Love One Another (Reprise) - devotional
1 John 4:7-12
August 23, 2015 – Kevin Rees - audio file posted at kevinrees.sermon.net
Love shows God.
Epiphany—the full-blown, sudden, marvelous (and I might add terrifying) appearance of God in our everyday lives—is rare. If we were to add up all the times when God’s supernatural reality pierced into our natural existence, then we would have just a handful of occasions; an incredibly small fraction in comparison to the total number of “moments” we all experience. Even throwing in the epiphanies that exist outside the record of Scripture, and still the number is incredibly small. But that shows their potency—for, though an infinitesimal proportion, we remember them, talk about them, and celebrate them as milestones … even secondarily, the epiphanies of others become milestones for us.
Now in my life, I have never had a full-blown, sudden, marvelous appearance of God in my everyday life. Some would call that grossly abnormal for a professing Christian and a pastor, while others would call that completely normal. There have been two or three times when I was entirely paused, arrested, by the voice of the Spirit interrupting the internal conversation of my thoughts—and those are highly special and intensely personal. But by and large, there is a monologue running in my mind instead of a dialogue.
But the epiphany is more overt; more visual … more fantastic. It is in a separate category by itself among other spiritual experiences. Sometimes, it is even public where several people witness it at the same time—when God shows up in the room, in the boat, on the road, in the bush that burns but does not burn up. That kind of epiphany doesn’t just change an individual, it changes history.
Coyly, I have heard people lightheartedly pray for such appearances as though such were an option in the spiritual vending machine if we just had enough coins in our pocket to call one out. But of the epiphanies in Scripture when God showed up the result is not what I would ever describe as a pleasant release of endorphins or as euphoria where we turn around and exchange cosmic high-fives with one another. The epiphanies that are recorded leave the humans who see them face down in the dirt, or disjointed from their normal characteristics, or utterly changed for the rest of their lives, or profoundly ashamed, or fundamentally humbled in that they never speak of the experience in detail because of its terror and majesty. I thumb through some of these books people write about near death experiences or about being “taken” to heaven and I think, “Wow, when Paul was really taken to heaven (2 Corinthians 12:1-4), he was forbidden by God to speak of it because of the gravity of the scene and the beauty of the one sitting on the throne.” A mass-market paperback edition seems somehow an inappropriate showcase for such an experience. All the same, epiphanies do exist. In fact, we bank on the Epiphany of all epiphanies as the core of our message—God showed up in our everyday realm. And only slightly less shocking than his arrival is mankind’s disinterest in him.
Okay, so here is the devotional thought for today on our final “one another” text of the summer—“love one another” (1 John 4:7, 12)—when we love one another, consistently and persistently, John teaches that we become a kind of epiphany … a mini-epiphany … to the world. That ultra-rare appearance of God in the mundane of life, we kind of become. And not once and done, but steady and constant we show forth God to the world; his being, his character of love, his redemption. There is and will always be an infinite gap between all that Christ is versus all that we are called to be in Christ—after all, we are sons and daughters of God by derivation, but never the Son of God like Jesus is intrinsically. So it is with us as we become mini-epiphanies of God to the people of the world—we are a sparkler; he is the sun. But don’t lose the significance of this calling in the comparison—we are, in some small and limited sense, proof of God to a doubting world. As we continue to love one another we, in some small and limited sense, make visible the invisible God to a love-starved humanity. In some small and limited sense, we show the world Jesus. As we continue to love one another we are proof—not in the empirical sense but in the spiritual sense—that God exists and that God saves sinners.
That’s it. For today, that is it—one point. And, believe me, that is enough for today … and a million more days to come. But let me just show you where I found that application from the text. Then, after I show you briefly the skeleton of this text, I want to give you the opportunity to respond. I want us to share out loud the ramifications these “one another” statements are making in our lives. For example, I want you to name the “one another” that has resonated most with you. Or perhaps the opposite: the “one another” that continues to mystify you the most. I want you to share the cross-reference that the Spirit of God brought to mind by studying the Top Ten “one anothers” in frequency. I want you to announce the change that you sense the Holy Spirit is prompting. Maybe there is a song that has become a rallying point for these “one anothers.” Or maybe, I want you to think of the person you are going to mentor—if possible—about these “one anothers.”
I. The Exhortation of Love (vv. 7-8)
7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.
8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.
John sets out the exhortation of love plainly—simply. But love is never simplistic. It is straightforward, but never shallow. “Love one another”—incidentally is in the present tense, which is significant because it demands a continuous, on-going action. It is not: well, I was loving on my wedding day, so I am off the hook now. Unlike when the husband said to his wife who had complained that he doesn’t say “I love you” anymore, “Well, I said ‘I love you’ on our wedding day. If anything changes, I’ll let you know.” No, Christ’s love for us and therefore our love for one another is a continuous and repeated action.
John gives us several reasons why we must continue to love one another. (1) We must love one another because when we love we emphasize the fact that, since love is from God, then God is still accessible, still near, still “in business.” (2) We must love one another because when we love we demonstrate that we have been born again. (3) We must love one another because when we love we also demonstrate that we do, in fact, know God. (4) Inversely, we must love one another, because—if we consistently do not love—we give proof that overrides our words; proof that shows despite our many words to the contrary that we actually do not have a connection with God. God hasn’t changed; he is love and he is truth. When we are connected to him by faith, then his qualities flow through us. It is the Christian’s hallmark—we resemble our father; both positively and negatively.
II. The Example of Love (vv. 9-10)
9 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.
10 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.
We, in miniature, resemble Jesus. We are mini-incarnations of the love and truth of God. Jesus was the absolute and perfect Incarnation of God. We, in miniature, show forth God to a disbelieving world. Jesus was the absolute and perfect Epiphany. We, in miniature, make visible the invisible God. Jesus absolutely and perfectly made visible the invisible God.
So, when we love one another, we are mobilizing love in the same manner that God the Father mobilized love. God the Father sent forth his Son into the world so that the we might live through him. So, God the Son sends forth us into the world so that they might live through him (not us; we direct all eyes to Jesus!). Love is not a reward with God. He gives love first to unlovely people. He initiates love. He pays love’s high cost. So, when we love one another, we follow the same trajectory—we initiate love, we give love to unlovely people, we do not withhold love until it is deserved. Love comes at a cost. Love is misunderstood. Love is considered weakness. Love unnerves and exposes sinners so much so that they would rather kill love than receive love. But that doesn’t makes love less valuable or less powerful. Love is still worth giving because it is how God operates. We resemble and follow his example.
III. The Emphasis of Love (vv. 11-12)
11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.
And lastly, we must love one another because we ought to love one another. We get to. We want to. Not as a result of some strange guilt-trip. We love because God has transformed us into lovers. When we are related to God through Jesus Christ, we actually desire to show love the way he shows us love. When we love one another, we make the invisible God who transformed us on the inside visible on the outside as well. When this is happening—when we love one another consistently and persistently, then we show forth God. We prove him.
The proof of the pudding is in the tasting, as the old saying goes—well, the proof of the believing is in the loving. If we have been redeemed, then we will love. If we have only masqueraded as redeemed in word only but not in action as well, then we give proof that we are liars in our non-love. That stings, but let it sting. If the peroxide stings the wound, then it is cleaning it. If yours is a mask-only Christianity, then exchange the mask for the real deal this very moment. Stop posturing as a Christian. Make it true!
Do you need proof first? Do you need to see more before you commit? Well, look around. There are 70 mini-epiphanies all around you right now. There are 70 mini-incarnations of God’s love showing forth evidence that God transforms lives. And even more than this one small auditorium, there is and has been a steady, unbroken, persistent, consistent testimony that God exists, that God is love, that God is truth, and that God saves sinners in the church universal. No one has ever seen God, but when the church loves one another, then we give visible evidence that God is here with arms wide open. Love shows God.