The Loving Way of the Lord.
Dear friends in Christ,
Our sermon series in preparation for Christmas has been called “The Way of the Lord.” In the last few weeks, we’ve explored the Faithful way, the Mighty way, the Peaceful way, and this morning, the Revealed Way of the Lord. Tonight, our theme is the Loving way of the Lord.
Our text begins, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.”
What is love? That’s the question that we’re asking tonight. But before we ask that question, there is a broader question that we need to ask. What is the way that we know what love is? How do we even know what we know? What basis do we have for answering the question, “What is love?
Tim Keller tells the story of a young man from a healthy family that grew up with a loving mother and a loving father who ended up marrying a loving wife that grew up in a healthy family with a loving mother and a loving father. But when it came time for them to divide up the work of life together, they had deep-seated conflict. He said, he was working on a sermon and noticed a dirty diaper. He called out “I think so and so needs to be changed.” She looked up from washing the dishes, “Why don’t you do something about it?” He felt something deep inside of him angry and he didn’t know why.
How does that happen? How can two fine and healthy people from fine and healthy families have conflict?
You see, he had been raised in a family where his mother’s outpouring of love for his father was to do everything that needed to be done at home. That was his definition of love. She had been raised in a house where her mother had a debilitating disease and her father’s outpouring of love was to do everything that needed to be done for her mother. Each is extraordinary, but if you have one picture and not the other, your understanding of love is still shallow.
And I tell you that to tell you this: love, and our expression of love, is normed by our culture and experiences. It seems natural. We base our opinions on what we know, on what we’ve seen, on what we’ve experienced.
But the point of our meditation tonight is that for the Christian, our definition of love is not defined by our experiences. It is not defined by our culture. It is instead defined by the Scriptures. Now, what do I mean by that? I mean that for the Christian, we believe that life is bigger than our senses can experience, and if we are going to have a deep understanding of love, we need to look outside of ourselves, we need to go to the Scriptures.
Three particular ways that we would describe love, three peculiar ways based on our reading of 1 John 4 tonight. Let’s go to our text.
“In this.” Those are the first two words of verse nine, and they form the refrain we find through the rest of our text. In this, for the Christian, is the totality of our love. That there is no other place in heaven or on earth where God has made his love more manifest. In fact, the opposite is true: in this the entirety of God’s love is ours. The next phrase, in this the love of God was made manifest. It was revealed. It was shone to be what it is, that God sent his son. Usually when we think about sending, we think about God sending his son off, on a mission to someplace else, on a journey far away, but here’s the point of John’s opening statement, here’s the surprising fact, that God sent his Son, and he sent his Son to be with us. Love is first presence.
If you’ve done premarital counseling or marital counseling here at Trinity, or if you’ve talked to a pastor here about the subject of love for more than five minutes, you might be familiar with the Five Love Languages, a book about the ways that we give and receive affection. It states that there are ten ways (jk, it’s five) ways that we love: Words of affirmation, acts of service, the giving of gifts, physical touch, and quality time. But if we are talking not-so-much about the surface ways that we express our affection, it seems that each of these has a corner, a piece of the deeper need filled by love, and behind all of these, I would submit that the deep need we see is the need for presence.
That when I use kind words, I am showing that you are in my thoughts, and I am hoping that these words convey my presence to you, even when I’m not there. That acts of service are demonstrating that I am taking care to do what you need. Gifts convey the amount of time and energy it takes to find them. All of these convey a desire that we would be present with the one we love, and they would be present with us, even when we’re not around.
That’s what Isaiah writes when he prophesies Jesus as the Immanuel – as God-With-Us. The first truth that we see is that in the Christmas story, we see our God fully present with us. Which is hard to do.
But then our text goes on to make our second point. “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”
Point number two for tonight is that love is, for the Christian, propitiation. In this the love of God is made manifest. In the – and get this word right – propitiation of our sins. Can you imagine that? Someone comes up to you on the street and asks, What is love to you, and you say, “Propitiation.” They ask what is that? You say, “I don’t know! My preacher told me to say that.”
So at this point, you might be saying, “Hold on a second preacher man” – because I’m sure you have an inner dialog about the sermon and in your inner dialog you always call me preacher man – “Hold on a second, what does that have to do with love?”
Propitiation is a word that means atoning sacrifice. That is to say, for the Christian, our understanding of what love is is rooted in our understanding of how God has been interacting in the world. From ancient times, from the Levitical laws, from the time that God set up his people as a people on Mt. Sinai, the children of Israel had been once per year sacrificing an unblemished lamb for their sins and sprinkling its blood on the assembly, atoning for them in the sacrifice of that animal. In the New Testament we find that those sacrifices were effective because they pointed toward what Christ would do once for all on the cross.
As Christians, if we want to rely not so much toward our own experiences or on the whims of our culture but instead on the wide swath of what the Bible has recorded of God’s action from the beginning of time, we would remember that love is first presence, it is the presence of God in our lives and second, propitiation, the sacrifice that our God has given to atone for our sin.
The Love is Jesus Christ. The point is, for the Christian, Jesus Christ is love incarnate. Paul said it like this: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” John says it like this, “In this, not that we have loved God but that he loved us. In this is love, In this, that when we love each other, it is not we who love but God who loves others through us. God is love and love is this: Christ has died; Christ is raised; Christ will come again. It is in Christ we find love, and it is Christ who is in you.
Now, let’s know that truth. Let’s own it. Let’s chew on it. It’s an interesting exercise to read through the Gospel with this thought in that back of your mind, that Jesus Christ is love incarnate. That mean, the time that he calms the winds and the waves and calls his disciples “O you of little faith” it is love incarnate doing it. The time that he tells Peter, “Get behind me, Satan,” those are the words of Love itself. The time that he says, “let the dead bury the dead” to his family and the time that he says, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.”
What does that do to your definition of love? His is the loving response in every one of his situations, his is a love for friends, a love for enemies, a love for disciples who love him, a love for the crowds who don’t care about him, a love for the heroic, a love for the cowardly, a love for the sinner, a love for the repentant. He is love. In every situation. In every word. What does that do for your love?
We read verse 17… By this, love is perfected with us – the word there is the same one that Jesus spoke on the cross, Τετελεσται, It is finished. It is completed, it is made perfect and made whole, it is love, fully orbed and fully known. It’s in your baptism that his love sets up shop. It’s in the words of absolution that we stir embers of his love. It’s in the Lord’s Supper that you taste love incarnate, which is Christ in you.
Lesson number three, and this is the lesson for all the marbles, for tonight is that love is Jesus Christ. And if you are a Christian, and if you want to know what love is, if you see love fully orbed, outside of yourself, sent to the world to bear your sins and be your savior, then you would spend your days following around love incarnate. “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God… Beloved if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another… (and from beyond our text) By this is love perfected with us.”
If you want to learn how to love, if you want to fill your life and your marriage, your friendships with good things, then follow around the man, Jesus Christ, as we see him save his people. Hear him speak truth that hurts to people who need to hear it. Watch him dole out unconditional love when he sits in the dust next to those who’ve really screwed up. Let his grace first wash over you and all your imperfections and then, and then, when you recognize yourself as a redeemed Child of God, then take up your role to look like Christ in the life of others.
Amen and Amen.
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