First Sunday after Trinity
June 3, 2018
“Love and Fear”
1 John 4:16-21
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 must love his brother also. 1 John 4:16-21
The name Lazarus means God is my help. To help is to save. To save is to rescue. From what does God rescue us? He rescues us from punishment. He died for our sins. He bore their punishment. Sin and punishment go together.
Church attendance across America is declining. People don’t want what Jesus gives. Jesus is the head of the church. He purchased the church with his own blood. He was crucified and rose from the dead. The crucifixion of Jesus is the revelation of his love. In John 3 we see the kind of love with which God loved the world. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son.” In 1 John 4 St. John describes this love more fully. He writes:
God gave his only begotten Son. This means that he sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. To propitiate means to pacify. It is to take away anger. A propitiation pacifies. It takes away anger. Christ is the propitiation for our sins. He bears the anger against our sins and removes it. St. Paul writes:
Jesus bore divine anger against sin. He endured the torment. This was love. It was perfect love. Perfect love casts out fear because fear involves torment. Christ bore the torment. On Calvary his love confronted divine anger, divine retribution, divine judgment, and divine punishment. Christ’s love faced everything our sin brought upon us from the holy God. By bearing sin and sin’s punishment, he made peace between the holy God and people who were afraid to face the holy God.
A Savior saves. When there is no sin, no divine judgment or punishment, and no hell; when God’s anger is denied and man’s innate goodness is affirmed there is really no need for Jesus anymore.
Welcome to the twenty first century! The self-esteem gospel has borne its bitter fruit and its fruit is death. Love, tolerance, affirmation, and a few other carefully chosen words that pretend to be love are designed to cover up the rotten fruit of the false doctrine of self-esteem. Why do men use and abuse women, taking them for sexual pleasure and discarding them when they no longer satisfy? Why do children take from their parents, take some more, keep on taking, and refuse to repay them with the honor and respect they owe them? Why has the love of so many run cold so that all they can see is their own wants and cannot see what their neighbor needs? It is because the gospel that tells you to love yourself separates you from God’s love.
Those who are in love with themselves do not desire a Savior from their sin. They cannot deny themselves. They cannot repent. They cannot know love. John writes, “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.”
To know and believe the love that God has for us is to know and believe Christ crucified for us. It is to know God in the suffering and death of his Son. There true love is revealed. There love triumphs over hatred. There is our abiding place. It is where we live with God.
This is what it means to abide in love, to live in love, to remain in love. It means to rest our souls in the wounds of Jesus.
This is the love that is perfected in us. This love is perfect already. Perfect means complete. God’s love is complete. When Jesus said, “It is finished,” the love of God had met its goal. All anger, all judgment, all punishment had been meted out. It had been borne in patience by Jesus. It was gone. As far as the east is from the west, so far was God’s anger against sinners removed from them.
This love needs nothing from us to become perfect. We cannot perfect it. Jesus has already perfected it. But note what St. John writes here. He writes:
The perfect love is perfected in us. We receive it through faith. God is love. We receive God and his love through faith alone. The faith that receives God, that receives love, that receives Jesus, who is perfect love, is itself imperfect.
This is why we are afraid. This is why we run when no one is chasing. This is why we justify ourselves to one another. Love has not been perfected in us. We have doubts about the true gospel. Our faith is clouded by false belief and confusion. Perfect love casts out fear. God’s perfect love takes away fear of torment. God’s love enables us to stand before judgment without fear, knowing that Christ has borne our judgment and clothed us with his righteousness.
As he is so we are. Jesus is holy. So are we. Jesus is righteous. So are we. Jesus is love. So are we. As sinful as we are according to the law of God that judges sinners, so righteous we are according to the gospel of God that forgives sinners. The love of God is perfected in us; the love of God makes us bold in the day of judgment; the love of God casts out all fear as God perfects our faith in the truth that Jesus really has taken away our sin, taken away God’s anger, and set us at peace with him.
Here’s the dirty little secret about the self-esteem gospel that requires no repentance, denies God’s anger against sin, defines away sin, and has no use for the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ. Nobody really believes it. Oh, they’ll mock the Christian gospel. They’ll rage against Christians who still believe that what the Bible says is sin is sin and who still confess that faith in Jesus is the only way to receive the gift of forgiveness of sins and eternal life. But they do not really think they are good people. They say they are, but they don’t believe it. They are running away from God. That’s why they despise each other.
The true faith in the true God whose true love is revealed in the suffering and death of Jesus is the faith that produces love. Love goes in. Love comes out. God’s gospel comes in. It forgives us and takes away our fear of punishment and gives us the fear that reveres God’s name, loves God’s word, and trusts in God’s love. The love in which we trust is the love that we give to others.
We’ve never seen God. We’ve never done him a favor. We’ve never given him anything that he needed to repay. We are the debtors. He forgives our debts. How to thank him? How to confess this truth? How to affirm this love we have received? Love those whom God loves.
God loves all people. Jesus said: “For God so loved the world.” But in this instance, St. John is talking specifically about our brothers and sisters in Christ, our fellow Christians. The word “brother” is used to refer to fellow Christians. Christians are identified by the love they receive. We recognize as Christians those who hear the same gospel we hear, and confess the same faith we confess.
Consider three things about the love revealed to us on Calvary. First, it cost God. Second, it turned away his anger. Third, it came to us and became ours. Consider this love to learn how to love your brothers and sisters in Christ.
Pay the cost. Bear the insult, bury the shameful secret, put the best construction on what he says and does, help him out when he’s in need. Do it. Love pays a cost.
Turn away your anger. Don’t judge. Don’t examine your brother or sister to find fault. Rather, think of them as they appear to God, washed clean of their sin by the blood of Jesus in Holy Baptism. See them as God sees them and don’t be angry.
Make peace with them. God has made peace with you. Not only did Jesus bear all our sin on the cross, he also sent his Spirit to proclaim this gospel to us. We abide in this love. To love a Christian brother or sister pays the cost, sets aside anger and judgment, and speaks words of peace.
How to love? He first loved us. This is the source and strength of our love for one another. This is why we glory in the love revealed on the cross instead of in our achievements as Christians. We look to the source. From the love we receive from God we learn to love those that he loves. This is why Jesus said, “By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Rolf D. Preus