Description / Transcription
So, Lord Jesus, we come to You now before Your Word. We long to sing the song that angels sing and so we pray that in our hearts You would place the song of the good news of the Gospel during this season, that it might grow, that our hearts might be softened, that our eyes might be opened, that our ears might be unstopped. O Lord, we pray by the power of Your Word, through Your Spirit, may it be so. In Christ’s name. Amen.
Well, if you’ve been visiting with us, we’ve been preaching through a series of notable 3:16 passages in the Bible with a focus on the person of Jesus, the person and work of Jesus. We’ve looked at Christ, the giver of the Holy Spirit; Christ, the promised seed; Christ, the beloved Son of the Father; Christ, the object of our faith; and last week Kevin looked at Christ, the Lord of peace.
Now we come to another theme, very fitting for Advent, and that is Christ, the lover of our souls. It’s Christmas and Kevin alluded to this already, but you will hear a lot during this season, a lot about faith, that we should all believe in something. You’ll hear a lot about peace, that we should all desire peace, and you will hear a lot about love.
Now whether you watch the Hallmark Channel all December or not, love is going to be a theme that you’re going to hear about. The word “love” has come to stand for so much in our culture. It’s become embedded in our cultural imagination, and now that word has come to shape many cultural convictions.
Whether that’s talking about our identity or talking about what should inform basic human rights, love seems to be the answer to everything today.
Yet, there’s very little understanding of what constitutes genuine love. Or what defines it. Or how even you and I can truly come to know what love is. All we know is that we need love.
We tend to come to understand love, or define it now, through movies, perhaps, or books, or songs, which basically say, in preparation for the sermon I was googling love songs and all the ones that came up, let me read you a couple.
Crazy in love, endless love, give me a higher love, the power of love. Yes, Huey Lewis, and the News. Perhaps, I’m sad to share this, I can’t resist, the most fitting title I came across for this sermon is Whitney Houston, “How Do I Know If He Really Loves Me?” That’s actually going to be a serious question for us this morning.
Why do I point that out? Why do I point out that when we come to define love, we look to movies, we look to books, we look to songs. What has love come to mean to the average American today, the average person in the West. What’s love come to mean?
I think we could say this – love has come to mean basically a feeling. Or maybe a powerful emotion or a strong attraction or a passion, an overwhelming passion that you might have for someone else.
A few years ago I came across a book written by Simon May, he’s a visiting philosophy professor at Yale and Kings College in London. The title of the book really caught my attention, it was simply entitled Love: A History. I thought how fascinating, a book about the history of love. What’s this going to be about? Is this about just a series of different relationships or what?
It was actually something of a philosophical survey about the idea of love, or we might say the phenomenon of love. In the introduction he traces the phenomenon of love as we see it in our culture today back to the decline of Christianity over the last 200 years. So he’s looking at the last 200 years and asking the question, “How has love come to such a place of prominence?” and he traces it back to the decline of Christianity.
The central observation is this – as Christianity began to recede in the West, God was vacated as the center of meaning and purpose in life. What took His place, what took His place was human love. Elevating human love to something of salvific status, and you can see and you can hear that today.
May speaks of love as the great undeclared religion of the West, and perhaps its only generally accepted religion today. The only generally accepted religion today is love.
So he summarizes this profound shift in our culture most poignantly when he says this: “The oft understood formula ‘God is love,’ 1 John 4, has been inverted to ‘love is God.'”
You can think about that for a second. The results of that have been catastrophic for human relationships. As the divine foundation for love has been erased, so has the model for human love been erased. Who knows where we are headed.
So with that, let me say Merry Christmas.
So we’re starting off on something on what feels like a depressing note, but happily this morning is not about this false idea of love. It’s about how we come to know the true meaning and model for love, as it is rooted in God and as it is revealed in Christ.
So there’s a charge to you this morning, there’s a charge to you this morning, and it’s simply this – for you to know love. That’s the charge. There’s something of a call as well. Whether you came here this morning, we’ve all come from different places, perhaps you came here struggling with the issue of assurance, how do I really know, how do I really know that God loves me? Maybe that’s a question that plagues you from day to day, how do I know that God truly loves me?
Or perhaps you’ve come here this morning distracted or indifferent. Well, there’s a call to you to know love as well. Or maybe you’ve just come looking to grow in the knowledge of the love of God and what it means to love others. There’s a call to each one of us represented in those categories, to know love.
So let’s look at 1 John 3:16. We’ll be focusing on verse 16, but noting verses 17 and 18 for context. I want to give you three joyful imperatives that we might know and abide in God’s love, three joyful imperatives. They’re fitting for Advent season. There’s three things that we must do to know and abide in God’s love.
Number one – we must look. Number two – we must leave. And number three – we must learn. So look, leave, and learn. Three joyful Advent imperatives.
With that, 1 John 3:16 through 18. Hear the Word of the Lord.
“By this we know love, that He laid down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.”
The first thing we see from the text this morning is how we come to know the meaning of love. John makes a rather bold assertion, and that is that we can actually know love. You and I can actually know love. The Greek word here for “know” it means coming to see, coming to perceive something, coming to recognize something. When the Bible talks about knowing, it doesn’t just mean knowing something as a fact, it doesn’t mean just knowing something exists, but when the Bible talks about knowing something, it means an intimate kind of knowledge, an assured kind of knowledge, something that we know because it has been tangibly demonstrated or revealed to us. That kind of knowledge.
So we see it, we perceive it, we recognize it.
You and I all give gifts around Christmastime with this in mind, that the gift might be an expression of genuine love. That’s why we give gifts to one another. Our great hope is that when they see the gift, or someone opens the gift, that they may see that we genuinely love them.
Now generally, you have two different kinds of gift givers, two different kinds of people in this congregation this morning. You have the practical gift giver and you have the sentimental gift giver. Now which one are you? Is it kitchen utensils or is it a journal? Which one is it going to be for you?
I once had a friend whose wife got him a garage door opener for Christmas. Now you sentimental types are going to recommend marriage counseling for that kind of gift, right? But all of you who are practical gift-givers, you’re going, “Whoa, that’s a great gift. You can actually open the garage door with that gift. What’s wrong with that?”
While we’re talking about gift giving, here’s a little tip for parents of teenagers. Don’t try to make this shift to the practical gift too early. It can be tempting. If your child is below the age of 16, guess what? They are not going to appreciate the practical gift. They want something more, something more than that, and all the teenagers may say “Amen, thank you for helping my parents out with that.”
Now whether practical or sentimental, what is our hope? What are we hoping when we give gifts to another person? That the gift might be an expression of genuine love. We all know this – the greater the gift, the greater the cost, the greater the sacrifice, the greater the expression of love. Gifts express love.
John says that you and I can come to know God’s love, we can see it because it’s been demonstrated and it’s been demonstrated in that Christ has laid down His life for us. There it is.
Another text that points this out is Romans 5, Romans 5 verses 5 through 8. Let me read this to you and I’ll start with the latter half of verse 5.
Here’s what Paul says about this. He says, “God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
He says God’s love has been poured on us through the Holy Spirit. God’s love has been poured out on us through the Holy Spirit. How? In what way? How has that happened?
I was reading a devotional from “Desiring God” on this text that was pondering this question. The pouring out of the Holy Spirit. What is that? Is that… The pouring out of the love of God in our hearts. Is that just some sort of mystical experience that we happen? How is that God’s love is poured out on us through the Spirit? And the devotional pointed to J. I. Packer’s insight on this text, and he points to verse 6 in terms of how He does it, and here’s what he says, pointing to verse 6, he says, “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.”
So the Holy Spirit pours out the love of God in my heart by pointing me to the sacrifice of Christ, that’s how it happens. The Holy Spirit pours out the love of God in my heart by pointing me to the sacrifice of Christ. As I gaze at the cross, the love of God is poured into my heart. As you gaze at the cross, the love of God is poured into your heart.
This is true whether we’re just coming to faith or I’m just growing in the faith. This means that I come to this assured kind of knowledge that John is talking about here. Not by way of some subjective feeling or some nebulous notion just generally that God is love, but by seeing the cross of Christ. That’s how I come to this assured kind of knowledge of God’s love. The cross is my source of knowing. It’s my source of knowing because my assurance is in God’s acting, not my feeling and not my doing.
This knowing comes from my looking, from my perceiving, from my recognizing what God has done for me. We might even say my beholding what He has done for me.
As we read earlier in the book of Isaiah, when the good news is heralded to the people of God, what’s his response? Listen again, here’s what he says: “Behold your God, behold the Lord God comes with might and His arm rules for Him. Behold His reward is with Him and His recompense before Him. Behold your God.”
The message, Christ Covenant, is behold your God in this Christmas season. Behold your God coming in the flesh, lying in the manger, going to the cross, dying, rising, and coming again. Behold your God. Look at Him, recognize Him, see Him.
To behold is more than just acknowledging a fact. It’s to fix our attention on Christ in awe. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
So the pastoral lesson here in this first point is I come to know God’s love for me by beholding Christ. That’s how I come to know that He loves me. His sacrifice as Messiah, as Savior.
That’s what’s so wonderful about this Christmas season is there’s a call for us as the incarnate Christ is laid before us, there’s a call for us to come and to behold Him. Not just to acknowledge fact but to look at Him, to recognize and to see in Him the revelation of God’s love for you and me revealed, demonstrated.
But you’re not going to know that unless you are beholding, unless you’re looking.
So it begs the question, then, this morning – what am I beholding in my life? What am I looking to? What has captivated my attention? Is it my social media account? Is it my work? Is it my yard? Is it my team? Is a relationship? What am I beholding? What am I looking to for love? What am I looking to for peace? What am I looking to for security? What has my attention? What am I beholding? Am I beholding Christ before me?
This leads to our second point. So we come to behold. Well, looking to Jesus implies looking away from other things. Looking to Jesus implies leaving behind, leaving other things behind. This season is often known, this Advent season is often known, as a season of repentance.
You may say, well, isn’t all of life supposed to be one of repentance? Each day is supposed to be one of repentance, and that is true. But this time is a reminder of why we repent and what the true nature of repentance is. It starts with me shifting my gaze. As my eyes begin to look to Christ, my heart and my feet must follow then.
When the wise men heard the great announcement of the Messiah, they left their homeland and they journeyed to Bethlehem. They went to see for themselves. When they heard the good news, they left behind that which was comfortable, what which was familiar to them. They were drawn out, as it were, to Bethlehem, and they went.
We don’t know for certain that these men were ultimately believers, but you can’t help but just see the picture there of responding to the news of the Incarnation, the announcement of the Messiah and His kingdom. It requires leaving.
So repentance is a response in which I recognize God’s grace before me and when I recognize God’s grace before me, I begin to reorient my life according to His grace. I stop looking to other things, but I look to Him. My eyes move to Him, I behold Him. My heart and my feet begin to follow.
This message of repentance is echoed in the prophetic voice of John in Matthew chapter 3 when he says, “Repent.” But notice this – he says repent, but why? For the kingdom of heaven is at hand, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” It’s a call here. It’s a call to repentance, but it’s based on the fact that the kingdom of heaven is here. It’s come.
It’s a call to leave off distractions. You may say, “What do we mean by distractions?” Distractions are anything, anything, that promises, makes the false promise, that you can have ultimate peace and joy apart from God. We all have them, we all have distractions. Those things that promise us that we can have ultimate peace and joy, that we can have love apart from God. It’s to leave off pursuing those things, whether it’s lust for power or money or sex or greed, just to get all that we can, while we can. Or laziness, which says there’s nothing higher for me to live for. No.
It says repent. So repentance is to get up and to leave those things behind. Why? Because Christ, the true lover of my soul, has appeared, and in Him I see the love of God. In Him I see salvation. In Him I see forgiveness and peace. In Christ I see all these things. I look and I see and so I get up and I leave. But notice the order. This looking, this hearing, this leaving, all of this is prompted by the Good News of the Gospel. All of it is prompted by the Good News of the Gospel. That’s what comes first.
You see, I don’t repent in order to get the kingdom of God to come to me. No, I repent because the kingdom of God has come. Dear believers, we don’t repent in order to get God to love me, or to give me life. I repent because I see that God has loved me and given me life in Christ. Do you notice the difference? Friends, do not hear this call to repentance as a hard call of a cruel master, but rather as the siren call of a loving Savior. It’s a call to look, it’s a call to trust, it’s a call to recognize God’s love and grace for me, and to reorient my life to it.
In this season we see a call to look, we see a call to leave off of the false promises of this world. That leads us to a third point. We must look, we must leave, and we must learn. That is, we must learn how to love the way God loves.
John says this – “By this we know love, that He laid down His life for us and we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.” John points us to the divine love seen in the Gospel as the source and the model for human love. We’re naturally born turned in on ourselves, but it’s the love of God that draws us out of ourselves, to look away from ourselves, to move out of ourselves, and ultimately leads us out as He leads us upward toward Christ, He leads us toward others.
As we said, the foundation for this is knowing the love of God. It’s knowing the love of God. His agape love which must come to reside in us, and this happens through faith by looking. It happens through the giving of the Holy Spirit by shedding abroad His love in our heart. If you think about that, we’re looking, the Holy Spirit is working, and certainly prayer is part of that. I’m looking to God’s grace and I’m asking for the help of the Spirit. I’m asking that He would come and that God’s love, as I’m looking, would be shed abroad in my heart.
But this also comes through practice as well. I know the love of God through practice and living it out for others. John admonishes us to practice God’s love in terms of how we live in relation to one another.
So how does that look? Christ Covenant, how does that look? As we practice love, this kind of love, that’s patterned after divine love, how does that look? Let me get to the answer of that question by sharing with you a definition of love from the theologian Thomas Aquinas. C.S. Lewis and others have picked this up through the years. Here’s how he defines love, here’s how Aquinas defines love. He says, “To love is to will the good of the other.” To love is to will the good of the other. Not just to want their good, but to will their good, that is, to pursue their good, even to the point of great sacrifice.
That’s what we’ve seen, that’s what we see in Christ, in Christ God has willed my eternal good, my salvation, my peace, my joy. I see that in Christ, even to the point of great sacrifice. So John says in seeing that we should lay down our lives for one another, for the good of one another.
Now at first glance, when we think about laying down our lives, your mind probably goes to martyrdom. After all, he does say, John does say, we should lay down our lives, and we should if it comes to it. But what does it mean that we should lay down our lives on a practical, day-to-day basis?
I think we make a mistake when we run straight to martyrdom in order to answer that question. You know, husbands do this all the time. I mean, guys, you might look at your wife and you might go home and say to her, “You know, honey, I got to tell you. I was just thinking about how much I love you and I just want to tell you this. I would never let anyone hurt you. I mean, I would fight to the death for you if it came to it. I would give my life for you.” We often say those things to our wives and our spouses, but the problem is that those grandiose visions of sacrifice are often not what God is calling us to do or even, not even, what our wives want in terms of loving them.
Your wife may say, “You know what, honey? That’s great. I’m so glad that you’re willing to die for me. Now could you deploy some of that self-giving and sacrificial love by emptying the dishwasher?”
We as guys go, “Wait a second. I didn’t sign up for that. I said I’d die for you, but the dishwasher, that’s a whole different story.”
What’s the problem with that? See, we often want to swallow this command whole when it’s more about taking it one bite at a time. Right? You know this. Love more times than not, it comes down to simple daily sacrifices for the other.
We’ve been talking about parents and children with Christmas. The parental relationship sort of captures this so well. Just think of the late nights that are upcoming now. When you’re tired and you are confronted, as you think about Christmas Eve, with the three most dreaded words in the English language, and that is “some assembly required.” We all know what that means, don’t we? I mean, “some” is a relative word.
So you look at that with dread and then you open up the 27-page booklet of instructions and you look at the 56 parts to assemble and what do you do? You get to work. What happens? Lack of sleep, a little frustration, but some hours later, there it is. There’s the gift. There’s the gift.
Now why do we do that as parents? Why do we do that? Because as parents we will the good of our children. We want their joy, we want their happiness, we want them to flourish. There’s almost nothing that we would sacrifice in order to make that happen for them. We will the good and the desire is so good that we pursue it in sacrificial ways. We, in effect, lay down our lives for their needs.
That’s what John has in mind here. With the body of Christ, and learning the sacrificial and self-giving love of God, look at verses 17 and 18. Here’s what he says: “But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need and yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk, but in deed and in truth.”
Now notice that in verse 17. John puts it so plainly, but we tend to make it complicated, don’t we? How do you lay down your life? We might ask that question. How do I lay down my life? How do I obey this command? Just don’t close your heart to your brother who’s in need. That’s how.
Here’s where divine love serves as the foundation and model for human love, for Christian love. For it is God who saw my great need for redemption and in amazing love He sent Christ to meet it. What I see when I look at Christ, what do I see? I see the open heart of God to me, and if in Christ, I see the open heart of God to me. How then can I close my heart to my brother? That’s what John’s pressing on. How can we close our heart to one another when we look at Christ and we see that God’s heart is wide open to us. So what does that lead me to do? It leads me to open my heart to my brother and sisters in Christ.
John says laying down your life is about meeting the needs of others that God has placed in your path. There’s a sense in which if you just follow that path, if you just follow that path of meeting the needs of others, who has God placed in your path, then you will live a sacrificial life that will glorify God.
It could be a lawn mowed. It could be a meal given. It could be a pill paid. It could be a home visited. Simple, sacrificial deeds. That is what God is calling us to do as the body of Christ. That is what it means to lay down our lives. So therein lies the call, the call is to learn to love by relinquishing and reordering our desires, our schedule, our resources, our time, for the sake of the other. That’s what it means to love.
As all this sort of works together, by meeting the temporal needs of my brother or sister in Christ, I am ultimately hoping to serve their eternal good. Why do we meet the needs of one another? Why do we meet the needs of others? Why do we love in these ways? The ultimate aim is to serve their eternal good. Why? Because this is a testimony of God’s love, who has my eternal good in mind.
So if you think about that for a second, to love is to will the good of the other. What is the ultimate good of the other? It’s their eternal good. That can answer a lot of questions about what it means to love another person, does it not? Because seeking their good ultimately means seeking their eternal good.
Think about this. Let’s think about this just in closing, culturally and personally, think about your life or how we perceive love to be in our culture. When I think of loving another person, do I just think in terms of feelings or passions or words? Or listen, or are my deeds, that is that which I do in relation to them, are my deeds toward them leading toward their eternal good? Is that what I have in mind?
In other words, is my love for another person ordered by divine love? That has serious implications for you and for me, because that means that if I claim to love someone, if I claim to love someone, but I am not ultimately desiring their eternal good, then I cannot call that love, whatever it may be.
No matter what kind of passion, no matter what kind of feeling, or what kind of desire might be involved, if I am not pursuing their eternal good, or if my passion or feeling and desire for them is actually leading to eternal ruin, then I am not loving them, but I am using them.
It’s a question for those around us and what we are calling love today. Love ultimately is to pursue the eternal good of the other.
We started on this depressing note, but thankfully God has more for us than the way we see love in our culture today, and that is to live out true, genuine love, gospel love, love with divine foundation, love with God’s love as the model, for reaching out to loving one another. God calls us out of that to know His eternal love and to learn to love the way He has loved us.
So He calls you in this season, church of Christ, He calls you this morning, as we think about, as you and I this upcoming week, and you set time aside, maybe time away from work, as you think about the love of God in this Christmas season, as Christ incarnate is placed before you, think about this. This is a time to behold. This is a time to look. It’s a time to see. It’s a time to look outside of myself and see, behold, the demonstration of God’s love in Christ, God’s love given to me, to just gaze at that. To look. And to look again.
It’s a time to recognize God’s grace and seeing God’s grace to reorient my life to it. It’s a time to repent. It’s a time to repent from pursuing false lovers, from those things that you know them, I know them, they promise you joy, they promise you satisfaction, they promise you peace, they promise you security, but they promise those things apart from life with God.
It’s a time to leave off those distractions, to leave them behind and to look to true and genuine love. It’s a time to learn God’s love. It’s a time to become a lover just like Christ is a lover, and that is by sacrificially pursuing the good of one another. Desiring the good of those around me, desiring their eternal good and reordering my life, my desires, my schedule, my time, all of those things, for their sake, I am learning to love the other.
I do all this in and through the Gospel, and here’s the great promise to us this morning – in and through the Gospel we do all this. Why do we do it? That the world may see, that the world may see that the formula is indeed backwards. Love, after all, is not God. But praise God, He is love. Let us live looking to Him and following Him.
Let’s pray. Lord Jesus, we come before You and pray, Lord, that You might bless this meditation on love. Bless Your Word to us, Lord. We pray that You would help us to live by looking to You and to love one another as You have called us to do. Lord, may we know You and the peace and security and rest of the Gospel as we gaze upon You in this season. We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.