The Second Sunday after Pentecost June 7, 2015
1 John 4:15-5:5
250, 245, 429, 47
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. So it shall be, when the Lord your God brings you into the land of which He swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give you large and beautiful cities which you did not build, houses full of all good things, which you did not fill, hewn-out wells which you did not dig, vineyards and olive trees which you did not plant—when you have eaten and are full—then beware, lest you forget the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage. You shall fear the Lord your God and serve Him, and shall take oaths in His name.”
In the name of the Lord our God who has loved us with an everlasting love and with it leads us to love Him—dear fellow-redeemed:
Do you love perfectly?
Do you love (anyone or anything) completely?
I know that your answer to both of these questions is “NO.” I know this, not because I can read your hearts and gauge your love, but because today, in this service, you have already declared to us all that you do not love perfectly or completely. You made this declaration when you said: “….I a poor miserable sinner, confess…all my sins and iniquities…”
Simply understood, all sin is a lack of love. Every sin is a lack of love toward God, and when sin is also against our neighbor, it is a lack of love toward him as well. God says, “…he who loves another has fulfilled the law…love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law.” (Romans 13:8,10).
If love fulfills the law, then any breaking of the law—sin—is a lack of love. As we consider our sins, it is revealing to evaluate them in this light. When you recognize sin and confess it, ask yourself “how did I fail to love God and my neighbor by this sin?” Then in repentance we also consider “how will I show a better love next time?”
We all desire to be loved. We desire a love that is genuine and true. The more constant and complete the love is that is shown toward us, the more easily we are able to love in return. God, likewise, desires to be loved by us. He has shown us a perfect and complete love even though we by nature show Him nothing but hate. God’s tremendous love for us leads us to love Him.
There are many people we can and should love on this earth, and there are many types of “love” we might experience on this earth. The greatest love of all is God’s love for us sinners. THE GREATEST LOVE WE CAN SHOW IS A COMPLETE LOVE FOR GOD A complete love for God is what we consider today: I. Pursue it! II. Teach it! III. Keep it!
Moses had just finished reviewing the 10 commandments with the people of Israel when he continued with the words of the text. In summary, Moses said, “…these are the statutes and judgments which the LORD your God has commanded to teach you…that you may fear the LORD your God, to keep His statutes and His commandments which I command you, you and your son and your grandson all the days of your life, and that your days may be prolonged…be careful to observe it that it may be well with you…” (Deuteronomy 6:1-3).
Then Moses continued, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.” [vv.4-5]
Our whole life of obedience and service to God begins and ends with complete love for Him. God isn’t interested in a half-way kind of love. God doesn’t want a part-time love that loves Him now, loves Him a little less later. He doesn’t want a part-time love that He shares with something or someone else. God doesn’t want a hot then cold love. He wants a full time, 100% love! God wants nothing less than all. Love the Lord your God with all your heart…with all your soul…all your strength. Love the Lord your God with all of your being, every part of your life. Love for God should filter into every aspect of everything you do, everything you say, and all that you are.
Even our love for one another is something that grows out of our complete love for God. Love for one another is not something that stands alone on its own. If our love for something or someone is apart from a 100% love for God, than that object of our love has become a god. Jesus warned, “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me” (Matthew 10:37). A God-pleasing love for someone flows out of our even greater all-encompassing love for God.
This 100% full-time love that God desires from us is what we seek to pursue as children of God. This complete love begins with the knowledge that there is only one true God—the Triune God, Jehovah, as revealed in Scripture. The God of our salvation is the only God that exists! Therefore, He expects an exclusive kind of love which turns its truest devotion nowhere else. God rightfully expects this because He alone is God. The Lord our God is one—He is the only one, there is none other. God doesn’t want to share our love for Him because there is no one else with whom to share it.
Anything that diminishes who God is takes honor and glory away from Him—honor and glory which truly belong only to Him. God is diminished in many ways by the world.
It can happen by allowing other gods to co-exist in one’s heart, saying, “There are many gods in this world. They are all essentially the same. It doesn’t matter which one you believe just as long as you believe in “god.” It can be denying that Jesus is the true Son of God and Savior of the world. It can be giving credit for the creation of the world to some random acts of nature. Whatever it is, anything that diminishes the truth about God and what He has done also diminishes God in the hearts of those who believe such things. Anything at all that diminishes God’s rightful honor and glory is a lack of love toward Him. It is not 100% full-time love.
Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “…an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is no other God but one. For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as there are many gods and many lords), yet for us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we live.”(1 Corinthians 8:4b-6).
As wonderful and magnificent as the works of God are and, therefore, as much reason as there is for us to love Him fully, we also know that by nature we don’t love Him. We are not born with this love for God. We naturally hate Him. By nature we don’t want to pursue any love of God, much less a 100% kind of love. As Children of God we want to pursue this kind of love but we struggle: “How can I love God so fully? I know that I don’t! I know that I fail! I know that I love other things more than Him at times! How can I pursue this? How can I have this love for God growing in my heart and life?”
The answer to these questions is to go back and remember what God has done. God leads us to love Him deeply by showing us what He has done out of His deep love for us. Children love their caring parents because of who those parents are and what they do. We love God because of who He is and what He does for us.
Consider Abraham. It would be hard to find an example of greater love for God than that of Abraham. Out of love for God, Abraham was willing to sacrifice his one and beloved son, Isaac. God told Abraham to offer his son as a test of his love: “Does Abraham love his son, Isaac, more than Me?” Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son demonstrated a full love for God. How could Abraham do this? Abraham was able to do this because he knew what God had done for him in the past and what God had promised. God had promised that from Isaac—not from another son, but from Isaac—a great nation would be grow and from him the Savior would also be born. So even if the Lord allowed Abraham to kill Isaac, God would raise him back to life just because God had said Isaac would be the one! Abraham could love God so completely because he relied on God’s promises so completely.
“We love God because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). In the Old Testament reading we heard about many of the reason we have to bless and to praise our God. He has healed our diseases. He has forgiven our sins and so much more! (cf: Psalm 103) There are so many reasons to demonstrate just how much God loves you, and from that love for you will grow a love for Him.
At king Saul’s coronation, Samuel told the people of Israel, “Only fear the Lord, and serve Him in truth with all your heart; for consider what great things He has done for you (1 Samuel 12:24). When you feel your love for God fading, when its only 75%, or maybe even less, remember how God so loved you that He sent Jesus to die on the cross for your sins. Consider the deep and abiding love of your Savior who died to wash away all your sins and that same love that promises to be with you day-by-day throughout your lives.
There is another way to pursue this complete love for God and that is to cut off whatever is displeasing to God. You cannot pursue two different directions at one time. If we are pursuing a complete love for God we can’t pursue those things that are contrary to God and His Word. We can’t pursue sin. As Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon – which is money when it becomes a god. (Matthew 6:24).
There was a man who came to Jesus wanting to follow Him. Jesus knew how much this man loved his earthly possessions. So Jesus told the man to go and sell everything he had, give it to the poor and follow Him; but the man could not because he loved his wealth more than he loved his Lord. We’re told that this man “went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions” (Matthew 19:22). We simply cannot pursue a love for other things while we are pursuing a 100% love for our God.
Therefore, Jesus tells us, “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed, rather than having two hands, to go to hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched …” Likewise, “If your foot causes you to sin,” Jesus said, “Cut it off!” “If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out!” (Mark 9:43ff). Whatever it is that might lead you away from pursuing a full love for God, get rid of it! While we are pursuing a perfect love for God we cannot be pursuing sin. Cut it off, hold fast to what God says, and love Him!
God also wants us to teach this love. He says, “You shall teach [these words] diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.” [v.7]
God does not want us to just teach ourselves these things which He has revealed to us in His Word—His Love, His grace, His commandments. Rather He wants us to teach children, and not just children, but grandchildren, and every future generation. Elsewhere in Deuteronomy God says, “Take heed to yourself, lest you forget the things your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. And teach them to your children and your grandchildren” (Deuteronomy 4:9).
Can you teach love? YES! Love can and needs to be taught. We can’t teach the emotion. We can’t create genuine love in any heart; but the things that produce love for God…these can be taught.
How did you come to faith? It was the Gospel coming to You through Word and Sacrament that gave you the faith to believe. It is the Gospel—the news of salvation and all that God has done—that has created love and joy in your hearts. This is what we need to teach one another and to each new generation.
It is a distinctively modern idea that this love cannot or ought not be taught. It is the modern theory to leave children on their own. Don’t try to teach them! Let them discover for themselves what they love or how they can love…can’t teach them that anyway. This is completely the opposite of what God says.
There is a story that tells of a pastor visiting a mother at home and during the visit he brought up the instruction of her children. The mother replied, “Pastor, I’m going to let them learn on their own. I’m going to let them discover for themselves who god is.” The pastor replied, “Madam, if you do not teach your children, the Devil will…and so will the world…and so will their own rebellious flesh.” Someone will teach our children to love something—it is a fact. God says, “You teach them My Word!”
In Malachi God says that “He seeks godly offspring” (Malachi 2:15). God wants us to convey this salvation to each new generation because that means another generation of believers. It will lead to another generation of those who will inherit eternal life. It will mean that many more “lights” out in the world to bring the Gospel to others, and that much more “salt” in the earth to bring salvation to lost sinners (cf: Matthew 5:13ff).
Children need to be taught the love of God. It is not teaching them a mechanical set of rules: “Do this…Don’t do this…do this…don’t do this or else you’ll be in really big trouble…” That is what the Pharisees taught. The Pharisees were excellent teachers of rules and regulations, but all they produced were more Pharisees who loved themselves and their place of honor more than God.
When we teach children the love of God, show them what God has done, show them how they can love God because of all the great love He has show to them, then we will be nurturing a faith that loves to follow God’s Word and seeks to do His commandments.
The best way to teach the love of God is to know it first yourselves. Peter encourages us, “as newborn babies desire the pure milk of the word that you may grow thereby, if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious” (1 Peter 2:2-3). First, drink deeply from that nurturing milk of salvation and when you have tasted how wonderful it is, teach it to your children.
In our text, God encourages the Children of Israel to talk about His Word at home, while traveling, lying down and rising up. Bind His Words as a sign on your hand…between your eyes…write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates—bring out the Word of God to your children in every possible way! Show them the things in the earth that are part of God’s creation. Use daily examples and situations and connect them to what God says in His Word in order to show God’s love for them.
Sunday School, Christian Day School, and the other opportunities of a Christian congregation can only go so far. The instruction of our children needs to be living and active part of your life and it takes time, but it is time very well spent. Teach your children the love of God and they will love Him and through that love be brought into salvation.
In the Psalms we hear: I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings of old, which we have heard and known, And our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, Telling to the generation to come the praises of the Lord, And His strength and His wonderful works that He has done.” (Psalm 78:2-4). “This will be written for the generation to come, that a people yet to be created may praise the LORD” (Psalm 102:18).
This responsibility to teach falls first and foremost upon the children’s parents, but never let that be an excuse for any one of us not to teach. Yes, God does say, “You fathers do not provoke your children to wrath—do not exasperate them—but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). Yes, the responsibility falls to the home and especially to the father as the God-appointed leader of that home; but we are all charged with the blessed privilege of teaching the love of God to the next generation. When we convey the love of God it is a blessing to 2…3…4…5…6 generations in the future and beyond, because the heritage we pass to our children is what they will pass to theirs, and they to theirs, and so on.
It lies upon the whole Christian community to assist, to correct, to teach, to show the love of God. Just how valuable this instruction is can be seen by God’s Word to children in Proverbs: “My son, hear the instruction of your father, and do not forsake the law of your mother; for they will be a graceful ornament on your head, and chains about your neck….” (Proverbs 1:8-9).
It is a precious treasure when parents instruct their children. “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it…” (Proverbs 22:6). God also gives a warning to the young generation, “There is a generation that curses its father, and does not bless its mother. The eye that mocks his father, and scorns obedience to his mother, the ravens of the valley will pick it out, and the young eagles will eat it” (Proverbs 30:11,17).
This is a tremendous treasure that you have the opportunity to pass on to a new generation. Should that generation despise your instruction it is on their heads, but you have the charge: Teach the love of God to your children!
This 100% love for God is something we also wish to keep. “So it shall be, when the Lord your God brings you into the land of which He swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give you large and beautiful cities which you did not build, houses full of all good things, which you did not fill, hewn-out wells which you did not dig, vineyards and olive trees which you did not plant—when you have eaten and are full—then beware, lest you forget the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage.” [vv.10-12]
There is a danger of not keeping our love for God. There is a danger of forgetting all that God has done. Once we forget what God has done, we are forgetting what led us to love Him, and then we will fall out of love toward Him. “Take heed to yourself, lest you forget the things your eyes have seen” (Deuteronomy 4:9). God warned the Israelites, “When you enter Canaan and receive such great blessing, don’t forget the Lord who gave you all these things. Don’t lose your love for Him.
Anyone who believes that once he’s “saved” he will always be “saved” regardless of his course is making a grave mistake. It is serious and of great consequence to your life-everlasting if you believe that your faith and love for God is yours forever without taking heed to keep it. There is need to nurture, to keep, to build that love for God which the Holy Spirit has created in you.
In Jesus’ parable of the Sower and the Seed (Luke 8:5ff), some of the seed fell on thorny ground and weeds choked out the plants. These choked-out plants are the ones who do not take heed to keep their love for God. Instead they allow the love for God to be choked out by all the cares and concerns and priorities of the world.
In Revelation Jesus spoke to the congregation in Ephesus and said, “…you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary. “Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love” (Revelation 2:3-4). It is possible to be a great and upstanding Christian congregation and yet, underneath the surface, the deep, precious, abiding love for our Savior could be lost. Take heed! We need to guard and keep our “first love” through the working of the Holy Spirit in our use of the Gospel.
We keep that love for God when we surround ourselves with people who will remember and help us remember all that God has done. In Proverbs we hear, “Let not mercy and truth forsake you, bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart…” (Proverbs 3:3). Never grow weary of recalling those things that God has done, because remember those are the things that are going to produce love in you for Him! By surrounding yourself with like-minded Christians you will have others to help you remember what God has done and at the same time cut off sin.
Make reminders in your daily life. God established the Passover so that the Israelites would not forget but would remember how He delivered them from Egypt (cf: Exodus 12:24ff). God had Joshua erect a pile of “memorial stones” so the children of Israel would not forget their crossing of the Jordan River (cf: Joshua 4:1ff).
We too have reminders: Pictures, worship services, the holidays that celebrate events in Jesus’ life; but use them, don’t just brush them off. If you have a picture of Christ hanging on your wall or another picture with a scriptural theme, don’t just go walking by that on your way down the hall without taking heed. From time to time, Stop! Look! Remember! Move the picture to a new place in the house so it’s noticed again and then keep moving it periodically.
Keep that love of Christ in your heart by recalling what He has done. Consider beginning family traditions and things you can do, time that you will take, so that you will work together to keep your love for the Savior active and before your eyes.
Do we fail in loving God completely? Yes, we do. But then we go back to the Word and hear again, “Your sins are forgiven you.” God’s forgiveness of our failures then builds up even more love, because once again we will see how rich God is in His grace toward us. Once again we see our loving Father who first loved us. Therefore, let us love Him with all of our heart, all of our soul, and all of our strength. Amen!