May 3, 2015
1 John 4:7-21
“God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.” That quote, from verse sixteen, describes the essential nature of God, it describes the essential nature of the relationship that we have with God, and it describes the essential nature of the relationship that we have with one another. Without God’s love for us, our love for God, and our love for one another, the Christian faith sputters away into complete irrelevancy. Apart from love, the Christian faith becomes utterly meaningless.
There is, however, I guess what we could call a real-time disconnect here. We are prone to wonder, often secretly, in the deepest parts of our hearts, if it really is true that God loves us. Left alone to our most private thoughts, we wonder if God could possibly love someone like us. Perhaps we have a long list of things that have gone tragically wrong in our lives, and we blame God for some of these things, and we have a hard time believing that God loves us. Or perhaps we’ve messed up so many times that we’ve made a wreck of our lives; that all of the stupid mistakes that we’ve made over and over again are clearly our own fault, and we fear that we have fallen out of favor with God. Perhaps we are wracked with guilt, and we feel that we are unworthy of God’s love.
So hear this, and hear it well: It does not matter one whit what we think. Our thoughts don’t enter into it at all. What we think about God’s love for us, what we think about whether God favors us or not, doesn’t even begin to enter the picture. As human beings, we have no influence whatsoever when it comes to God’s love for us. God loves us and God favors us in spite of ourselves. It does not matter what we think, or what we believe. It is impossible for us to stop God from loving us or favoring us. There is nothing that we can do to diminish God’s love for us, no matter how hard we try. God has loved us and favored us from the first moment of creation. Listen to verse ten of this chapter: “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be atoning sacrifice for our sins.”
And yet, we sometimes still wonder, don’t we? We still have that nagging doubt. We imagine a God who is standing by, angry and irate, ready to smite us the minute we mess up, or do something wrong. We have these “feelings” about God’s love for us, or the lack of God’s love for us that don’t have anything at all to do with what the Scriptures tell us about God’s love for us. Its as if our “feelings” about God’s love have more authority over us than the very clear teachings of God’s Word. That’s backwards. We aren’t the ones who write the rules about God’s love. And so we need to set aside our feelings and start to believe what God says about his love for us. Verses seventeen and eighteen speak clearly to this. “Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.” That’s God’s love for us. Perfect in every way. God’s love for us does not threaten judgment or punishment. God’s love is always kind, always welcoming, and always inviting us into deeper relationship. God’s love says, I love you no matter who you are or what you are, or what you think about yourself. My love for you is perfect and whole. Let us dispense with feelings and fear, and get ourselves firmly in God’s grip.
And then, there is our love for God. And here, the transition should be simple. When we finally get it into our heads that God loves us enthusiastically and exhaustively, we are confronted with a choice. We can enthusiastically receive that love, or we can reject it. If we receive God’s love, then the most natural response in the world is to love God in return. A better translation of verse nineteen is, “We love God because he first loved us.” When we finally get it into our hearts that God really does love us unconditionally, it becomes easy to love God. Lavish love flows back and forth between us and God as naturally as if we were created that way. And that’s just the way that God created us.
Loving one another, though, can be a different story altogether. Its not quite as simple as loving God, and it isn’t quite as natural. God’s love for us is perfect in every way. Our love for one another isn’t. God’s forgiveness of us is limitless and complete. Our forgiveness of one another is not always limitless, nor is it always complete. When God forgives us, God forgets our sins. They go away. They are no more. We’re not quite that good about these things. We remember stuff, and sometimes we hold a grudge, and bitterness overwhelms us. We need to pray for the healing of the sores that other people have inflicted on us, and we need to be careful that we don’t wound others. And we need to practice forgiveness as best as we can. The work of forgiveness has always been hard work, and agonizing work. It took the hard and agonizing work of God’s Son on the cross to achieve our forgiveness. We shouldn’t expect the work that we have to do when it comes to forgiveness to be all that much easier. And yet, we are called to love one another in the same way that God loves us. Verses twenty and twenty one say strongly and very forcefully, “Those who say, ‘I love God’ and hate their brothers or sisters are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.” That’s pretty straightforward.
But there’s something in this passage that will help us to get ourselves going in the right direction so that we really can love one another. Its stuck up there in verse seventeen, but its kind of hidden. Here it is: “because as he is, so we are in this world.” That’s a really profound and amazing statement. We know that God is altogether loving and altogether lovely. We’ve already established that. And we also know that God loves us perfectly and completely. And if God loves us perfectly and completely, then to God, we are also altogether lovely. That’s how God sees us. God actually takes great delight in us. That’s a good thing to know, especially if we’re prone to believe otherwise.
So let’s take a good look at the last bit of verse seventeen again, “because as he is, so are we in this world.”
We are surrounded this morning by people that God has declared to be not only altogether lovely, but also by folk whom God has declared to be like him. Isn’t that cool? We are like God! And so we are sitting, this morning in the midst of an absolute love fest! According to God, there’s love flowing all over the place! There’s love flowing down to us from God, there’s love flowing up from us to God, and wonder of wonders, there’s love flowing up and down, and in and around and all over the pews in this place. There’s love flowing from each of our hearts to the hearts of everyone else in this place. It’s a wonder we can even breathe, there’s so much love flowing around. And that should be astounding to every one of us sitting here this morning.
So think about this: Is there an unlovely person in this place? Not at all. Is there anyone who should think that they are unlovely? Not a bit. We are all lovely to God, because we have been declared to be lovely by God. Should we even feel that we are unlovely? Never in life. God says we are lovely, even if we don’t feel that way.
But here’s the leap: God says that everyone in this place is lovely, and we are lovely, because God has declared us to be lovely. And that includes us as individuals. God has said that we are lovely, so we can’t make ourselves unlovely no matter how hard we try, and no matter what we think or believe about ourselves, we are not unlovely. We might think about that the next time we try to convince ourselves that we are unlovely. But here’s the kicker, as children of God, we can’t make any one else unlovely either. Making someone else unlovely is impossible. It is beyond our ability. We can try to make someone else unlovely, but ultimately, we will fail. We cannot change what God has established. And so, simply put, we should stop trying to make others unlovely, and just give in and love one another. As it turns out, loving one another is a pretty natural thing to do, given our heritage from God. And when we love one another, heaven will rejoice, because love is what makes us work.