Sermon ~ Sunday, April 29, 2018 ~ Pastor Neil Wilson
Fearlessness of Love
1 John 4:7-21
I took the commentary off the bookshelf and opened it to the page where todays Epistle reading is discussed and you might imagine my surprise when the first thing I read was: “Caution: Handle with Care!” I thought, “Really? Isn’t this about love? How difficult is love?” (At least to talk about anyway!)
The warning went on to explain that it is not that the original Greek is difficult to translate. It isn’t. In fact it is some of the easiest to translate, often where first year New Testament Greek students begin.
The danger lies with anyone who chooses to preach on this passage. Preachers beware! “Beware (and I quote) of the tendency to turn it’s soaring testimony to the primacy of God’s love and the resulting corollaries of human love into something saccharine and simplistic.”
Even more than Paul’s exposition on the nature and character of God’s love in 1 Corinthians 12-14, 1 John 4 sets forth a powerful exploration of how the initiative of God’s love in Christ makes possible the reality of a deeper human love.
Whenever one talks about love, God’s or human, the temptation is to turn it into a romantic sentiment, an individual feeling, or some kind, caring deed to add to our “to do” list. It is all too easy to twist this reading around and turn it into the unstated assumption: “We love others; therefore God must love us.” Throughout the author’s at times circuitous argument, he makes it clear “We love because God first loved us.” It starts with God not us!
Love, is a universal hunger in the human heart, and John knows this. (As does, it would seem, just about every song writer and musician.) Yet, as universal as it may be many are terribly confused about love. Why just yesterday on my way home from the united Northern Association Meeting In Onekama I heard these songs on the radio: Love is a Battlefield Pat Benetar, Addicted to Love Robert Palmer, You Give Love a Bad Name Bon Jovi You Make Lovin’ Fun Fleetwood Mac. (Can you tell what I listen to while driving?)
Someone once observed graffiti on a restroom wall (Which of course is the retainer of all wisdom!) “Love is all I want.” Someone had come along later and scribbled underneath it “Sex is all you get.” We are terribly confused when it comes to love.
But even in “Christian“ circles we sometimes get this biblical love stuff a bit turned around. Again, John doesn’t, notice today’s passage begins with, “Beloved, let us love one another, . ..” not “Beloved, let us love God.”
“. . . love one another. . .”
But let’s be honest, sometimes it is easier (and safer?) to talk about how much we love God or love Jesus than it is to express and actually love our family, friends and colleagues, or children especially when they don’t follow certain “acceptable behaviors and or lifestyles. And, let’s just be honest, sometimes we are not all that likeable! Yet, John clearly says that the love of God, born of God, insists that those who know and love God must love one another. It is harder sometimes to love those close to us than to love a God who is far away, mysterious, and unseen. Those close to us, we can see them warts and all!
John reminds us that God’s love is given to humans in human form, in the person of Jesus. God loves us and sent the Son, a person, as the word of love, the sign of love, the living love of God given in the flesh to humanity. So if God loves us, in human form, his argument goes, we must love one another in the same way, in our and their humanness.
Another mistake we sometimes make about love is that it somehow has to be perfect. And the author even says, “. . . if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is perfected in us.” But love is not an ideal; it is a relationship.
The Message “But if we love one another, God dwells deeply within us, and his love becomes complete in us—perfect love!”
John speaks a fair amount about abiding in this passage. The Message translates verses 13-16 this way: “This is how we know we’re living steadily and deeply in him, and he in us:
He’s given us life from his life, from his very own Spirit.
Also, we’ve seen for ourselves and continue to state openly that the Father sent his Son as Savior of the world. Everyone who confesses that Jesus is God’s Son participates continuously in an intimate relationship with God. We know it so well, we’ve embraced it heart and soul, this love that comes from God.
Am I perfect in my love for others? By no means! Are any of us? Not that I know of. But it is the Spirit dwelling in us that is guiding us toward a more mature relationship of love with God and with others.
And there is another important point the author makes in our reading for this morning. It’s about the nature of God. Some say God is to be feared which becomes God is fear followed closely or interchangeably with God is judgement. Not as negatively, some think of God as light. Some as mercy. But the message of Jesus and the author of 1 John say it clearly, God is love. All God’s activity is loving activity. If God creates, God does it in love. If God rules, God does it in love. If God judges, even here, God does it in love. God cannot help it – God is love.
The gospel answer to the human problem of anxiety,(culturally based not brain chemical based) mortality, and meaninglessness is simple – God is love. In this world of impersonal forces, ruthless power, and extremely complicated international issues, some may want another gospel, but to proclaim anything less than the heart of the universe as being a pulse of mercy with infinite passion is to betray the gospel.
The gospel’s answer to our obsessive problems of anxiety and meaninglessness is simple: God is love and you are loved by this love. We learn about God by what God does. No love, no gospel. This flies straight in the face of those who would define God only as a correct theology (theirs!), or an adherence to a strict moral code that consists of petty morality and organizational power.
John does talks about fear. We know that fear is among the most powerful of motivators for good and evil. It is the parent of caution. So it can warn us and protect us. It is also an incentive to preventative action. Healthy religion must have within it that sober and persistent “fear of the Lord” that can be the beginning of wisdom. But our faith must have more than that. If it makes fear its foundation, it will never be enjoyed; it will be paralyzing, and there will be little if any inspiration.
Fear cannot generate love, sympathy, tenderness, or compassion. We cannot frighten people into faith, scare people into tolerance, or terrify them onto kindliness. The fruit of fear ends up being distrust, suspicion, and resentment. A joyless religion is fruitless and loveless, and at its best is beneath the Christian ideal.
It is against the lovelessness of fear, John sets the fearlessness of love.
No longer must we have the anxious tormenting endeavor to placate God, but rather ours can be the response of a loving, confident heart to a love already shown and shared.
Love is strong medicine for the heart. Perfect love rejects fear from the heart. Fear, John says, has to do with punishment, but in Christ we are to think not as much of that as we do of love, of the forgiveness of God,. Fear as seen by John, as well as Paul, is a sign of inadequate religion. For sure, there can be no religion without awe in the presence of the Creator. Reverence in awareness of God is a protection against sin, but when reverence turns to fear, religion becomes stunted and loses its grace and glory.
New Testament religion asks us to love others as we are loved by God. There is no place in the fellowship for those who nurse grudges, seek revenge, assume intellectual superiority, or are careless of the feelings of others. We must remind each other that only the merciful will know and understand mercy, and only the forgiving will know the full extent of our own forgiveness.
A loving heart lives in the love of God.
May each of you find your hearts and the heart of this congregation in such a state of fearless love.
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