Loved First

1 John 4:7-12

Can you remember your first love? Do you remember the first person that made you feel warm and fuzzy inside, the first person that held your hand on the playground during recess? I remember mine, her name was Loni Eisenberg and I was in kindergarten. She had blond hair, blue eyes, could do a death drop off the top of the monkey bars, and she would tie my shoes. I’ll admit I was smitten.

Now I hope you understand that as a 5 year old I didn’t set out looking for love. I mean I was a pretty normal little boy interested in frogs, bicycles, and playing marbles. Girls were not on my radar. But one day Loni said she wanted to be my girlfriend, play marbles, and eat lunch at my table. She asked and I said yes.

For the rest of the school year we were a couple. We ate together, played soccer and kickball on the playground, and pushed each other on the swings. You see being wanted is a powerful feeling. It’s easier to forgive when you feel forgiven, it’s easier to share when you understand how deeply you’ve been blessed, and it’s easier to love when you feel loved.

One of the greatest things about our text this morning is that John is not only telling the first church that we are loved by God, but John is telling you this morning that God loves you. He says that God wants you and He has done more than just said He loved you, He proved it. Look back at verse 10 where John writes Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that He first loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation (or payment) for our sins.

I often wonder if we really believe that. If we really believe that God loves us. I understand that since you are here this morning you would say that you know God loves you and that you love God.  But I wonder if our lives would say that same thing.

You see just like that little kindergarten boy on the playground, believing that you are loved makes a difference in your life. This morning I want to share with you four ideas I have about how our lives will show if we deeply believe that we were loved first. 

First, If we know we are loved then we will know God and let God know us.

In 1 Corinthians 8:3 Paul writes to us that The man who loves God is known by God. How well would you say that you know God this morning? How do you perceive Him? In your mind what is He like?

In the Bible a lot of times the word “Know”, or γιν?σκω (gin?sk?) in the Greek, has the idea of intimacy. Knowing God goes a lot deeper than having a surface knowledge that He exisits. It is deeper than knowing a couple stores of the things that He has done. It’s having a close relationship with God. One where we allow that relationship to mold the way that we think and live. Paul says if we love God, truly love Him, we will have a deep and abiding relationship with Him.

And you cannot have a deep relationship with someone that you only think about or see 1 to 3 hours a week. If you don’t spend time with God in prayer every day, if you don’t spend time meditating on His word every day then Paul says you don’t love God because you are not intimate with Him. 

Maybe for some of us the problem is that since God is described as our Father, we have the same picture of God that we have of our dads. That’s why if your dad that was a strong disciplinarian you see God as a strong disciplinarian. Or if your dad was kind and tender and gentle, then you see God like that. Or if your dad was not there at all, then you see God as missing as well.

In the pages of the Old Testament we see this cycle where the people would be in love with God and they were blessed. Then they would go looking for other gods and Jehovah would get their attention by allowing someone come in and make them slaves. Finally they would call out to God and He would save them.

Even in a safe or saved relationship with God, He was distant from them. They had to go through Judges, prophets, and priests to contact God. That distance from God is why a lot of times when we look through the pages of the Old Testament we see the Israelites looking toward heaven, saying, "Where is God? Does God care? Does God know our pain? Is God grieved when our nation suffers?" They had their own perception of God, which was a God of wrath and judgment.

But that all changes in the pages of the New Testament when God became man and walked among us. When He walked on the earth we got an up close look at who He really is, what kind of nature He has. The picture went from a distant God to a God of love, a God of forgiveness, a God who was concerned and compassionate about people on the streets. You didn’t have to hold high rank. You didn’t have to be someone special to gain audience with Him. They saw a God who cared about everyone.

God had not changed; we just got a fuller picture of His character. It’s like how I saw my dad growing up. My dad was a strong disciplinarian, and there was no doubt in my mind what was right and what was wrong. I knew if I didn’t do what was right, I suffered the consequences. No grey, just black and white.

But when I was 10 years old, my picture of dad changed. His youngest sister, my aunt Paulette, was killed by a drunk driver. She was in ICU for 9 days before she passed away. It was during those 9 days that I saw a different side to my dad. It was the first time I ever saw him cry; it was the first time that I ever saw him need someone else to help him. It changed the way that I saw him; I saw a different side that I had never seen before.

That’s what happened when Jesus came into the world. We saw a fuller picture of God, we saw Him as a servant. We saw God becoming weak, God yielding Himself to the powers of humanity. We saw God allowing them to drive nails into His hands and His feet. In Jesus we get a whole different image of God.

So if we truly love Him, He will know us and we will have an intimate relationship with Him.

Secondly If we know we are loved then we will obey God.

In 1 John 2:5 we read that If anyone obeys His word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in Him. I believe that two simple but wonderful things happen when we become His children. The first thing is that we enter a saved relationship with God. God forgives us, and we stand before Him righteous, because the precious blood of Jesus covers our sin.

But the second thing that happens is that God loves us in a very special way. While we were loved before; now we’re loved in a different way. First God loved us as a Creator loves His creation. God loves everyone and everything He created. But through our baptisms that love changed; no longer are we loved as creation, now we are loved as children. And that love is beyond our understanding.

And when we realize the scope of His love, we’re moved to return His love. And we want to do the things that please Him. Another word for that attitude is obedience.

1 Samuel 15:22 says To obey is better than sacrifice. While we often talk about sacrificing our time, talents, and treasures to God; according to the prophet Samuel while God delights in our sacrifices obedience is better. It’s like saying a pecan pie is good, but a chocolate chip pecan pie is better. 

I once read the story of an Elder who was trying to explain to a doctor the meaning and importance of giving his life completely over to God. The doctor was one of those folks who merely wanted to go to church and warm the pew and the Elder was trying to use his considerable talents to serve God. But the doctor balked at the idea. He liked how he was living. He figured God would overlook his desire to live his life his own way.

During the course of the conversation, the Elder said to him, Suppose patient asked you to take charge of her case but refused to tell you all her symptoms, or to take all your prescriptions. She might say to you, ’I am willing to follow your directions when they seem sensible to me; but if they don’t, I will use my own judgment.’ What would you do in such a case?

Do! was the indignant reply. I would refuse to accept her as a patient. I could do nothing for her unless she put her whole case into my hands and obeyed my directions implicitly.

Then obedience to the doctor’s orders is essential if the patient wants to be cured! asked the Elder.

Absolutely! snapped the Doctor.

And that’s exactly what God wants from you. God must have your whole life put in his hands without any reservations and His directions must be implicitly followed.

There are people who go to church regularly who either don’t understand that concept, or maybe they don’t care. They’ll sing in church on Sunday and curse like a sailor on Monday. They’ll come to Bible study on Wednesday and spread malicious gossip on Thursday.

That’s not obedience, and we need to remember that obedience is at the very heart of our relationship with God. We can’t have a healthy connection to our Father if we have a disobedient heart.

Thirdly If we know we are loved then we can love the brethren.

1 John 4:11 says, Dear friends, since God so loved us we also ought to love one another. 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 idea of loving one another is so important to John he emphasizes over and over again. Actually in this short letter he mentions it 4 times.

John wants to make sure that we understand that if we love God we will love each other. If we’re going around saying that we love Him and we don’t love each other, then we’re liars. We’re walking in darkness, and we’re blind because we aren’t telling the truth.

In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus prayed, "I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you." John 17:20

Unconditional love creates unity. Think of the oneness that existed between the Father and the Son. There is never a hint of divisiveness, jealousy, or competition. They are one, and they always seek to give glory to one another. I mean they’re so united that we have a hard time explaining their difference. And God wants His people to be just as united.

Juan Carlos Ortiz says that true Christian unity is "mashed potato love," and he illustrates it this way, If you go out to the potato patch and dig up all the potatoes you can package them anyway you want but they’re still individual potatoes. If you go to the Grocery store and buy a bag of potatoes, take them home, peel them, and put them in the cooking pot they are closer together, but they’re still individual potatoes. It’s not until you blend them and mix them together that they really become one and stick together.

We live in a world that does not like your relationship with God or His church. The world tells us to look out for ourselves, and step on who every you have to so that you can get everything you deserve. But God is different; He says that the greatest is the one who is willing to serve.  He says that if we really love Him, we will love one another.

Finally When we know we are loved then we will abide in Him.

1 John 4:15-16 says If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in Him and he in God. And so we know and rely on the love that God has for us. This is not the first time that John has written something like this. You may remember in his Gospel that he recorded the words of Jesus when He said, "I am the vine; you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, will bear much fruit."

Abiding in Christ is so much more that offering an occasional prayer. It is much deeper than a complimentary visit to church once or twice a month. Abiding with Christ means that we live with Him and allow Him to live in us. This goes back to the intimacy that we talked about earlier. I have a much deeper relationship with the folks that I live with. I know their habits and quirks and they know mine.

John says if I abide in God, and God lives in me, then I’m a branch receiving life from the vine. The vine supplies all the nutrients I need to grow and produce fruit, because life comes from the vine. And not just life, but abundant life overflowing with the joy, peace, and mercy that comes from a loving and merciful God.

There is an old legend about a wealthy merchant of the First Century who wanted to meet the Apostle Paul. He petitioned Timothy to arranged a visit so that he could see Paul who, at that time, was a prisoner in Rome.

Stepping inside the cell, the merchant was surprised to find a rather old man, physically frail, but whose serenity and magnetism challenged the visitor. They talked for hours. Finally the merchant left with Paul’s blessing.

Outside the prison, he asked Timothy, What is the secret of his serenity and power? I have never seen anything like it before. Did you not guess? replied Timothy. Paul is in love.

The merchant looked bewildered. In love? Yes, Timothy answered, Paul is in love with Jesus Christ. The merchant looked even more bewildered. Is that all? Smiling, Timothy replied, Sir that is everything.

We offer God’s invitation this morning.



Questions to Consider

Read 1 John 4:7-21

Why is it important that we lavish devotion on one another?

What is the source of our love? (Where did the concept of love come from?)

What does the cross demonstrate about God’s love?

How do you feel love expressed to you?

How do you express your love to others?

What type of person is the easiest to love?

I want you to think about someone who may be hard to love.  What is it about them that makes it so hard to love them?

Look at verse 11. What is our only reason we have for loving? Does that even mean those who are hard to love?

In verse 19 John says “if you say you love God but hate your brother you are a liar.” Why do you believe that’s so?

Is the love we are called to have for one another an action of feeling?

So how should you love?

How does our love for one another make an invisible God visible?

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