May 27, 1990 AM
Lesson (I John 4:7-21)
Text- John 13:34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this shall all men know that you are My disciples, if you have love one for another.
1. This is the Sunday between Ascension Day and Pentecost, one of the great days of the church. "Ascension Sunday" is a good time to think about preparing for Pentecost. We have "Lent" before Easter, and "Advent" before Christmas. But what do we do before Pentecost?
2. Before that first Christian Pentecost the followers of Jesus Christ prayed. John the Beloved (who wrote our text) was one of the participants in the ten-day prayer meeting that preceded the great birthday of the Church. During that time of waiting the hearts of the disciples were knit together in obedience and anticipation of the Promise Jesus told them was coming from the Father. What happened then (at that prayer meeting) marked John and Peter and the others for life."
Love one another" became the hallmark of John's ministry, and John intended that it should be the hallmark of God's people. It was John that recorded the "Great Commandment" in his gospel, (our text.)
3. John shows us that the Great Commandment precedes and forms the foundation for the "Great Commission." The kind of love which John declares is not a soft, woolly, sentimental feeling, but a positive regard for good and for light and for truth, a God-likeness that will finally change and shape the entire Universe. This love of God is the most powerful thing there is. How can we begin to describe this powerful force?
[Look into this passage with me. It is:]
I. A STATEMENT ABOUT GOD
A. "GOD IS LOVE" (v 8)
This is not a comprehensive statement about God [-it is not all that may be said of God-] but it is a conclusive statement. Whatever else God is, He is LOVE! And so love characterizes God's family. From our limited and twisted perspective, we can look at the world's pain and suffering and say "How can God put up with this? God doesn't care!" Or we could say, "God must be limited in what He can do. God is not all-powerful!"
It is a statement of faith, given credence by the Word, to say that we believe that God IS, and that God is GOOD. John says: "God is LOVE!"
John Wesley wrote these words about this passage: "God is love. - This little sentence brought St. John more sweetness, even in the time he was writing it, than the whole world can bring. God is often styled holy, righteous, wise; but not holiness, righteousness, or wisdom in the abstract, as He is said to be love: intimating that this is His darling, His reigning attribute, the attribute that sheds an amiable glory on all His other perfections."
One stanza in Frederick W. Faber's hymn, "There is a Wideness", says it very beautifully:'
For the love of God is broader
Than the measure of man's mind;
And the heart of the Eternal
Is most wonderfully KIND!
B. GOD IS KNOWN, REVEALED BY HIS LOVE (also v 8)
John is so strong in his conviction about God being love that he says: Love is essential to knowing God in any degree! "The one who does not LOVE does not know God!" God is known by His love; somehow we come to know Him by receiving and reflecting that love.
How deficient some of us may feel as we hear this! Our capacity for pure and powerful love seems so small! How poorly we reflect such a great love! Never mind! God's commandments are also God's promises!
[But this passage is also a statement about God's people:]
II. A STATEMENT ABOUT GOD'S PEOPLE
A. GOD'S PEOPLE ARE TO REFLECT HIS NATURE (v 12)
"If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and His love is perfected in us." We reflect this love by openness and trust toward God, and by openness and fellowship with one another. God loves us, and has accepted us on the basis of grace and His own loving-kindness, and so God expects us somehow to reflect His life and His love in our everyday living.
B. THIS IS EXPRESSED NEGATIVELY HERE BY SHOWING TWO THINGS THAT ARE MUTUALLY EXCLUSIVE WITH GOD'S LOVE.
If love is the hallmark of God's people there are some things that God's love does not coexist with:
1. GOD'S LOVE DOES NOT CO-EXIST WITH THE KIND OF FEAR THAT SPRINGS FROM TRYING TO HIDE FROM HIM.
Taken in its literal language this statement ("Perfect love casts out all fear") has been carried to logical absurdity. And John does modify his "fear" statement by speaking about fear that has torment. There are all kinds of fears— fears that have no moral or spiritual implications whatsoever— fear of heights, of pain, of spiders.
And, too, godly people still have a healthy "fear of God." The immensity, the majesty, the wonder of God the Creator, and above all else, the glimpse of His perfect holiness will inspire a holy awe, which the Bible terms "fear." The Psalmist has it right: "The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever!" (Psalm 19:9) But there is a kind of fear that the love of God removes!"
God" is a pretty frightening concept in the "abstract." "God" is also pretty frightening when we think of Him only as coldly concerned with justice or holiness. The Genesis account tells us that our first parents ran from the voice of God when they knew that they had disobeyed. But that same story tells us that God sought them, and found them, and clothed them, and promised them a Savior.
When we realize how much God loves us, and when we begin to receive that love, we reflect that love and we lose the kind of fear that comes from trying to hide from God.
2. GOD'S LOVE DOES NOT CO-EXIST WITH HATRED OF OTHER HUMAN BEINGS.
We love what He loves, we hate what He hates. And that includes the most cruel form of hatred which is "un-love!" "Un- love" is that detached interest in which we view other human beings in their failures, sins and sufferings as though they were specimens in a laboratory— make observations on their motivations and their conduct, and say, "Tsk, tsk! Isn't it a pity!"
[But remember, don't despair because you feel you don't measure up!]
III. A COMMANDMENT THAT IS ALSO A PROMISE
A. Which brings us back to John's "life emphasis": "Love one another!" It isn't original with John. It was the Savior's last commandment: John 13:34
"Loving one another" didn't come "naturally" to John! He was a son of thunder, and a seeker after "destiny." But it came. It came as John obeyed the Savior: "Love one another" is possible with God! God's commandment is also His enabling.
B. [HOW WE CAN OBEY AND FULFILL THIS GREATEST COMMANDMENT?]
Our struggle is not to love one another, or to love the unlovable; not to pretend to 'feelings' we cannot manufacture, but to MAKE GOD AT HOME— IN YOUR HEART AND IN MY HEART!
BEFORE WE CAN LOVE THE WORLD— OR EVEN BEFORE WE CAN REALLY LOVE EACH OTHER— WE MUST BE AWARE THAT GOD LOVES US! And when that reality begins to dawn on us, God's LOVE will transform us!
Before we can GIVE, we must be willing to RECEIVE! How hard it is for many of us to grasp: God knows us ... He knows our faults and sins ... and yet, if we will receive Him, He wants to make us able and fit to walk with Him. God loves YOU!
C. It is GOD'S GRACE that makes His LOVE a reality!
The world looks at what we do; and it cannot help it. The world does not care WHY we do what we do— but 'the WHY' is important to the Father, and it is everything to the Christian.
The world admired Martin Luther King (after the fact!) but it ignored and ignores the fact that HE DID WHAT HE DID ON THE AUTHORITY OF THE BIBLE.
The world admires Mother Teresa for her amazing love of the un-lovely. But what the world does not care to see is THE DISCIPLINE OF PRAYER AND DEVOTION TO JESUS THAT FIRES AND EMPOWERS THAT SERVICE.
We cannot all be acclaimed as great 'saints,' or for that matter as great anything! But we all can love Jesus and seek to obey His word. It was not a gathering of 'great saints' that made up the ten-day prayer meeting before the first Pentecost.
Remember, before that first Pentecost, from Ascension Day until the Holy Spirit came, the followers of Jesus Christ prayed. During that time of waiting the hearts of those ordinary people were KNIT TOGETHER IN OBEDIENCE, and IN ANTICIPATION OF THE PROMISE Jesus told them was coming from the Father. As they sought to obey the "Great Commandment" they were empowered to launch the "Great Commission!"
So- (v 7) "Love one another" became the hallmark of John's ministry, and John intended that it should be the hallmark of God's people for all time. Hear these words of our Savior once more: A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. BY THIS SHALL ALL MEN KNOW that you are My disciples, if you have love one for another.
Let us pray: O God of Love:
Help us to believe that You are GOD, and that You are GOOD.
Help us to know that the ability to really LOVE comes as we accept Your grace. Help us to OBEY and to ANTICIPATE Your Promise. Make us a Spirit-Filled Community. In Jesus' Name. Amen.
57 EH Brother (Sister) Let Me Be Your Servant
Dr. Russell Metcalfe is Pastor Emeritus of the Wollaston Church of the Nazarene. http://russellmetcalfesermons.nazarene.nl/Sermons/Sermons.htm
You can reach Dr. Metcalfe at firstname.lastname@example.org.