Love, Hate, Life, and Death
Trinity Two Sermon 2006| Rev. Rolf D. Preus
“Do not marvel, my brethren, if the world hates you. We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. 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 brethren. 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
“Come on, people now, smile on your brother, everybody get together, try and love one another right now.” So sang the singer of the popular song. But there’s a problem. You have no brother to smile on and you have no love to give until you have passed out of death into life. Life comes first. Then love comes with it. To attempt to love without first passing from death to life is futile. It won’t work. It won’t be love.
“We know that we have passed form death to life, because we love the brethren.” So says the apostle. We know. But we don’t pass from death to life by means of loving the brethren. We pass from death to life by being born from above. It is as the Holy Spirit penetrates the hardness of our hearts and regenerates us that we pass from death to life. We see this. We recognize this. We know this as we love our brothers and sisters in Christ. The love that God pours into our hearts doesn’t originate in us. It comes from God. It is the love of Jesus laying down His life for us. This is a hard love that will tolerate no opposition. Jesus loved Peter when He scolded him with the words, “Get behind me, Satan.” Jesus could not tolerate anything that would stand in the way of His love for us. Peter had said that Jesus should not have to suffer and die. Jesus called Peter Satan for opposing the requirement of divine love. God’s love demanded that Jesus suffer and die, bearing the sin of the entire human race. God’s love is no sissy love that runs away when faced with opposition. God’s love embraces the pain, the suffering, and the rejection. It faces hell itself in order to deliver His beloved from her own well deserved punishment.
When this love comes to us and becomes ours it changes us from the inside. When we talk about the love of God that brings us forgiveness of sins we use the word justification. When we talk about how this love changes us on the inside we use the word sanctification. First God justifies us. He renders a verdict upon on. For the sake of Christ’s obedience, God declares us to be righteous. He reckons Christ’s righteousness to us, even as He reckoned our sin to Christ. What is Christ’s is now ours, just as what is ours became Christ’s. This love is complete. It is perfect. There is no way it can improve. This is because Jesus is completely innocent and His righteousness fully satisfies the demands of divine love. His love lacks nothing. There is no selfishness, no hatred, no lust, and no malice. There is nothing impure at all in His love. He laid down His life for us. This is the ground of our justification. The righteous act of obedience that Jesus Christ offered up to God for the world is what justifies us. We are justified by Christ’s blood. We are justified through faith because faith is the only way to receive the righteousness of Christ.
Those who are justified through faith are also sanctified. Faith receives love. It receives the forgiveness of sins. This forgiveness changes us on the inside. This change is called sanctification. God replaces hatred with love. He changes the way we think and feel. We learn to love one another. The love that comes to us from Jesus laying down His life for us moves us to lay down our lives for our fellow Christians. The perfect love of God then becomes perfected in us. It is perfected within us but it is not entirely perfect within us in this life. It competes with our sinful flesh. Our flesh selfishly refuses to love. Our love fails because of our own sin and weakness. But God’s love does live within us. It makes us holy, that is, it sanctifies us. Only in heaven will our sanctification be perfect as we are completely conformed to God’s love in every respect.
God’s love drives our love. It is never the other way around. St. John makes this crystal clear. We love because He first loved us. His love comes to us and brings new life with it. Only then can we love. Only when we are justified can we become sanctified. And this justification is perfect. It is complete. It is flawless. Jesus compares it to a good tree that bears good fruit. Only a good tree can bear good fruit. Only when we are justified can we be sanctified. The change that God works in us He works in us through the very same love by which he justifies us.
Our love doesn’t bring us out of death to life. God’s love in Jesus does that. But if you are filled with hatred you remain in death. “Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” We know this text. We learn it as children. We learn at a very young age to deny that we hate anyone at all. We will sincerely dislike someone, loath him, despise him, and wish him every kind of evil, but we will deny that we hate him. We cannot confess to murder. It is too painful to do.
But hatred is hatred regardless of what you call it. And hatred is a poison that kills Christians. Hatred is murder. No murderer has eternal life abiding in him. Love is joined to life. Hatred is joined to death. Hatred cannot bring life. It can only kill. When we choose to harbor bitterness against those who have done us wrong; when we bring to mind again and again the sins of those who have hurt us; when we repeat judgments against our brothers instead of defending them and explaining their actions in the kindest possible way we hate. We murder. We deny that we have passed out of death into life.
This is no minor matter. This is a matter of life and death. The love that justifies us is the love that forgives us our sins. This love is at the center of our lives. More than that, this love defines our lives. The death out of which we have passed is hatred. The life we have entered is love. The love of God is given to us in the forgiveness of our sins. Our love for our brothers is the same. It is given in the forgiveness of sins.
When we forgive we give. We give all that we are and have. Now here we must point out that God calls us to love certain specific people. We are called to love fathers and mothers, husbands and wives, sisters and brothers. We are called to love people we see every day. There is a certain abstract and unreal love for mankind that really means nothing more than to serve as a platform for moral posturing. Love doesn’t impose. Love doesn’t exalt itself. Love does what the beloved needs and it does so in humility.
To hate what is evil and to cling to what is good is first of all to love. It is to love those who do us wrong and who refuse to acknowledge that they have done us wrong. God didn’t wait until we repented of our sin to love us and to send His only begotten Son into the world to rescue us from our sins. God didn’t wait until we loved Him to proclaim His love to us. He didn’t require us to do a thing before He came to us in love and forgave us all our sins.
Only God’s love in Christ can cure us of hatred. And we need to be cured. True love is always in deed and truth. God’s love is true. There is nothing insincere about it. The deed and the love are identified. The famous passage every Christian learns in Sunday school or around the dinner table at home tells us in what way God loved. “God so loved the world” means “This is how God loved the word.” In what way was that? He gave. He didn’t offer. He gave. He didn’t just talk. He did. And so we do. We bless. We pray for those who do us wrong. We ask God to forgive them. Just as God has covered our sins by the blood of His Son, so we cover the sins of our brothers and sisters by confessing that Christ died for them. We treat them as if they are saints.
God has blessed us with this world’s goods. He has given us more than we need. When we give to help those in need we love as we have been loved. Charity begins at home. Caring for those that God has entrusted to our care is the most wonderful work a Christian can do. God accepts the humble care we give to those who need our care. He accepts this as a wonderful gift given to His own glorious majesty. There is nothing greater than this. Those who bask in the praise of the world because of their self-appointed and quite public displays of goodness have their reward. The Christian’s reward is the approval of God. The Lord Jesus set aside the glory that belonged to Him and in humility joined the human race. In His living – and especially in His dying – He revealed God’s love to the world. When we love as He has loved us we offer the greatest gift we could offer. True, all of our offerings are tainted by sin. We remain sinners living in a sinful world. We are not fully sanctified in this life. But God has covered our sins by the blood of His Son. He sees only the pure saint that He has declared us to be. When we love our brothers and sisters in Christ – especially those with whom we live and work day by day – we are loving God. This is the new life, the abundant life, the eternal life to which we have been called.