It’s there at the birth of a child, when you first held that little one in your arms and hear that first whimper. I’ve seen it there as two people stood before friends and family staring into each other’s eyes, holding each other’s hands, saying “I do.” It’s present at birthdays, family outings, and when friends get together. I’ve witnessed it strongest though often at the end, when one must say goodbye to a spouse, or a child goodbye to a parent. It’s there, raw, real love.
We all know what love is. You know love. But, here is the thing about the love you know. It’s different from mine. It’s different from the person sitting next to you. It’s like when you’re watching a romantic comedy movie with your spouse and your children and that touching scene comes on, and you look over at your spouse with romantic oogly eyes – parents you know what I’m talking about – but, then, at the same time, what are your children doing? They’re covering their eyes in disgust and shouting “Yuck!” Yes, we all know what love is, but as Pastor Casmer said last week sometimes the details of what love looks like will differ.
Last week, last week we looked at a love that is divine. One that is unlike anything we’ve ever seen. “God is love” we were told, and we actually hear that again today in verse 16. God is love. Fourteen times that word love pops up in our lesson for today. It was also written thirteen times in the previous six verses and five more times in the following three verses. Obviously, John has that divine love of God on his mind. So, I think the question for us today is, “Do we know this love?” Do we know this love of God that John just can’t seem to stop writing about?
I wonder if we always do. God is love we are told. Yet, isn’t there at times a part of you that looks out at this world, and you wonder, “where is this loving God?” Do you ever think like this? Do you ever look at yourself when you’re going through a pretty bad time in life, or someone you know is and just, wow, life is bad for them, and it tears you up. And, you wonder, is this love…God? Is this what you want for me, for him…for her? God is love…?
I don’t know about you, but there are days when I’m just waiting for something bad to happen. Maybe it’s because I’m feeling guilt over a sin I’ve committed, or maybe it’s because I can’t help but see the sin out there in the world and in others, and so I’m just waiting. When will God bring his judgment on me…on them? That’s a terrible way to live.
And, that idea that God is stern, cruel, and petty, a malicious-capricious God who smites people, sends plagues and sentences people to hell is a common picture of God today. In the Old and New Testaments, God can be seen doing or allowing things that seem to affirm these types of conclusions. But while it is impossible to understand how a loving God could permit certain things, we must take seriously the Bible’s contention that the clearest picture of what God is like is Jesus Christ. And what we see in Christ is God giving himself over to death, a God who’s “greater love” is to “give up his life for his friends.” The problem with seeing God as primarily cruel, stubborn and unfair, is that it fails to account for the God of the cross.
And, when you look at the cross, when you look at what God did there, you find that God’s love is messy. He’s reckless, in our way of keeping accounts. God just doesn’t seem to care one iota about how much of a return he’ll get back on his love. But that’s our God. He’s the God of impious men, prostitutes, and jerks. He took upon himself the sin of the worst of the worst, and the righteousness of the most religious, too. God did this knowing fully who we are and what our reaction will be to his grace and mercy. But he did it anyway. That’s how God loves us. He suffered and died knowing full-well he would be rejected by the very people he went through hell to save. God’s love is messy that way, because we’re a hot mess of sin, and death, and satanic sympathies, but that’s your God of love.
For Jesus’ sake, he doesn’t reward the deserving and punish the undeserving. God’s grace isn’t earned. He gives it to those who don’t deserve it, and, even though God’s love may seem messy and reckless to us, it’s the only way any of us can be justified. And we are declared not guilty for Jesus’ sake apart from the Law, or works, or anything of our saying and doing. All we are given, and all we need, is Jesus. There, in Jesus, all of God’s love and mercy can be found. So, do you know that love? John says, “You do.”
Look at verse 13, “We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.” God gave you his Spirit, himself, so that verse 15 and 16, “If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.” Read that again, “We know and rely…on God’s love for us.” There it is. That’s God’s love. It’s different. It’s divine. It’s Jesus…and it’s for you. You are God’s first love.
He does not love you as a response, but as a choice. God chooses to love you, that is to say, God chooses to love you because God chooses to love—not because you are worthy of love. That takes the burden off you. There is no more looking over my shoulder waiting for that next bad thing. There is no more looking at my struggles in life and wondering, “What did I do wrong? Why is God punishing me? How can I get back on his good side? You already are on his good side. The punishing is done. Yes, there is still sin in the world, and we will have to deal with that, but that sin cannot and will not rob you of the confidence you have in your God who is love. And, guess what? John says, “We are like him.” God is love and so are you.
It’s no coincidence that while our society argues about COVID and politics, and just about everything in-between, that we don’t see that fight really here. Sure, you have your opinions, so do I, and there might be times when we really don’t agree about some of today’s topics, yet here we are, here you are. And, it’s because you do know that love of God. It is living in you and through you. It’s the love of Jesus that allows, and will continue to allow, by God’s grace, us to thrive as a church, and as a synod. And it is that same love of Jesus, for you, that lets you see those around you as brothers and sisters, people whom you can confidently say will be there with you on that day of judgment.
And, maybe, look at it this way for a moment. Have you ever encountered someone in love – maybe this has been you? That person in love, what is always on their mind? The one whom they love. They can’t stop thinking about him or her, it’s almost obsessive, butterflies in the stomach. All you hear is how great that person is and how much they love him or her – it’s sick, really. When we talk about love, let’s learn to talk like that. Let’s not talk about ourselves. Let’s talk about the one who first loved us. Why?
Well, when you look at those last verses, verses 19-21. God gives us a pretty strong command to love each other, and that, “If anyone says ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar.” That right there makes me uncomfortable. I hope it makes you uncomfortable too. we do not love rightly, not this side of the resurrection. We love selfishly, falsely, fearfully, and insecurely. On our own, we can’t love God…and we don’t. So, you see, when we talk about love then, let’s not talk about ourselves. Because, if it’s just you and me, this command to love would be impossible, but it’s not. It’s not when, as John has already said, “we know and rely on the love God has for us.”
You know that love. It’s Jesus taking on human flesh. It’s Jesus dying, rising, and ascending. This is God’s love, and he loved you first. His love wasn’t a response to what you do or who you are. His love doesn’t go up or down depending on your current behavior. And not only do you know this love personally, but you also know that you really are like him, which means…you can and do love too. You share it, that love, confident in what it means for you and for others: no more punishment, no more fear, no more pain…a place in heaven on that day of judgment.
So today, wherever you happen to find yourself be confident in this: Your sin will not separate you from the love of God. Your brokenness and imperfection can’t separate you from the love of God. In fact, Paul himself once said, “Nothing can separate you from the love of God.” So let us draw near to the One who has come to us first, and rest confidently in what you know: you are loved not for who you are, but because of who God is; he is love.