First Sunday After Trinity June 17, 2001
1 John 4:16-21
238, 355, 245, 48
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him. Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. We love Him because He first loved us. If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God love his brother also. This is the Word of God.
In Christ Jesus, Whom we love because He first loved us, Dear Fellow Redeemed,
“Love is What You Make It.”—That was the title of a popular song back in the 1970’s. The point of the song was that what you get out of love depends on what you put into it; that only you can determine the value of your relationship to someone else. And it sounds pretty good, as far as it goes. For instance, I’m sure every married person will agree that the quality of a marriage increases in direct proportion to how much effort each of the partners is willing to put into making it work.
Love is one topic that has a very broad interest. At one time or another, everybody is concerned about love. But of all the people in the world, we Christians are the ones who should be most concerned about love. Why? Because love is an inseparable part of the Christian faith. It’s so important, in fact, that when a man asked Jesus what the most important command in the Bible was, He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” And the second most important? “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus said that the whole Law of God hangs on those two things—loving God and loving your neighbor.
So how are you doing? Have you kept these two most important commandments? Do you really love God with all your heart? Do you really love your neighbor as yourself? If those commandments worry you like they worry me, maybe we should take another look at what the Bible says about love. Our text for today makes an important point: love isn’t what you make it. In the words of our theme:
In the first place, I think we can avoid a lot of misunderstandings if we define what love is—and what love is not. Real love is not a mushy feeling you have inside for someone else; it’s not the sensation of skyrockets going off inside you, or the inability to get to sleep when you’ve got a certain person on your mind. Real love—the kind of love the Bible talks about—doesn’t have much to do with feelings at all. It has to do with actions.
If you want to know what love really is, our text for today has got your answer. “And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.” God is love. He is the definition of love!
Think, once, about the kind of love God showed for us. Was it simply a feeling God had for us? Was it some kind of warm sensation in His heart for us human beings? That wouldn’t make much sense, would it? Because ever since Adam and Eve fell into sin, we human beings have been the most unlovable of all God’s creatures. “The carnal mind is enmity against God,” the Bible says. By nature man isn’t God’s friend; he isn’t even neutral toward God—he’s God’s enemy. He’s rebellious, sinful, and disobedient to God. At our CLC Convention this week we were privileged to heard the recorded voice of the late Pastor Maynard Witt describing, in an essay given forty years ago, the true depth of sin contained in the heart of natural man. It was very striking. He said, imagine all the sin and wickedness that man has concocted since the beginning of time—every adulterous thought, every murderous deed, every rebellion, every wickedness, every depravity. Now imagine all that mixed together into a corrupt and putrid potion, and poured into the heart of each one of us. For that truly describes how sinful our human hearts were, by nature!
And that makes God’s love for us even more amazing. The Apostle Paul makes a good point: “For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Rom 5:7-8. God’s love for us wasn’t just a feeling—it was an action. He took the initiative and made the ultimate sacrifice of love. He sacrificed His innocent Son, Jesus Christ for us—yes, for wretched sinners such as you and me! Jesus kept God’s Law perfectly so that you and I could have a perfect record. Jesus suffered the torments of the cross patiently so that you and I could enjoy total release from the punishment for sin. Indeed, love is what God makes it—God is our definition of love!
In the Greek language of the New Testament there are several different words for “love.” The one our text uses is a word I think you’ll recognize: agape. Agape is love with knowledge. It’s a good word for the way God loved us, isn’t it? Because even though God knew what miserable sinners we were—how little we deserved His favor—still He gave His Son into death to save us. And agape, love with knowledge, is also a good word to describe our love for God. For isn’t it true?—the more we know about who God is and what He’s done for us—the more we are compelled to love this gracious God!
And again, remember our definition: love isn’t just a feeling. You can sit in your easy chair at home trying to drum up warm, sentimental feelings about your Savior. You still won’t love God. And that’s not the kind of love God wants, anyway. He wants an active love, a doing love. That kind of love can only come when God works faith in your heart through the Holy Spirit. Love is what God makes it, not what you make it!
Our text says, “Love has been among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world.” The Holy Ghost has worked faith in our hearts. It’s a bold faith. The Gospel teaches us to believe that when you and I stand before God’s throne on Judgement Day, we won’t have a single thing to fear. We already know what the Lord’s verdict on us will be—"not guilty, for Jesus’ sake.” Our dear Lord has brought us back from the brink of eternal torment. In giving us faith to believe that beautiful fact, He also makes us love Him. It’s only natural; the one follows the other.
“Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” asks the old riddle. Some might similarly ask, “Which came first, me loving God, or God loving me?” In our text is a short sentence that tells just how and why we love God—in words so simple a kindergartner can understand it! “We love Him because He first loved us.” It seems so obvious—and yet there are so many people who believe just the opposite! They’re convinced that God won’t love them until they first show their love for Him. But that’s not just difficult, it’s impossible. The Bible tells us that the only way we can love God is if we first understand, by faith, how much God has loved us. And even that faith is a gift of God—not something we do for ourselves! As Paul says, “By grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.” Eph 2:8-9.
You want to know how to love God better? Learn more about Him! Give yourself the pleasure of diving into the Bible and reading all the promises He’s made to you there. Whatever you do, don’t miss church on Sundays—that’s where the comforting Gospel of your salvation is preached to you; that’s where the life-giving sacraments are administered. In all these ways, God strengthens your faith in Him—and strengthens your love for Him!
And there’s another benefit of faith. When God works faith in Jesus in our hearts, He not only makes us love Him, He also makes us love others. It’s one of the fruits of faith—a natural result of the close tie we have with our Savior. The presence of love for one’s neighbor clearly marks a believer, just like its absence marks an unbeliever. Our text tells us, “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God love his brother also.”
Jesus told a parable once about a servant who owed his master ten thousand talents of silver—in terms of today’s currency, several million dollars. Incredibly, the master decided to forgive the entire debt; just wipe it off the books. But the servant showed how ungrateful he was by turning around and demanding, with violence, that he be repaid a debt of a few measly dollars that his fellow-servant owed him. Well, you’d have to be blind to miss the point of that parable—God has given His only Son to wipe our debt of sin off the books forever. Can we now turn around and hold it against our neighbor when he sins against us? Impossible—it just doesn’t make sense!
If you want to have love for your neighbor, learn it from God. If you find yourself starting to dislike someone—if you’re tempted to hurt someone with words or actions—if you find yourself holding a silly grudge against someone for something they did to you—then it’s time you got back to the Bible. Then it’s high time you allowed the Good News of what God’s done for you take over again. Remember the Fifth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” That’s not some kind of deal; it just describes a simultaneous action. God forgives us for Jesus’ sake, and we forgive others out of gratitude to Him. I guarantee that when you live your life in the forgiving light of the Gospel, it will be a lot sweeter than a bitter existence of hatred and holding grudges!
There was a certain man who had a friend in the country of Germany. He did his best to write his letters in German, and his German friend would write back to him in English. Neither was very good at the other’s language, but they kept on trying to improve. One day he received a letter from his German friend that contained some particularly bad English. At the end, though, he added a sentence that struck the American as rather beautiful: “I am sorry for so many mistakes in this letter. But I know you will cover them with the coat of love.” The people around us make a lot of mistakes, just like we do. They say things they don’t mean; they hurt us, unintentionally, or sometimes even on purpose. Can’t we cover their mistakes with the coat of our love? And isn’t that what the Apostle Peter was talking about when he said, “And above all things have fervent love for one another, for love will cover a multitude of sins”? I Pet 4:8.
Yes, with God’s help, we can do it! With Spirit-worked faith in our hearts, and Jesus’ love before our eyes, we can learn to love God, and love our neighbor. But don’t let’s forget where that love comes from; after all, love isn’t what we make it—love is what GOD makes it! AMEN.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.