#lovematters (1 John 4:16-21)

We live in the age of the hashtag.  Even if you abstain from social media, you are constantly bombarded by sound bites and slogans designed to convey not the truth, but some caricature of it.

Recent tragedies have generated a whole new set of competing slogans.  Black lives matter, we’re told.  All lives matter, others counter.  Supporters of law enforcement add that blue lives matter.  And of course many arguments are made over which of these slogans is most accurate, or most helpful as we seek to sort through declining trust in law enforcement and a spirit of racial injustice.

So which is it?  Black lives?  Blue lives?  All lives?  Frankly, I think we’re asking the wrong question if we’re debating whose life matters.  I think it’s a better question to ask: what does it mean to matter?  And to whom do we matter?  It’s like the old story of the carpenter and the watchmaker.  The carpenter says, “I need to hammer this nail,” so the watchmaker hands him a pocketwatch.  The carpenter drives the nail into the board, but the watch is now in pieces.  “Huh,” he observes, “this mustn’t be a very good watch.”  It’s absurd, of course, but why?  Because the watch isn’t meant for that purpose.  Understanding what it means to matter is a question of purpose, yet we as a culture decided long ago that we had no common purpose; we would remain a nation of individuals, each of us plotting our own course.  Yet without purpose there can be only brokenness.

What an opportunity for the gospel to shine.

THE CALL TO LOVE

We’ve been focusing on what it means to “abide,” using John’s writings as our guide.  Yesterday we noted that the surest starting point for abiding in Christ is to believe the fundamental nature of the gospel: that in Jesus God came to earth to pay our infinite debt so that we might experience fellowship in him.  But John’s first letter focuses not only on the facts of faith but also their results.  Abiding starts with faith in Christ, but it is made manifest in the love of Christ:

16 So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.17 By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world.18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.19 We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:16-19)

The starting point for Christian love is the love God has shown us.  Do you see how the gospel empowers us to love in a way religion never can?  Religious teachers can instruct their followers to love people, but the only thing this might produce is mechanical obedience.  Religion says: “Love others and God will love you.”  The gospel says: “God loves you, therefore you’re free to love others.”

THE DANGER OF ABSTRACTION

This is partly why empty religion can be so destructive.  If I embrace religion—apart from the grace of the gospel—then I may be tempted to think that God loves me because of my own goodness, my own achievements.  And once I start believing that, then I tend to compare others to myself.  Pretty soon, others start looking less worthy of my love because they don’t match my own standards.

John cautions against this, saying:

20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. (1 John 4:20-21)

Abiding is about loving others.  When John speaks of “brother,” he’s most likely referring to fellow followers of Christ.  But surely love for our neighbors (Mark 12:32) is an essential part of Christian obedience.

In a world driven by slogans, it’s so easy to get off the rails.  Love withers when we reduce human beings to mere abstractions.  What do I mean?  I’m talking about the way we label others as “thugs,” or “racists,” or “liberals.”  We shut down conversations because we don’t want to listen to what others have to say.  We ignore pleas for racial sensitivity because it sounds to us like liberal propaganda, and with enough digging we can prove that the facts on our side, by golly so isn’t it time to just move on?  We fail to love when we dig up dirt on shooting victims, feeling somehow assured that if we can learn that they were somehow guilty of other, lesser crimes, we can sleep better knowing that these men were “thugs” who contributed to their own ill fates.  We love our brothers—but we make sure we reserve our love for those without a rap sheet.  A world of cause and effect gives us comfort and assurance, because it means that I can have control over my fate so long as I cling to my moral record.

The gospel shatters this, because it tells me that I am so broken that the God of the universe had to die to save me.  And because Christ died for the wayward and the broken, the gospel gives me assurance that no one—not even those I might be tempted to label as a “liberal” or a “racist” or a “thug”—is beyond his reach.

THE URGENCY OF “GRACIOUS CONTENTION”

There is division in our nation like never before.  Now, more than ever, we need the Church, we need a community of men and women who abide in Christ and manifest this love in their interactions with others.

Now, I sense that some of you will be bothered by some of this, because surely, with all this division, not every side can be right and there are many voices and positions worthy of being challenged.  Indeed, the message of the cross runs counter to a cultural message of “empowerment.”  Christians are at odds with the world, and conflict is inevitable.

Love is not opposed to such conflict and such challenges.  To avoid disagreements is to relegate oneself to apathy rather than the bold love God showed us through Christ.  In his book Political Discipleship, Graham Ward of Manchester University suggested that what we need is a climate of “gracious contention,” meaning that we allow for the liberty to wrestle with important issues with an attitude of grace.  There is a world of difference between disagreeing and being disagreeable.  But love for our neighbor remains our guiding principle.  For while there may be no easy answers to our current crises, we can be confident that ultimately, eternally, love truly wins.

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2 thoughts on “#lovematters (1 John 4:16-21)

  1. Jesus suffered more than all those who feel wronged today.

    He arguably suffered more injustice.

    He arguably laid down his life voluntarily not to take a momentary suffering and quick death from gunfire, but beatings + flogging + an excruciating death hanging on a cross, plus taunting insults and jearing.

    Scripture calls us to “share in his sufferings.”

    I must admit that I think of the whole thing as challenging — to put it mildly.

    16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.
    17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs– heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.
    18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.
    (Rom. 8:16-18 NIV)

    This isn’t something that I really like writing about or even contemplating right now.
    3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort,
    4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.
    5 For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.
    6 If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. (2 Cor. 1:3-6 NIV)

    When Paul writes “we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ” he wasn’t being flippant. The injustices given to Paul were NOT inconsequential or trivial.

    Here is one example of what Paul went through.
    19 Then some Jews came from Antioch and Iconium and won the crowd over. They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead.
    20 But after the disciples had gathered around him, he got up and went back into the city. The next day he and Barnabas left for Derbe. (Acts 14:19-20 NIV)

    Paul wrote in several places about his trials.
    11 To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless.
    12 We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it;
    13 when we are slandered, we answer kindly. We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world– right up to this moment.
    14 I am writing this not to shame you but to warn you as my dear children.
    (1 Cor. 4:11-14 NIV)

    I’ll skip some scriptures. Paul wrote, “For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body.” (2 Cor. 4:11 NIV)

    WAY TO GO CHRIS! Wake me up out of my complacency.? Man do I desperately need to pray in order to have any of the strength to serve God through trials that may come. Jesus prayed fervently some three times before his arrest and trial and he was strengthened.

  2. I kind of grew up without love being abused and forgotten by my parents so I have been asking GOD to show me what love is so someday, I might share it. When things like that happen it hardens you. And I want nothing more than to Love like GOD loves… And in reading this today HE has done just that. HE is love in its purest form so I think, just maybe HIS character defines love? How we should all love each other. That is to say maybe, if im going to do something, and Im not sure HE would do it, then I should rethink doing it, you know? Love is tricky, and brotherly love might be the trickiest in that theres agape, eros and I think phileo love. But how we are called to love our brother and how we as humans are capable of loving might be different. Like I wish with everything in me I could love everyone I see agape style but I think Jesus was the only one who could actually do that.

    For now I pray a simple one. That HE’LL teach me how to love those in my circle. Maybe if HE starts me there, it will be easier for me to grow to different levels of love.

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