of his love in the beauty of the world around us or in the random events of life. But his love became real in one perfect life, lived in a real place at a real time. For God sent his Son, his love made flesh, into our world. The world that had forsaken him. The world that had chosen darkness. God never abandoned it and shone his light.
And for thirty odd years our crazy mixed up world was graced with the life of Jesus Christ. His words. His actions. His choices. His obedience. His dignity. Loving the unlovely. Embracing the despised and the weak. There is no better word for it, but what we see in him is love. God sent him to finish what he had begun when he had called Abraham and rescued Israel.
And the light of Jesus’ love shone most brightly on the darkest day of his life. When he chose to drink the cup of his Father’s wrath. When the soldiers came for him, he surrendered to their custody so that his disciples could escape. When he was falsely accused, he said no words. When called to say who he was, he did not hide from the truth. When the crowd called for his death, he uttered no complaint. He endured the indignity, the purple robe, the crown of thorns, the pain of the nails in his hands and feet, the shame and the indignity of the mocking words of his enemies.
Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.
That day, that evil, black day, when he surrendered himself to the soldiers, he chose the nails. He didn’t do it so that he would be famous. He didn’t do it out of some twisted kind of self-loathing. He did it for you, because he loved you. He chose death for himself. And chose life for you. His one, true, perfect life of love, broken and poured out upon the cross as a offering to his Father. Like the circuit breaker that trips when the electric current surges and saves not only our electronic devices, but our lives. So the high voltage current of God’s judgment on our sins struck him and broke him, so that we might be saved.
This is love. This is the true measure of love. Not our half-hearted hymns. Not our feeble prayers. Not our miserly offerings or the rags of our Sunday best clothes. The true measure of love is the best life given in the noblest cause to fill our hate filled hearts with his love.
So thirdly, let’s talk about Christian love. Christian love is made possible by God’s love. God’s love for us in Jesus Christ makes it possible for us to love. As John says in verse 19,
We love because he first loved us.
The love of Jesus Christ, in his life and death, is the beginning of our love. He gave his life to save us. That we might be rescued from the living death of our selfishness and petty jealousies. That we might find life. That we might find our true selves. Not the people we were born to be. But the people we were saved to be. Born of God. Adopted into his family. Children of our heavenly Father. And brothers and sisters of the man of love, Jesus Christ.
This is salvation. This is what it means to be saved. Rescued from ourselves so that we might find our true selves, our true lives, so that we might find life and true love in Jesus Christ. The cross of Christ is the beginning of love. For just as he died and was buried and was raised to life so by his death he has raised us up to a new kind of life. To believe in him, to receive Christ as Lord, to receive his Spirit is to also receive the hammer blow that breaks the hardness of our hearts so that we might love too.
In fact, God’s love for us in Jesus Christ not only makes it possible to love, but it commands us to love. As John says in verses 11 and 12,
Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God, but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
Or as Jesus himself said,
My commandment is this: Love each other as I have loved you.
This is the life that Jesus gave his life for. That we might not live it for ourselves, running our own agenda, pursuing our own goals, but that we might truly give ourselves for God and for others. Not for a reward. Not in order to meet some need within us. Not because we like to be liked or because we want to be wanted. But because it is the will of God, our true life in Jesus Christ.
In fact, to not love is simply to show that we don’t know God. Not many people know but for my first degree at university I did a Bachelor of Agricultural Science at the University of Sydney. And there’s a very good reason that I don’t like telling anyone. It’s because I don’t want to open my mouth and prove to everyone that I don’t know the first thing about farming. In fact, by the third year of my course I’d specialised so deeply in biochemistry that I’m actually lucky to know which end of the sheep is the front. I think it’s the end with the teeth.
You see, I don’t want to be an armchair expert. I don’t want to be the kind of person who says they love music but can’t sing a note. I don’t want to be like the TV sports commentator who knows what the player should have done but couldn’t do it himself. I don’t want to be like the movie critic who can give a new film one star but wouldn’t know how to hold a camera to save their life. Armchair experts are full of opinions, but short on experience. They think they know what should be done, but they can’t do it themselves.
And it is sad when our churches are full of armchair Christians. They say they believe in a God of love. They say they belong to a religion of love. They say they follow the man of love. But they only actually love themselves and people who are like them and people who agree with them. By their actions and by their inaction, the things they do, and the thing they choose not to do, they despise those who are different or weak or unimportant. They have no time to help those who can’t help them back. And they have no time to listen to those who disagree with them. John says,
Anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.
They are the armchair experts of the church. Don’t be one of them.
Christian love is made possible by God’s love for us in Christ, because in Christ we have the example of true love. There is a love that admires beautiful things. But it is not Christian love. There is a love that loves its own community. Its own town. Its own country. But it is not Christian love. I don’t mean that patriotism is un-Christian. But I do mean that it is not the same as Christian love. And there is a love that fulfils your potential and meets your needs and makes you feel like you love it. But it is not Christian love.
Christian love is Jesus love. John says in verse 17 that in this world we are like him. We are like Jesus. Not by birth. But by God’s grace. We are in the world, but now like Jesus we no longer belong to the world. We belong in the kingdom of God. We are like him and called to a love like his. In Jesus we see a love that gives. Not a love that gives a bit. Not a love that gives its best. But a love that gives its all. It gives its all for the sake of the other. Not to fulfil its own need or to bring itself joy. But to meet the needs of others and to bring them their joy. Jesus gave his all for us that we might give our all for him and for others.
Its’ a challenging message. One I have to learn before I can dare teach it to others. It raises the most vital questions that we must ask ourselves. And exposes our motives in our innermost being. Why do I do the things I do? Why do I live the life I live? Why don’t I do the things I choose not to do? For there are many kinds of love. But as Christians we are called to a different kind of love. True love. Radical love. Revolutionary love. A love that could turn the world upside down. Jesus love.
The Lord Jesus said,
My commandment is this: Love one another as I have loved you.