First Sunday after Trinity| Rev. Rolf Preus| June 14, 2009
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
Love is a four letter word. It’s used to cover up every kind of sin imaginable. The church is told that love requires us to support same sex marriage. But the God who loves us says that homosexuality is a terrible sin. The state is told that love requires us to support abortion on demand. But the killing of unborn babies is not love, no matter how you try to justify it. It seems that love is the four letter word most used to defend what is manifestly unloving, cruel, and sinful.
This is why we must permit God to define this word for us. To know love is to know God. It is to know his love. God’s love is seen in Christ’s suffering. Just a few verses before our text St. John writes: “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.” That is, he sent his Son to suffer the punishment for our sins. True love is from God. God’s love is revealed in Christ. The love of God that is revealed in Christ is manifested specifically at the cross where Jesus suffered and died for the sin of the world.
Ironically, those who would direct the Church away from the biblical and traditional teaching about marriage, family, and life issues to embrace a humanistic agenda are also those who have little if anything to say about the suffering of Jesus for the sins of the world.
We live at a time when sin has been defined out of existence. If it is not preached that we are sinners then it can hardly be preached that we need a Savior from sin. But we are sinners whether or not someone preaches it. We are sinners whether or not we believe it. We need a Savior from sin regardless of what we are told and what we believe.
There is proof. There is proof that we are sinners and it is available to anyone who wants to look. St. John alludes to this proof in our text. He writes:
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.
Are you afraid of what might happen to you? Are you afraid to die? Do you wonder how you’ll be judged? Or can you say that you fear nothing at all?
Those who despise the blood of Jesus shed to take away God’s anger cannot deny their own fears. Christians are regularly slandered and ostracized for standing up for God’s standards. Why do you think this is? It’s because God’s standards expose sin. Sin calls for punishment. The prospect of punishment makes people afraid. So they try to silence the standards that show them to be sinful. If they can define sin away then they won’t have to face the consequences of their own sin.
But they cannot rid their hearts of fear. They cannot find inner peace. God is there. And their conscience knows it. But the God who is there is judging them so they must shut him up. Thus Christians are silenced. They are the voice of God in this world and the world doesn’t want to hear it.
So people run this way and that in search of a peace they’ll never find. Perfect love casts out fear. But there is no perfect love except that love that sent the Son to the cross to become the sacrifice for the sin of the world. And there is no receiving of that love except through faith in this Jesus. There is only fear. Run away from God! But you can’t. But you must! And so the fear increases until its discomfort forces you to expel any knowledge of God from your mind and create a nonjudgmental idol in which you can pretend to trust.
Who can stand before God the judge? He who has a clean heart can stand without fear before God the judge. Who is he? Nobody but Jesus. So the human race runs away from God into idolatry.
And running away from God means running away from love. It means descending into judgment against others. This is the most common way of attempting to deflect God’s judgment. The fearful conscience knows he’s guilty but doesn’t know what to do about it. So he projects guilt upon others. He makes excuses for judging others, thinking that in this way he’ll remove the judgment against himself. It’s futile, of course, but folks do it constantly. The flight from God runs into a judgmental spirit as the sinner seeks to defend himself by attacking others.
To run away from God is to run away from love. True, God is the one who judges. God is the one who punishes. It is the true and eternal and almighty God who strikes fear into the human conscience. But this God is also the God of love. He is the only Source of true love.
When we see God’s love in Jesus we see the essence of love. It is mercy. It is grace. It is forgiving those who don’t deserve it. It is the almighty and holy and righteous God becoming one of his own creatures and doing in his holy flesh what sinful flesh could not and would not do. True love is not that we loved. It is that God loved. And he loves with a vengeance! His love bore his own vengeance against all sinners and he bore in his own body the sin of the whole world.
You want to see fear removed? You want to see judgment pass you by? You want to see the pure love of God and embrace God in that love? Then look and see Jesus lifted up for you! Look and see him bear your sin away. That is the love in which we live. That is the love from which we learn to love.
You see someone who is helpless. God alone is his help. Call him, for lack of a better name, Lazarus. Lazarus means God is my help. Consider this helpless person who can rely only on God. What does loving this person have to do with loving God? It is precisely in loving this person that you love God. You love the invisible God whom you have not seen by loving your brother or sister whom you have seen.
The singers sing of love. You don’t see them live it. The world’s version of love is talk. It requires no real price. That’s because it is self-referential. It begins with and ends with the self. But when you are focused in on yourself and your own pleasures and your own things to the exclusion of your neighbor’s needs you cannot love your neighbor. You can only hate him.
Hatred is not just acting in passion against someone. Hatred is ignoring someone in need. The rich man hated Lazarus. He hated him by not loving him for there is nothing between love and hatred.
Love is not feeling and talking. Love is doing. Love does not bring fear. Why then do we learn the meaning of each commandment by saying the words, “We should fear and love God that . . .”? Are we wrong to talk about fearing God when here St. John teaches us, under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, that perfect love casts out fear?
There are two kinds of fear. There is the fear of punishment. This is the fear a slave has toward his harsh master. It is the fear of anger. It is the fear of retribution. It is the fear of God that the guilty conscience has. This fear is incompatible with love because you can’t love someone you are trying to avoid. You cannot both run away from God and embrace him at the same time.
There is also what is called filial fear. This is the fear of a son or daughter. It is the fear that every Christian has of displeasing God. It is reverential fear. It sanctifies God as the One we do not wish to displease because we know his holy will to be right and true. This fear of God doesn’t look at God as the good old boy or private buddy who agrees with everything we think. It is born in repentance. It humbles itself before God and seeks to do his will out of profound love and devotion.
This filial fear doesn’t run away from God. It runs to him. It receives from him what his holy word promises. It seeks out the love of God in the gospel, taking to heart the gospel message that God’s love swallowed up all our sin and removed it in the suffering and death of Jesus. We fear and love God only because we trust in him above all things. When he tells us his love is for us we believe him. We are not afraid that he’ll change his mind and decide to punish us for our sins. We know that God’s love is not fickle. It’s not like the love of sinners that runs hot and cold. It is constant and pure and certain. It remains the foundation of our faith and the source of our love.
It is simple faith in the gospel through which we abide in God’s love. The gospel reveals God’s love. It is the message of Christ’s vicarious suffering and death for us for the forgiveness of our sins. Faith and faith alone receives this love, this gospel. Faith receives and does nothing. Then love does. It sees in the needs of others the opportunity to love God. God graciously condescends to let us serve him in love by promising that what we do for one the least of his brothers we do for him. Thank God that we don’t have to ascend into heaven to find his love or construct elaborate ethical systems by which to express his love. We look to Jesus who suffered for us and there find God’s love for us. We look to our fellow Christian in any kind of need and there express our love for God. We love him because he first loved us. Amen