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Having the Mind of Christ

Thursday, December 30, 2021

If you were to listen to modern Christmas radio these days and didn’t know anything about the history of the holiday, you would be justified in concluding that it is primarily a romantic event.  There are innumerable songs on the theme of “all I want for Christmas is you”, more about how awful it is that the singer’s jerk significant other dumped them for the holidays, still more about being lonely during Christmas, and so forth. 

Interestingly, this represents not only a departure from discussing the birth of Jesus as traditional carols once did but also a departure from the spirit of Christ. Like most modern songs, these modern Christmas songs are self-centered, which Jesus was not.  Selfishness and godliness are opposites.  To the extent that one exists in a human heart, the other cannot.

We, of course, do not honor Christ only during this season, nor do we seek to imitate Him only during the holidays.  All day, every day, He is both our Lord and our example.  This morning, then, let’s consider what we can learn from Paul’s discussion of Jesus’ birth about having the mind of Christ.

In pursuit of this goal, we’re going to take a familiar text and rearrange it a little bit.  First, we’re going to consider WHAT CHRIST DID.  Let’s read from Philippians 2:5-7.  I believe that this is the single longest discussion of the birth of Christ in any of the epistles, and the perspective it takes on that event is revealing.

If somebody asked us what the meaning of Christ’s birth is, we might talk about the joy and wonder of God becoming flesh.  We might discuss the way that he fulfilled the prophecies concerning His birth—born of a virgin, born in Bethlehem, and so on.  However, Paul doesn’t go in any of those directions.  Instead, he says that the spiritual essence of Christ’s birth is His humility. 

We see this humility most spectacularly displayed in v. 6.  I think that many of our translations here are opaque.  They translate the words of the Greek without giving us much insight into its meaning.  We struggle to figure out, for instance, what it means when our Bible says that He did not regard equality with God as a thing to be grasped.  In English, is equality a thing?  Can we grasp it?

I think that some of the freer translations can help us out here.  The NLT says that Christ didn’t think of equality with God as something to cling to.  The NIV tells us that He didn’t consider it something to be used to His own advantage.  My favorite, the CSB, reports that he didn’t consider it something to be exploited. 

Taken together, they give us a new and challenging insight into the nature of humility.  We think of the humble person as one who does not thrust himself forward and demand credit for his achievements.  That’s not what Christ did, though.  Instead, He was in a position of immense privilege, but He didn’t use that privilege for His own advantage.

Today, the people of our country love to talk about their rights.  Indeed, the Constitution grants us many rights, but as we contemplate those rights, we also must remember that we serve One who had the right to equality with God in heaven and gave it up.  If we follow Him, we often will find ourselves turning our backs on the rights that we have in order to better serve others.

Next, let’s consider Paul’s thoughts on BEING LIKE CHRIST.  Look at Philippians 2:1-2.  Notice first of all that Paul is pulling out the heavy artillery in his efforts to get the Philippians to live in harmony.  He lists several of the greatest blessings we have as Christians then says that if we have enjoyed any of these things, we should seek like-mindedness with each other.

This too is an attempt to jar us out of the self-seeking mindset of the world.  Even as Christians, we like getting the good stuff from others, but we struggle with dishing it back out.  We love it when others encourage us, but it’s easy for us to go through life in our self-centered little bubble and never think to encourage others.  We’re so appreciative when others show us affection and compassion in our failure and sin, but when somebody lets us down, too often our first instinct is to throw the book at them!  Brethren, the only right measure of the grace we show others is the grace we want to receive.  I need mercy from God and others so often, and when I am tempted to be unmerciful, that is the very thing I must remember.

Next, Paul urges us to a level of unity that seems impossible.  We live in a deeply divided country, in the midst of a deeply divisive pandemic.  We are separated by differences of race and gender.  We have different backgrounds and different life experiences.  For that matter, we study the same passage or Scriptural topic and reach different conclusions.

In the face of that, Paul tells us that we must be of the same mind, maintain the same love, be united in spirit, and seek the same goal.  Surely he’s living in la-la land if he wants us to do all that, amirite?

Before we get too dismissive, though, we ought to remember that the divisions in the first-century church were, if anything, even worse.  Consider, for instance, the devout Jew who becomes a Christian and, next Sunday morning, finds himself rubbing shoulders with a Gentile who is a former homosexual prostitute.  There was no rehabilitation for guys like that under the Torah; instead, they were stoned to death.  Do you think that such people found it easy to be of the same mind?

In fact, the answer for us is the same as it was for them:  we learn to see one another through the eyes of Christ.  We don’t always agree about everything, but our attitude toward one another never changes.  We press on together toward the goal, and we show the world by our love for one another that we are His disciples.

Finally, Paul points us toward ACTING LIKE CHRIST.  Consider Philippians 2:3-4.  The first part of this, though it is very difficult, at least is plain.  Christ never did anything selfish.  We shouldn’t either.  Christ never acted out of vain conceit.  Neither should we. 

Instead, the attitude that our actions should shout is humility.  Everybody who looks at our behavior should be able to tell whom we think is most important, and that person should never be us.  That’s what a Christian looks like, and if this verse doesn’t make us feel about six inches tall, we probably don’t understand it.

Last, we learn that we are supposed to look out for the interests of others as well as our own.  This seems like a relief from all the toe-stepping in the previous verse, but it isn’t.  There are few things in this life that are harder than loving others and being deeply invested in their welfare. 

It means that you’ve got a lot of people on your heart, all the time.  It means that you spend sleepless nights worrying and praying about them.  It means that when they sin, you feel worse about it than they do.  We might ask why on earth anyone would take up a burden like that.  The answer is simple:  because Jesus did.

Departing from the Pattern

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

The Biblical plan for the New Testament church is simple.  There are a few things we are supposed to do in our assemblies, a few more that we are supposed to do with our money, and that’s it.  The scope of the Biblical pattern is extremely narrow.

It is unsurprising, then, that since the beginning, God’s people have been unsatisfied with that pattern and have wanted to depart from it.  The church of the first century became the Catholic Church of later centuries, which bears little resemblance to anything in Scripture.  In our own time, whenever churches have gotten wealthy and powerful, they’ve started coming up with all these other ideas for other things that the church might do, especially with money.  However, there is no Biblical precedent for these new works.

What do we do with that?  Is it OK, for instance, for us to alter our singing by bringing in a band to help us worship?  Is God pleased when churches start spending money on whatever they think is right?  Or is there another way that we should be looking at things?  Today, let’s use a story from 1 Samuel 8 to guide us as we consider the subject of departing from the pattern.

The first part of the story concerns A DEMAND FOR A KING.  Let’s read from 1 Samuel 8:1-5.  The fact pattern here is straightforward.  Samuel’s sons are corrupt judges, so the people come to him and ask him to appoint a king instead.

This process reveals several important truths to us.  First, people want to abandon the pattern when they think it’s failing.  The Israelites didn’t want a king when Samuel was in his prime.  They only sought change when Joel and Abijah started messing up. 

So too today, people want to change the worship and work of the church when they perceive that the church is failing.  The singing is rotten, so bring in the band.  The poor are hungry, so start up a food pantry, and so on.  We abandon the pattern when we think the pattern isn’t working.

However, both the Israelites and people today make the same mistake.  We like to blame the pattern when people are at fault.  In the Israelites’ time, the problem wasn’t with the judgeship.  It was with the judges.  Sadly, rather than removing the judges, their solution was to abandon the judgeship.

We too, when God’s work isn’t getting done, prefer to blame the pattern instead of ourselves.  We don’t fix the rotten singing by singing more enthusiastically.  We don’t care for the poor by using our own money.  Instead, we want the church to change because that’s a quick fix that doesn’t require us to grow in Christ.

Finally, departures from the pattern generally are influenced by the world.  The Israelites didn’t only want a king; they wanted a king like the nations around them.  When the Lord’s people abandon the pattern, they also are not very original.  Our progressive brethren think they’re breaking new ground, but really, they’re becoming exactly like the denominational churches around them.  3000 years later, things still play out the same.

Next, we see GOD’S REPLY to the Israelites.  Consider 1 Samuel 8:6-18.  In this section, He identifies three problems with their demand.

The first is that departing from the pattern rejects Him as king.  They didn’t want to be ruled by God anymore.  They wanted to be ruled by one from among themselves.

The same holds true for us.  When we reject God’s pattern, we reject God’s kingship.  If we truly want His will to be done in all that we do, we will confine ourselves only to what we read in the Scriptures. 

On the other hand, when we start doing things that aren’t in the Bible, that’s no longer God’s will.  It’s our will.  We only go along with God when He tells us to do what we want to already.  That’s not obedience.  It’s coincidence.

Second, God says that abandoning the pattern is the same thing as idolatry.  This seems like a strange claim for Him to make, given that the story contains no graven images.  However, the idol to which He is referring is the most dangerous idol of all:  the Israelites themselves.

For us too, self-idolatry is a deadly spiritual danger.  Let’s be honest for a moment.  When we abandon the old path of the New Testament for a new path of our own invention, whom are we exalting?  Whom are we lifting up? 

Is it God and His wisdom and authority?  Or is it we ourselves, with our human ingenuity and cleverness?  How wonderful it is, that in our wisdom we have come up with this great new work for God’s church that surely He would have included. . . if only He’d been a little smarter!

The idolatry’s not hard to see, is it?

Finally, God points out that the Israelites haven’t thought through the consequences.  Once they get a king, he is going to take their children, their property, and their own selves.  Even though God doesn’t mention it here, there are going to be severe spiritual consequences too.  Ultimately, the kings will lead Israel into apostasy and captivity.

Historically, leaders in the Lord’s church haven’t been great at anticipating consequences either.  When the second-century church started appointing single bishops over cities, I’m sure that no one foresaw it eventually would lead to the appointment of a pope, but it did.  In our own time, I doubt that the leaders of the institutional split thought their teaching would lead to female preachers, adoption of the instrument, and downplaying the necessity of baptism, but it has. 

Brethren, none of us are God.  We’re rotten at seeing the end from the beginning.  Rather than striking out on our own, we’re much better off confining ourselves to His revealed will.  He’s thought His ideas through, and we haven’t.

Last in this story, we see THE PEOPLE’S DECISION.  It appears in 1 Samuel 8:19-21.  Despite God’s warnings, they persist in their demand for a king.

Notice, though, that a new motivation has appeared.  The people don’t just want a king to judge them.  They want a king to go out before them and fight their battles for them.  That way, they don’t have to do anything.

In the same way, I fear that a lot of Christians want the church to fight their battles for them.  They don’t want to embarrass themselves with heartfelt singing, so the church needs to bring in the instrument.  They don’t want to be hospitable, so the church needs to build a fellowship hall.  They don’t want to interact with the poor, so the church needs to do that for them.  By the end of this process, the church does everything, and the disciples do nothing.  It’s perfect for people who want to be do-nothing disciples.

Finally, though, notice what God tells Samuel to do with the people who want to depart from His will.  He tells him to give them the king they have asked for.  They don’t want to do right, so He will allow them to do wrong.

So too today.  God doesn’t force any of us to do right, and we don’t force anybody to do right either.  We can warn others, we can point them to the word, but we can’t control them without abandoning the pattern ourselves.  All we can do is make sure that in our lives and in our congregation, we remain faithful.

Making Peace with the Past

Wednesday, December 01, 2021

As you know, I like to preach on sermon requests, unless I forget what they are first.  This one came to me in one of the church-building hallways after services.  A member here asked me to preach on forgiveness, especially forgiving oneself.

This request does not surprise me one little bit.  I’ve been hearing similar concerns from Christians for decades.  It’s been true in Texas, true in Illinois, and true here.  I’ve even seen aspiring hymnists wanting to write hymns about the subject because it’s such a struggle for them. 

When I see the topic come up so much, it tells me that a lot of Christians feel like they don’t have good solutions to the problem.  We all know that Christians rise from the waters of baptism to walk in newness of life.  However, what do we do when guilt from the old life keeps intruding into the new one?  For that matter, how do we handle it when we start accumulating sins in the new life too?  We know that Jesus forgives our sins, but sometimes we don’t feel forgiven.  This morning, then, let’s consider what it takes to make peace with the past.

The first thing that we must do is PUT THE BURDEN IN THE RIGHT PLACE.  Here, let’s look at Ephesians 2:8-9.  One of my primary rules in studying the Bible is always to seek to explain the text rather than explaining away the text, and this passage illustrates the importance of doing so perhaps better than any other.  When I was growing up, I never heard this verse cited in church without somebody following it with “But you still have to be baptized!”  The only people I heard quoting it approvingly were people from the denominations.  I got the impression that this was a denominational verse instead of a church-of-Christ verse.

Sadly, it is no less dangerous for us to turn away from the whole counsel of God than it is for others to do so, and the consequences of our minimizing this passage are obvious.  It shows up in two main places:  in all the faithful Christians who are scared to death that they aren’t good enough to go to heaven and in those who are so caught up in their own guilt that the forgiveness of Jesus doesn’t register.  You know what both of those things are?  They’re symptoms of believing on some level that our salvation is from ourselves.

In fact, if we’re being perfectly honest, both of those things are symptoms of a desire to boast in ourselves.  We want to be good enough on the day of judgment, and we want to have been good enough that we don’t have those regrets in our past.  The problem is, though, that we know that we have failed and continue to fail, so we suffer beneath all this fear and guilt.

There’s only one way out of the trap.  It’s to put the burden of our righteousness on Jesus.  Of course we failed in the past!  It’s why we became Christians in the first place.  Of course we will continue to fail!  Otherwise, we no longer would need His grace.  We cannot hope to save ourselves or boast in ourselves, but He can and will redeem us.

Second, we must EMBRACE RENEWAL.  I like the way Paul puts this in Colossians 3:9-10.  It’s a passage that highlights both kinds of renewal.  The first is the spiritual change of clothes that is so prominent in Ephesians and Colossians.  When we obeyed the gospel, we put off the old self and put on the new self.  We are different people now than we were before we were baptized.  All the evils that the old self did were left in the water.

However, renewal for the Christian is not just a one-time event.  It’s a continuing process.  We have put on the new self, past tense, but we are being renewed, present tense.  In context, Paul discusses our renewal in knowledge, but this is not the only kind of renewal we experience.  In Lamentations 3, Jeremiah observes that God’s mercies are new each morning.  We are constantly renewed in knowledge, renewed in righteousness, and renewed in every one of His great blessings.

When we look back, then, on one of those sins that gives us so much guilt now, we must ask if God has renewed us since.  Are we still practicing that sin?  Is our heart such that we would do it again if given opportunity?  If so, we absolutely should feel guilty!  We need to repent and get our hearts and our lives right with God.

However, for the Christians who can’t forgive themselves, that’s usually not the case.  They usually experience such agony over their past sins because they have repented, aren’t practicing the same thing, and don’t want to. 

If that’s where you are, guess what?  Those sins don’t belong to you anymore.  You’re a different person.  You’ve been renewed.  You’ve been renewed in your knowledge, renewed in your heart, and most of all, renewed in God’s grace.  Those sins have been removed from you as far as the east is from the west, and it doesn’t make any more sense to feel guilty about them than it does to feel guilty about the sins of a stranger.

Finally, we must LEAVE THE PAST IN THE PAST.  Paul makes this point in Philippians 3:13-14.  It’s interesting that contextually, Paul is talking about forgetting the good things that were part of his life before Christ.  He was working on leaving behind things like being a Pharisee of Pharisees and blameless according to the Law.

However, these kinds of unpleasant memories are joined to guilt over past sins by a common thread of regret.  The devil was whispering in Paul’s ear that it would have been better if he had gone on being a wealthy, honored Hebrew of Hebrews.  Likewise, he uses even our sorrow for sin as a tool to drag us back into the past. 

Indeed, the devil wanted Paul thinking about the past and wants us thinking about the past for the same reason.  He doesn’t want us thinking about the present because in Paul’s present and our present is Christ.  No matter what pretty shiny worldly things the devil dangled in front of Paul, once the apostle compared them to Christ, he saw them for the garbage they were.

So too for us.  The devil wants us to dwell on our guilt, our crushing, agonizing, overwhelming guilt.  He wants us to lose sleep over it.  He wants us to be unhappy.  However, what he does not want us to do is to compare our guilt to the grace of Christ. 

He does not want us to think about the infinite love of Jesus that led Him to die on the cross.  He does not want us to think about the infinite grace that His sacrifice made possible.  Remember too that infinity divided by any finite number remains infinite.  Jesus didn’t just love the human race infinitely.  He loved you infinitely and me infinitely too, and the grace that cleanses each of us of sin is infinite too.

It's good for us to learn from the mistakes of the past, but we must not define ourselves by those mistakes.  Instead, we must define ourselves by the grace of Christ.  None of us are or can hope to become anything more than a redeemed sinner, but that’s all we have to be because His grace is enough.

Straight Talk About Hell

Thursday, November 11, 2021

During our recent trip to Hawaii, my wife and I saw many amazing things.  Of them all, though, the most amazing was the active volcano.  Lauren saw that Kilauea had begun erupting again just before we left, so we decided that we wanted to visit the crater rim after dark, when it would be most visible. 

We ended up on the rim about a mile away from the molten part.  We could see steam hissing out of vents all over the caldera floor, one of which was stained a brilliant yellow by the sulfur coming out of it.  After dark, we could see molten orange cracks forming and closing, and the sides of the crater were lit with red. 

As I took the spectacle in, I thought to myself, “Well, I know a sermon request when I see one!”  I literally saw a lake burning with fire and brimstone, but I was quite safe from it.  However, the day is coming when billions will encounter a lake burning with fire and brimstone, and they will not be safe from it.  That’s not a fate I would wish on anyone, so I figured it was time for some straight talk about hell.

The first thing that we must understand about hell is that IT IS A HORRIBLE PLACE.  Consider Jesus’ description of it in Mark 9:42-48.  Note first of all the list of things that Jesus said are preferable to being cast into hell.  It’s better to have a millstone hung around your neck and be drowned.  It’s better to have your hand chopped off.  It’s better to have your eye gouged out.  It’s better to have your foot severed. 

None of those are things we want to have happen to us!  However, if we were offered a choice between those things and hell, we would be wise to say, “Bring on the millstone.  Bring on the axe.”

In fact, Jesus describes hell as a place where the worm does not die and the fire is not quenched, a description He takes from Isaiah 66.  Most of us have experienced a burn, though hopefully only a minor one.  Most of us have seen roadkill in the summer that is seething with maggots.  Other passages describe hell as utter darkness. 

Those things are what hell is like, except that hell lasts forever.  In Matthew 25, Jesus talks about eternal fire.  In 2 Thessalonians 1, Paul describes eternal destruction.  On earth, eventually what burns is burned up.  The maggot-ridden corpse is consumed.  The darkness is ended by dawn.  However, there is no relief from the torments of hell.

Of course, these things are not literal.  Instead, they are meant to convey to our minds what it’s like to be eternally separated from God.  When some people hear this, they say, “Well, that’s not so bad!” 

However, we only say such things because we never have experienced the complete absence of God.  Every good gift that every one of us enjoys in our lives comes from Him.  When God leaves, He takes all the good with Him, and all that is left is misery, suffering, and all the cruelties that the devil can devise.

Second, IT IS FOR SINNERS.  Look at Revelation 21:6-8.  As the words of the Father here make clear, there are only two choices.  Either we inherit eternal life from Him, or we are cast into the lake that burns with fire and brimstone.  There’s no third way.

Also, the catalogue of sins in v. 8 is meant to be representative rather than exhaustive.  Hell is not only for those who practice those particular kinds of wickedness.  It is for anyone who practices any kind of wickedness.  If we practice sin, hell will be for us.

For many, this is their single biggest problem with Christianity.  The Bible teaches both that God is love and that most people will spend eternity in hell.  Isn’t that a contradiction?

However, I think that those who propose this dilemma have failed to reckon with what God has done for us.  First of all, God has been fair.  He has revealed Himself to every human being through His creation.  He’s given every one of us a conscience. 

We all had the opportunity to honor Him and walk righteously before Him.  Did we take it?  We did not.  We chose to reject Him and be evil instead. 

In addition, God is merciful.  He gave us the opportunity to find salvation through His Son.  Do most take advantage of that?  They do not.  God is reaching out to them, pleading with them to accept the most precious gift anyone ever has been offered.  In response, they turn their back on Him and go on being evil. 

What’s God supposed to do?  Confirm His word with lots of miracles?  He’s tried that lots of times.  It didn’t work.  Reveal Himself directly to people?  Last time God did that, they crucified Him.  Win them with kindness?  He’s doing that right now.  It also doesn’t work.  Warn them with suffering?  He does that too, again with little success.

In short, there is nothing that even God can do with hard-hearted, wicked sinners.  He sends them to hell because it’s the only option left.  That’s not a loving God’s fault at all.  It’s 100 percent theirs.

Hell is a horrible place, it’s where all sinners go, and ONLY JESUS CAN SAVE US FROM IT.  Let’s read from His words in John 14:5-6.  To begin with, let’s notice here that the alternative to being gathered up and cast into the fire is abiding in Jesus.  This means two different things.  First, it means being connected to Jesus.  We must be saved through Him.  We must become His disciples.

Second, abiding means staying connected to Jesus.  After we rise from the waters of baptism to walk in newness of life, we actually have to live that way.  If we’re uncertain about whether we’re abiding in Jesus or not, He proposes a simple test here.  Those who abide in Him and vice versa bear much fruit.  There are many things in their lives that show they are disciples.  However, if we are living fruitless lives, we should be concerned about that.  It shows that we aren’t abiding in Him, and the alternative is not good.

However, we must be careful about assuming that discipleship is nothing more than another opportunity to justify ourselves by works.  That’s not it at all.  Our good works reveal us as His disciples, but they do not and cannot establish our righteousness before God.

Now that I know that my life is going to be considerably shorter than I had anticipated, as you might imagine, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to its end.  Let me tell you, brethren—if I believed that my eternal destination was determined by the things I’ve done, I would be terrified.  I know that the only name I can claim on my own is “sinner”.  

However, I don’t rely on myself.  I rely on the mercy of the One who justifies the ungodly.  I know Him too, and I know that I can trust Him.  Only He can rescue me from the horrible fate I deserve, and when He does, I will spend eternity praising Him for His salvation.

God Is Love

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Love is the most important concept in the Bible.  If I had to pick a one-word summary of the Bible, it would be chesed, the Hebrew word that is translated in our Old Testaments as “lovingkindness”, “steadfast love”, or “faithful love”.  If we do not understand love, we do not understand Christianity, and we cannot inherit eternal life.

It is not surprising, then, that of all the concepts in the Bible, love is the one that is most abused and distorted.  Satan knows that if he can confuse people about love, he can keep them from following Christ.  Thus, in our day, we see the word “love” applied to all sorts of sins.  “Love is love,” people say, but what they really mean by that is, “This thing that I want to call loving is the same as the love that the Bible celebrates, so it’s just as righteous as Biblical love.” 

This amounts, of course, to nothing more than rewriting the Bible to justify what we think is right.  Rather than imposing our views on the word of God, we ought instead to be imposing the views of the word of God on ourselves.  With this in mind, let’s consider what the Scriptures mean when they say, “God is love”.

Our text comes from 1 John 4, and it begins with THE COMMANDMENT TO LOVE.  Look at 1 John 4:7-8.  Notice that the confusion we talked about earlier reasonably can continue through most of these two verses.  There are plenty of people who would take “Love one another” and reinterpret it to mean, “Accept the wickedness of others because I have applied the label of love to it.”

However, this reinterpretation comes to a screeching halt when we get to the last three words of v. 8, “God is love.”  We don’t get to define love.  God does.  In fact, God is the definition of love.  Once we accept this, love stops being this vague, nebulous concept and becomes something that we know a whole lot about because we know a whole lot about God.

We begin to learn about God through the physical creation.  Our world has been marred by sin, but even in its flawed state, it still proclaims the love of God.  Every time we look up at the stars or a majestic mountain range, we see the love of God.  Every time we spend an evening laughing with family and friends, we feel the love of God.  Every time we sit down to a good meal, we taste the love of God.  God didn’t have to give us any of these experiences of beauty and joy, but He did because He is love, and love expresses itself in blessing others.

We learn still more about love by considering God in His word.  His love is evident not only in the blessings He offers to the faithful, but in His hatred for sin.  Sometimes people ask, “How could a loving God send sinners to hell?”  Well, how could He not?  Sin is selfish and evil.  It is the very opposite of everything that God is, and it inflicts incalculable injury on others, whom God loves.  If God does not punish sin, He must be indifferent to its nature and consequences, which is the very thing that a loving God cannot be.

However, punishment is not the only way that God addresses sin, which we see in THE EXAMPLE OF LOVE that He offers.  Let’s continue reading in 1 John 4:9-10.  Yes, a loving God will send sinners to hell, but He does not only send sinners to hell.  Notice that John says that we don’t know love by our love for God, but rather by His love for us.

In other words, God loves us even when we don’t love Him.  We are selfish.  We are evil.  We do nothing to deserve His love.  Nonetheless, He loves us anyway. 

Here, I think we find the answer to the biggest problem we have with love.  It’s easy to love when others love us and treat us as we think they should.  It’s much harder when they don’t.  How do we love when our spouse is a jerk to us?  How do we love when brethren slander and mistreat us?  How do we love our enemies when they are, well, being our enemies?  We continue to love in all these situations because we have learned from God’s example.

This love is revealed in two main ways.  First, He sent Jesus to live among us to show us what a perfectly loving human being looks like.  Notice that Jesus’ version of love doesn’t look like the world’s version either.  He spent a whole lot of time harshly condemning sin and sinners.  He talked more about hell than any other figure in the Bible.  Those things came from His great love just as much as His healing the sick did.

Second, Jesus didn’t merely live among us.  He died among us, not because He deserved to die, but because we did.  Jesus surrendered His life, and God surrendered His Son.  This shows the lengths to which love is willing to go.  Love doesn’t merely serve others when serving is costless.  Love is willing to serve even at the cost of tremendous self-sacrifice.  If we aren’t giving ourselves up for others and for God, we aren’t loving.

Finally, John urges us toward THE PERFECTION OF LOVE.  Consider 1 John 4:11-13.  John is very precise with his words here.  He doesn’t merely say, “If God loved us”.  He says, “If God so loved us”.  In other words, if God loved us in this way, we need to love one another in the same way. 

God doesn’t only define what love is.  He defines how we ought to be loving.  This includes not only the parts of God that we find palatable—His kindness and concern for others—but also the parts of Him that we don’t appreciate—His self-sacrifice and hatred for sin.

This is challenging for any of us, but when we succeed, we do something amazing.  We reveal that God abides in us and that His love is perfected in us.  Because God loves us, His highest goal is to teach us to love like Him.  When you get right down to it, isn’t that what every Christian parent wants for their children, for them to learn to love like God does?  When we embrace His love ourselves, we truly become His children.

That’s the goal, but it’s easy to get off track.  There are millions who believe that they are walking in the love of God who are not.  That’s a disastrous delusion, and we must avoid it.

John tells us that we can know that God and His love abide in us because He has given us His Spirit.   Sadly, some mistake their intuition for the prompting of the Spirit.  I know a brother whose wife left him because she believed the Spirit was leading her to run off with another man.  She was being led, all right, but it didn’t have anything to do with God!

Instead, we allow the Spirit to lead us when we seek guidance from the inspired word of God.  Then, the Spirit transforms us by the renewing of our minds so that we become different people.  With enough study, we train our conscience and no longer need a Bible with us to know what the Spirit wants us to do.  If we need to, we always can return to the word and check to make sure that we still are walking in love.

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