Philip Casmer

Be-Loved by God: An Unmistakable Truth, An Unquestionable Action

by Philip Casmer on April 21st, 2024
1 John 4:1-11

“Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ…” I don’t most often begin sermons that way anymore – it’s easy to sort of rattle it off and I think it’s easy for settling your brain into autopilot… Nonetheless, it’s often said and good, and many times in our own circles, pastors will follow it up with this: “Dear friends…” And that’s right, such we are. And words like that come from places like this text we have from 1 Jn 4. “Friends” is the word translated there, the word John calls us twice.  As good as that term is, the truth is we might say more for what John is saying and for what we’re to be doing.  You see, the word behind “friends” is really the word love – the special kind of love we often ascribe to God, the giving-with-no-motive-other-than-love kind of love. I mean, whether it’s from John or a pastor, this is the claim: “dear friends” are really people who have been loved in that special way – you are the Be-loved by God.

“Dearly beloved…” we might say. And it’s not just a trope, it isn’t a passing word, it’s the truth. I think John meant it when he said it and said it for a reason. That more-than-friendly title is an Unmistakable Truth.  You might not feel that way. You might even think John’s words tell you otherwise right away.  He said, “[D]o not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God.”  John’s betraying the fact, isn’t he, that there are other so-called truths out there?  Drive down any major street in the Milwaukee metro and you’ll find many different churches: different kinds of Christians, different kinds of religions.  John would say, “Watch out – test what they say – because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”  

That’s not a nice kind of word in today’s common judgment.  Today’s judgment says – people we know say, don’t they – everybody’s truth is truth for them?  That one should find a message that feels good for you and don’t judge anybody else for what feels good for them? That certain pieces of God’s words are truth, but most is disagreeable? And that people would say that – that it would be the common belief – doesn’t that point out for you even more that the truth seems very mistakable?  Haven’t you found in daily life that what John says is the case: the world speaks from its own viewpoint and the world listens to itself.  And sometimes our outlook can be one of defeat – “I can’t overcome the news; …my own inner sinner; …the whole world and all of its truths.”  

If John tells you you are be-loved by God, you might say, “Yeah, but gimme some comfort that that’s true… Gimme some confidence that the truth is there, unmistakably…  Some confidence that I can win…” It reminds me of one of the Superbowl commercials for the sportswear brand Nike. A young boy from Ghana is dreaming about NFL football, watching it online in bed at night, running plays through the market on the way to school. The dream is that he’s #BornToPlay, but the implication is that he can do it because he’s got his Nikes on. It’s rather appropriate – the name Nike is basically the Greek word for victory: νίκη. That’s John’s word too – as though he’s calling you to strap on your spiritual Nikes, that you’re #BornToWin. Here’s his encouragement for you in the midst of a world that won’t listen. “You have overcome them [any other false spirit, any other false truth]…” Why? “The one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” You can know, unmistakably, the truth that God loves you because he is greater than anything else.  Greater even than us. 

That’s part of the trouble, isn’t it? We know we’re not always great at pursuing the truth or loving others. If you want to know true love, you won’t be able to open the dictionary and find a smiling picture of yourself pasted there; you’re not absolute love – you’re itinerant love and half-love and not-right-now-I’m-busy love – questionable love. Even though Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength (Mk 12:30)” absolutely, always. When we’re in the realm of unmistakable truth, love isn’t an “us” thing. Which is why John’s dictionary entry for love reads like this: “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us…”   

In that way, he brings the unquestionable action that upholds the unmistakable truth that he loves you.  “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.”  If we’re tempted to despair from the conflict in our lives, that the struggle with the world is unwinnable, to give in – first let’s be drawn back here.  For whatever the world prizes, in all its wisdom, and for all you and I have ever done, the only truth human operation has achieved was war with God and death before his inimitable power.  But God’s love is so great.  From outside the realm of this world and its beliefs and works, he chose to send his Son, the only-one-of-his-kind, to make us alive instead.  Jesus Christ came in the flesh, like us, but he loved perfectly… and came as “an atoning sacrifice for our sins”.  That means that every one of our sins, every thing that could cause doubt about whether we are God’s be-loved has been wiped out from God’s sight because Jesus, the Good Shepherd, laid down his life and took it up again.  So that it would be unmistakable – you are Be-loved by God because of his unquestionable action – he loved you and me even when we didn’t deserve it, and now, through his Son Jesus, we have life, absolutely.

The beauty of the unmistakable truth that you are Be-loved by God is that his unquestionable action lets you be those loved by God.  John lays that out in v.11 “since God so loved us…” Like that – unquestionably in the perfect work of his Jesus Christ – there is no doubt that God loved us! And John says, “Now do the same”: your very own unquestionable action. To paste a few of them together from John’s words, “we also ought to love one another”, “for love comes from God,” and “we are from God” by faith in his Son.

It’s a reciprocal kind of thing. What we have received, we also give. Going forward from there, maybe you’d say, looking over John’s description of our love, “Well, it’s kind of basic.” He spends time on God’s love, but doesn’t describe ours much more than to say that it is what we do. He doesn’t give 15 specific forms of love or kinds of love or ways to love; no list of love languages or love’s labors, at least not here. It’s not because John doesn’t know how to apply love, but because he’s giving you the freedom to be it all the time. The constant handing-off of God’s love is yours: from one to another – people seeking out the truth and rejecting what’s false – to stay in this love, to know it surely; it’s friends sharing the truth of Christ because everything economic, political, and social is so upside-down and not saving – here is lasting value and real life; it’s members offering the confidence of forgiveness to each other or a word of rebuke to someone straying – to be welcomed into and kept in line with the truth. In more than those ways, it’s a present reality for you. 

It’s sort of like this room. It wasn’t intentional by design, but I like to think of it this way – in fact, I can’t un-see it now. When we worship, I always think – we look to the front and to Christ’s cross. There he died so that, unmistakably, God’s love is mine. But then I look up and I see that cross-shaped wood overhead. And it’s like Christ’s cross – the unquestionable action that secures God’s love – is overshadowing all of us. And that’s where we are, according to John – just in different words – in the shadow of Jesus’ unquestionable work, people unmistakably loved. If that’s where we sit, where we live, then that’s what we do, no question at all…

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