I preached God is Love (1 John 4:7-8) at Kendalia Community Church on October 23, 2016.
God is Love (1 John 4:7-8)
Kendalia Community Church
October 23, 2016
One of the hallmarks of a Christian has been their ability to love. The Bible, especially the New Testament, is full of sayings about love, including the title to this sermon, “God is Love.” Even back when Jesus was alive, He commanded His Disciples to love one another, saying
John 13:35 New International Version (NIV)
35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Why is love so important? And aren’t we supposed to love everyone, not just Christians? And anyway, what does love mean, especially in this day and age. For example, is it love in this Country to tolerate others so much that we don’t speak the Word or live the Word in our daily lives?
In the letters of John, we once again see that we Christians are supposed to love one another, and God is love - in that He gave His one and only Son to humankind to have a relationship with us. But in this time, should we see division in that we Christians are supposed to love each other, and by loving each other equals that we don’t love unbelievers?
I think that sometimes the best medicine for America is a dose of those outside the land of freedom, this United States of America, to give a fresh look at love from their standpoint.
I came across a book while preparing for this sermon, and it’s the author I want to share with you. His name is Toyohiko Kagawa, and as you can imagine, he isn’t from around here. In fact, he hails from Japan, and was born there in 1888. He was the son of a well-to-do-family, but his father died when he was young, so he went to live with a better-than-well-to-do uncle. He studied Confucian classes at the Buddhist School as a youngster, and took English during the first part of high school to better understand the English language. What he didn’t know was the English Teacher was a missionary for Christ! As it happened, Toyohiko’s oldest brother had a moral lapse which caused great devastation – especially financially – for his family.
God is so good, because Dr. Harry Myers – his English teacher, witnessed to him about the power of Christianity. It was the verses from the Sermon on the Mount – in Matthew, that transformed Toyohiko. He was never the same! Toyokito was a short man and dressed simply. He contracted trachoma from a man with whom he shared his home, and suffers from eye weakness and, at times, complete loss of sight. No matter. His mission was simple...
He began to pastor and got to where he saw the pain and hurt the most – in slums. Listen to his words: “In connection with preaching in the slums, I had to do these things: (1) First, to help the needy, the physically weak, and wounded. To this end I opened a free clinic. Second, to educate the slum boys. I began, therefore, to teach arithmetic and algebra for two hours in the morning beginning at five o’clock, and again from seven to eight in the evening. Third, to preach. At eight o’clock, after the evening classes, I would go out with the students for street preaching. For the first four years of my residence in the slums I never stopped preaching in the streets.”
Toyohiko marred Haru, who was a volunteer helping in a church that he pastored in 1910, and they had one child. His only “weapon” in the ministry was that of love. Much of his life was spent working to stop poverty and in social need. He says the more he studied slum psychology, the more he realized we must cure the people in the slum’s cause. A cause which, in his opinion, was cured by love. In fact, his formula for social work is simply, “I love them, that is all.”
A self-less love, that is powered – if not solely from God. He looked at the people in the slums from – as much as he could – the perspective of God’s love, and acted. In his book (one of at least five), Love the Law of Life, he writes “Love believes and teaches. Love is absolute refulgence, absolute life and resurrection. Love is God.”
But does the Bible talk about love in that context?
Love in the Bible:
Love is throughout the Bible (along with judgment or wrath). We will leave God’s judgment for another day, but hear this: if you have a relationship with Jesus Christ, if you accept Him as your personal Lord and Savior, and believe that He was resurrected from the dead, then Christ is the mediator for you, and you will not have the wrath of God!
Love, though, is in the Old Testament and New Testament. Remember Proverbs 8:17: “I love those who love me, and those who seek me diligently find me.” Or Psalm 86:15: “But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.”
The New Testament is replete with Love. From Paul, who in Romans 5:8 said “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us,” and in Ephesians 2:4-5, where he wrote “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved—.” To Peter, who said in 1 Peter 5:6-7: “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”
I think that John’s entries – The Gospel of John, John’s letters, and Revelation - are where I want us to pull from today. In the Gospel of John, John wrote in John 13:34-35: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
I want to focus on the letters of John, specifically 1 John, and a similar passage (1 John 4:7-8). But let’s talk about the letter of 1 John first.
1 John is a Johannine letter, being similar to the Gospel of John and the other synoptic Gospels in these respects, has (1) the importance of doing God’s will, (2) righteous performance, and (3) the commandment to love God and neighbors in it. 1 John is a letter which was sent to several Johannine churches of Asia Minor during a time where Christians were a minority in the Roman world, and expressed some things at a time when the church as a whole was at an embryonic stage. It was hammering home then, by the elder, the Christians calling, grounded not in their own abilities, but in God’s enduring love for them, highlighted by the self-sacrifice of Jesus Christ for them.
The Fourth Chapter of 1 John is the climax of the letter. Though there are several themes in this climax, the one I want to focus on is the Love of God for us and the love, then, we ought to have for one another.
Major sections of 1 John start with “God is...” For example, “God is light” (1:5), “[God] is righteous” (2:29), and now “God is love” (4:8). 1 John 4:7-21 is the third and most profound treatment of love in 1 John.
Now, let’s turn to the scripture for today...
1 John 4:7-8 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
God Is Love
7 Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.
The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
4:7 This is one of the most profound discussions of Christian love in the New Testament. Did you know that “love” appears as a noun or verb thirteen times in verses 7 – 12 and six times just in these two verses? It is John 3:34-35, but with a new twist. We are to love one another, but that love comes from God, not ourselves. In other words, God is the source of love. If we are to truly love each other, God has to be in us first (through the Holy Spirit)!
4:8 The opposite is true, however. Whoever does not know God cannot truly love (like God loves), most often in Greek it is agape. It is like a logic equation: G = L. If we (H) are to equal L, then G must be within us (H + G = H + L). If God is not within us, the opposite is true (H – G = H – L). But be clear: love is not all that God is, but love comes from God, as verse 7 says.
What “God is Love” Means:
But where are we going? It is one thing to know something, entirely another to act upon it. And there’s the rub! You see, practicing love for one another with God’s love – that perfect love – shows that we know God’s love and are living in response to it as God’s children. We know God and it is present in our actions, in our character and life that can only come from God.
You see, people do not become children of God by their own good deeds; it is a gift of God’s love, evidenced on the cross, and allows us to love others with Christian love. That is, you have got to be Christian to have perfect love in this sense!
This is difficult to talk about in a sermon because it necessarily divides the group into believers v. unbelievers. Let me dissuade you from going there. Rather, it is just the opposite.
Loving one another means that you are in a community. Being a new commandment, as John 3 says, it is something that non-believers should take note of and wonder! If Christians were to exhibit perfect love in everything they do – selfless love – then Jesus was here and the Kingdom of God is here!
One more thing: We are to love everyone in the world with this type of love! In listening to the words of Jesus, remember He said “love your enemies” in the Sermon on the Mount. And the love that He showed when He walked this earth with humankind as written in the New Testament. He called tax collectors and adulterers to follow Him; He healed and forgave lepers, thieves, and even the people who nailed Him up to the Cross!
Loving believers tells everyone that we are different; loving others – non-believers – is part of our mission of witnessing through the Holy Spirit God’s love for them!
Let me give you an example:
Illustration: Mamie Mobley
Mamie Mobley was the mother of Emmett Till. Emmett Till was a 14 year old boy from Chicago that visited his cousins in Mississippi in 1955. He was a prankster, and it ended of costing him his life. He said he had a white girlfriend in Chicago to his African-American Mississippi friends, and then – upon a dare – spoke to a white woman, Mrs. Carolyn Bryant - in a country Store in Money, Mississippi. In 1955 in Mississippi, doing that was a no-no, especially when the white woman was married.
What happened next was horrifying and ugly! His assailants–the white woman’s husband and her brother– made Emmett carry a 75-pound cotton-gin fan to the bank of the Tallahatchie River and ordered him to take off his clothes. The two men then beat him nearly to death, gouged out his eye, shot him in the head, and then threw his body, tied to the cotton-gin fan with barbed wire, into the river.
When he was discovered three days later, his body was so mutilated that the only thing that could identify him was a ring he had on. Interestingly enough, the two white men were put on trial and an all-white jury said they were not guilty, although Mose Wright, the boy’s uncle who saw the two men forcefully take Emmett away that night, testified. The jury said the state hadn’t proven it was Emmett’s body because it was so deformed! I guess it would be ironically humorous were it not so horrific!
Ms. Mobley asked that the body be shipped to Chicago and had an open casket funeral, for the world to see the racism that was present in the U.S. It was the start of the civil rights movement that gained national attention in the 1960’s. But an interesting thing happened: She was asked if she harbored bitterness toward the two white men, or toward whites generally, for the brutal murder of her son. This is what she said:
“It certainly would be unnatural not to [hate them], yet I'd have to say I'm unnatural....The Lord gave me shield, I don't know how to describe it myself....I did not wish them dead. I did not wish them in jail. If I had to, I could take their four little children—they each had two—and I could raise those children as if they were my own and I could have loved them....I believe the Lord meant what he said, and try to live according to the way I've been taught.”
In her distraught over her son and the racism that took his life, she looked at the two racist white men with God’s love and responded with love and forgiveness!
Bring it to the Congregation:
Have you been taught to live a different way than the world lives? The key is perfect love, which doesn’t make sense to the world. Perfect, selfless love, the kind that doesn’t make sense to the world – but Jesus didn’t make sense to the world He lived in and doesn’t make sense to the world today!
But the bottom line is that God loves you! He loves you in that when we were all sinners, He died for you and me! He did more than that, though – He abandoned himself when He – that being Jesus – needed the Father God on the cross, but He ripped Himself apart spiritually to put all of the sin on Jesus! Do you remember “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”
The relationship that we have with God – as believers – is priceless. It means that you have perfect love in you, both because Jesus died for you and you have the Holy Spirit in you. Don’t be disgusted because the world does X – the world cannot do anything other than X unless they have God, in them and through them.
The question is: what are you going to do about it? Are you going to love your fellow Christians so that the world can see a difference in the way we treat each other? Look at Acts and the church there – they were doing crazy things like selling all they had and giving it to the church – or to help others!
Are you going to love the world – the sinful, decaying world – so that they can know what you know – that without God in your life, everything is meaningless?
But, you say, the world hurts? Did Jesus’ listening to the falsely testifying witnesses at His trial hurt? You say, it is painful to love Christians, sometimes, much less the world? They are sinful, and the things they say and do cause me pain in the deepest part of my gut. Did Jesus have pain, utter gut-wrenching pain while He was being scourged? You say my perfect world is straining to get the sin out – how can I let it in, and the damage it will cause? Did Jesus Christ take all of the world’s sin at the Cross, even though He was perfect and without sin?
The answer is it is sometimes hard being a Christian, but that I think that is loving the world – like God did when we were sinners. It hurts, and yet it is what we are supposed to do – to love each other when we sin, and to love the world even though they don’t love us.
Illustration: Tracy Harkins King
Let me introduce you to Chris and Tracy Harkins King. They were missionaries in Haiti, and have come to live in the Dripping Springs area. He is a defensive coordinator (football coach) at Dripping Spring High School, she is a saint, his wife, stays at home, is a Coaches wife, and works closely with Baptist Haiti Missions. They go to Sunset Canyon Baptist Church, and they are friends of ours. They are new to the area (this is Chris’s third year at Dripping Springs High School), and live in a two-bedroom house west of Dripping Springs that they are trying to build out to support their 5 children (including another bathroom), and they go and foster 4 small children because the foster kids have nowhere else to be. They have ginormous hearts and love for everyone, especially kids.
Tracy wrote (I think partially out of frustration) on Facebook October 11, 2016, after taking eight children to watch her son Carter play football.
“Yes, we take all 8 kids to watch Carter play football. And tonight things were just off with the babies. And they screamed. And then, screamed some more. Their little bodies are in fight or flight sometimes and when those moments kick in, love is the only answer. I can't fix them or make them stop right this second and, honestly, I don't want to. Sure, it would be easier if they were quiet and sat "nicely", but we didn't sign up for easy. We signed up to love kids from hard places and show them what security and love feel like. Sacrifice you say? Yep...hopefully we are planting seeds of the gospel's love in their hearts...all the while, our efforts, love, and sacrifices are minimal compared to the Ultimate Love and Sacrifice.”
Tracy and Chris looked at little abandoned children, and with God’s love, loved them as Jesus would!
Love comes from God. If this world needs anything, it is perfect love. Christian love. Selfless, giving love – like the kind Pastor Kagawa talks about in his book and his life; like the kind Ms. Mobley has, forgiving the people who killed her son out of hate. Like the kind Chris and Tracy have, loving the lost and the unloved – not because it’s easy, but because that is what they are supposed to do, because the ultimate sacrifice was Jesus. Let us live it out today!
Will you pray with me?
 Toyohiko Kagawa, Love the Law of Life (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: International Press, 1929), 7.
 Toyohiko Kagawa, 6.
 Toyohiko Kagawa, 309.