Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston & Mount Ayr, Iowa;
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error. Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 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 4:1–11, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.
It is a difficult thing, to love one another. Ernest Hemmingway once said, "An intelligent man is sometimes forced to be drunk to spend time with his fools." The thing is, love is self-giving, self-sacrificing, and we are not. We think like Hemmingway, we are the intelligent people and everyone else is the fools. In fact (and I think it is true now more than ever), we are thoroughly narcissistic. That means lovers of the self. Listen to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM):
· grandiose sense of self-importance
· fantasies of success, power, brilliance, beauty, or love
· believes they are so special and unique that no one else can fully understand
· enjoys excessive admiration
· a sense of entitlement and does this go back to the cheese
· little empathy
· takes advantage of others to promote their own desires
· envious of others and believes others are envious of them
· arrogant behavior and attitude
It’s right there. You and me. We the church, the thinking goes in the exhibit those traits. Well maybe not to the point of Disorder but certainly to the point of sin. When God says “Love”. We say “not him” or “not her” or “not them.” We stand with Hemmingway above the fools God calls us to love. We pretend well. We make a great showing. But love, real biblical love, just isn’t always there. “Love one another” is one of those all-inclusive commands. It’s mostly easy to love a spouse, a child, a parent, even a good neighbor, but what we truly love more than all, is ourselves. And loving God, well that just doesn’t happen.
All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; (Isaiah 53:6a, ESV)
None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. (Romans 3:10–12, ESV)
Psychology and Theology agree. People are self-lovers. We are just too busy loving ourselves. It is a sign of the times.
But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.” (2 Timothy 3:1–5, ESV)
And there is no use denying it. You see these in other people but some of those traits listed there are you. Don’t worry, I include myself in the list, too. You and I are people to be avoided. The worrisome point is not you and me avoiding each other. The worrisome part is that God should avoid us. It is what we deserve from him. He says “love” and we can’t do it. Lighting should strike us dead where we stand. Our smoking soul should fly straight to hell, “do not pass go, do not collect $200.”
Standing in the shame of our own sin, we can only hide from God’s anger. We cannot love the angry just judge. We are Adam and Eve, hiding in the bushes, covering our nakedness. Not reaching out to God. Not showing love to God. But God reaches out to us. “Where are you?” he says to Adam and Eve and you and me. He knows. We are hiding in our own sin and selfishness. It is right then that God promises to love us in a way that is very different than the love that we know, the love that we have, the love of the world.
In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 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 4:9–11, ESV)
God’s love is sending his only Son into the world to bring us forgiveness of sins. Even our narcissism. We don’t love God as we should. He loves us by being the sacrifice, the punishment, the propitiation for our sins. And it isn’t just our sins. Jesus Christ lived, died and rose again for the sins of the whole world.
And there is nothing for us to do. God’s love isn’t because we deserve it or love him. God’s love is because Jesus deserves it and loves us. There is no command in this good news. Jesus does what needs to be done for us, without our doing anything. C.F.W.Walther writes:
The Gospel issues no orders. Rather, it changes people. It plants love into their heart and makes them capable of all good works. It demands nothing, but gives all. Should not this fact make us leap for joy? C.F.W. Walther Law and Gospel: How to Read and Apply the Bible, CPH 2010, p. 20
When other people love us, it changes us. I think about that movie, “As Good as It Gets” with Jack Nicholson. He is changed by the woman. “You make me want to be a better man.” Love changes him from a cranky old man to something better. It has happened to you. Love of another person makes all the difference in your life. Now God’s love for you is even stronger. God’s love for you is even more powerful. God’s love for you is shown in Jesus hanging dead on the cross and knowing that it should be you.
And there’s the encouragement to live better, and love better.
Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
Look, it starts by calling us “beloved” that is “Loved by God”. We love because he first loved us. We love in practical ways. Mowing our neighbor’s lawn. Visiting a sick friend in the hospital. Offering a ride. Providing for our family. And our neighbor isn’t just your pew neighbor. It’s your family neighbor, house neighbor, your work neighbor, and your city neighbor. And there’s more. The love that God gives flows out in forgiveness. We are forgiven on the cross. Our neighbors are forgiven on the cross. When we are sinned against we have the great privilege of proclaiming that forgiveness to the very same one who hurt us. And when we sin against our neighbors, through our lack of love for the, we can confess and ask for forgiveness. That gives them the opportunity to show love, too.
It all begins with God, in Jesus Christ. The one who live, died and rose again for you. The one who first and most loved you. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.