Series: Life in the Beloved
November 19, 2023 | Peter Rowan
Love is not god. God is love. So, we don't get love right if we don't get God right. One of the key themes in John is the right understanding of the key of Christian faith - the gift of God in the incarnation of Christ. If you don't get that right, you don't get love right. But if you don't love one another, then you also haven't understood god. So, we learn love by abiding in the revealed love of the Father, Son and Spirit.
Let me pray. Lord, we're so grateful for Your Word, dear Lord. You've been so kind to us in the gift of Holy Scripture, revealing Yourself to us through the historical books, through the wisdom literature, the prophets, and the Gospels, and the epistles.
Lord, we're grateful for its diversity and its creativity. Lord, thank You that You've been so kind to us in giving us Your Word.
God, we pray that as we turn again to 1 John that we would be really receptive to You, that we would take joy, that You give us these words, and that You'd shape us in light of them. Please do this, Lord. We ask in Your name. Amen.
So, last month, Dale preached for us, Dale Colt preached for us, and I'm going to recount a little bit of this, and there's going to be a point to it, because some of you are like, "You recounted that two weeks ago." I know. I can read you. Read your thoughts. That's what you're thinking. Last month, Dale preached for us, and he preached for us from 2 Kings chapter 5, and that really beautiful story of Naaman, who was the commander of the Syrian army, one of the commanders of the Syrian army. And you have to keep in mind, the Syrian army, the Syrians were in conflict with the northern tribes, the ten northern tribes of Israel. By that time, the ten northern tribes and two southern tribes were split, and Naaman was an enemy, and one of the servants, one of the servant girls who he likely captured on a raid against the northern tribes of Israel, tells him, "Hey, you can be healed of your leprosy. She has compassion and love for an enemy who probably abducted her, took her from her family, and she has compassion on him, and he goes and sees Elisha, and he's healed, miraculously healed."
And then a couple weeks ago, I told you about this other story that takes place in the next chapter in chapter 6, and what happens is that the Syrian army finds out that really Elisha has been thwarting their plans. God has revealed to Elisha when the Syrian army is going to come and attack Israel, and so the Syrians say, "We're going to get that guy." And so one morning, his servant walks outside the door. You know, he opens it up, and I said, you know, the Bible says, "Alas," and there's no way he said, "Alas." He says, "Master, there's a whole army surrounding us," because it surrounded the town that Elisha was living in. He says, "What are we to do?" And the point in telling you that story at that time was that what God did per Elisha's prayer and request was he opened the eyes of Elisha's servant, and Elisha's servant could see all around the hillsides, the army of God, on behalf of Elisha, protecting him and his servant there.
We saw how 1 John 4, 4 tells us, "He who's in you is greater than he who's in the world."
If we had only eyes to see, he who's in us, who abides in us, is greater than he is in the world. But I didn't tell you how that story ended, and that was intentional because I wanted to tell it to you now. Because if you keep going on the story, well, what you get to is what Rebekah read to us from 2 Kings 6. And it's really, really a remarkable story. I mean, the whole story is remarkable, but it's even more remarkable sort of as you go through it. Because what happens is that the army of God takes away the sight of the Syrian army. They become blind. And Elisha leads the Syrian army down to Samaria,
which is where the king of the northern tribes would have been. Elisha brings them to the king of the northern tribes, his enemies, right? This whole army is being brought blinded to the king. Now, what was the king going to do?
Well, I guess let's just stop there for a moment and just say, what would you do?
I mean, somebody's been out to get you, literally to kill you, and they've been blinded and just brought to your doorstep. I don't know, punch him in the face or something.
Let's just think about this, okay? You've probably been trapped on some level in your life. You felt trapped. You've been surrounded, probably not by an army.
But maybe you felt trapped inside of a marriage, or maybe you felt trapped inside of celibacy, or a job, you know, a vocation, a career that has just trapped you. You're stuck.
Maybe stuck at a church. Let's not name that church right now.
Or a home. You know, you've gotten yourself into a home, and you're like, "I'm stuck inside of this place. You've been trapped, and you're powerless." And certainly, that's actually at least Elisha's servant initial thought. Like, what do we do? We've been powerless, and we've actually been given the opportunity to fight back against what's trapped us.
You know, Elisha's prayer was answered. The army of heaven blinded the Syrian army. And Elisha and his servant are no longer trapped. And now, actually, the king, the king of Israel, the king of the northern tribes, has the opportunity to no longer have raids come against them. That's what they do. Well, if you were listening to the story when Rebecca read it, you know that what they didn't do is slaughter them all. Payback. Maybe take some of them as slaves.
Um, so the king of Israel asked Elisha, and I love how he asked this. He says, "Father, shall I strike them down? Shall I strike them down?" And if you know Hebrew a little bit, you know that repeating something was a way of sort of modern... It would be like us making something bold or italicized or underlined, of highlighting it, right? Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty. It's thrice. Holy, right? Oh, Jerusalem, Jerusalem. Shall I strike them down?
Come on, let me strike them down. Let me get at them. This is the opportunity to never be trapped again, to be done with this mess, mess of conflict, mess of a friendship, whatever, mess of a church, mess of a marriage. This is the opportunity. And Elisha, a prophet of God that he is, tells the king to do something that none of us would make up.
Totally counterintuitive to what we would do. And completely different than any of the conflicts that are happening in our world right now. Armies against armies. It's certainly not what happens oftentimes in the conflicts that we experience in our lives. You know, you make fun of me, I'll make fun of you. You dismiss me, I'll dismiss you. Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth, come on. Let me read a little bit of it again. Verse 22. He answered, "You shall not strike them down. Would you strike on those whom you've taken captive with your sword and with your bow? Set bread and water before them that they may eat and drink and go to their master." So he prepared for them a great feast. A great feast.
When they had eaten and drunk, he sent them away and they went to their master.
Okay, they surrounded him. And he prepared a great feast for them.
The enemies of Israel were invited to a table. A feast. Where did they get this idea of loving your enemies? What nonsense.
So we're back in 1st John. We're not actually not studying second kings. But 1st John foretells us that God is love. In fact, Rebecca, you did a remarkable job reading it because we were reading it out loud again this week at our staff meeting. It's just almost hard to say because there's love is mentioned too much, if I can critique scripture in that regard. Love is mentioned in these 15 verses 27 times. You start getting tongue tied over this word love.
It's mentioned so much, we actually were talking about this in our staff meeting that it's mentioned so much that it almost feels confusing. But it's not at all. It's like the most simple passage in a way. Simple passage in a way. God is love. And if you know God, if you know the Lord, you will love one another.
It's kind of that simple. But of course John gives us an argument. If it was just that simple, he would just say it like that, but it's a little bit more complex than that. And his argument about loving one another has to do with the nature of God, who he is, with the history of God, what he's done, and also just with the present care of the Lord. How he is with us even now.
See, John knew that in the day-to-day lives of the people that he was writing to, and even in our lives, there were temptations to redefine love. To kind of have our own idea of what it is, and to live out of that redefinition of it. And therefore, actually in light of that, it would always also be to redefine God. Right? So not to take God as love, but to say love is God, and then to take your conception of love, and then import it onto God.
So however you conceive of love, you conceive of God. But John gives us an argument here about loving one another. And in so doing, he wants us to fall deeper in love with the Lord first. And out of that, be shaped in our actions in our life together. Okay, so the first thing that John does is he says this, "Love is the very nature of God." Look verses 7 and 8. "Beloved," I love that he just begins with loved ones, "let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God because God is love."
All right, so the first part of this argument for the love of others is just simply out of this nature, who God is in his being. We've already heard John tell us that apples don't fall far from trees, right? That children look like their parents. And of course, some of that is actually nature or nurture, right? We're actually gonna, he's kind of gonna get to that, the idea of nurture.
But we know that's true, right? I mean, some of the the reality is that kids look like their parents, and they act like their parents because of the the nurture they've had. They learn to speak in a certain way. They learn mannerisms with their hands like their dad. Or they learn to frankly love the Lord's house and devote themselves to it on the Lord's day. They learn the habits that you have. Your kids will learn your habits. They will learn your habits of prayer and of life with one another and how you speak to your spouse. They will catch up on all that. They will be formed by that. But here he's first saying that it is God's nurture first that shapes you.
I've said this before many times, but my kids don't get to decide whether they look like me. They just do. They just have a little more hair.
But he first just says here very simply, God is love. That is who he is. If you are to not desire to love one another, you are simply not living out of who he is. His very nature in his being. If you've been born of God, if you know Him, really know Him, love will just be part of who you are because it's who he is.
And you have to understand this is not just the head knowledge stuff, right? He doesn't mean that. Born of God and knows God. All kinds of people have knowledge of the historical Jesus and ancient Israel and their cultic worship practices, all that kind of stuff.
There's plenty of people that quote unquote know God or study God and they haven't been born of Him.
His nature isn't in them.
James chapter 2 tells us, "You believe that God is one. You do well. Even the demons believe." And shudder. That's what he says. Satan has plenty of knowledge of God. He hasn't been born of God.
If you're born of Him, you'll know Him. But what he says is you will look like Him. You will be His children. You will resemble Him. You will love one another.
So, first he's just saying this is his nature. But then he goes on to say this is also his history. This is the acts of God in the world, right?
So verses 9 again through 11. "In this love of God was made manifest among us that God sent His only Son into the world so that we might live through Him. In this love, not that we've loved God, that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Loved, if God so loved us. We also ought to love one another." So, here's, this is important. John does not allow us to have love be some vague thing. Simply some emotion that we feel inside. You know, an affection that we have. A desire, you know, like our love for donuts. College football.
What he says is love is seen in the history of God, in the story of His out workings in this world. In the manifestation that He gives to us. And we can, He can recount all kinds of different ways that the love of God was shown in His working in the world, but He goes to the one that is most clear. That is the incarnation and the crucifixion of our Lord Jesus.
The origin of God may be, or the origin of love may be in the very being of God and His nature, but the manifestation of God is in His history, His life within this world and His incarnation and His resurrection, the gift of His life for us. So, we see love by God sending His only Son of the world that we might live through Him. We see it before us.
But we see love also in that while we didn't love God, He still loves us.
And Jesus is the propitiation. He actually gives the death that we deserved to die and gives us the life that He deserves to live through His perfect obedience. The front cover of your bulletin, if you turn here, it's this image right here. This is called a Christogram. There's another really famous Christogram. Christogram is sort of an image that is made with letters to signify Jesus for us. Christogram. The most famous Christogram is the Cairo symbol. Some of you might know that. It looks like an X with a P. That P is actually a row in Greek, which is an R sound. And one of the ways that the Greek folk would abbreviate somebody's name would be from the first two letters of their name. So, the Cairo is in reference to Christ. The chi and the row being the first two letters of the word Christos. And I'll tell you this. You can find these images of these Christograms all over in the ancient church. I mean, if you go to the catacombs of Rome or the catacombs in Syracuse on Sicily, these catacombs that go back to the early second century, you'll see these images all over. Well, the one that we have before us is one of the more well-known ones also. And there's a cross there. And up on the upper left, you have the, I'll say I-S. That is the first and last letters of Jesus, Jesus. And then you have, well, let me look at it again. Yeah, the chi and the S. Christos. So, another way of abbreviating somebody's name was not just the first two letters, but it was the first and last letters of their name. So, what you have here is you have Jesus Christ, and then you have this word together, Nika, which is the word conquers. So, this symbol was to remind us that Christ conquers Satan's sin and death by the cross. This symbol would be, you know, displayed in these places, say, of your resting place, the catacombs, where you'd say, "Death is conquered. Jesus Christ conquers."
But what John is telling us here in this passage is that it might be better to say this. Instead of the Nika there, put agape. This word that's repeated 27 times, Jesus Christ loves by the cross. If you want to see love, if you want to know what love is, there it is. There it is right there on the cross. That is love. Love is self-sacrifice. Love is seeking positively, intensely the other's good, even when they haven't sought your own.
It's self-sacrifice. It's a costly thing. Love in the Bible is not some sort of emotion alone. It is always enacted affection for the good of others.
And no one's ever seen the Father. No one's ever seen God is what it says here. Unless he's made manifest in Jesus and then he says, "And in you, love one another. Take the opportunity to bear one another's burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ, right? The commandment of love. Love one another."
So we see love as the very nature and being of God. We see love in the very history of God.
And then we see love in the ongoing care of God. Now this is just kind of sprinkled throughout that second paragraph. But verse 13 tells us that God has given us His very Spirit. If we keep going, we can hear that we know that God abides within us even now.
We know this when we confess this reality that Jesus is the Son of God. And love now can give us the assurance, right, that we have confidence for the day of judgment. Verse 17, God now is assuring us of His love. God now is taking away our fear. A perfect love now casts out fear.
What He's saying is He's even now loving you. It's not just some being of God that exists outside of time and space in His nature. It's not just how He reveals Himself in His great acts of salvation, most gloriously the incarnation and crucifixion, but it is how God interacts with us right now in His care for us.
Think of this. Today God has called you to Himself. Remember famous words from Psalm 95. "Today do not harden your hearts. Come to me now, the Lord loves you and longs for your presence." Today the Lord has forgiven you of His ear sin. Today He has. Today He is speaking to you from His word because He longs to teach us out of His love.
Today He will welcome we who were once enemies and strangers and aliens to dine at His table. Today He will do these things. Right now He says that the Spirit of God abides in you now. You who confess the Lord Jesus. God's love is not something just out there or back when, but it's now. God loves you right now. He's working for your good right now.
It's who He is. It's how He came. It's how He redeemed us, but it is also how He is with us even now. Now, right, I think about this. It's all well and good. It's very right actually. It's very, very good for a husband and wife to fall in love. And it's good for that love to be given teeth with vows that say for better or for worse, richer or poorer, sickness, health, all that. That's good. Those vows of their wedding. But it is nothing if they do not continue in on that, right?
Those words are vapor and meaningless and void. If they are not enacted day in and day out in their life together, in their speech together, in their ears to forgive and to care, to give to one another. He's saying, God has loved you out of His being, out of His revelation of Jesus, but He is doing that right now. The Lord abides with you now and He is love.
Now, I hope you notice that at each one of these kind of turns in the argument, John actually still goes back to the big point he's making. And that's this, love one another. That's his main point. Y'all love one another.
So verse seven, he says, let us love one another in the context of the nature of God, His being, His love. Verse 12, in the context of His history in the world, we also ought to love one another because this is what God has done when He shows up. Verse 21, in the context of God's ongoing care for us, it says, whoever loves God must also love his brother. You see, he's weaving this main point out all throughout this argument. He's saying, this is what the community of Christ is called to do. You are to love one another. Enacted affection. This is what it means to be the very body of Christ. Okay, here's the deal. I've said this before, but John is writing to these churches, likely the churches of Asia Minor along what would now be sort of the western side of modern day Turkey. He's likely writing from the city of Ephesus and he's likely writing to the same churches that he wrote the book of Revelation to, which would have probably been written, you know, more or less kind of around the same time. And what's happening, this is nearing the end of the first century. And what had happened is that these Christians who'd given their lives to following Jesus, they've been doing it for a while and they're like, this is kind of getting to be a little old hat. Kind of like what you guys thought when you heard this passage, you're like, too much love talk. Come on. That's enough. And they were kind of, it was kind of growing stale, you know? And frankly, what was also happening, we've talked about this in this series, is that they were looking out about of the philosophies around them and the things that their neighbors were buying into and the life that they were leading. And they were like, you know what, that might be a little bit easier. Maybe the whole way of the world is a little bit easier in our minds, right? Like tooth for tooth, eye for eye. You punch me, I'll punch you back. You send your soldiers over here and we got them blinded. We're going to take care of them. And these people, right, you know, in these churches were tempted to go after a while, as you all know, you know, once you start to know somebody and you live in a community for a little while, you maybe start to have some conflict occasionally. There was a girl when I was doing RUF, her name was Kate, if she ever hears this, she'll totally, totally be fine with me sharing this story. We were sitting in like the quad kind of area at VCU, sitting, eating lunch, talking about life and faith and, and she was, she loved to point out guys that she thought were attractive. I don't know why this was like a hobby of hers. And so we were sitting there having lunch and these guys would be crossing the, you know, the main, it was called the compass. There was a big, big compass, like the shape, the size of our church or sanctuary here. And so we were sitting on one side and these guys would be crossing and she'd be like, Oh, that guy's really hot. I'm like, Kate, let's just talk about shoes for a little while. But here's what would happen quite a bit. Is these guys would, would walk from there and then they would come and pass the pass by us and she'd be like, never mind. That was not true. And so here, here's what's going on, right? You get into a community at first, right? And you're like, man, these people are so smiley. They look so pretty. They're so kind. They welcome me. They pass the piece of Christ to me. And then you're in it for a while and you're like, you know what? These people have some words. But once looked so beautiful from a distance, it started actually rub up against me and there's some conflict happening. And what I also want to do is not see their beauty, but see how ugly they are. And I want to punch them in the face or I simply want to leave. The community is actually deeply hard and loving one another sounds nice, but in practice, it's actually deeply, deeply difficult. That's what's happening. Okay. That's the context here. These people are like trapped, you know, they are trapped in the church and they're like, I think I'm just going to leave. I think that's the better thing. You know, it's like being trapped in a marriage that you're not really that thrilled about. You're like, I think I just want to leave. I think I'll probably be done. I think of this, right? The context of Elisha and the Syrians and the king of Israel, they've been trapped in this setting of the Syrians coming and attacking them and raiding them. And they could have done away with the Syrian arm right then and there. Tip or tap. You punch me, I'll punch you back. You know, we have conflict. Let's not, let's not actually work it out and forgive. Let's fight or let's leave. You know, fight, fight, freeze kind of stuff. So learning to actually deal with it.
You could have just had him slaughtered.
Some of you are familiar with the Catholic theologian, Ronald Rolheiser. He wrote a great little article called Dying to Live. And he says this thing, he says, we've all been trapped. We've all felt this. And sort of unable to make peace with the situations of our life, the lot of our life.
I mean, we all know that there are people that feel trapped in their marriages, but, you know, they can't leave them. We know people who aren't married, who feel trapped in sort of celibacy or, of course, people that are trapped in maybe a church setting, feel like they can't leave or they really want to. This is part of what he says. Okay. He says, what we see in these people and in ourselves, since we all have our own particular experiences of this, is a perpetual kicking against the goad, a cancer of spirit, a refusal to accept one's lot in life, and an incapacity to make peace with what one is in fact living.
Theologically, this can be described as a blockage of Pentecost and unwillingness to receive the Holy Spirit for one's life, one's particular life. How do we move beyond this kind of restlessness? He says there's an old adage now, the motto of Outward Bound.
He says, it reads this, if you can't get out of something, go more deeply into it. You can't get out of something, go more deeply into it. And of course, Jesus illustrates this, right? Jesus there before his death, he says, Father, take this cup from me.
Father, take this from me. But when he couldn't get out of it, we learned that it was for the joy that was set before him that he endured the cross. He went for it. He loved to be a
he loved his own. John tells us in John chapter 13, the gospel of John, he loved his own to the end. If this is my calling, I'm going all in.
Ronald Rolheiser says this, the struggle of for one community is singularly the most difficult and demanding of all human endeavors. But the answer to that struggle is often actually go all in. Give it your all. Love more intensely, more intentionally. Forgive more willingly. Open your heart wider to what God might do, even in the middle of a conflict. What he says is you'll find that rather than being trapped, you actually become free. Because this is the way the world works, because this is how resurrection works. You go through death to greater life.
That is the love of the cross. I hope you noticed the very last sentence of the story of Elisha and the Syrian army, and the king of Israel setting before them a great banquet, a great feast. It says this, the Syrians did not come again on raids into the land of Israel. They were changed by enemies being brought to a table. They were fed and they were changed. They came as enemies. They left as having been loved. Perfect love casts out fear. It totally changes you.
So beloved, let us love one another. For love is from God. Anyone who's loved, loves, has been born of God and knows God. Let's pray and ask him to give us this love. Lord, Lord, we pray that we would be people of love because we are people of you.
We pray that we would be devoted to learning you and your ways, that we might love one another better. God, that the story of Jesus would be the story of our lives, that those who cannot see God might see you through us. God, I pray that you might give us courage in this. It is a fearful thing to let down one's guard, to allow enemies to dine at one's table. We've got to pray that we could see that the way up is down, the way to life is through death.
Resurrection comes through the cross. God, that the way for our joy is not greater isolation or greater hardening, but a widening love, a giving of oneself for the life of the other. It is more blessed to give than to receive. May this be the mark of our truth, that we might imitators of you, the God who is love, came among us in love and who abides in us in love. Amen.
The book of 1 John is a letter from the last remaining apostle to group of house churches he oversees near Ephesus. It is a message of encouragement to saints who have grown weary with the unbelief of those around them. John writes to them and us as one who has known and been known by Jesus - and has found Jesus to be full of light, kindness and love.