“Living God's Love”Categories: M. W. Bassford, Sermons
The longer I serve the Lord, the more I gain an appreciation for the cunning of the devil. I don’t like it one little bit, of course, but I have to give him credit for how effectively he works, even in the lives of Christians. His ultimate goal for all of us is to lead us to hell, but short of that, he labors tirelessly to make all of us less effective disciples than we ought to be.
In this effort, one of his primary tools is distraction. He would prefer to distract us with the worries and cares of life, but if he can’t do that, he will use even the smaller commandments of God’s law. This is what he did with the Pharisees. They got so caught up in the details of the law that they forgot justice, mercy, and faithfulness.
This certainly can happen to us, so what I’d like to do this evening is to examine the greatest commandment of all: love. A couple of weeks ago, Landon suggested that I ought to preach on 1 John 5:3, but as I looked at the context, I decided there were things there that I had to tie in too. As part of our yearly focus on living for Jesus, then, let’s consider living God’s love.
In the passage that we’re going to be looking at, which stretches from the end of 1 John 4 through the beginning of 1 John 5, I see three major themes. The first of these is LOVE AND FEAR. Look at 1 John 4:16-18. The first thing that we learn in this context is how essential love is to our spiritual lives. John tells us that if we remain in love, God remains in us, and we remain in God. Here’s what I think this is saying: If we live lives that are filled with love, our actions show God to those around us, and we remain in fellowship with Him. On the other hand, if we do not remain in love, we fail to glorify Him, and we stray from Him.
John then goes on to point to two consequences of remaining in love: confidence in the day of judgment and casting out fear. The first calls us to a global let’s-be-honest check. Right now, considering my life as a whole, does my life express God’s love, or does it express selfishness? If the former, we can be easy in our minds about the state of our souls. If the latter, we desperately need to change!
Finally, let’s consider the interplay between love and fear, not only at the judgment, but throughout our lives as well. Often, we think of love and hatred as opposites, but John wants us to understand that love and fear are too. Love values others, but fear values the self. As a result, the devil is able to use fear to lead us to harm others in ways that we think protect us. I think this is evident in the news right now. As fear increases, evildoing does too. In God, though, we don’t have to be afraid. He will protect us, so His love frees us to love others.
This takes us to our second main theme, the relationship between LOVE AND THE BRETHREN. Here, let’s read 1 John 4:19-5:1. I said that the previous section had a let’s-be-honest check. I think this one is a check on our honesty. It’s very easy to blithely say that we live a life filled with love, but actually living that love-filled life is not easy!
John zeroes in on one litmus test: our love for our brothers and sisters in Christ. Sad to say, the relationships between brethren are not always marked by unfailing love. All of us who have been Christians for very long have seen brethren get into it. Maybe we’ve been the brethren who have gotten into it!
Regardless, all of us need to pay attention here. All of us claim to love God. That’s why we’re here tonight. However, John tells us that if we make that claim but don’t love our brother, we are lying, we are making loving God impossible, we are breaking God’s commandments, and we are rejecting His spiritual family. Basically, failing to love other Christians is a spiritual train wreck.
This tells us, then, that if we want to go to heaven, we have to get down there in the mud and do the backbreaking, heartbreaking work of loving one another. The problems don’t come when we’re dealing with Christians who are lovable. As Jesus said, even the sinners and tax collectors love people who treat them well.
Instead, this gets difficult when we are faced with Christians who do not behave well and are not particularly lovable. Because the devil is hard at work, this happens all the time. Our brothers and sisters frequently say offensive things, gossip, behave rudely, and generally make nuisances of themselves!
Even then, we still are called to love them. We must not become angry or hateful ourselves. We must not return evil for evil. We must put on a heart of patience, compassion, and kindness. By our willingness to imitate the perfect love of God, we show our love for Him.
Finally, let’s contemplate LOVE AND OBEDIENCE. Our reading for the day concludes in 1 John 5:2-3. We see 1 John 5:3 quoted by itself a lot as a way of emphasizing the importance of obedience. I don’t think that’s a misuse of the passage, exactly. Indeed, I think it generally is true that love for God and commandment-keeping go together. You don’t have commandment-keeping without love for God, and you don’t have love for God without commandment-keeping.
However, contextually, there’s more going on than simply that. V. 3 isn’t just an unconnected proverb floating in space. Instead, when we look at v. 2, we see that it ties back to the discussion of loving God’s children. This is another honesty check. Just as we show that we love God by loving His children, we show that we love His children by keeping His commandments, especially with respect to them.
Here too, it’s easy to see how we go astray. Plenty of Christians duck the force of the end of chapter 4 by insisting that they do love other Christians, really they do! However, once you start comparing what they’re doing to other Christians to their claim of love, a different picture emerges.
They say that they love other Christians, but they get in arguments with other Christians all the time. They say that they love other Christians, but they are rude and abrasive in what they say to them. They say that they love other Christians, but they insist on getting their own way instead of allowing other Christians to have theirs.
It may be that at this point in the sermon, we’ve got this little smile on our faces, and we’re thinking of names of brethren who were like that. Let me tell you what, brethren: we need to be thinking of our own name. I think it’s fair to conclude from John’s words here that godliness is most difficult within our own family and within our own congregation. If we will struggle with anything, we will struggle with this. We need to be vigilant against the appearance of sin in our hearts and our lives, and we need to dedicate ourselves to living out the love of God with respect to one another.