Abiding in Love
Trinity One Sermon 2007| Rev. Rolf D. Preus| 1 John 4:16-21
There is much confusion about what love is. Love is not merely desire or attraction. We may desire what we do not love. We desire it for what we will gain from it. We desire and we seek to get and we do so for our own benefit. But love is not about what we will gain from another. Love is giving to another. It is sacrifice. It is obligation. Love assumes a duty for another for the other’s benefit. It does not use the other. Love is not just feeling, sentiment, or words. Love is action.
Consider God’s love. It defines for us what love is. God’s love is God doing. Specifically, it is God giving. For God so loved the world that he gave. In what way did God love the world? He gave. Love is a verb. God is love as God gives. He gives Jesus. He sends Jesus to suffer and die for us. This suffering and dying takes away God’s anger. It bears God’s judgment. Christ’s sacrifice on the cross makes peace between God and us. To know God’s love and to trust in God’s love is to know and trust in the death of Jesus on the cross to take away God’s anger, our sin, and all our fear of judgment.
Of course if we have no sin for God to judge and if we haven’t angered God by our selfish and loveless refusal to do what he tells us to do then we will neither confess our sins to God nor will we look to Jesus as our Savior from sin. If we are the measure of what is good and holy and pure and lovely then there is no need for us to run to Jesus and find in him what we so sorely lack. But if the bitterness, hatred, war, adultery, theft, and slander that bring such misery upon the world has its source within our own hearts, why then we had better look elsewhere than to ourselves for the measure of true love. We must look to God. We must look to our baptism. We must claim the faith that God engendered within us when he joined us in holy fellowship.
So we do. And we know God’s love. We trust in God’s love. We abide in God’s love. That is, we remain in it. It is the source of our love. True love is always divine. We love God only after he loves us. We receive God’s love through faith in Christ. Then we learn to love God. When we love God we love those whom he loves.
Christians are born from above. They are born again to love. But we find it so very hard to do. We are born again. The Holy Spirit has given us a new life to live. We have the desire to love as God has loved us. Yet our love fails to meet its goal. It is not perfected. We remain afraid. We lack the boldness we need because we are afraid of judgment.
Perfect love casts out all fear. But the love we have for others is never perfect. This is why we need always to run to God’s love for us and find our refuge in it. From receiving God’s love by faith our love for God and our fellow Christians is deepened.
To remain in love is to remain in God. We cannot know God apart from Christ. We cannot know Christ apart from the sacrifice he offered up on the cross to take away God’s judgment against us. If God doesn’t condemn us nobody else’s judgment can make us afraid. If the one who holds the whole world in his hands and governs the entire universe is pleased with us and not angry with us we have nothing to fear from anybody anywhere. Then we can love with a boldness that does not shrink from whatever love demands.
Talk of love is cheap. But God’s talk is never cheap. God’s talk is always grounded in what he has done and will do. His talk is bound to his faithful action. It is our talk that is cheap. It’s easy for us to promise love and then fail in our promise. The walk of love is what is much more difficult. This is why we Christians often appear as hypocrites to those outside of the church. They know of our talk. We talk about love. God loves. We love. This is what our faith and lives are all about. Then when we fail in our Christian living to live up to the words we speak we become the object of criticism and judgment.
When we live under judgment we become afraid. But fear militates against love. Love is freedom. Love is peace. Love comes from knowing that our sins are forgiven. Love is not living in fear of judgment. Christ has borne divine judgment against us. We don’t have to fear what he has already faced. And we certainly don’t need to be afraid of the judgment of the world. People see our sins and judge us for them but we know what cannot be seen. We know the forgiveness of sins that Christ’s blood shed for us provides. We know the love of God that nailed our sins to the cross to remove them from us. The devil judges us but we deny his right to judge. Legalists judge us and try to place our conscience under the domination of the law. But Jesus is Lord, not the judgment of the law. Jesus rules over us by taking away the judgment that made us afraid. When we have the love of God in Christ we have peace. We aren’t afraid. As the Bible says, “If God is for us, who can be against us?”
If we love God we love our brother. St. John writes:
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.
Jesus is our God. When we love Jesus we love our God. Jesus is our brother. When we love Jesus we love our brother. When it comes to our faith we look for God in Jesus. When it comes to our love we look for Jesus in our brother. We cannot know God apart from faith in Jesus. We cannot love God apart from loving our brothers.
We say we love God. But love is not merely saying. It is doing. And we cannot see God. We cannot give him anything he needs. We cannot deprive him of anything he depends upon. Loving God is often just a matter of words and emotion. But love is a verb. It is doing. If you want to love God you must do. And you do to God as you do to your brothers and sisters in Christ.
The rich man did nothing for Lazarus. He did nothing for Lazarus because he did not love him. He did not love him because he did not love God. He did not love God because he had not received God’s love in faith. His faith was in his possessions. He therefore loved them more than anything else. He feared losing his wealth. He loved his wealth. He trusted in his wealth. It was his god. He feared, loved, and trusted in his god above all things. And his lack of love for the true God was shown in his lack of love for Lazarus.
The old English word charity has pretty much gone by the way side having been replaced by the word love. Nowadays charity means giving money to help the poor. However, that simple duty of Christian love has more often than not been co-opted by various levels of government that have taken upon themselves the duty to do what Christian love used to regard as Christian duty.
But love encompasses much more than giving money and other material benefits to those who need them. Divine love shows mercy in every form it is required. When we love our brothers we show mercy. The word “brother” is used in our text. The word “neighbor” is not used. The Second Table of the Law requires us to love our neighbor. “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Your neighbor may or may not be a Christian. You are to love those who do not believe in God or follow after false gods. We have no more right to slander or rob an unbeliever than we do a believer. In our text and elsewhere in the Scriptures God teaches us to love specifically our brother. A brother or sister is a fellow Christian. There is an old expression: “Charity begins at home.”
We don’t like to see children fight but we especially don’t like to see our own children fight. They are our children. When you share a father and a mother you are brothers and sisters. If you love your father and mother you should show that same love to your brother and sister. There is a family bond that needs to be respected.
We Christians have the same Father. He is our God whom we know in his Son, Jesus our brother. And we Christians have the same mother. She is the Holy Christian Church into whose fellowship we have been baptized. Whatever we do in love for our Christian brothers and sisters we do for God. When we cover up the shame of our fellow Christians by speaking well of them and looking for the best in them and forgiving them when they do us wrong we are loving the Lord Jesus Christ himself who bore the shame of the cross. He identifies with us. To love God is to love his children. It is to cherish the Christian fellowship we enjoy with one another. To claim to love God while hating those to whom he has joined us in fellowship is to lie. It is to speak hypocritically. So we rid our hearts of all hatred against our brothers and sisters. How can we do this? We cannot simply will is to be gone. We confess it as sin. We go to where God gives us his love and forgiveness. We go to his holy gospel and sacraments. Then God’s love does battle against our hatred. He heals us on the inside.
God is love. We receive love from God. We give love to one another. We love Jesus by loving those he loves. We live in God’s love.