Is there such a thing as “too much love”? Love is great, actually. Love is something we all crave to one degree or another. We want love – if not romantical, at least familial or friendly. We want people to love us and care for us and encourage us and maybe even provide for us in various ways. We seek it out. We feel lonely, sometimes, if it’s not there. Love is desirable and general. But can it be too much – love?
If it is, it’s usually because something’s off. Something’s out of whack. A mother’s love – there’s nothing like it – she brought you into this world, raised you, cared for you, provided, nurtured hopefully, gave you hugs when you’re sad, kissed your booboos — except if she’s doing most of that when you’re 41…well…perhaps too much. Romantical love is excellent. But if the love of your spouse means that you can’t leave the house… like in some sort of James Caan & Kathy Bates way… that’s too much as in backward – that’s misery… And love, which is free and self-moved, when presented as a set of guidelines or rules for how we live – “Do this and you’re loving everyone…” That can be hard. Sometimes too much as in “things I fail at” or “things I disagree about”.
And the question this morning – does that happen as we read 1 John?
St. John’s first letter is all about love. And in worship in the Easter season we’ve been defining it. Love – two weeks ago – was greater than the world. In ch.5, Jesus Christ’s work of salvation provides love and life that lasts beyond this one. And last week, in chapters 1 & 2, we jumped to the beginning to say that love is about truth not lies. The truth is that Jesus Christ is the Word of Life whose work purifies us from all sins to have fellowship with the holy God and with one another. And his work gives us confidence to go out into the world, for whose sins Jesus also atoned.
And through the end of chapter 2 and in the verses beyond the two we take up this morning, John’s line of thought continues: the love of Jesus Christ will show itself in the lives of the family of God. Those who know God keep his commands. So if somebody says they know God but neglects his commands, well, that’s lies. (2:3-6) And that’s nothing new. As Jesus himself said, you can summarize the law of God with one word: love. God’s law is realized when we love God and we love one another. (Mt. 22:34-40) Of course, the epitome of unloving is to deny God then – to deny Jesus Christ as the Savior, the love of God for us, and to focus on ourselves… John said in ch.2, “Stay strong, don’t be led astray.” Finally, to remain in God and to be ready for his return. ”29If you know that he is righteous, you also know that everyone who practices righteousness has been fathered by him. (2:28–29, NET)”
Notice the same kind of words as John picks up the same thought in 3:4-6 and says,
4 Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; indeed, sin is lawlessness. 5 And you know that Jesus was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. 6 Everyone who resides in him does not sin; everyone who sins has neither seen him nor known him.
And the question as you engage John’s word over these weeks, I think, is this: is this love too much? Like, not achievable… You might begin to question, as you analyze your own unloving moments and your many sins, “Am I in God’s family? Is God’s love for me? My world doesn’t appreciate this love from God or for God. Will I make it to being ready for his return? It doesn’t seem so great at times. Will I be caught up in sins and lose this love?”
I think of it sort of like a road trip. I like road trips. I like watching the passing scenery and the changing landscape. In this sense, let’s call them good – the beauty of God’s creation is on display at 80mph. On a recent road trip down to TN, my family experienced all the love of riding in a van for 11hrs – seeing the sights, finally the beautiful Smoky Mountains. But there can be too much of a good thing. When we exited the interstate at Google’s direction for the last leg of the journey, I had this gnawing feeling that something was “off” since the last 20 miles was slated to take 65 minutes. An inkling that turned to understanding as our path began to follow the Clear Fork River through its beautiful valley and countless leafy hollows and never-ending hairpin turns – a two lane drive which we affectionately afterward called, “The Valley of Death”. At least, that’s how I think of death – when more than one member of your party is on the verge (or time #3) of upchucking in the van, the drive is too much – things are not great.
When the drive gets like that, what do you do? You take an off-ramp. You take a stop to breathe and assess. You take in the beautiful scenery, remind yourself where you are – on the most beautiful drive with family you love. And, with renewed vigor (and more Dramamine), you get back on that highway and go.
I think one of the best interpretations of 3:1-2 is that John has taken an off-ramp. He’s taking a break on the brilliant and beautiful road trip that is this sermon about God’s love in Christ and in Christians. By the Spirit’s direction, he knows we need a stop – considering our own sinfulness and perhaps questioning whether we’re ready to take things all the way to the finish line – with temptations and false teachings and weaknesses that lure us toward practicing sins instead of practicing righteousness. We might say, “It’s too much, this love! And things aren’t at all great… Or I don’t always feel they are.” Time to get off the highway for a minute. Let’s stop and see where we are…
v.1 – How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.
- Literally, John starts with the word, “See!” as in, “Now hold on a second friends… Just stop and see what you might have missed in all the turns and sloshing about that is Christian life in the sinful world.” It’s like John pops out of the van and walks over to the scenic overlook, where he stands waving us to come and see…
- Now, John’s first words, “How great” is something like “See what a kind of thing this is…” It’s an assessment. And this is our main task today. See, we’re caught up in the drive – this life. Sometimes we’re bored. Sometimes we’re distracted. Sometimes we’re fighting. Sometimes we believe it’s never gonna end. Sometimes things don’t seem so great. But John wants us to stop, to see, to assess what kind of a love the Father’s is.
- John says, “See what kind of love it is the Father has given to us!” Because that characterizes what we know of God’s love, doesn’t it? It’s not just status, stasis, but action. It’s giving – just like love should be. Giving that drives everything else. God selflessly gave; or self-fully gave when he gave himself, his own Son. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son…” that’s what kind it is…
- But, actually, that’s only the first part. The real joy and astonishment is in the result. Of what sort is this love; what kind? “That we should be called children of God!” Later, in ch.4 John will say the Father “sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” The love the Father’s given us is a sacrificial, no-holds-barred type of love which will go any distance, pay any price, to reclaim us. And it’s so amazing because it is so undeserved. We’re covered in sins! We’re fickle in love. We fall apart along the way. We’re tempted and tested and we despair. But the forgiveness Jesus won for us on the cross…that love we’ve received, it made us part of God’s family.
- Indeed, God called us by the Gospel message – the good news of salvation in Christ – by it he called us to himself and called us his own. Named us ones born of water and the Spirit in Baptism, to be like him and for him and with the promise of his care each day and his inheritance to come.
- And what a love it is! The Father has given it – to us – called us his own children by the work of his Son. And John says, “And we are!” because our fickle hearts, our weak stomachs, our depressed natures, they tell us all sorts of otherwise. The world does too – it doesn’t know us this way (but that’s cuz it doesn’t know God’s love). And what a love it is – God’s called us his children, so we are!
John’s standing there at the overlook, waving. He wants you to come see this… The beautiful babbling brook, the leafy lively dappled shade, the breeze blowing soft in the trees…this love. Take it in. What a love it is the Father’s given to us that we should be called God’s children! And that’s exactly what we are!
And even more… v. 2 – Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.
- Literally John starts, “Beloved ones…” that is, you, who have received the love of God that is so great, see and understand that right now you are children of God just as God’s called you. But being children means far more than just what’s now. It implies belonging with God, being in his family forever. And an inheritance… And we don’t yet know what that will be totally…
- As Paul says, “Things which an eye didn’t see, and an ear didn’t hear, which didn’t enter into the heart of man, these God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9). We hardly know all that awaits us, but we can be assured that God has prepared things beyond anything that we have hoped or desired: Beauty beyond anything that our eyes have seen. I have seen green hollows and deep canyons and beautiful newborn children. But John says, “You ain’t seen nuthin’ yet!” Music beyond anything our ears have heard. I have been blessed to listen to symphonies ––and a rock concert or two. But John promises, “You ain’t heard nuthin’ yet!” Wonders beyond anything that our hearts have desired. My heart has soared at the sight of a lovely woman walking to the front of the church to stand with me in marriage. And I have dreamed ten thousand things––and some of my dreams have come true. But John promises, “Get ready! This is going to knock your socks off!” What’s coming exactly we don’t know.
- But we do know how characterize it. Then, at the end of the journey, when Jesus comes back in all his glory, it will be pretty great – we’ll be just like him. How do you know? John says, “because we’ll see him as he is.” And I think John means this: saints of old and prophets have fallen face down at the sight of God; when sinners stand in the presence of God, it’s death, his holiness is too much. But on that last day, having received God’s love in Jesus Christ, forgiveness for all our sins, and having been full of that joyous love in all sorts of life, we’ll see Jesus just as he is…and not die, because we’ll be perfect and holy, glorified and godly, family. Just like our brother who brings us home to see the Father and the place he’s prepared.
It’s Good Shepherd Sunday today, as we said. Which means our emphasis is on the caring work of our God and the shepherding love of his Son. He guides and cares for us along our journey here – in green pastures, by quiet waters, even through the valley of death. In all the living, our seeking after love, our doing his will, it’s easy to feel that things are bad and that this is all too much. So, this morning stop and see it – that things are actually pretty great – what a love we have in what God’s given! what a status we share as God’s children! and what glory is coming because of Christ! Stop and take it in. And then, John will say, “We’ve got people to see and places to be… Let’s get back on the road.”