March 30, 2018
1 John 4:7-11
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
The author of these words saw Jesus die. He saw God’s love. He saw what it cost God. He preached God’s love for many years. When he was very old, too old to preach an entire sermon, he was always invited to say a few words after each Sunday service. Every week he would stand up and say the same thing: “Little children, love one another.” Then he would sit down. One day he was asked why he always said the same thing. He replied, “Because if we love one another that is everything.”
The pop singers of my youth had little of importance to say, but every once in a while they hit on the truth. John Lennon, a member of the popular British band, The Beatles, authored a song about fifty years ago featuring the refrain, “All you need is love.” He was right. He didn’t know what love was, but he was right.
Love pertains to duty, not pleasure. Love is obligation. But it is freely given. Obligations are, by definition, not free. If they were free, they would not be obligations. On the other hand, love is free or it isn’t love and love most certainly obliges the one who loves to do what love requires.
Love defines all our duties in life. What do we owe one another? How do we make every day decisions that will affect other people? What does the Bible say? “Owe no one anything but to love one another,” St. Paul writes. He says, “Love does no harm to the neighbor, therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.”
Love is not just one Christian duty among others. No. Love is all that is ever required. The Ten Commandments explain for us what love requires. Love is always required. There are no circumstances in life that can nullify the law of Christian love. The reason it is sin to dishonor father and mother, to hurt our neighbor in his body, to commit adultery, to steal, to tell lies about our neighbor, to try to enrich ourselves at his expense, is because these things go against love. God defines what love requires. We don’t. God’s standards never change, even if they are out of style.
We love one another because love is from God. He who loves is born of God and he who does not love does not know God because God is love. We can give to God our money, our time, our lives; we can give to every good charity; we can become active in every worthwhile volunteer activity; we can work hard and provide for our families. If we do all this and do not love one another, we do nothing at all for God. We don’t even know him.
Today we look at where God revealed his love: on the cross where Jesus was crucified for us. But before we look to what Jesus did for us on the cross, let us examine ourselves to see if we have loved as God calls us to love. Consider the words we have spoken to and about our brothers and sisters. Look into the law of Christian love with me and what do we see? What does this law say to us about us? Does it accuse us? Does it condemn us?
We must love one another. God is love. He could not be our Father without requiring us to love one another. God is love. His children love. If they don’t love, they aren’t his children because God is love.
Do we love? Or do we remember the wrongs done against us? Do we excuse the wrongs we have done against others? As we look inside ourselves to find the love that shows us to be God’s children, we find sin from which we cannot set ourselves free. God called for peace. We declared war. God required honesty. We lied. When we look within ourselves to find the love God has required of us we see sin and guilt from which we cannot set ourselves free. We cannot argue against the law of Christian love. When this law indicts us, tries us, and condemns us, we cannot argue with its verdict.
But God in his holy word calls us his beloved. We are loved by God. By receiving God’s love we can love one another. God’s love is revealed and given to us in the gospel and the sacraments of Christ because these means of grace bring us back to Christ’s crucifixion. We cannot find God’s true love in nature, science, philosophy, business, or hard work. We find God’s love in the man who is love incarnate, the true God made flesh, Jesus Christ. Only as we receive God’s love in Christ can we love one another. God’s love in Christ is found where Jesus suffered and died.
God’s love in Christ defines what love is. “In this is love,” St. John writes, “not that we loved God.” We don’t look to our love to find true love. God’s love – not our love – defines true love for us.
His love is a powerful love. It is more than mere sentiment. It is an almighty love. “In this is love that God loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” If your lack of love causes you distress, then consider God’s love for you. He sent his Son to be the propitiation for your sins.
To propitiate someone is to set his anger aside, to appease him, so that he is angry no longer but at peace. Jesus is the propitiation for our sins. He has taken away God’s anger. For Christ’s sake, for the sake of his suffering and death for us, God is no longer angry with us.
Christ is the propitiation. He takes God’s anger away. Our love doesn’t do it. Our promises don’t do it. Our prayers don’t do it. Our faith doesn’t do it. Jesus propitiates God because Jesus is the propitiation for our sins. He bore the anger. He faced the damnation. He endured the eternal wrath of the offended God. This he did because he loved us. The Father who poured out his righteous anger on Jesus, on his innocent Son whom he has loved from all eternity, loved us. This is why he chose to punish Jesus instead of us. He loved us. This is why he sent Jesus into the world to endure the punishment we deserved. And Jesus has propitiated God. As Isaiah writes, “The punishment that brought us peace was upon him.”
God’s love is no sissy love. It is not meek, mild, and ineffective. It is hard. It does what it sets out to do. Listen to this love described by Henrik Ibsen’s character Brand in a play by the same name:
Of what the paltering world calls love,
I will not know, I cannot speak;
I know but His who reigns above,
And His is neither mild nor weak;
Hard even unto death is this,
And smiting with its awful kiss.
What was the answer of God’s love
Of old, when in the olive-grove
In anguish-sweat His own Son lay;
And prayed, O, Take this cup away?
Did God take from him then the cup?
No, child; His Son must drink it up!
This is an unflinching love! It confronts hatred, violence, rebellion, lust, dishonesty, cruelty, and every form of human sin. God’s love confronts this sordid mass of human filth by laying it all on the innocent head of Jesus Christ and punishing him for it. It is love that places all that sin on Jesus. His innocence bears it. It is removed from us. His death pays for it. God’s anger is stilled. We are loved.
St. John writes, “God has sent his only begotten Son into the world that we might live through him.” What kind of a life? A life which is at peace with God, because Jesus has propitiated God, he has quenched his anger by his blood, and this life we live we live by faith in this eternal Son of God. On our hearts is imprinted the image of his crucifixion for us. God is at peace with us. He forgives us all our sins. Our lives will not end at the grave. God will raise us from the dead and give to us everlasting life.
God’s love draws us to him. There it is, as God gives us his love by giving to us his Son, there it is, as God speaks to us in the gospel of his grace, there it is that we are forgiven, set free and at peace with God. There it is that we are his beloved. So there it is, as we receive this love of God, that we also love one another.
True love is born at the foot of the cross. True love flows from the wounds of Jesus. This is the love that also flows through us to one another. And when our love fails, we run back to the God who is love. We confess our lovelessness. We ask for his forgiveness. He directs us to where Jesus died. He forgives us. He sets our hearts at peace. He fills us with his love.
Little children, love one another, for love is of God and he who loves is born of God.
Rolf D. Preus