The following is an unedited sermon manuscript; for an explanation of my sermon manuscripts, click here.
*Originally preached January 3rd, 2021*
Sermon Audio: Member’s Ministry: Love (1 John 4:19-5:3)
We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.
1 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. 2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. 3 For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. – 1 John 4:19-5:3
We are taking a brief break from our sermon series in Mark to reflect on our church’s mission statement and specifically, over these next four weeks, how the members of our church can functionally pursue that mission. Ephesians 4 explains: “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,” (Eph 4:11-12). This teaches us that God gives pastors to the church so that they may equip the members of the church to do the work of the ministry. So, the assumption of the Bible is that every member of the church has a ministry—they are, in a way, the ministers. What is that ministry? It is summarized by “building up the body of Christ,” and further expanded upon by everything else Paul says through verse 16. But what I want to drill into is this idea of each member’s ministry.
What is your role in “creating a covenant community who worships Christ above all”?
Your responsibility could be summarized with four verbs: love, speak, pray, give. Today we will be focusing on “love”.
If you are exploring Christianity or are new to Christianity I wonder if you have considered the centrality of “love” to our faith. So central, in fact, that if one lacks love they prove that they are not actually a Christian. Listen to what John says just a few verses earlier in his letter: “So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him,” 1 John 4:16. God is love, therefore it is impossible to have an authentic encounter with God without also being confronted and transformed by His divine love. In Paul’s famous teaching on love from 1 Corinthians 13 (which we read earlier in the service) we learn that love is the integral component of all of our Christian life. If we know everything there is to know about the Bible, if we can manifest the most spectacular display of spiritual gifts and power, if we are the most devout of Christians—willing to sell everything we own to give to the poor, even to die for the faith—but lack love, all of it is pointless. Paul literally calls it the most important of all of the traits of a Christian (1 Cor 13:13; cf. Gal 5:22). If Christians should be defined by anything, known for anything, it should be our love (John 13:35).
Love looks like a response
John explains, “We love because God first loved us,” 1 John 4:19. We love because He first loved us. If you reverse the order of that sentence—God loves us because we first loved—you lose Christianity. In the way that moon reflects the sun, our love (for God and for others) is a reflection of God’s love for us. If you are not a Christian here today and are wondering how Christianity works, you should know that (unlike other religions or worldviews) Christianity doesn’t fundamentally begin with you and your performance. In traditional, conservative cultures, your status and identity are contingent on you accepting the traditions and identity the wider community / parents place on you. In a progressive, liberal culture, your status and identity are contingent on you throwing off the shackles of tradition and finding out who you want to be for yourself, forging your own identity and personhood. Both of these will require you to adopt particular values, political commitments, and ideologies in order for you to continue to maintain your identity and your status. The common denominator in all of these, however, is that all of this is ultimately up to you, begins with you, and is about you.
Christianity begins with God and what He has done to make you His own, to give you an identity and a status. Our love of God is not first and foremost a feeling we have mustered up, it is not a lifestyle and set of values we have adopted—it is a response. We love because He first loved us. John makes this even more explicit just a few verses earlier, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another,” 1 John 4:10-11. What is love? John begins by explaining what it is not. It isn’t that we loved God. In fact the Bible explains that our natural disposition towards God is one of enmity, hostility—we don’t naturally want God in our life. Our sin has so darkened the eyes of our soul that when the light of God is revealed we prefer the darkness. John explains, “The light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil,” John 3:19. We don’t love God; we loved darkness. We loved our sin. Our heart’s posture is that of Satan in Paradise Lost: “Better to reign in hell than to serve in heaven.” Leave us alone to our misery and wretchedness—at least we feel like we have some semblance of control here.
And it is there, in that pit of darkness, in our waywardness that God stoops down and loves us, loves you. It appears baffling that God would do such a thing, but so it is. In Victor Hugo’s masterpiece, Les Misérables, the main character, Jean Valjean, spends years in prison for attempting to steal a loaf of bread. Upon his release he wanders from town to town but is shunned as a pariah. He is finally shown hospitality and kindness by a priest who provides shelter and food for him. In the middle of the night, however, Valjean decides to rob the unsuspecting priest and run off to town to sell the church’s silverware. The priest is then woken up by the authorities who explain that they have just apprehended Valjean trying to hock the items in town. The priest, however, welcomes Valjean like an old friend and explains that the silverware was a gift and quickly hands the church’s silver candlesticks as well to a thunderstruck Valjean, explaining he could get at least 200 franks for them. Valjean is left speechless. At the moment when he is dead-to-rights guilty, when he flagrantly abused the kindness of an old man (a priest, nonetheless!), and is caught red-handed, he is received with love, with grace. This becomes a catalyst for change in Valjean’s life, leading him to spend the rest of the book showing this same kind grace and love to his friends, family, and enemies. Love, the kind of love the Bible describes, only is produced out of a response.
In this is love, not that we loved God but that He loved us and gave His Son up to be a propitiation, a payment, for us. When we were in darkness, loving our sin, hating God, God broke in—not to pin to us to the wall with our guilt, not to read us the long list of judgment that was now finally going to be doled out upon us, not to finally let the hammer fall—but to shower us with love. To send His only Son to pay the debts of our sins, to wipe away our guilt. Friend, now if you will turn to Christ and believe in Him and submit to Him, you can experience that love, that forgiveness, that welcome, right now. If you want to know more about what that looks like, feel free to talk to one of our elders here or your friend or family who brought you here today.
So, how does God love us? He loves us despite our sinfulness; He doesn’t love us because it is convenient or easy, but in a way that is costly; He loves us consistently.
John continues, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought to love one another,” 1 John 4:11. This love that God shows us has implications for how we treat one another.
Love looks like family
John makes some staggering claims here: “If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him,” 1 John 4:20-5:1. What is John saying?
Love of God necessarily leads to loving your brother. “Love” here is directed vertically and horizontally.
Who is your “brother”? This is a title used specifically in the New Testament to address other Christians. This is not the same thing as loving your “neighbor.” Your neighbor is anyone and everyone that the Lord puts in your life. “Brother” is referring specifically to others (men and women) who have been adopted into the family of Christ (cf. Rom 8:14-17). Everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. If anyone claims to love God but hates his brother, he is a liar. You cannot see God, but you can see your brother who is made in the image of God, and is being conformed day by day into the image of Christ (Rom 8:29). If you cannot love these people that you see, how do you suppose to love an invisible God that you cannot see? (cf. 1 Pet 1:8). Friends, if we want to create a covenant community who worships Christ above all, this is telling us that it is impossible to worship Christ above all if we don’t love each other.
What does it look like to love your brother? Again, John helps us a little earlier in his letter: “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth,” 1 John 3:16-18. In a day where we tend to think of love primarily as a feeling that happens to us, John shows us that love should look like concrete actions. Our lives should not be these hermetically sealed off capsules, keeping our time, our money, our food, our homes, our resources to ourselves. Rather, there should be a kind of permeability to them—we are aware of each other’s needs and abundances. This assumes that the lives of those who have truly experienced the love of God are lives that are marked by openness, generosity, humility, and willingness to be inconvenienced for others.
Of course, brotherly love includes feelings of love as well. Paul exhorts us: “Love one another with brotherly affection,” Rom 12:10. There should be a warmth of affection between fellow Christians, between church members. This should always be our aim. But our hearts often follow our actions.
When a brother or sister comes into our church let’s not make them feel like they have to earn the right to be loved, to be welcomed. Let’s not tell our more introverted, quiet members that they are less valuable because it is easier to engage with the outgoing ones. Let’s aim to have a life that is open to our brothers and sisters.
“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:35
Love looks like holiness
John concludes by rounding out our understanding of love with a look at the law: “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome,” 1 John 5:2-3.
This is fascinating. Earlier John wanted to show that you could not love God unless you loved other Christians, but here John says that you cannot love other Christians unless you love God and keep His commandments. So, this means…
1. That my personal relationship with the Lord and obedience to His commands has a direct effect on my ability to love you all well. According to the Bible, we cannot compartmentalize our lives into “private and public” or “sacred and secular.” What we do while we are alone affects what we do when in public.
2. That if another person’s definition of love requires me to break God’s commandments, like giving approval of what God hates or joining them in their rebellion, then no matter what, it isn’t loving. 1 Corinthians 13 explains that love, “does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth,” 1 Cor 13:6.
3. Love of God naturally spills over into a desire for holiness. John explains that this is the love of God: that we keep his commandments. Jesus explained: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments,” John 14:15. If we find a painful lack of obedience to God’s commandments in our life, that likely means that there is a lack of love. God’s commandments are not burdensome—they are a delight! Because they bring more intimacy with the Lord, greater clarity to see Him.