Last Thursday, I watched about 10 minutes of a Winnie the Pooh St. Valentine’s Day special. I began to think about how each one of us learned what love is. From childhood to adulthood we unintentionally allow our parents, our teachers, our classmates, our dating experience and the media to engrave in our minds various definitions of love.
For some, love is the approval for obedience. For others, love is the recognition for achievement. Still others believe love is the feeling of being admired. The media tells us love is having possessions or sex when you want them.
Last night, I came across a love letter on the Internet. Let me read it to you:
No words could ever express the great unhappiness I’ve felt since breaking our engagement. Please say you’ll take me back. No one could ever take your place in my heart, so please forgive me. I love you. I love you. I love you!
P.S. And congratulations on winning the state lottery.
This morning, we will intentionally learn and apply what love is from the greatest and most enduring love story of history. This love story involves God committing Himself to His fallen creation, even to pay with His only Son, Jesus Christ.
The text for this morning is 1 John 3:11-23, and John is dealing with the lie that a special knowledge or current perfection demonstrates our belonging to God. John wants us to know that the true demonstration of our belonging to God is the presence of unconditional love in our relationships.
Let me begin by reading 1 John 3:11-23. Let’s look together at how this love story develops.
The love story begins with the conflict with love. We see this in verses 11-15. The conflict with love is a conflict with God
John brings us back to the first relationship between two brothers to illustrate the conflict with love. Let me read what John was referring to, Genesis 4:1-11:
Adam lay with his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. She said, "With the help of the LORD I have brought forth a man." Later she gave birth to his brother Abel.
Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LORD. But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.
Then the LORD said to Cain, "Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it."
Now Cain said to his brother Abel, "Let’s go out to the field." And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.
Then the LORD said to Cain, "Where is your brother Abel?"
"I don’t know," he replied. "Am I my brother’s keeper?"
The LORD said, "What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand.
Although not explained in this incident, throughout the Bible, God expects our best, not our leftovers. Abel gave God the choice portions from the firstborn of his flock. Cain gave God some of the leftovers that he had no need for over time. When God was pleased with Abel, Cain became angry because Abel’s right action toward God highlighted Cain’s wrong action toward God. So Cain killed Abel.
Cain’s hatred for Abel is really a conflict with God. If God didn’t have an guidelines about right and wrong, Cain would not have killed Abel. Furthermore, the way we treat other people is an expression of our relationship with God.
Let me illustrate. At the Women’s New Beginning Event, I was asked to do childcare. I lovingly played and fed your children and my own, not because I had nothing better to do on Saturday morning, but because I wanted to please you and my wife, the owners of the children.
God owns human beings by right of creation. Therefore, when John writes, "We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers," John is saying, "We know we, who seek to please God, have a right relationship with God, evidenced in our love for that which is owned by God." Hatred of another human being is in conflict with love for God, because God is the owner of human beings.
Therefore, the next time hate wells up in us for someone, whether for our co-worker or our spouse or our child, we need to, I need to, realize that person belongs to God. And to the degree we want to please God, we need to love that person.
The love story begins with the conflict with love, and then continues with the cause for love. We see this in verses 16.
I recently heard about two children’s letters to their pastor:
"Dear Pastor, I know God loves everybody, but He has never met my little brother."
Or, "Dear Pastor, I would like to go to heaven someday, because I know my big sister won’t be there."
One person penned, "To dwell above with saints we love, O, that will be glory; but to dwell below with saints we know, well, that’s another story!"
The people we know best are the people we have the hardest time loving. We can love the world as God commands, but can we love our spouse, our siblings, our co-workers or those with whom we go to church or serve on the board?
So what would cause us to love the people who irritate us day-in and day-out? The answer is found in the principle, and the principle is this, "We can only love to the degree we have experienced love."
God does not expect us to love beyond what we have experienced, because most of us are unable to. But for us who have experience the unconditional love of God through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, we need to give that unconditional love to others.
Jesus said in John 13:34-35, "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."
The love story begins with the conflict with love, continues with the cause for love, and then moves to the conduct of love. We see this in verses 17-18.
John is saying, "Don’t just agree with the previous point your pastor made; do something about it." Let your conduct show.
Love is meeting needs through thoughtful and sacrificial action. Love is not giving money to a drug addict to satisfy his need for a fix. Love is helping a drug addict find help for his problem, and providing a meal if he needs one. Love is not doing your child’s homework for him. Love is being available to help him do his own homework.
When I left Chiron Corporation for campus ministry, my co-workers labeled me as the "most non-religious Christian" they knew. They were not saying that I cussed, drank or cheated on my timesheet. They saw that, when no one else would, I took a homosexual co-worker out to lunch when he resigned. They saw that I did inventory in the -80-degree freezer when someone newer on the job could have been appointed. They saw that I took time to help a coworker who was pregnant outside of marriage. By God’s grace, she later entrusted her life to Jesus Christ. I still have a picture of her and her son.
I imagine it’s easier to demonstrate against someone than to demonstrate love toward someone. I’m for demonstrating against the pro-abortion, pro-homosexual, or pro-pornographic agenda in our society, but we need to know that demonstrating against them won’t change them. Only demonstrating love toward them will.
Most Christians, myself included, are often reactive and not proactive. If we loved abortionists, homosexuals and pornographers thoughtfully and sacrificially, we would see more of them transformed by the love of God rather than turned away by the anger of Christians.
We also have plenty of opportunities to be thoughtful and sacrificial in action closer to home. I told Susan that I was glad she was in the nursery today, because having her sit in here would make preaching on love very hard. I don’t love those who are closest to me very well.
But I’m going to do better, because God has shown me that He owns Susan and Esther, and to please Him, I need to love them. Furthermore, because I’ve experience the incredible unconditional love of Jesus Christ, I must love them as Christ loved me. That means I need to sacrifice some of my personal ambitions to make time for Susan and Esther. In order for love to exist in family life, planning, time, effort and forgiveness are required.
The love story begins with the conflict with love, continues with the cause for love, moves to the conduct of love and then concludes with the confidence in love. We see this in verses 19-23.
Have you noticed that the Christian faith is based on love and all other religions are based on obedience? Not only are we called to unconditionally love others, but we are also called to receive unconditional love from God. We rest not in our own accomplishments or obedience but in God’s love for us despite our failures to love others.
Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 4:3-4, "I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me."
The good news is that God loves us unconditionally. If we belong to Him, He doesn’t love us more when we do right. He doesn’t love us less when we fail to do right. This confidence in His love allows our hearts to rest in Him.
Our confidence in God’s love not only allows us to rest in Him but also enables us to love others unconditionally. That why John wrote, "And this is His command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us."
To believe in the name of Jesus Christ means to believe in what Jesus Christ did on the cross to represent the unconditional and sacrificial love of God. When we believe how greatly loved we are by God, loving one anther is simply an outworking of being greatly loved.
During the 17th century, Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector of England, sentenced a soldier to be shot for his crimes. The execution was to take place at the ringing of the evening curfew bell.
However, the bell did not sound. The soldier’s fiancée had climbed into the belfry and clung to the great clapper of the bell to prevent it from striking. When she was summoned by Cromwell to account for her actions, she wept into her bruised and bleeding hands. Cromwell’s heart was touched, and he said, "Your lover shall live because of your sacrifice. Curfew shall not ring tonight!"
Paul writes in Romans 6:23, "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." Paul is saying, "Those who trust God’s sacrificial love through Christ will live even though we deserved death for our crimes against God."
And John would add this morning, "And now having experienced such unconditional love from Jesus Christ, we should love one another as He loved us." That’s God’s love story."