Mission Accomplished - 1 John 4:7-12
I came across some interesting calculations this week. I can tell you that this evening you are looking at 96 pounds of oxygen, 52 pounds of carbon, 15 pounds of hydrogen, 4 pounds of calcium, 3.5 pounds of nitrogen, 1.75 pounds of phosphorus, 3.5 ounces of sulphur, 3.5 ounces of fluorine, 2.75 ounces of potassium, 2.5 ounces of sodium, 1.75 ounces of magnesium, 1.5 ounces of iron, and small traces of about ten other elements. Purchased at current market prices in their elemental state, we probably wouldnt work out at much more than £10. So is that all we are worth? About £10?
Well I guess all us of long to be worth something to somebody. We dont just want to be told by BUPA that were amazing, and they want to keep us that way. The one thing we all want to know is that we are loved. That I guess lies behind our worlds constant obsession with how we look and what we wear. We long to be accepted and loved by our particular group. In a recent poll in America it was discovered that more than half the thirteen year old girls questioned were unhappy with their bodies. For seventeen year olds, the figure was almost 80%. And its not just the girls. Mens cosmetics and clothes is a multi million pound industry, and sales of mens magazines have increased by huge proportions in the last few years. In 1992 the total circulation was 200,000 in the UK. In 1998, FHM alone was selling 644,000, and Loaded was selling 441,000 copies a year. Our society tells us that in order to be accepted we must wear this, watch that, drink this, eat that. Even wearing the wrong pair of trainers can mean a huge social faux pas. Sex is often thought to be the answer to happiness and love. And yet, though more young people are losing their virginity at younger ages, the suicide rate, especially among young men, is on the increase, and the figures for unwanted pregnancies are spiralling up and up.
We remain a generation looking for love. Bertrand Russell once wrote: "The root of the matter is a very old fashioned and simple thing; a thing so simple that I am almost ashamed to mention it for fear of the derisive smile that will greet my words. The thing we lack, and the thing I need, is love." And it is into this broken, lonely isolated, loveless world, that God speaks. And his message is remarkable. In fact, it is so remarkable that each one of us here in this building tonight needs to take careful note and to act on what he says. His message is very simple: "I love you I love you." And it is not the cheap, selfish love that says "I love you" with the lips, but whose actions tell a different story. Gods love is costly, sacrificial, undeserved and free.
And that is the message that the apostle John is telling us in this passage. He is teaching us about love. If you were here last week, youll remember that we saw how God sent his Son into the world for a revolutionary task. He came as the King to declare Gods Kingdom had come. Now we discover that the King must die to rescue us. And its all because he loves us, and he longs for that breach in our relationship with him to be healed. And well discover three things about love from John:
1) The Source of Love
2) The Demonstration of Love
3) The Demand of Love
1) The Source of Love
So what does John teach us about the source of love? Well he says in verse 7 that love "comes from God." So the source of love is God himself. But he goes further in verse 8 to say that God is love. Now what does this mean? There is down Holderness Road a take away called KFC, Kentucky Fried Chicken. Now KFC is not very big in the UK but in America KFC is big. And the man who started KFC was a man called Colonel Sanders. He was the man who invented the combination of spices which goes on top of the chicken to make it "finger lickin good." Now when KFC started in America, you could have said, without anyone misunderstanding you: "Colonel Sanders is KFC". There is no KFC apart from Colonel Sanders. Such was his recipe and skill that you could make such a statement. Now John here tells us that God is love. There is no true love apart from God. He is the source of all that is true love. If you want to see what love is then you must look at God because God is love. But John is not saying that love is God, so that wherever there is love there is God. That would be saying that wherever there is a lump of chicken there is Colonel Sanders. Rather John is making a statement about God. Gods very being and nature is to love.
Now in the NT there are three other statements whereby the author says that God is something. Two of them are in Johns writings. In chapter 4: 24 of his gospel, John says that God is spirit, and then in chapter 1: 5 of his first letter he says that God is light. And in Hebrews 12: 29 the writer says that "God is consuming fire". Now when John says here that God is love, he is not saying that John is a little bit loving sometimes and then a little bit holy, like consuming fire, then a little bit light. He doesnt alternate between these qualities depending on what day it is or what kind of mood he is in. Love is not a number of options that God can choose from. Rather God is 100% loving, he is 100% holy, he is 100% light, hating all that is darkness, all that is sinful. All these qualities are to be affirmed together. So that means when God judges, he judges with love. When God disciplines us, he disciplines us in love. When God shows us what to do and how to behave, he is not bashing us with a big stick, he is lovingly telling us what pleases him and how we can delight the God who made us. Love, as John sees it, marks all of Gods activities, however he is acting whether be in justice, in salvation, or in judgement.
Now what better assurance do we have than that we are dealing with a loving God, a God who fundamentally, in his very nature, loves us? Many people today cannot believe in God who judges, they cannot believe in a God who lays down moral boundaries and sets up a moral framework for us to stick to. "Oh, I cant believe in a god like that," they say. "All rules and no freedom." Well the God of the Bible is a God of love. So when he says: "I dont want you to sleep with your boyfriend or girlfriend," hes not saying it because hes a killjoy God who hates us having fun. Rather he is a loving God who knows that the proper context for sex is a heterosexual, lifetime commitment called marriage. When he says that he will punish those who reject him forever, he does it with tears in his eyes because he is a loving God, but he knows that such arrogant denials of him must be punished, otherwise his loving justice is denied. You see, such a loving God is a God who always has our best interests at heart. To love is his very character. Are you finding some of Gods ways tough this week? Well take heart, they come from a loving God who knows best and who wants the best for you. Do you feel yourself going through a testing period in your faith or maybe you know you are being disciplined by God for whatever reason, then take heart. God is a loving Father. He knows best, even if we cannot fully understand his ways. Thats the first thing we learn about love- Its source is God himself. God is love.
2) The Demonstration of Love
But if God is love, then how do we know that? Well John tells us as we see his second point, the demonstration of love. God is not a blind detached observer, he is a God who has got involved, who has got his hands dirty. He has shown us his love in the most remarkable way possible. And that demonstration of love is in the cross of Jesus Christ. It is in the death of Jesus that we see Gods love for us most clearly. Have a look at verse 9: "This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his One and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins."
a) An Undeserved Love- First, it is an undeserved love. Did you notice what John said in verse 10? We did not love God. You see it wasnt as if we showed that we were OK really and so God came and rescued us. No we didnt deserve this love. In fact, human beings are naturally opposed to God. We naturally turn away form God and depose him of his rightful rule over our lives. Were happy going our way. John says that it was for sins that Jesus died. The implication is that we are sinful, rebels against the Almighty. There was not one shred of loveliness about us that would bend Gods arm to make him save us. Nor is he impressed with our good works. Some think that they can impress God with their good deeds, their charity, their kindness. Well these are great virtues, but they dont wash with God. Because no matter how much we dress up our lives with impressive credentials of church attendance or charitable giving, they are still filthy rags in Gods presence. It is useless as putting a frog in a swimming pool of milk and expecting it to make cheese. Such are our works before him. God would be perfectly just in casting us out of his presence forever. None of us could have any quibbles with that at all. But the amazing thing is that he doesnt! That is undeserved love.
b) A Sacrificial Love- But not only is it undeserved, it is sacrificial. Do you notice how costly this love is? In order for God to rescue you and me from an eternal destiny of being cast out of Gods presence, it takes the death of Gods one and only Son. God sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Jesus had to go to the cross to take the punishment that we deserve. He died in our place, where we should have rightfully been. Now what does John mean by an atoning sacrifice? Well the older versions have propitiation. To make someone propitious is to appease someones anger. So if a husband makes his wife angry by doing something wrong, then he can make his wife propitious by giving her some flowers. Her wrath is dealt with by the husbands apology and giving her a present. But Gods wrath against us can only be dealt with by a perfect sinless sacrifice. Jesus steps into our shoes as the sinless sacrifice and not only bears the physical pain of the cross, but also the spiritual pain, the pain of having to bear Gods anger for sin. That is the atoning sacrifice of the cross. The cross atones for or pays for your sin and mine. And the price? The death of Jesus Christ. Do you want proof that God loves you? Well all you have to do is look at the cross. The cross on which Jesus died proves Gods love- an undeserved love, a sacrificial love, but also an effective love.
c) An Effective Love- There are all sorts of ways I can prove my love for my wife. Perhaps the most stupid would be for me to go to the Humber Bridge and in a fit of rash love say "I love you" as I hurl myself off. Well whats the point in that? There is no point. Some think Jesus death was like that- simply a display of his love. Well it is not like that. Rather Jesus death is for a purpose. John says in verse 9 that it is so "that we might live through him". He died that we might live through him. Thats why Jesus came, to give us life. To bring us back into friendship with God again, to take away the penalty of eternal death that hangs over us.
A few years ago, Debbie and I visited the site of an amazing act of self sacrifice. It was in Washington on a bridge over the Potomac River. In December 1982, a plane took off from Washington airport but shortly afterwards developed engine trouble and crashed into the icy waters of the Potomac River. There were only five survivors. As the helicopter flew over head, it let down a rope to pick up the survivors. A man grabbed the rope and then swum and gave it one of the survivors. Then he was winched up to safety. The rope was let down again. Again the same man swam and grabbed the rope and gave it to another survivor, and they were winched up. The rope was let down five times in all and every time the same man grabbed the rope and swam and gave it to another person. Well when the helicopter let down the rope for a sixth time, there was no-one there to receive it. That man had drowned, overcome at last by sheer exhaustion and cold. It was an extraordinary act of self sacrifice. And Jesus death on the cross was also an extraordinary act of self-sacrifice, not just to rescue us from a perishingly cold river, but from an eternal destiny facing Gods anger all by ourselves. What amazing love! Its undeserved, its sacrificial and its effective. But like all offers of love, it is not automatic. You can take it or leave it. Do you want it? Gods nail pierced hand is outstretched, waiting for your acceptance. Hes shown that he loves you. Hes shown it on a cross.
3) The Demand of Love
But lastly there is the demand of love. Have a look at verse 7: "Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love, does not know God, because God is love." Johns point is very simple. If you claim to be a son or daughter of the God of love, then you must show it by your actions. The person who says he is a son of God and yet does not love does not know God because he does not love. John calls a spade a spade doesnt he? There is no room for arguing with him. Either we say we are Christians and show it, or we are not Christians. Choose which one, but dont deceive yourself.
Now he is not saying that everyone who loves in any sort of way is a Christian. John makes it clear in his letter that the love he is talking about is the love that God shows. It is selfless and sacrificial, and it is tied to a relationship with God through Jesus. And hes not saying that you cannot love outside of being a Christian. Clearly there are a lot of non Christians who love in some way. But if you claim to be a Christian and do not love your fellow Christian, then you are not acting as a Christian. For love is the mark of the Christian. John Stott, commenting on this passage says that not to love is "to fail to manifest the nature of him whom we claim as our Father." So a person cannot come into a real relationship with God without being transformed into a loving person. John says in verse 11 after he has been talking of Gods love for us that "since God loved us, we ought to love one another". You cannot look at the cross for long and not fail to be moved by the extraordinary love that God showed us in his Sons death on the cross, can you? Surely if you have understood the cross properly then you will long to love others.
And in verse 12, John takes the challenge a step further. "No-one has ever seen God; but if we love each other, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us." He is saying this: Where else will the non Christian see God except in the loving Christian community. You cannot see God, but you can see his character in Christians, or at least you should be able to; you can see him at work. And his characteristic of love, says John, is to be seen among Christians. See the way they love one another, people should be saying of us. And in this way, Gods love is made complete. It is brought to its full function when we love other Christians. God does not expect us to receive his love and then for us to say, "Thanks a lot, Im off." No, that love he shows to us reaches its peak, its fulfilment, when we love other Christians in return. Then we know that God really lives is us. He is making us more like himself, more loving.
Now I dont kid myself that these are easy verses to put into practice, but if we as a church body are to make genuine progress in our area, then John is clear where we need to make headway. Not just in a stand for the truth of the gospel, but living the gospel, for then the unseen God is seen in the lives of believers. You may have heard of Chuck Colson. Colson was one of President Nixon's inner circle of advisers during the Watergate crisis which rocked the States in the 70's. Now right in the middle of the crisis, Colson was led to Christ by a man named Doug Coe. Shortly after Colson's conversion, Doug Coe set up a meeting between Colson, an extreme right-wing republican and a man called Harold Hughes, who was a Senator, and a convinced Democrat but who had also become a Christian. He was as tough as nails, strongly built and an aggressive recovered alcoholic and disliked Colson intensely, hating everything he stood for. Colson was very nervous about the meeting. He describes the meeting like "two boxers in separate corners" as they met with their wives and five others over dinner. Then, quite suddenly, Hughes looked straight at Colson and said, "Chuck, they tell me you've had an encounter with Jesus Christ. Would you tell us about it?" Colson told them, choking up at times, about how he'd met Jesus Christ. After he'd finished there was a silence. Then, Hughes suddenly lifted his hands up in the air, brought them down on his knees and said, "That's all I need to know Chuck. You have accepted Jesus and he's forgiven you and I do the same. I love you now as my brother in Christ. I will stand with you, defend you anywhere, and trust you with everything you have." Colson was staggered. After the group had prayed, Hughes gave him a massive bear-hug, and Chuck Colson knew the reality of true Christian love. Thats the sort of love that we should have for one another.
So are you willing to love your fellow Christians with sacrificial and devoted love. Love always costs doesnt it? It will mean taking the time to get to know people, being willing to share their burdens, and longing to show love to others who we wouldnt normally want to love. Thats Christian love, Christ-like love; and after all, God did show it to us! The least we should do is show it to others! The Demand of Love.
Well John has taught us much about love this evening. Yes we are far more precious than just £10 worth of elements. So precious it cost God his Son. Thats how much God loves us. He is the source of love, hes shown it on the cross, a love which is undeserved, sacrificial and effective, and he longs that its completion is in us, as we show love to one another. For when we have tasted the wonder of Gods love for us, how can any of us withhold our love form one another?
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