Sunday, November 18, 2012

Thanks-Living: God Is Love

Thanks-Living: God Is Love
1 John 4: 7 – 12.

What do you have to be thankful for? 
Hopefully, you have a long list of things you are thankful for.  Family, friends, your job, living in the United States of America, God’s work in your life to create you and provide for all your needs, salvation, this church, the beauty of creation…  But, how often do you stop to say, “Thank you” to God for these blessings in your life?
Christians ought to be the most thankful people in all the world.  On one hand, we are so blessed.  On the other hand, we recognize that all these blessings come from God, and not from our own hard work.
Preaching about thanksgiving is a very difficult task.  A sermon on thanksgiving can be a very short sermon.  I could stand up here and say, “You ought to give thanks to God for all the blessings in your life.”  Then, we could pray and go home.  It’s a very simple sermon.
The problem is that God has given us so much…so many blessings…that we often take God’s blessings for granted.  Sometimes, instead of giving thanks to God, we try to take the credit for the good things in life.  Other times, we simply fail to notice that God is blessing us with something we do not deserve.
One sad example is the way we think of the Christian faith.  At times we treat the Christian faith as if it is a purely rational undertaking.  We think that in order to become a Christian, a person should acknowledge that God exists and then give mental assent to a list of Christian propositions:  God is the Creator of heaven and earth; God sent his Son Jesus to die on the cross and rise again; God is Trinity—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—and the Holy Spirit leads Christians individually and corporately; all humans are sinners who must be saved through the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus…
However, this is not what the Christian faith is all about.  The Christian faith is not about leading people to a rational decision.  The Christian faith is about leading people to a relational faith.  God is a person who has proven himself trustworthy.  God is inviting each of us to be in a relationship with himself—person to person.  The Gospel is a love story.
No one will ever come to a true understanding of who God is without first discovering that God loves you.  No one will ever develop a proper theological understanding of God, themselves or the world we live in without first discovering that God loves you.  No one will ever live a moral, Christian life without first discovering that God loves you.
In fact, I believe this is the starting point for sharing faith with other people.  We need to tell others, teach others and demonstrate to others that God loves them. 
This is also the starting point for Thanks-Living—living a life of thanksgiving to God.  It begins by recognizing God loves me…or, as we read in 1 John 4, “God is Love.”

1 John 4: 7 – 12…  7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son [fn2] into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for [fn3] our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

This passage is one of the two most frequently used passages in the New Testament on love.  It helps us to define what love is and therefore understand who God is.
John began this passage by telling us that love must come from God.  This is significant because it describes love as coming from the divine sphere.  LOVE is not from the worldly sphere, rather it comes from God.  Perfect love comes from above, not from below…Therefore, any love that comes from below must be imperfect, corrupt…Or, it must be based on the Love that comes from above. 
Then, in the next verse, John tells us that God himself is love…God doesn’t only give love…God is love…Therefore, God has demonstrated Love to us by giving us nothing short of himself. 
This is significant, because it teaches us a couple of things about the nature of God.  Since we understand Love as a personal act, then God must be a person and must be concerned with relationships as priority.  If God is an impersonal life force, we cannot describe God as loving.  If God is a detached creator, who stepped aside after creating the universe and setting everything in motion, then we could not say God is Love…Because there would be no relationship between God and his creation.  The proper understanding of God is that God is a personal creator who is intimately involved in his creation through relationship.
Relationship is one way to describe love.  If there is no relationship, there is no way to express love.  However, love must also be expressed.  So…if God is love and God is a Person, how does God express his love?
I think I have already told you that my favorite definition of Love comes from a book on personal evangelism by Oscar Thompson—Concentric Circles of Concern (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1981).  In the book Thompson describes evangelism moving across seven concentric circles—self, immediate family, relatives, close friends, neighbors / business associates, acquaintances, and person X.  Christians do not jump from self to person X without first being a witness to the other groups of people in between.  And the way we are supposed to witness to each of these groups of people is through “Love.”  Then, Thompson defines love as “meeting needs.”  In other words, if we love someone, it will be expressed by actively meeting their needs…and sometimes sacrificing our own needs to meet the needs of others.

How God Shows Love
In 1 John 4: 10, we see John’s definition of Love.  Notice that it does not say “this is God’s love.”  Instead, this verse is a description of true love or perfect love.  Any love that originates within us as humans, cannot be perfect love.  Perfect love always originates with God.  Perfect love can be described by three ideas taken directly from verse 10: 

1)  Perfect love is expressed in action, not feeling.
This is one place where the world has corrupted our understanding of Love.  We can use Love in such a cavalier way that we can say things like, “I love hamburgers.”  But perfect Love is always expressed in action.  Jesus did not say, “Greater love has no one than this that one have great affection for a friend.”  Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this that one lay down his or her very life for their friends.”

2)  Perfect love is expressed self-sacrificially.
Again, the world has corrupted us in this area.  We are taught that love is a feeling that is based on the way someone makes us feel about ourselves.  The world’s love is about receiving something enjoyable and / or fulfilling from the object of our love.  But, perfect love has been revealed to us in the life and the death and the resurrection of Jesus.  When God took the initiative to act on our behalf, he did so by making a personal sacrifice.  Perfect love was not and is not based on how the lover feels.

3)  Perfect love  benefits other people.
It was not enough that Jesus died.  In order for his self-sacrificial action to reveal perfect love, it had to benefit other people.  And it did!  Jesus died on the cross to offer us forgiveness for sin—the final sacrifice to replace all the Old Testament sacrifices.  Jesus died on the cross to make us righteous—a righteousness we could not earn for ourselves.  And, Jesus died on the cross to reconcile the broken relationship between God and humanity—through Jesus, the relationship between God and his creation can be restored.  In short, Jesus’ death on the cross demonstrates God’s love.  It was an action.  It was self-sacrifice.  It was intended for our benefit—for salvation.    

God Shows Love to Sinners
In order to truly understand the nature of God, we first need to recognize that God is Love.  But, in order to be thankful for God’s Love, we need to stop and think about the object of God’s Love.  God demonstrated his love through the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.  BUT, God did not demonstrate his love only to those who deserve to be loved.  In fact, God demonstrated his love to people who did not deserve God’s Love, do not deserve God’s Love and never will deserve God’s Love.
The Apostle Paul describes how undeserving we are of God’s Love in several places in the New Testament.  One example is Romans 5: 8, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  (Jesus didn’t die on the cross for the good people, the Christians, or even the Baptists.  Jesus died for sinners!)
Paul gets a little more specific in 1 Corinthians 6:

1 Corinthians 6: 9 – 11…  9 Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

This Scripture is remarkable for several reasons.  First, this is one of three places where Paul specifically mentions homosexual behavior as sin (Romans 1, 1 Corinthians 6, and 1 Timothy 1).  Second, we have a tendency to read Paul’s lists of sins and single out homosexual behavior and skip over the fact that greed, lying, gossip and slander are also included side by side with homosexual behavior.  Paul includes all sinners and all kinds of sins in his lists.  Third, this list represents a list of obvious sins.  Paul does not describe why these behaviors are sinful behaviors, because he does not have to.  It is self-evident to anyone reading the list that these are sinful.
If I were to venture a guess, none of us is guilty of committing all of these sins at this moment of our lives.  But, I would also guess that every one of us is guilty of at least one of these sins.  Sexual immorality…idolatry…adultery…homosexual behavior…stealing… greed…drunkenness…slander…swindling (cheating / deceiving)…
If you can find yourself in Paul’s list of sins, then you are a sinner who does not deserve to inherit the Kingdom of God.  BUT, Paul also tells us that these are exactly the kind of people that God loves.  These are the kinds of people for whom Jesus died on the cross.
Jesus died on the cross to wash you of your sins.  He wants to forgive your past sins and give you a fresh new start…a new beginning.
Jesus died on the cross to justify you.  Justify is the verb form of righteous.  So, Jesus died to make you righteous—to place you in a right standing and a right relationship with God.
Jesus died on the cross to sanctify you.  Sanctify is the verb form of the word “holy.”  So, Jesus died to make you “holy.”  Holy means to be “set apart.”  In the Old Testament Tabernacle and Temple, there were common utensils like forks and bowls and candle sticks that were “holy.”  They were “set apart” from ordinary instruments.  They could not be used for worldly purposes.  They could only be used for God’s purposes.  In the same way, Jesus died on the cross so that you and I could be set apart for God’s purposes and not for the world’s purposes.

The Result of God’s Love
Paul develops this idea of “sanctification” later in this same passage of Scripture.  He is writing to a church and a culture that values freedom.  In fact, they value freedom so much that they insist on exercising their freedom in ways that are contrary to God’s will.  Paul listed those expressions of freedom in his list of sins, and then focuses on just one of those sins—sexual immorality. 

1 Corinthians 6: 19 – 20…  19 Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.

More than likely, the Corinthians believed that life could be divided into compartments.  There is a spiritual compartment, an intellectual compartment and a physical compartment.  As long as they kept their spiritual lives in order, they didn’t think it mattered what they did with their minds and their bodies.  Paul says NO!
Jesus died on the cross as an expression of God’s Love.  He died as a sacrifice for your sins.  He died to reconcile your relationship with God.  AND, he died to purchase your freedom from sin, death, wrath, Hell and Satan.  Therefore, your life no longer belongs to Satan, it no longer belongs to the grave, and it no longer belongs to yourself.  Jesus purchased your soul, your mind and your body.
If your body belongs to yourself, then you get to determine how you will live.  If your body belongs to Satan, you have to do what Satan wants you to do.  If your body belongs to Jesus, you will glorify God in all the things you do.  (You will not glorify yourself or Satan!  You have been set apart to bring glory to God.)
The best way I know to say this is to quote an old saying.  “God loves you just the way you are.  But, God loves you too much to leave you the way you are.”  God wants to wash away your sins.  God wants to place you in a right relationship with himself.  God wants to set you apart from the sinful things of this world.

I do not believe the Bible ever tells us we will reach a state of sinless perfection.  We will struggle with temptation, and we will commit sins.  The sins we commit in our bodies are not harmless sins.  They affect our minds and our souls / our spiritual relationship with God.  But God loves us and continues to work on us…to set us apart from the rest of the world.
Are you thankful for God’s Love?  If you are, then you will begin by noticing how great and how amazing God’s Love is. 
Did you come to church this morning thinking, “Of course God loves me…I am a good person?”  Or did you wake up and think, “Wow…I am a sinner who does not deserve God’s Love…and God loves me anyway?”
We can take God’s Love as a gift.  Or, we can take God’s Love for granted.  Don’t take God’s Love for granted.  Be thankful.


tyrrel said...

very humbling message of LOVE

tyrrel said...

very humbling message of LOVE