Beloved, let us love one another!
Series: Christmas Words
In our second Advent sermon, Pastor Matt encourages us with the BIG IDEA: Beloved, let us love one another because 1. Love is from God, 2. God is love, and 3. God has loved us.
New City Catechism
New American Commentary, 1 John, by Danny Akin
John Frame, The Doctrine of God
What is your favorite Christmas Carol? From a historical perspective, one of the most interesting of our beloved carols is O Holy Night. Historians tell us that the idea for the carol originated in the south of France where a parish priest wanted a new hymn written to commemorate renovations to the church organ. Why not? The best poet that the parish priest knew that was available was a one-handed wine merchant who by all accounts was an atheist. Despite his lack of faith, the poet produced one of our most beloved Christmas carols, which has been translated into countless languages and sung by billions of Christians around the world. One of my favorite lines from the O Holy Night goes like this, “Truly he taught us to love one another, his law is love and his gospel is peace.” His law is love. Where does that idea come from? Directly out of our passage this morning from 1 John. 1 John is a letter written to establish Christians in what we call around here, and this isn’t original to us, “gospel doctrine” and “gospel culture.” Gospel doctrine is right belief about God and what he has done to forgive our sins and adopt us as his children through Jesus Christ. Gospel culture is the wonderful feel and vibe that gospel doctrine is meant to create a community. And O Holy Night and the Apostle John tell us that the law that rules in a gospel culture is love. In fact the big idea of our passage comes directly from the opening line of our passage: Beloved, let us love one another.
I think if we are honest with ourselves, genuinely loving one another feels like a tall order, especially this time of year. Think about what love is. Pastor Tony Evans says that love is the rare combination of compassion toward someone with righteousness. John Piper says that love is the overflow of joy in God that gladly meets the needs of others. That’s a tall order at a time of year when many feel more lonely than ever, even when surrounded by crowds of people. Yes, love is in the air this time of year, but we know that our love, our patience, our compassion so quickly grows cold and gets twisted. The Bible says that we should love as God has loved us, but we feel distant from God and all the love in the air during the Christmas season reminds us that we don’t actually love others particularly well. Beloved, how in the world are we going to love one another? Like a tea bag in steaming hot water, to love one another, we need to soak in three profound truths from our passage: 1. Love is from God. 2. God is love. 3. God has loved us.
LOVE IS FROM GOD
1 John 4:7 – Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.
Beloved, we can love one another, first, because love is from God. I imagine that it has become clear from the stories I tell you that Andrea and I love to hike. One of the most beautiful places we’ve ever hiked is Yosemite National Park in California where I am from. We’ve only hiked there once, but I’ll never forget the Yosemite Falls hike. The hike switchbacks up an incredibly steep mountain, providing gorgeous views of the 2,425 foot waterfall (picture). The falls are massively powerful. Hydrologists have estimated an average spring flow of 300 cubic feet per second. To put that in perspective, there’s approximately 8 gallons per cubic foot of water. That’s 2,400 gallons of water a second! When you finally arrive at the top of Yosemite Falls after eight hours of grueling hiking, you find that all the water flowing over the falls from the fast flowing Yosemite Creek. As powerful as this waterfall is, by August the massive falls are reduced to a trickle as Yosemite Creek dries up in the summer sun (picture).
And that’s how many of us feel these days when it comes to loving one another, when it comes gladly meeting one another’s physical, emotional and spiritual needs. We feel like Yosemite Falls in August; nothing more than a trickle. Well friends, I have wonderful news for you. Love is from God. God is the river that never runs dry with love. And that means that we don’t have to try and drum up love for one another or manufacture it by being more positive or exercising more will-power. Our efforts to work up love for one another will run dry just like Yosemite Falls in August. The reason why we can love one another is because love is from God. We don’t work it up, it comes down to us as a gift and spills over from us to others.
Honest question: are you living like a waterfall with no source? Are you trying to love others without the love that only comes from God flowing down on you? It’s only a matter of time before you run dry, but God never does. Love comes from God and it’s too powerful to contain. Love is the overflow of joy in God’s love that gladly meets the needs of others. Beloved, let’s love one another, let’s gladly have our schedules, our dollars, our energy rung out to meet one another’s needs because love comes from God and he’s never in short supply.
Let’s turn now to the second truth that we must soak ourselves in to love one another…
GOD IS LOVE
While it is of course true to say that love is from God, even that isn’t the whole story concerning how and why we love one another. 1 John 4:8 – Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. Beloved, let us love one another because God is love. What a beautiful and mysterious concept. God’s attributes, as one theologian has put it, describe God’s essence from different perspectives. And in his heart, his very essence, God is love.
One of my favorite passages in the Bible is Romans 8:35-39:
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
The reason we can be so confident that nothing can separate us from the love of God that we experience always and only in Jesus Christ our Lord is because God is love. Your trials, your setbacks, your fears, your loneliness, your loss, your pain, and your sins cannot separate you from the love of God in Christ because God is love and God is greater than your trials, setbacks, fears, loneliness, loss, pain, and sin!
Now, to truly soak in the truth that God is love, we have to be aware of a common misconception derived from the truth that God is love. It’s common today to assume that since God is love, he’ll bless any expression of “love” that is out there. “Love is love,” as the lawn sign doctrinal statement erroneously says. Pastor Mark pointed out to me this week that love always has an agenda. And since God is love, he’s not content to leave us as we are, but to actually make us into a people that look like himself, which results in our deep and abiding joy.
Misconceptions not withstanding, beloved, we love one another because God is love. And this teaches us that the ultimate way that we grow in loving one another, the way that we experience the overflowing motivation to gladly meet one another’s needs despite the loneliness and pain we may be enduring is by drawing near to the God who is love.Just as the best way to stay warm is to draw near to a fire, the best way to become more loving is to draw near to God who is love. Read about his great love in Scripture. Preach his great love into your heart each day. Pray in response to his great love. Sing songs about his great love. Speak specifically about his love with one another. We cannot too often meditate on and revel in the God who is love. And as we draw close to the fire, we’ll find ourselves continually warmed toward others.
GOD HAS LOVED US
Beloved, let us love one another not only because love comes from God and God is love, but because God has loved us! 1 John 4:9 – 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. God has loved us. How? Christmas! Two thousand years ago, the God who is loved, loved us by sending His Son into the world. The theological term for this is “incarnation.” The eternal Son of God humbly took on flesh and was born truly human and also truly God. And God did not send Him into the world in response to us. He did not so love us that he gave his only begotten Son because we so loved him. Let’s read the next verse together: 1 John 4:10 – 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. In this is love, not that we loved God, but he loved us and he did the unthinkable. In this is love, He gave us His Son. In this is love, His beloved, glorious, eternal Son, took on human flesh and was born in a stable! In this is love, His Son endured every temptation we have, yet without sin. In this is love, He gave His Son to die as a propitiation for our sins so that we can live forever. Propitiation means a vehicle for removing wrath. In this is love, the Father gave His Son and poured all his morally righteous wrath on Jesus at the cross, rather than on us in Hell forever. The humility of the incarnation is incomprehensible. It’s sort of like if I took the form of an ant to die at the hands of ants in order to save those very same ants who killed me.
God has loved us! And his love is the model and motivation for loving one another. When we read our passage, I am struck by the way God has loved us. His love meets our greatest need. His love is active, always taking the initiative toward us. His love doesn’t flow to us because we deserve it, but in spite of our not deserving it. He does not treat us the way that we treat him. His love is costly to him. Beloved, God has loved you and his love is the model we follow as we cultivate a gospel culture governed by the law of love and the gospel of peace. When we see a brother or sister in Christ who has a physical need, a spiritual need, a financial need, an encouragement need, let’s love as we’ve been loved. Let’s refuse to calculate one another’s worthiness of love. Let’s err on the side of being taken advantage of by one another in the name of lavish love. Let’s love one another in seemingly small and extraordinarily costly ways because that’s how God has loved us. And as those who have been so sacrificially loved by God, let’s cheerfully accept the cost of loving one another earnestly from a pure heart. His love is our model.
But his love is not only our model, his love is also our motivation. The reason why we can love one another without growing dry is because God lives to pour his love into our hearts. He is always meeting our needs, He is always taking the active role in loving us, He is always giving us better than we deserve because He has already paid the ultimate price in giving his Son for us. God’s love has appeared to us in the birth, life, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ for us. What more can we say this Advent but what John says at the end of our passage: Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.