When We Live in a Loveless World (Thinking Through 1st John 4:7-21)

Does it ever seem like love is just a luxury? It would be nice to have, but . . . not happening. In buying a new car, you could have the heated and cooled leather seats, plus a high end sound system for just a few thousand dollars more. That would be nice, but . . . not happening. You are buying used anyway, so you settle for vinyl seats and am radio with 8-track. Yes, I’m old enough to remember those.

We settle for a loveless world.

Some settle for a loveless marriage, whether love is thought of as romance, commitment, or friendship. Some settle for a marriage where there is none of the above. Some settle for loveless family relationships, or work environments. Some settle for a loveless life.

Love can seem to be a luxury, nice to have, but . . . not happening. And we settle for a life without love. We settle for a loveless world.

When we follow Jesus, we don’t settle. We can’t settle. Here are a few things we do instead as found in 1st John 4:7-22.

First, we experience love from the original source of love.

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins

1 John 4:7-10 (NRSV emphasis added)

With God, love comes standard, meaning God’s love for us. When we think we live in a loveless world, let us be aware of God’s love, let us be be loved by God. We will discover that this is not a loveless world after all.

Second, we love.

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. . . . Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us. . . . We love because he first loved us. Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.

1 John 4:7,8, 11,12,19-21 (NRSV)

With God, love comes standard, meaning our growing love for others. We think we live in a loveless world, but it won’t be loveless for long if we take the intuitive to love. If we find ourselves in a loveless marriage, a loveless family, or a loveless work environment, let’s bring the love. This cannot be a loveless world because, well, we are in it, and we are learning to love others as God loves us.

Third, we trade in our insecurities about being loved for confidence.

It is a human thing to be insecure, to think “nobody loves me.” In fact we can convince ourselves of that even when it is not true. We might think no one loves us when the truth is, we have no love for ourselves.

We have good reason to trade in our insecurities:

So we have known and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because he first loved us.

1 John 4:16-19 (NRSV)

We have good reason to have confidence that God loves us. We are not really living the Christian life if we are constantly wondering if we will go to hell if we do this, that, or the other thing, or fail to do this, that, or the other thing. The Christian life is not a life of fear, but a life of confident living in Christ and serving in the world.

For many people, fear comes standard with religion. For the Christian, love comes standard with God. Let love be the standard, not fear.

We can be bold and fearless because God took the first step of love toward us:

In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. . . . We love because he first loved us.

1 John 4:10,19 (NRSV)

I remember well the fear I felt when I asked my wife out on our first date. I took the first step and was not sure it would go well, but she was (and is) super cute and there was no way I was not going to ask. I’m glad I did!

With God, we never take the first step. We are not the ones going to God looking for a relationship. God approached us first, we know his intentions and desire for a relationship. At the cross we see the lengths God is willing to go to for that relationship. We don’t go to God wondering, will God say yes? God has already asked you out, go ahead and give God your number already!

With God, love comes standard. When we think we live in a loveless world, let us open our eyes enough to see and experience the love God has for us. Let us trade in our insecurity and fear for confidence.

Conclusion

According to John, love is not an option in our relationship with God. Neither should we think of it as an option in our relationship with others, or oursleves.

In a world that seems so unloving, where love seems like a luxury we can’t ever have, let us love and be loved! With God, love comes standard.

(The full sermon can be seen as part of this “online worship expression”)

Test the Spirits. Wait, What Spirits? (Thinking Through 1st John 4:1-3)

Have you ever been in conversation with a spirit and asked “spirit, do you confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh?”

No, neither have I. What is John talking about then when he says “do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God,” then goes on to give us the test?:

By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God.

1 John 4:1-3 (NRSV)

At first glance we might think we are to be asking spirit beings to clarify their theological positions for us. Perhaps in thinking through these verses we may hope to learn more about angels and demons. While I believe such exist, we won’t be talking about them here. Why? Because John is not talking about them here.

What is John talking about?

John is continuing to talk about what he has already been talking about in this letter, namely, the false teachers who were trying to influence the early Christian communities. Let us read what John has written again, and as we do so, let us recognise that he is not changing topics when he moves from ‘spirits’ to ‘prophets’:

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God.

1 John 4:1-3 (NRSV emphasis added)

John was giving the recipients of his letter a simple test, a question they could ask to discern if a someone was one of those false teachers who had hijacked Jesus to promote a more gnostic way of thinking. In this way of thinking, anything spiritual is good, anything material is bad. Therefore the false teachers would have claimed that Jesus is from God, yes, but he just seemed to be in the flesh. Surely God would not become flesh and dwell among us, right? From a gnostic way of thinking, God certainly would not. But John knew better.

John knew better because John knew Jesus. He spent time with him, and knew he was no phantom ghost, no mere spirit being. John saw Jesus die, in the flesh. John knew Jesus raised from the dead with a resurrection body. That resurrection body seemed to be a different kind of body, but was no mere spirit. John knew Jesus and could say,

. . . the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

John 1:14 (NRSV)

Therefore in telling the early Christians to test the spirits, John was encouraging them to stick with what they had learned from the apostles who were with Jesus, including John himself. They should stay away from the false teachers who had the “spirit of error” (1 John 4:6).

So, what does this have to do with us now?

I can think of three things.

First, it gives us a foundation stone which is part of a robust foundation for our Christian thinking and belief.

If you think that Jesus was a spirit, and not a man, as many false teachers in John’s day thought, then you are lacking a key foundation stone for Christian thinking and belief. You are missing what John, and the other apostles who spent time with Jesus, knew about him. They knew that in Jesus “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

However, if you think, as is more common in our day, that Jesus was just a moral teacher, and nothing more, then you are lacking a key foundation stone for Christian thinking and belief. You are missing what John, and the other apostles who spent time with Jesus, knew about him. They knew that in Jesus “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

We are reminded of this foundation stone when we participate in The Lord’s Table. His flesh was broken for us, his blood shed for the forgiveness of our sins. He was no mere spirit being as the gnostic teachers were claiming. But neither was he a mere teacher of morality as is more commonly held in our day, but rather Saviour, and Lord. The bread and the cup remind us of these things.

Second, it helps us sort out the foundation stones from the wallpaper, it helps us understand how to read the Bible.

As you read through 1st John 4:1-3 and following, you may hope to learn something about angels and demons, or even the antichrist. John mentions these, but not to satisfy our curiosity about them. Rather he mentions them to make a point. John is not really talking about spirits and demons here. He is speaking about Jesus, and an important fact about Jesus the false teachers were getting wrong.

As we read the Bible, let us not attempt to force it to answer our questions, to satisfy our curiosity. Let us allow the Bible writers to speak what needed to be said in their day. Let us wrestle with what it means for us in ours.

Third, we remember the importance of reading more than just a few verses of the Bible.

When we read 1st John 4:1-3 in the context of the entire letter of First John, the entire New Testament, and the entire Bible, we will realise that it just gives us just one foundation stone for Christian thinking and belief. Immediately before, and immediately after, we have another foundation stone, the life of love patterned after God’s love.

Recently the bodies of 215 children have been discovered in a residential school set up to educate indigenous children. These are not just unmarked graves, these have been unknown graves. How many others are there? What happened, and how? Who could have allowed this to happen? As we ask these questions, let us remember that this was not just a Canadian school, but a school representing Christianity.

If we could go back and ask those who were responsible if they believed that Jesus is the Messiah come in the flesh, they would likely have passed that test. That foudation stone was probably in place. But was the foundation stone of love in place? From where we stand, it sounds like “love” was not the word of the day, but “colonialism.”

Would we have done better if we were there at that time?

We must do better now. Being able to pass a theological exam from a few verses of the Bible is not enough.

(The full sermon can be seen as part of this “online worship expression”)