Relationships Matter 1 John 4:7-21
11/18/2018 4:11:35 AM
November 11, 2018
Rev. David Williams
Scripture: 1 John 4:7-21
What do you think of when you think of a religious person? Do you think of a priest? Maybe a nun? Maybe you think of an uptight person who has no fun? Maybe an angry person shouting at people about their sins? Maybe you think of a guru? Maybe somebody who is “spiritual” in a flakey kind of way? What does it mean to be religious?
Another way to ask the question, in Christian terms at least, is “What does it mean to live for God?” What does it mean to devote yourself to God?
The video clip we just saw was part of a longer video from the Alpha Holy Spirit weekend. The clip started to explore what it means to dedicate yourself you God. One thing that really caught my attention when we watched the whole video a week ago is something the woman says near the beginning, that we don’t have to spend all our time reading the Bible and praying to dedicate our lives to God. That really struck me because I realized that some of us may feel that we do have to spend all our time reading the Bible and praying! These things are necessary, they do transform our relationship with God, but they need to be part of our life not all of our life.
It dawned on me that some people may think that in order to “really” dedicate your life to God, “to give him all of your time,” you have to become a priest, a monk or a nun so that you can spend every waking hour thinking about God, learning about God, praying to God and reading the Bible. But that’s not at all what God asks of us when we become Christians. In fact, if everybody who became a Christian did that, God would be quite disappointed! There would be nobody left in the “real” world to bring the message of his good news!
So what, then, does it look like to live a life devoted to God? Paul says in Romans that in view of God’s mercy- that is, as a response to the mercy God has shown us, we are to offer ourselves as living sacrifices. What does that look like in practical, day to day terms? This summer, we worked through the whole book of James as a church. The first chapter of James, a very practical book, says that true religion, religion that God accepts as pure, is to look after the economically marginalized and avoid being polluted by the world.
If you’ve decided to follow Jesus, if you call yourself a Christian, what does all this mean? What does it mean to devote yourself to God? What does it mean to offer yourself as a living sacrifice? What does it mean to be religious in Christian terms? We’re going to take a look at this today. Really, we are just going to scratch the surface, but it’s something we need to talk about regularly.
Turn to 1 John 4:7-21. John is writing a letter to Christians who are in turmoil. It seems that they are divided amongst one another and likely they are being persecuted for following Jesus.
What It Says
This is a wonderfully rich passage! There are a number of repeated terms like love and “live in.” In fact, the word for love appears 24 times in just 14 verses! Two of those times are hidden in the English text. The passage opens “dear friends” and again “dear friends” shows up in v. 11. The Greek word for “dear friends” is actually, “beloved”!
What is love? Love is a word that our culture is confused about. We use it for so much! I love bacon, I love my daughter, I love my wife. Yet each of those relationships is very different! What does love mean? In Greek they have 4 different words that all get translated “love” in English. There is a word for romantic love like between a husband and wife. There is another word for love or affection like we have for pets or bacon. There is a word for brotherly love and then, finally, there is this word used in 1 John. The word used here is the most common “love” word in the New Testament. It is “agape.” If you’ve been a Priory for long, you’ve heard this word before! But I realize we always have new people coming to be part of our church family, so as your pastor I must not take it for granted that we are all familiar with this term.
One of the important things to know about agape love is that it was actually Christians who formed its
definition. It was not very commonly used in Greek before Jesus, but with the New Testament and the birth of the church, the word came to be used a lot more in the way Christians and the Bible use it!
The second important thing to note about love is that John tells us in v. 8 that God is love. That is, God is “agape.” Not that God “shows” agape. Not that God “feels” agape, or “experiences” agape love. Rather, God literally “is” agape love. So this form of love, this agape love is profoundly spiritual in nature, it is divine, it describes the very character of the Christian God!
Over the years I’ve done some research on agape love. The definition we use for agape love here is “Agape love is a divine, self-giving love, primarily concerned with the well-being of others, in particular their spiritual well-being.”
Why is this important? It’s important because we can all feel romantic love, we all experience affection and even brotherly love. Feeling these things is good! But they are not what we mean when we talk about loving our neighbour, loving God or what God is like. So we have to remember that when we read about love in a Christian context we are talking about something profoundly spiritual in nature, something that describes the very character of God! It’s not affection, it’s not romance, it’s not even friendship.
We see this is the very character of God! God is self-giving, primarily concerned with our well-being, especially our spiritual well-being! We all feel other 3 loves. But this is different! God’s love is different than romantic love, affection or even brotherly love. Look at text: v. 9 God showed his agape for us in this: He sent his one and only Son. That is self-giving! Why did he sent him? For our spiritual well-being! So that we might live! This is not something we earned! Not that we loved him, but he loved us!
Here’s something interesting: One would expect the principle to be “God showed us love, so we must love him back!” It’s actually quite remarkable that because God loves us we are to love other people. One would expect it to be reciprocal- God loves us, we love God; if people love us we love them back. But that’s not what it says! The text forms a triangle [pic] God loves us, we love God but also love people – why? Because God loves them, because they love God (if they’re fellow Christians), because we want them to love God (especially if they’re not Christians!).
This is actually key to why love is connected to God living in us! It is God working in our character to generate divine, self-giving love in us toward others, NOT because they love us first, but because God loved us first!
Notice, now, then, that John is addressing people who have received this divine, self-giving love. He refers to them as “beloved” or “dear friends.” It’s a shame this is lost in English! But literally John is saying, “Those who have received agape love, let us love one another with agape love, for agape love comes from God. [In fact] everyone who loves has been born of God [has new life in Christ] and knows God. Whoever doesn’t show agape love does not know God, because God is love!”
God’s agape love for us is the cause and source of our agape love for others. Love is a sign of being born of God and knowing God! Verse 16 says God is love, whoever lives in love lives in God and vice versa. In fact, agape love for the Christian is so important! Living a life of agape love is not optional.
Look at the passage. If we don’t live a life of agape love, we don’t know God and he doesn’t live in us (v. 8). Then, again, in v. 20 if we say we love God, but hate our brothers and sisters in Christ, we are liars! (That’s the bluntness of a fisherman there!) Agape love is central to Christianity- to being a Christian, to living as a Christian, to having God live in you [we speak of asking God into your heart!].
Three times the text says God sent his Son and gives a different purpose or goal for sending Him. God sent his Son: So we might live through him (v. 9), As an atoning sacrifice (v. 10), To be the Saviour of the World (v. 14). All 3 of these are facets of why Jesus came. They encapsulate the good news of God’s love for us as shown in Christ Jesus! Opposite order is a bit easier to understand: Saviour, by being a sacrifice, so we might live! Live – as we were created to live (remember in our series “Truth Infused with Hope”- freedom means being able to attain our purpose! Know God and glorify him forever).
When we begin to grasp God’s love for us, as he begins to dwell in us and reform our character, we begin to understand things anew- we are reborn! No longer is there fear of judgment because we see God’s love for us shown in Jesus’ atoning sacrifice. Our debt is paid! No Fear! Also, we begin to see people anew, as God sees them. This leads to loving them like God does.
Last but not least, there are 4 things the text says about God living in us and us in God: God lives in us if we love one another (v. 12), we know this because he gave us his Spirit (v. 13) [this is the indwelling of the Spirit,
new life in the Spirit, what we mean when we ask Jesus into your heart], he lives in those who acknowledge Jesus is the Son of God. (v. 13) [and all that comes with it- not just mental assent, but bowing the knee in surrender] and those who live in love. (v. 16) [that is, those who let this newfound truth, newfound knowledge of God shape our everyday lives.]
What It Means
We’ve seen a lot of what it means as we’ve gone through the text itself. Let’s summarize then: Agape love and God are inextricably linked. God is agape. God demonstrates his agape love in sending Jesus to save the world, atone (pay) for our sins, and give us new life. That life manifests itself in us in agape love.
We know God lives in us and we live in God through his Holy Spirit who regenerates our hearts- our character- bringing new life that shows up in Godly agape love not just for God,[here’s the key!] but in Godly agape love for other people – even people who don’t love us first or back!
When the Spirit begins to reveal to us how God loves us, the natural result is to love God back and to love other people God loves. This is the essence of Christianity (following Jesus): to be transformed by the Spirit to love people with God-given agape love as a demonstration of the love we realize God has already shown us!
The Spirit does this along multiple lines: the Spirit reveals the truth of Jesus to us intellectually (God’s demonstration of love); The Spirit softens us so we not only believe up here (head), but surrender to it down here (heart) and commit to it. The Spirit then brings new life of knowing God relationally, which generates or grows agape love in us.
The most profound way this new life demonstrates itself is not our devotion to God, but our love for one another. Relationships matter! This is why Jesus bring reconciliation. Jesus forgives us so much out of love. To truly grasp that forgiveness and love results in forgiving and loving others. This is why Jesus brings peace- peace is not only the absence of violence, but everything that contributes to a person’s well-being- agape love!
This is why church is so important! The church community forces us to practice agape love with people who are not our friends.
How do we put this into practice? Depends on where you are at with respect to God. If you don’t grasp God’s love yet, pray to understand or see God’s love for you. This is Step 1! Everything else flows out of this- “Beloved….let us love one another…etc.” It is those who recognize they are loved by God, who is agape love, that this all applies to.
Honestly, each of us should pray this because God’s love is so deep that even when we’ve been Christians a long time we can still grasp it more fully! We should all pray that the Holy Spirit will continue to reveal to you the depth of the love God has for you in Jesus (Paul’s prayer in Eph!)
When you read the Bible, pray God will reveal his love to you in it! That’s the real or ultimate purpose for reading the Bible- to see how God’s agape love works in real life.
Remember the triangle. If you want to know God better, practice loving other people! How? Think about their well-being, especially their spiritual well-being. Make this your priority! This is not about mustering up warm feelings for them. Do you think Jesus had warm feelings for us when he was hanging on the cross? But that was agape!
A plant needs water, sunlight and soil to grow. Our spiritual life is the same- it needs more than 1 thing to grow. Yes, we need to read the Bible. Why? So we can see God’s love for us! Yes we need to pray. Why? So we develop our relationship with God. But, what we often neglect is the third thing- putting God’s character into practice in our own character. Love others with agape love.
It is our relationships with one another that truly reveal our understanding of God. They truly reveal whether or not God lives in us!
Think back to the pictures at the beginning. What does it mean to be religious? God’s definition is to be self-giving and to make your top priorities in life the well-being of others, especially their spiritual well-being. Ask yourself, What are my goals? To make money? To be rich? To have a good time? To be famous? To get married? To have kids?
Ask yourself where in these goals does the well-being of others fit in? Does the well-being of others factor into your goals for life? Does it factor into your goals for the day?
Similarly, what are your goals for your kids? Maybe you don’t even have kids, but have you thought about what your goals would be for them if you did? Good university? Be nice? Be successful? Well-rounded?
Etc. Where is the agape love in there?
What are your goals for your business or career? In the video, they acknowledge that it’s ok to make money, if your goals are to help others with it! How do you treat employees? Students? Clients? Do you see them as a job? Do you see them as a source of revenue? OR do you see them as beloved creatures desperately in need of knowing how much God loves them?
Let God’s love for you inspire you to love others in new and exciting ways. Relationships matter. How we demonstrate our love for others, based on our own experience of God’s love for us, defines our relationship with God. It’s not one of many things in the Christian life- it’s THE thing in the Christian life! When we love others, God’s love is completed in us. When we love others because we (finally) get that God loves us, it casts out fear! No fear of judgment because we are living out God’s character in our own lives.
This is what I want our church community to be like. This is what it means to be truly religious! This is what it means to be Christian. Amen.
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