Sermon \ Pastor Terry Defoe \ May 10th, 2015 \ I John 5 \ The Way of Love
4 ...everyone born of God OVERCOMES the world. This is the victory that overcomes the world – our faith! 5 Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. (N.I.V.)
The Apostle John wrote the letter we call "First John" when he was well on in years. This important part of the Scriptures, originally a letter written to the early Christian church, is simple and straightforward. It offers encouragement to those who seek to live out their faith in a way that matches God’s will. Christians back in John's day respected him because he was one of the original disciples. He had literally seen Jesus with his own eyes. I pray that God would bless our consideration of His Holy Word this day!
It's easy to see why John is called the "Apostle of Love." That little word is found often in this letter. John goes out of his way to explain what Christian love is all about. In our modern world, we often use the word. But the meaning of the word tends to be quite different from what John is describing. In our world, love is often a feeling, an emotion. It's something that comes and goes. But, for the Apostle John, love is much more than that. It’s an attitude. For John, it's a way of life. It thinks more of others than it thinks of itself. It’s sacrificial and caring. As a matter of fact, it’s the kind of love that sent Jesus to a cross to forgive our sins. The love John is describing is consistently turned outward, not inward.
The love John is talking about, isn’t EROS, the Greek word for erotic or sensual love. It isn’t PHILOS, the Greek word for friendship, community, and togetherness. The love John is describing is so special the New Testament has reserved a very unusual word for it: and that word is AGAPE. Agape love always wants the best for others. It reaches out to those in need. It’s not aggressive – or passive. It's active; it takes the initiative.
In my files, I have a newspaper clipping that illustrates this special kind love.
Two men who freed a man trapped in a burning car were honored for bravery by the Governor General. Steve Grover of Kelowna and Byron Norn of Quesnel received a Medal of Bravery at a ceremony in Ottawa.
The two men were on the highway near Quesnel, B.C. when they saw flames shooting from a car that had been in an accident.
One of them said:
"There must have been about 30 people standing there, watching the fire. I guess they were afraid of an explosion."
A man was pinned behind the steering wheel and flames were spreading in the back seat. One of the rescuers said:
"The driver's door wouldn't open, so I went to the passenger's door. We had a tough time getting him out."
Seconds after they freed the man, the car was engulfed in flames.
To me, that situation, and the actions of those two men illustrate what agape love looks like in real life. It's willing to take risks to rescue others. As I say, agape love is an active, intervening kind of love. It takes the first step. And it makes a huge difference. On this Mother’s Day, we know from personal experience that mothers often model this special kind of love. A mother’s love isn't self-centered. It reflects the love of Christ. The love John is describing is willing to work with people just as they are. But, as someone once said, it loves them far too much to leave them that way. The God-kind of love cares how people live. John was known as "The Apostle of Love" in the early Christian church and it's not hard to see why. As the old song goes, “They will know we are Christians by our love.”
Agape love is UNCONDITIONAL. There are no strings attached. It takes us from where we are, and moves us to where we can be. When you think about it, this kind of love, unfortunately, is in short supply in our world today. And yet, when you do find it, it's the kind of love that enables people come to their full God-given potential. Every person needs unconditional love – they need it from God and they need it from one another. And that certainly includes our young people. A writer by the name of Mia Stainsby says:
We look at some teens and we shrink back. Often, these kids ache for love. Randy was one of those teens. Fortunate circumstances linked him with foster parents who cut through his barbed-wire defenses.
"Feeling abandoned is the worst thing you can feel," he says.
"It's horrible. You're all alone in this huge world and nobody's there. I felt empty and hollow – like a nobody – walking through life," he says.
Joe Rosen, executive director of a support group for parents understands where kids like Randy are coming from:
"The problems that come out in the teenage years have to do with the groundwork parents have laid in bringing up the child. If kids are raised in an atmosphere of unconditional acceptance, knowing that parents will always be there for them, to listen, and (to) be concerned about what's going on, then the bonds are there," says Rosen.
It's one thing to love God, and know that you are loved by God. In the same way, it’s a huge blessing to love another person, and to know that you are loved in return. God's love is determined and unchanging. It’s unconditional, freely offered, through our Savior, Jesus Christ. God's love won't let us down. God’s will is that we love others, with the same kind of sacrificial love He has for us. Obviously, when it comes to the kind love others have for us, it isn't always the God-kind of love. People have a great need for love and acceptance from others, but sometimes it’s withheld. The Bible tells us that, unlike the love of others, we can depend on the love of God, expressed so clearly through the life, and death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ.
The solid foundation for Christian self-worth is the unconditional love we receive from God, through his Son Jesus Christ. Those who are disconnected from God, on the other hand, too often base their self-worth on what they do, or on what other people say about them. If a Christian believer loses their job or is criticized by another, they can still take comfort in knowing that they are a forgiven child of God.
The apostle John has a wonderful ability to make the truths of the Christian faith easy to understand. In his first letter, he answers the question, "Just who are these Christians, anyway?" So, what do you think? What's the difference – really – between a Christian and a non-Christian? John says that Christians are faithful people. They trust God and they seek to serve him to the best of their ability. Christian people understand who Jesus is and they know what he had done for them. There’s more. Christian people let God work in their lives. They know what sin is. And they know what it can do to them and to others. Christians have often seen sin ruin relationships. They’ve seen it tear marriages apart. Christian people know that sin builds walls between individuals as well as between individuals and God.
Christian people know very well that they are sinful. And they also know that God is absolutely holy. Christian people know very well that sin and holiness don't mix. Christian people have eyes to see things that others can't see. That's true in the physical world, and it's certainly true in the spiritual world as well. When it comes to what we can perceive in the physical world, scientists Robert Ornstein and Paul Erlich point out that
"… our nervous systems ... select only a small extract of reality and ignore (or don't even pick up) the rest."
In other words, much of what goes on around us in the physical world is unknown to us, we don't pick it up. We are blissfully unaware of many things that are happening all around us every day. But when it comes to the spiritual side of life, Christian people can see things others can't see because God's Holy Spirit is at work in them. When Christians see Jesus, for instance, they see One who died for them. They see Jesus as God's Son, fully human and yet fully divine. But when those without faith see Jesus, all they see is a good religious teacher. All they see is a good role-model for life. They don't see the Savior who died on the cross to forgive their sins. They don’t see the One who prepares a place in heaven for all who trust in Him.
Christian people know that, on their own, they can never overcome sin. On our own, we cannot please God. As God’s Holy Spirit works in us, through Word and Sacraments, however, we repent of our sins and we let God forgive us. We let God wash away our sins through His Word and the Sacrament of Holy Baptism. We let God forgive our sins and strengthen our faith through the Sacrament of the Altar, Holy Communion. People become Christians when God changes them. Someone once wisely said that, in the war with sin, we can only win by surrendering to God.
We human beings are extremely proud creatures. We don't like being told that we've done wrong. Pride is the fuel that powers far too many lives. God knows how hard it is for people to swallow their pride, to repent of their sins, and to allow him to have first place in their lives. Christian people are "peculiar people" as the King James Version puts it. Since we seek to do God’s will, not our own, we don't always "go with the flow" of public opinion. We Christians have a very different perspective on things.
A key concept in the Christian faith is "submission." In the New Testament, "submission" is a Greek word that has military roots. In Biblical Greek, submission means
"… to fall in rank under the authority of another ... to subject oneself for the purpose of obeying or pleasing another."
We Christians submit to God and to his authority in our lives. We fall in rank under him and his Son. We subject ourselves to him, seeking to please him and to do His will. John wanted Christian people in every generation to know these things. He wanted believers to have the assurance that their sin were forgiven, that Jesus was their Savior, and that, when they died, they would go to heaven. First John, chapter 5, verse 13 says:
I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may KNOW that you have eternal life. (N.I.V.)
The Apostle John wants us to be assured that when we die, we will go to heaven. John says that we can know this for a fact.
In John’s first letter, we are told who we are as Christian believers. And we are told how we got to be that way. For John, the key to understanding the Christian faith is knowing Jesus Christ. Christians cannot know everything there is to know about the Bible. But we can know Jesus. We can trust him, and, as the Holy Spirit enables, submit to him. Without faith in Christ, it's impossible to be a Christian. Without faith in Christ, it’s impossible to please God.
For me, there's a huge difference between "religion" and "Christianity." What I’m getting at is this. Religion tries to please God with what it does for him. It tries to earn God's love. It’s man-made. It's people trying their hardest to reach up to God, trying to build a bridge to God. Christianity, on the other hand, understands that people can never please God, by their own efforts. Christians know that just one sin is enough to condemn us. We know that God's blessings are a free gift, not a benefit earned. We Christians know that God reaches down to us – that He stoops down to us – and blesses us, even though we don't deserve it. When we are struggling in the quicksand of sin, he rescues us.
The Holy Scriptures teach that God's benefits are delivered to the human race in several different ways. They are delivered, first of all, through the Bible, the Word of God. They are delivered, secondly, through the Sacraments – that is, through Baptism and Holy Communion. God's benefits are available to everyone, with no exceptions. God's delivery system is set up to make sure no one is left out. Some people hear the Bible's call to faith as adults, and respond, as the Holy Spirit enables them. Others begin their faith at the time of their baptism as a little child. And then, as we grow in years, God helps us understand his Word as we study it together.
So who are we as Christians? Well, we are children of God. We are members of God's family. Our sins have been forgiven. And how did that occur? By the hearing of God's word. Through the cleansing waters of Holy Baptism. Through the reception of the body and blood of the Lord Jesus Christ.
John’s first letter has much encouragement for Christian people. John truly is the Apostle of Christian Love. But he's also the Apostle of pragmatic, down-to-earth Christian living. Wise Christians, down through the years, have been encouraged by John’s inspired words. God’s word is just what’s needed to cure what ails the human race. Amen.
LET'S PRAY: Dear Heavenly Father – Shut out the noise and confusion of our world for a while, so that we can hear your voice. Remove the distractions and enable us to concentrate on what you have done for us through Your Son. In his most holy and precious name we pray. Amen.