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,and could do a death drop off the top of the monkey bars. 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 kickball on the playground, and pushed each other on the swings. What I realized on that playground 40 years ago is that being wanted is a powerful feeling. When you feel like someone wants you, wants to spend time with you, wants to be involved in your life and wants you involved in their lives it changes everything. It’s is always easier to welcome when you feel welcome, forgive when you feel forgiven, and 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 they were loved by God, he is reminding you that God loves you. He says that God wants you and He has done more than just said He loved you, He proved it. John writes This is the embodiment of true love: not that we have loved God first, but that He loved us and sent His unique Son on a special mission to become an atoning sacrifice for our sins. (10)

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 your life would say the same thing on Tuesday afternoon in Traffic, did your life say the same thing a few days ago as you fought the Black Friday crowds?

I have no intention of judging you, I just know like that little kindergarten boy on the playground, believing that you are loved makes a difference in your life. John starts our text this morning by saying everyone who loves is born of God and truly knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. (7-8)

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

Our text his morning contains one of the most startling claims in all of Scripture. Unfortunately, I think we have heard it so many times that we don’t get the full impact of what John is saying. John was originally writing to a Jewish community of believers. They were raised holding the very name of God in such reverence, that they couldn’t even speak it. All throughout the Old Testament God is spoken about through metaphor. Then in the New Testament we find that the writers were a bit more comfortable talking about what God is like but they still refuse to say with certainty who God is.

Then along comes the Apostle John and he throws all of that caution and hesitation out the window when he writes, God is love. Those three words are the basis of all the hope that exists in our world. Without the love of God we have no hope at all. Without God, there is no love because love begins with God. God is love, and because we are made in God’s image, we are to love God and love our brothers and sisters. Love begins with, and love comes from God. Love is central to who God is, and as people created in the image of God, it has to be central to who we are as well.

I know that I spend a lot of time talking about God’s love for us, it is the cornerstone of how I read the Bible. That’s why there are times when I wonder if you have heard it so much that it doesn’t shock you anymore. I wonder if our cultures weak concept of love has found it’s way into our lives and stripped away the depth and power of the statement that God is love. We love a 1,000 different things from food, to movies, to sports. We love things that make us happy, but that’s such a shallow and incomplete picture of love.

Love often shows up unexpectedly and is the exact opposite of what we thought were were looking for. Throughout the pages of the Old Testament we find the cultural idea that bad people get bad things, and good people get good things. That’s one of the big issues we have with the story of Job. We read the story of everything that happens in Job’s life and we immediately join his friends and wonder what bad things Job did to deserve all this pain.

The truth is that we have a warped view of love and reality. We believe that love is something you deserve or can earn. The shocking thing about God is that while we were still sinners, while we were horrible, selfish, broken, bad people, God loved us. While we were completely and utterly undeserving, God sent Jesus to save us. When the wages of sin should have been death, God’s love offered us life. When our separation from God should have destroyed us, God found a way to redeem. Before we could ask; God had already given. Because God is love and because it is His nature, He invites us to know His love, and in essence know Him.

John is pretty plain when he says, Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. Knowing God is vital to living a life of joy and peace. John isn’t concerned with what information you have about God, or how many facts you have memorized about God. John says that we have to really know Him. The word John uses that we translate know is γιν?σκω (gin?sk?) and has carries the idea of intimacy. Knowing God goes a lot deeper than having a surface knowledge that He exists. It is deeper than knowing a couple stores about 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.

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

Then, 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. When we realize how deeply God loves us we are drawn to be in Him, to give our lives back to Him. When we realize the depth of His love, we’re moved to return His love. And we want to do the things that please Him.

Loving God is to go against our selfish nature that wants to be the greatest in the kingdom. Loving God means that we want to treat the person in front of us with love and compassion. Loving God means that we are happy to extend to much grace and give away to much forgiveness. And we do this with joy because we understand that in the end love always wins. Our world began as an act of love and it will end with love.

There are times when we struggle seeing God’s love because all we can focus on is the injustice, the hatred, and the suffering that is prevalent in our Model City. That’s why now more than ever we need to model love because only love will overcome.

I know that it get’s messy, but we have been called by the creator and sustainer of the universe to be the vehicle for His love in our community, and homes. It get’s difficult because every day we fail at sharing God’s love. There are times when we chose anger, or selfishness, or our personal rights over the wellbeing of others. But God doesn’t give up on us, we are still His choice to share His love and compassion in our community. God chose you to participate in His love by loving others. As it says in verse 19, We love because he first loved us.

God loved you first because that is His nature. God loves the strange, the outcast, the imperfect, and the broken. As His child you have been empowered by the Holy Spirit to courageously love the strange, the outcast, the imperfect, and the broken. You are empowered by the love of God to stand with boldness against the brokenness in our community, knowing that the love of God wins.

When we mature to the point that love is our first reaction, our go to response, then we can find true peace. When we mature to the point where our lives are motivated by God’s love for us then we can find the courage to welcome others into our lives. We were created to live in unity with one another, and yet unity remains elusive because we are afraid to love one another. We are not really sure about God’s love for us, and that makes it hard to love each other.

Juan Carlos Ortiz describes people who are sure of God’s love in their lives as having "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, wash and peel them, then put them in a 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 desperately needs to see people not just saying they love God, but living like they love God. Our world doesn’t care what we put on our church sign, they don’t care what you post on social media, they don’t even care that you gave up your Sunday morning to gather with other Christians while they slept late and then beat you to the restaurant. 

What they care about is do you actually believe God loves you? Do you believe it to the point that it causes something to change inside of you? Do you believe it enough to love the people in our community that are poor, hungry, and hurting? Does your love for God cause you to move? Because our community is tired of people who claim to belong to God and then live like the rest of the world. God is tired of people claiming His name and not living like Jesus. He says that if we really love Him, it will be seen in the way that we love other people.

Religion will tell you what to stand for. Love will show you who to stand with.

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

Our world has a fascination with the idea of love. Every genre of music from hiphop to country has songs about love, some of the greatest works of literature are written around the concept of love, and this year there will be 100 movies where love in the driving force of the characters. But what we seen to forget is that love is God’s idea. The things that the world calls love, the worlds version of love is extremely different from what God revealed love to be through Christ. The only way that we can truly experience all of the flavor, the depth of color, the overwhelming nature of love, is to abide in Christ. Love originated in the mind of God, John says that God is love. Those who are living in love are living in God, and God lives through them. (16)

This idea of abiding, living, with God is not a new idea. Back in the garden of Eden we see that God shared life with Adam and Eve when He would meet with them and walk in the garden. Then in the book of Exodus, when the Children of Israel were wandering in the wilderness, we see that God did not just walk with them, but He dwelt in the camp. Then Jesus told the disciples that He had to return to the Father, and If we love Him and obey His commandments, He would, ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. (John 14:16-17)

If we accept God’s love and strive to love Him in return by obeying His commands then God promises to be in our lives a constant companion. God longs to have a relationship with us, a personal indwelling in our lives so that His personality can be seen in our world. People don’t really know who God is until they see Him revealed in your life. What God revealed through Jesus is once again revealed in your life. Love is that important. The Holy Spirit gives us the ability to live out God’s love.

The Apostle Paul says when God is abiding in you and you are abiding in God then something wonderful happens. He says the fruit produced by the Holy Spirit that lives within you is divine love in all its varied expressions: joy that overflows, peace that subdues, patience that endures, kindness in action, a life full of virtue, faith that prevails, gentleness of heart, and strength of spirit.

When we abide in Christ then we gain the ability to show extraordinary love to the people that God places in our paths. We won’t only give money to the homeless man on the corner but we’ll practice loving our difficult family members and truly forgiving them when we are wronged. Loving the people who hurt us and doing what we can to bless them in return. 

We’ll become gentle in our disposition; we will find joy in the mundane. People and situations will try our patience and we will view them from the perspective of the blessing of developing peace that endures. 

We will not discount the reality of suffering in our world, but we will reframe our difficulties and suffering knowing that it is an opportunity to love and walk with others who in the same boat.

We understand that kindness and a willingness to share ourselves is desperately needed not only at this time of the year, but every day. We will see people who are critical, angry, distraught, and fearful, not as someone to be avoided, but as an opportunity to share hope, kindness, and love. 

We will grow in gentleness of heart to the point that we automatically cut people some slack, and cut ourselves some as well. We learn to give each other the benefit of the doubt even though we may get hurt. And we continue to do it because we see how it helps others and more importantly we recognize a maturity in ourselves. The longer we abide in Christ, the greater the change in our lives. Our short fuse grows longer; we become truly interested in others well being, and we live lives of love.

You can live a life of love, because God loved you first. Just like that little boy on the playground, when you realize that God loves you it is a powerful thing. I don’t mean that you have a head knowledge of what God did for you, not that you have seen the movie, or can tell the story. I mean when you really understand and accept God’s love for you, that you were loved first, only then will you will be able to love others.

I understand that there is still a lot of pain and hurt that exists. But Jesus died on a cross for that pain as well. Today accept His gift of love, let go of your pain, and meet Jesus at the foot of the cross where you healing can begin.     

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