Trinity Two Sermon 2011| Rev. Rolf D. Preus| July 3, 2011| 1 John 3:13-18
Do not marvel, my brothers, if the world hates you. We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brothers. He who does not love his brother abides in death. Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth. 1 John 3:13-18
A Christian and a Muslim got into an argument about which of the many attributes of God was the greatest. As you know, the Muslims deny that God is Triune. They deny that God has a Son. They say, “God neither begets nor is begotten.” We Christians, on the other hand, believe that God does indeed beget. The Father begets the Son from eternity. And God is indeed begotten. As we sing in the Christmas hymn, “Of the Father’s love begotten, e’er the worlds began to be.”
The Muslim argued that God’s greatest attribute was his power. The Christian argued that God’s greatest attribute was his love. “Aha!” the Muslim countered. “You make God dependent upon another and so make him weak. For in order for God to love there must be someone to love and whoever that someone is God is dependant upon him to exercise his greatest attribute if, indeed, his greatest attribute is love.”
The Christian replied to the Muslim that God’s greatest attribute has always been love – even in the eternal past when only God existed. The Father has always loved the Son and the Son has always loved the Father. God’s love is as eternal as God is.
And this love – this perfect, divine, eternal love – is ours. It is ours through faith in Christ. The apostle writes, “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us.” When the Son laid down his life for us the love of God was revealed. We know love, we receive love, and we live in love when we believe that it was for us that he laid down his life. It was for our sins. It was to take them away. It was to give us eternal life. The love that sent Jesus to the cross to sacrifice his life is the same love that comes into our lives to give us eternal life. Love goes with life. True love gives true life.
And hatred goes with death. This goes back to the beginning of time. In the verse before our text St. John reminds us that Cain hated Abel. Why? Because Cain was bad and Abel was good. Cain offered his offerings to God in unbelief. Abel offered his offerings to God in faith. On account of Christ the Savior in whom Abel trusted his offerings were accepted and he was accepted. But God did not accept Cain or his offerings. That’s why Cain hated Abel. That’s why he murdered him.
This is why the world hates the Church. God accepts the Church’s offerings and does not accept the world’s offerings. God accepts those who are washed in the blood of the Lamb, who are forgiven of their sins for the sake of Jesus’ obedience, suffering, and death, who are joined to Christ’s death and resurrection by Holy Baptism through faith. God accepts these Christians as his own dear children and he loves and praises what they do in his name.
But God rejects the offerings and good works and religious exercises of people like Cain who do not trust in the blood of Jesus shed on the cross for them. That’s why Christians are hated. Cain hated Abel out of envy and jealousy. God accepted Abel, but not Cain. Cain wanted God’s acceptance on his own terms. He trusted in his own good works and wanted God to praise him for them. Abel wanted God’s acceptance on God’s terms. He trusted in the promised Savior and through that faith had eternal life. Cain hated Abel for the same reason that the world hates the Church.
Cain was a murderer. He was a murderer before he murdered his brother. He did not become a murderer when he murdered Abel. He murdered Abel because he was already a murderer. He became guilty of murder when he hated his brother. Hatred brings death. Hatred drives out life.
The Holy Spirit pours the love of God into our hearts. When he brings us to trust in Jesus he also enables us to love our brothers and sisters. Faith and love go together. The love we receive through faith is the love we show by our deeds. Now it is true that sin remains within us as long as we are living in these bodies in this world. But it is just as true that as long as the Holy Spirit lives in us through the gospel we have love within us. God loves us and we love him. And when we love God we love our brothers and sisters in Christ.
The apostle writes, “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brothers.” He doesn’t write, “We have passed from death to life because we love the brothers.” We haven’t passed from death to life because we love. We have passed from death to life because God loves us. But we know this love and we know this life in the love we have for one another. Love is from God. The same love that we receive is the love that we show.
This is not complicated stuff. It is very simple. The love that we show to one another is measured by a very simple standard. Jesus said, “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12) We want kindness, generosity, and mercy. If people are talking behind our backs tearing us down we would want someone to defend us, speak well of us, and put the best construction on what we said or did. So we do the same. If our husband or wife were given the opportunity to cheat we would want him or her to be faithful. So we do the same. If we were down and out and needed someone to help us out through difficult times we would be grateful to the one who did. So that’s what we do. What would you not want others to do to you? Don’t do it to them. What would you want others to do for you? Do it for them. That’s what love does. It does.
Love isn’t just talk. It’s action. It is deeds. This is so when it comes to God’s love and when it comes to our love. St. John writes, “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us.” It’s not just God talking. It’s God doing. It’s not just words. It is the Word become flesh giving up his life for us all, bearing our sins in his body, receiving the punishment we deserved, suffering God’s anger in order to set it aside forever. That’s deeds. That’s love.
And so it is with us. The apostle says,
But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.
Love without deeds is cheap talk. Your brother needs your help. You don’t help him. That means you don’t love him. Our text mentions this world’s goods. That’s stuff that we need to live in this world. Charity is the old English word for love. Giving to those who cannot repay is the hallmark of love. Love doesn’t give in order to be repaid. Love gives for the sole purpose of helping the one in need. Who needs what you can give? Give it. That’s love.
We suffer wrong. We think about it. We latch on to it. We become angry on account of it. We simmer, fume, and fuss. After a while the anger turns into hatred and we hate. Then we seek out justification for our hatred. He did this or that. And we thereby set out to sanctify sin.
Brothers and sisters, this must not be. Hatred is not an option for us Christians. John says it plainly here in our text for today:
He who does not love his brother abides in death. Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.
Could he have made it any clearer? Do you think that the grace of God that covers all your sins is a justification for you to hate your brother? No, whoever hates his brother is a murderer. Hatred and murder are incompatible with faith and eternal life. When we latch on to resentments and choose to hate those who have hurt us we put our souls in danger. If Christ laying down his life for us is how we know God’s love it is because by his laying down his life for us he takes away our sins. There is no love without the forgiveness of sins. If God doesn’t forgive us his love for us is of no benefit. We must suffer and die under his judgment. But his love has procured and pronounced and sealed to us the forgiveness of sins. It is as certain as the suffering and death of Jesus and his resurrection from the dead. This is how and this is why we forgive others. That’s the very essence of love.
Not only do we forgive those who do us wrong. We do good to them. We do not seek vengeance against them. We don’t try to make them pay for what they’ve done. We help them out if we can. This is love and love is doing, not talking. As St. John says, “My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.”
Love is indivisible. In love God created us. In love he redeemed us, body and soul. In love he sanctifies us to be his own. In love we worship him and serve one another. The love we receive from him and the love we show to one another is the same love. When it comes from him to us it is as pure as pure can be. It perfectly forgives us all of our sins and sets us on the road to heaven where love will become perfected in us.
But it is not perfected in us yet. No, the sinful flesh that hates God and all he does still clings to us as long as we live in these dying bodies. This is why we need to return to God daily to receive from him the love that conquers our hatred. We cannot uproot hatred from our hearts. But God can and does. When we acknowledge that hatred is murder and when we confess it to God for what it is and not what we rationalize it to be then God is always gracious. We come to him in prayer and he always hears us. We come to his altar and take into our bodies the body and blood of his Son. His love covers the multitude of our sins and flows into us and through us to one another. Then we know we have passed from death to life. Amen