Sermon Text: 1 John 4:7-11, 19-21
Date: May 20 & 21, 2017
The Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year B
1 John 4:7–11, 19-21 (EHV)
7Dear friends, let us love one another, because love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8The one who does not love has not known God, because God is love. 9This is how God’s love for us was revealed: God has sent his only-begotten Son into the world so that we may live through him. 10This is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11Dear friends, if God loved us so much, we also should love one another.
19We love because he first loved us. 20If anyone says, “I love God,” but hates his brother, he is a liar. For how can anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, love God, whom he has not seen? 21This then is the command we have from him: The one who loves God should also love his brother.
God Is Love
1. Love that loved us
2. Love with which we love others
“Love” is perhaps one of the most misused and misapplied words in all of the English language. Perhaps someone uses it to try to justify their actions that may have hurt or offended someone else, claiming, “I only did it because I love you.” Perhaps someone uses it to attempt to color any action or attitude that they don’t like as wrong by calling it “unloving.” Dating couples may say they love each other when they mean they lust after each other. Long-married couples may say they love each other when they mean that they just barely tolerate one another. We can use that word “love” in a variety of ways, most of which tend to be self-serving.
But we don’t need to do that anymore because God gives us his definition of love, and he doesn’t just take us through a dictionary definition. God actually shows what love is by who he is and what he does. God’s actions show that he is love, by loving us and showing us then how to love others.
The apostle John, who often uses the word “love” in his letters and Gospel, remind us that love as God defines it is clearly and completely summarized in Jesus. He says, “This is how God’s love for us was revealed: God has sent his only-begotten Son into the world so that we may live through him. 10This is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.” God shows that true love has absolutely nothing to do with emotions. Love is attitude and action. God shows us his attitude toward us through his actions, chief among them being his sending Jesus so that we had the sacrifice for sins which would enable us to live with him forever.
In many ways, this summarizes a lot of what we’ve heard from God’s Word throughout this Easter season. If Jesus came that we might live, that means that without Jesus we are dead. And truly, that’s what our sins are. They are death. Sin is the reason there is pain and sickness and even death in this world. Sin is the reason your body ached a little bit when you got out of bed this morning or you had the heated conversation with a family member earlier in the weekend. Sin is the reason for everything bad in our lives.
Sin is rebellion against God. Sin is defiance in the face of his commands. Sin is picking a fight with the Almighty. Sin is the ultimate in selfishness, doing what I want to do regardless of what God says or how it affects anyone else. And for as miserable as all of those previous effects of sins are—the pain, the strife, the sadness—none of it compares to the real result of sin: eternal death in hell. That’s the penalty that God attaches to sin: being separated from him forever, unending torment as a result of our rebellion.
God, of course, did not want that for us. He didn’t want us to suffer for our sins, but at the same time he also couldn’t just brush aside our sins and say, “Don’t worry. No big deal.” His justice demanded a payment for sin, but his love meant that he would send someone to take our place. God shows his love for us in his action of sending his own Son to save us.
Jesus is God’s love for us because he came as our substitute. John uses that phrase again, “atoning sacrifice.” We heard John use that earlier in his first letter a few weeks ago. To atone means to put two in-conflict parties at peace, to put two groups or people who had been separate back “at one” with each other. That was Jesus mission: to put us back at one with God.
So Jesus did that the only way possible, by sacrificing himself. Jesus himself gave that purest definition of love in our Gospel this morning: No one has greater love than this: that someone lays down his life for his friends (John 15:13). Jesus sacrificed his very life to pay for our sins. While he hung on the cross, suspended between heaven and earth, the Father punished Jesus for your sins and mine. He suffered so that you and I would not have to. Jesus gave his life to save ours. That is true love because it is love in action.
So now you and I, despite our sins, are the forgiven children of God. We have been rescued from hell and have been assured of eternal life with our heavenly Father forever. God assures us that our sins are gone, and Jesus’ cross and empty tomb make that fact inescapable. We belong to God and will forever. We benefit from our Savior’s love for eternity.
But that love doesn’t just have an effect in eternity. Your religion is not something that lays dormant inside of you until the final trumpet sounds and Jesus returns on the Last Day. John says, “Dear friends, let us love one another, because love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God…. Dear friends, if God loved us so much, we also should love one another.” John is not saying we should have bubbly feelings in our stomach toward people. He’s saying we should really love others, in the same way that God loved us. When you love others, it should be love in action, sacrificing of yourself to help others. Thus, your faith in Jesus changes the way you deal with other people.
So the question we are left with is: do I? Do I express my joy in God’s love for me by how I treat other people? Do I show love in my everyday life? Do I show real, Christ-like love to my fellow members here at church, to my fellow families in our school, to those people here today that I do not know, to my next-door neighbor, to the stranger on the BART train? Do I show empathy to other people who are different than me? What is my gut reaction to someone whose skin is a different color than mine or whose political ideology is at odds with my own? What is my reaction to the thoughts of people who are significantly older or significantly younger than me? What is my reaction to people who have problems I’ve never had or people who have never had my problems?
John directs us and motivates us: “We love because he first loved us. 20If anyone says, “I love God,” but hates his brother, he is a liar. For how can anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, love God, whom he has not seen? 21This then is the command we have from him: The one who loves God should also love his brother.” Why would we show love to other people? Because Jesus first loved you and loved me by sacrificing himself for us. When we are truly thankful for that, how could we ever not love others?
And loving others doesn’t just mean loving people that are “easy” to love, like the friend that sacrificed so much for you, or the spouse who selflessly gives of themselves to support the family. It doesn’t mean just being kind to those with whom we see eye-to-eye on the social issues of our day. It means acting in real, self-sacrificing love even to those people we would naturally be at odds with. It means being willing to give of yourself to help those who are different than you. Your love cannot be dictated by someone else’s race, or politics, or even their religion. You and I, we want to love everyone in the way that Jesus loved us. He sacrificed himself for people like us who, in sin, were his enemies. That means that our love cannot just be shown when it’s comfortable. That means we love even when it hurts. That means sacrificing ourselves for the benefit of our fellow people, even those we may consider our enemies.
Why? Because supporting someone in their temporary, earthly needs can give us the opportunity to share what they truly need. Showing love to our fellow people is a way to testify to the way the Jesus has loved us, and has loved them. Jesus’ death paid for my sins, but he also paid for the sins of the stranger next to me on the train. How can I not love someone that Jesus loved? How can I not share Jesus with a person for whom he died?
I don’t want to make light of this and imply that any of this is easy. It’s not easy to put yourself in the shoes of someone very different than you. It’s not easy to understand their needs, fears, and concerns. It’s even more difficult to sacrifice your own time, skills, wealth, happiness, whatever, to help another person. But again, love is not emotion; love is action. Love is work. It’s work that hurts; it’s work that is self-sacrificing. But just because it’s difficult does not give us the right to not to do it. If we refuse to love our neighbor, our fellow people, how can we possibly claim that the love of God is in us?
So today, this very moment, start to view people, all people, as God himself sees them, as objects of your love. Branch out from the comfortable objects of your love and look for more difficult ones. Ask yourself, “How did Jesus love me? Therefore, how should I love this person?” Ask yourself, “How did Jesus love this person? Therefore, how should I love this person?” Give of yourself because Jesus gave of himself for you. Love others because he loved you first.
In all of this loving of one another, we can rejoice together. Not just in the earthly love and support that we can share here, but in the eternal life that we received from our God. God is love, and that love has removed our sins and given to us eternal life as a free gift. It has even forgiven us for those times where we have not loved as we should have. Since we are free from all those sins, let us have God’s love permeate every word we speak, ever thing that we do, and every thought that we have. Not just today, but every day, every moment of our lives until he calls us to our eternal home.
God is love. May that love be our life here and forever. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen.