1 John 4:16-21
And we have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this, love is perfected with us, that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. We love, because He first loved us. If someone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also.
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
Sometimes words simply fail us. I know each of you has had that experience. I am not speaking of those times when we have no words because something is too big or too striking or too emotional for us. At those times all of our words fail us - they simply don't show up and give us the tools to express what is happening inside of us, or to describe what is happening outside of us. The situation I am intending to describe is when we use words and they simply say too many other things, so that the words get in our way and fail to say what we want, or convey reliably the ideas that we are thinking.
Our text this morning is a good illustration of what I mean. Everything that John wanted to say is clearly expressed in our text, and yet, if I gave you all a quiz, with your Bibles open, and asked you to tell me what you read was saying, in this text, I would guess that most of you would probably read several words to be saying things that they are not intended to say. Knowing Greek helps a little, because when the intended sense is clear in the Greek and not in the English, I would have an advantage, but even then, some of the words in this text simply fail us because they can be taken in a number of ways. For example, John writes about "perfect love". We could define that phrase in a number of ways. But John only meant one thing - and so this morning we are going to parse the language - work on clarifying which meanings were intended. Our theme is "Perfect Love".
In order to get at that, I am going to start with the verse just before our Epistle lesson begins, 1 John 4:15: Whoever confesses Jesus is the Son of God - the Christian faith in its entirety is meant here - God abides in him and he in God. That is actually the starting point for John, this morning. Confessing Christ also means that God abides in you and you abide in God. Then John goes on to discuss that we, believers, have come to know the Love of God for us - love seen on the cross in our redemption. We know it, and we believe it.
Then John makes a genuinely radical statement: God is love. He is talking about Agape Love, of course, a love of understanding and comprehension and compassion which puts itself 'out there' on behalf of the ones that are loved. God is all about us. One theologian went as far as to say "God is all that He is, not for Himself, but for us." That may be over-stating things in a way, but God does all that He does in love and for love - that is with us in mind and for our blessing and benefit, ultimately. God is wholly just. God is completely powerful. God is as wise as can be, and God is love. These are His attributes. These are good things to know about God. If you are dealing with God as a Christian, you are dealing with love - love for you and for fallen mankind.
John mentions this here to make the point that if anyone abides in God, that one abides in love, and love abides in him just as surely as God abides in him. So, the one who confesses Christ, the believer, abides in love - agape love. We live our lives in the self-giving love of God, and we are filled with this type of love, because God dwells with us and in us. That also means that we become somewhat God-like in that we begin to live out the same sort of love that God lives out for us. This is where John comes to talk about perfect love, or love being perfected in us.
Just as John did not mean affection - you know, liking someone or feeling all warm and squishy about someone when he spoke about love, he doesn't mean perfect in the sense of being without flaw. Agape love is a love of concern, compassion, intelligence, and the desire for the welfare of the beloved. Perfect love is love that has accomplished what it set out to do. It is telios - that is the Greek word here for perfect - it means that this love has reached its goal.
John tells us, by inspiration, that the Love of God achieves its goal in us when we have no fear of the judgment, but rather confidence - and therefore no fear of death. The goal of the love of God toward us is that we are saved, that we know that we have no reason for fear of death and hell, but that we know the realities of sin and forgiveness, and we trust in them - and trust in Him. You may have notice that John doesn't talk here in the terms of the Apostle Paul so much, talking about sin and grace and forgiveness and the like. He talks in terms of fear and love. So the goal of the love of God is also the goal of the will of God and what is the will of God for you? [Our Salvation].
We do not fear the judgment because we are in His love and He is in us and we are just like Him - righteous by His gift, and fit for everlasting life. Being filled with this love - being filled with God - is, if you remember the beginning of the sermon, consequence of the confession of Christ, that Jesus is the Son of God and that He died for you and by His stripes you are healed. John said that there is no fear in love because "perfect love cast out fear". That doesn't mean flawless love, but love - the love of God - that has achieved its goal in you. And that goal is faith and trust in God and in His love for you. There is no fear in this love because we know the love of God and live in it, so we know that our lives are in His love - and we cannot be frightened by judgment - and, therefore, our life must serve God's good and gracious will, and His good and gracious will must serve our life, or preserve it.
Now, that means that if you are afraid of life or death or the judgment, you have not come to the goal of the love of God for you, but you are short of it. That doesn't mean that you do not have the love of God or that He does not love you. It means that you still have to grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and come to understand and believe all that the love of God means for your life. That means you still need to look more deeply into the Gospel. John speaks of this love in us by saying, We live in this love because He first loved us.
Now all of this love stuff brings about a result in us. Since we are the recipients of God's love, and since by our faith in Christ, God dwells in us, we are filled with this love by virtue of being Christians. Since it is not a love of mere emotion, it is not a feeling that suffuses us. It is comprehension and compassion and understanding and concern from us as it was those things for us by God. And it is aimed at one another, our "brother". Here, Brother is another one of those words that means a number of different things to us, but only means one thing here in John. Our brother is our fellow believer, particularly our fellow member of the congregation - the church and family - in which the love of God has placed us. Brother is one born of the same Father - God. You remember, Jesus said it to Nicodemus in last Sunday's Gospel lesson, "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, that which is born of the spirit is Spirit."
John says here that you must love your brother - one born of the same Father - because he is whom God has given you to love. When you love your brother you are actually loving God, and when you love God you do it or show it by loving your brother. This principle works itself out for us something like the Old Testament Law worked for them. The one who feared and loved God also trusted in God, and so he or she would do what the Law instructed out of faithfulness even when it seemed easier, more profitable, or more enjoyable to do otherwise. So, they would sacrifice, for example, even when it seemed inexpedient to do so, because they trusted God to make it all work out correctly, rather than trusting what seemed 'best' to them, or what seemed to make sense at the moment. Faith of the faithful followed God's will.
So, too, here. We love our brother because of the love of God in us and for us. We are compelled to be concerned - and intelligently so - for the welfare of our brother. This has loving nothing to do with loving the unbeliever - whether that one is family, friend, or neighbor. Those people are not your brother, because you have been born again and they have not. You are of the household of God, and they are not. If you want to be affectionately minded toward them, that is fine, and decent, and somewhat natural at times, but that is not what John is speaking of here. He is speaking of your true brother and your true family in Christ, born of the same Father, born of the same love and filled with the same love as you.
He also says that you cannot love God while hating God's child. If you claim to love God but do not love the one born of God, then you are just lying. You might think of this as a test of the truth of the statement that 'I love God'. The one who claims to love God but hates the one in whom God is present, standing before them, cannot actually love God. They would love the person because they love God who fills them. And remember, in the realm of this New Testament language, there is only love and hate. There is no middle ground. To not love is to hate. John makes this teaching, that you must love the one born of God, if you love God, explicit in the verse just following our Epistle lesson. The very next verse, Chapter 5, verse 1, says, "Whoever loves the Father loves the one born of Him."
Here is where the Gospel lesson for today fits rather nicely. The Gospel is the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. The rich man demonstrated that he was not one of God's people by callously ignoring Lazarus, whose name is a code for a Child of God: "Whom God helps". The rich man did not care for one who should have been his brother, proving that he, the rich man, was not a brother to one who was beloved of God. He was not filled with love, and it did not achieve its goal in him, and therefore he had a great deal to fear from the judgment. As we know, the state of each man at the end had nothing to do with their prior earthly condition of blessing or want. It had to do with their relationship with God. By his name, Lazarus clearly stood with God, and by his conduct the rich man clearly did not. "Whoever loves the Father loves the one born of Him." And, the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.
John says, And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also. By faith in Christ and love for God you are doing the commandment - and you love the ones who are also in connection with God and His love. You must because if you don't love your brother, John has already said that you cannot love God - so you must be fulfilling the commandment by genuine faith in Christ. So why would John list the commandment here? Because it is not a matter of emotion only but of your mind and of your will, He encourages you to be deliberate about loving one another - loving your brother. That is why he says, "should".
We each need that love of the brother. We need that encouragement. You have been placed here in this place and among these fellow believers for this purpose. We cannot sense the love of God, we can only hear about it in the cross of Jesus Christ. We can, however, feel the troubles of live, and sense the fears and the pressures of life. It is in the face of these things - and the temptations of the world and the false teaching of those who oppose Christ, that we need the encouragement from one another. And so God has given me to you and you to me and to one another to do that encouraging, so that we might stand in perfect love - the love of God that has accomplished its goal in us, so that we are not filled with any fear by the coming of the judgment, but confident in Christ and encouraged all the more by one another.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)
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