Early in our text this morning John tells us, “Whoever does not love does not know God.” How does one know if they love others according to God’s standards? If someone does do well in loving others, what happens if they slip up and show an act of un-love? Does that constitute hate? If so, does one act of un-love negate any previous instance of love shown? In other words, do I love enough to be counted as a child of God?
When you think about it, selfishness lies at the root of these questions. In the end, the bottom line becomes all about me. What is in it for me? How far do I have to go to earn a reward? How much do I have to love until I am called a child of God?
For the most part, the reality of human nature is that the only love we are actually capable of is self-serving love. Any love we show almost always has our own end in mind. And even if there are times when an act seems to be done out of selfless love, we are drawn back to the original question of whether any act of truly unselfish love is enough to favorably tip the scales of God’s approval.
Scripture, however, tells us which way the scales tip. Our text from 1 John informs us that we have not loved God. It is that simple. We have not loved God. As John speaks on the subject, the real evidence of not loving God is played out in our selfish un-love of those around us. We are unable to truly love others and whoever does not love does not know God for God is love. In the end our actions are self-serving.
I find that my three year old son has a funny way of showing just how sinful and selfish our human nature really is. As with most three year olds, he wears his true intent on his sleeve. He hasn’t quite mastered an adult’s capability for deceit. Though I’m certainly sure he will get there soon.
He has recently become very fond of orange gum. Now, to be fair, he is quite adept at chewing gum and has done really well with throwing it away after he is done. So far there have been no gum-in-the-hair incidents. And he doesn’t really ever swallow it. But he will do anything he can to get his hands on it.
Sometimes you can almost see the wheels in his mind whir as he concocts glorious plans to achieve total gum domination. One such plan to gain the prize was to feign concern for his friend Lucas. What if I can get mommy to give a piece of orange gum to my friend Lucas? Mommy is all about hospitality. Surely she wouldn’t deny Lucas a piece of orange gum. And once she gives him a piece of gum she’ll be like clay in my hands and offer me gum too. Mwahahahaha! It’s foolproof. Unfortunately for Jude, the whole plan blew up when mommy, in fact, did not give Lucas any gum. Many tears ensued after that botched plan.
Three year olds are interesting creatures. They are pure portraits of our sinful natures. There are no special effects or tricks of the camera hiding who they are. What you see is what you get. They can show us who we truly are. They can show us how we love… or at least how we think we love. And unfortunately in our case, we are not like a fine wine. We do not get better with age.
We are selfish people who ultimately seek after our own ends until our end. Until our end the question of whether or not we’ve loved enough will be ever before us. John implies that those who do not love and are therefore not children of God are doomed to a life of fear and anxiety. Judgment and punishment awaits the person who does not love.
We can’t do anything about it. Our inability to love is engrained into our very being, our very sinful being. On our own, we cannot love God, we cannot truly love others, and therefore we cannot know God and we cannot claim to be God’s children.
On our own, we cannot do anything besides sin. We certainly cannot love. But we are not on our own. “By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.”
We have not loved God, but John reminds us that God has loved us despite being the unloving and unlovable scum that we are. The proof and demonstration of God’s love for us, was of course revealed and made crystal clear when God sent his only Son, Jesus Christ, to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. One may wonder what that phrase “atoning sacrifice” means. Some translations designate it “propitiation”, others “expiation”. Unless you have a dictionary on you, none of that really clarifies things. What it comes down to, though, is that God has taken care of our sin through the cross.
And if we didn’t quite get the point, John says it again this way, “that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world.” Let there be no mistake as to how love is defined. God showed that God is indeed love by sending his Son to die on the cross for us. Jesus Christ, in his cross, defines how God is love.
Wonderfully, it didn’t end there. Christ, after he was raised from the dead, ascended into heaven and sent his Holy Spirit to dwell in those who believe and are baptized into his name. This is how we know that we remain, abide, or dwell in him and he remains, abides, or dwells in us; because he has given us of his Spirit.
In Holy Baptism, you were crucified with Christ, you were raised to new life with him, you were made a child of God and you were given the Holy Spirit to dwell in you. Baptism, therefore, is what we look to for assurance of our salvation. In baptism, you were given God’s promise of salvation. This was God’s gift to you, done for you completely by God.
In baptism we are reminded and connected to Christ’s cross and his victory over death where love is defined. In God’s love fulfilled for us on the cross and splashed upon us in baptism we are then given boldness on the day of judgment. Fear is no longer present because love, having reached its end in Jesus Christ, casts out fear.
On our own we cannot love, but we are not on our own. Christ has given us his Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit who dwells within us is what enables us to love and to know God. The Holy Spirit also enables us to love others because we know that God has first loved us.
This is what we are called to do. To love others in a way that our love reflects the love God has shown to us. Whatever our acts of love that we do are, whether it is feeding the poor and hungry, fixing houses in Minot, or speaking for the disenfranchised, it should all blatantly testify to the crucified and risen Jesus Christ who first loved us. The Holy Spirit enables us and gives us the desire to do this and should we fail, Christ stands ready with forgiveness.
In the sending of his Son God says to you, “I love you and I forgive you. Because of this, I cast out of you all fear and anxiety of punishment. Through my Son I give you boldness when you stand before me on the day of judgment because I am your Savior. I claim you as my own, you are my child and I give you my Spirit to dwell in you as a reassurance of this.”