For the last several weeks, we’ve been examining the why’s and the what for’s in our series Love Is the Answer.
Last week we did it in a special way by looking at the kind of sacrificial love that first responders display when
they help in a crisis. They look at worst case scenarios and try to make us safer.
This week we return to our examination of the letter of 1 John. Our text today, is the crescendo of this letter all
about love. In Greek there are several forms of the word love to refer to different kinds of love. You may love your
siblings or cousins, you love your children, and you hopefully love your significant other, but obviously, you don’t
love all of these people in the same way. The Greek word philios refers to a brotherly or sibling-like type of love,
like the name of the city of Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love. Eros is the romantic kind of love. Those were the
two most commonly used terms at the time of the Early Church.
However, the kind of love that John and other New Testament writers referred to was so unique that they started
using a far more obscure word. They added their own meaning to refer to a sacrificial love, a love that gives without
expecting anything in return. This is what they experienced during their time with Jesus. This word is agape. Some
form of this word appears in today’s passage 27 times. God is agape. Jesus sacrificed himself due to his agape
for us. We should agape each another. (William Self, loc 16502)
So as we read this passage together, every time you see the word love, realize that it is talking about this self-
sacrificing, no strings attached kind of love.
1 John 4:7-21 (NIV)
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 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 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.
13 This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have
seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 If anyone acknowledges
that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. 16 And so we know and rely on the love
God has for us.
God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. 17 This is how love is made complete
among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus.
18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.
The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
19 We love because he first loved us. 20 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is
a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God,
whom they have not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also
love their brother and sister.
In the middle of this passage, John asserts that “We have seen and testify…” (vs. 14) In the beginning of the
letter, he says, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes,
we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the word of life – the life was manifested, and
we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was
manifested to us.” (1 John 1:1-2)
Sometimes it can be difficult to consciously remember that these writers of the Bible were real people with real
hopes and fears trying to do the best they could to follow the Ways of Jesus Christ.
John, the real person, is talking about being in the physical presence of Jesus. Can you imagine that?! I’m not
talking about imagining the future when he returns or when we die, being ushered into his presence, whatever
that means. I’m talking about hiking around Wallowa County with Jesus and the dozen or so people that were
dedicated to learning from him, sitting around the fire, eating meals with him, watching him heal the sick,
hearing his teaching, getting chastised from time to time when getting things wrong. Laughing and joking. To
be around this person and come to the conclusion, No one has even seen God, but Jesus is just how God would
be if we could see him. Then, there is everything he did for us. Protecting us, shielding us. How can you describe
that except love, this agape.
This is the way that God loves us! Incredible. God did all of this for us before we ever really knew who he was!!!
Then, Jesus basically turns the business over to the disciples. “Go and make disciples [in other words, teach
people] of all nations [teach them everything I taught you].” (Mt 28:19-20)
It is in that enthusiasm, with that mission, that John is writing to this community that has been beat up and
polarized by groups that have broken away. John is saying, They may hate us, but we have to hang onto love.
Why? Because that is how we share God’s love with the world. This love we received from God before we were
worthy. In fact, we only become worthy because God loved us.
It is like we talked about a few weeks ago on Easter Sunday. The amazing thing about all of this is not that we
made a decision for Jesus, a decision for God. It is that God made a decision for us. Almighty God, Creator
of Heaven and Earth made a decision to love you before you ever had a chance to know who God was.
That is a way in which we are exactly like the twelve disciples. Jesus chose them before they knew a thing about
him, and God chose us. We can only love because God loved us first.
We first come to realize and understand a little bit about this love because we receive the Holy Spirit,
and we are changed. We begin to become aware of this self-sacrificing love, this agape.
What is the natural response? For us to love (agape) others that God loves.
One of my favorite prayers comes from Andy Stanley, “Lord, let me see as you see, and love as you love.” That
can be a scary prayer because we know that God loves the least, the last, and the lost. It is all over the pages of
Scripture. God loves us.
We see that demonstrated in the life of Jesus as described in the Gospels. The New Testament writers say that we
cannot see who God really is until we look at Jesus. Likewise, when God answers our prayers to see as God sees and
love as God loves, the church takes up that responsibility from Jesus. Now, the people of the world don’t know who
God is until they see it revealed in the life of Christians. (Wright 159) Wow! That is a high bar. We are responsible
for showing this love to the world.
It’s heartbreakingly easy to say, “Yeah, but other people in the world calling themselves Christians are doing
the most hateful things, in Jesus’ name. I can’t do it. I’m not sure that it can be done.”
John was counseling this community he was writing to who were effectively facing the same thing. There was a
group that had broken away, saying that Jesus was never really a living person who walked and talked with the
disciples and had a truly human experience with all of the pain and trauma that goes along with that, along with
the true friendship that he found with the disciples. Therefore, he didn’t really die for us on the cross. It was all
an illusion. John was very clear that he vehemently disagreed with that perspective, but he repeatedly called on
this community to continue in self-sacrificing love. And we are called to do the same in our polarized society.
God started this reconciliation mission of love through Jesus. He passed it onto his disciples, who at that
point became apostles, ones who are sent … sent by Jesus … to spread this good news about this fellowship,
this communion, that God wants to have with us. And, we in the church are called to continue and complete
the spread of this message this announcement of the Good News.
The people of Jesus’ day were surprised by this message. It was so alarming and contrary to their preconceived
ideas that they killed Jesus for it. The world didn’t seem ready for it. The world doesn’t seem ready for his now,
yet this is what God calls us to do. “Love is that important.” (Wright 159)
How can we do that? How can we do that here? It can seem like an impossible task. Our Chase the Lion prayer
team has been praying about that kind of question. The truth is that it is an impossible task on our own. Another
way we have thought of it is an “Impossible Project” that which would be impossible for us to do under our own
strength and resources. That is how God gets all the glory because it it is obvious that we could not do it all by
Jesus started with a band of twelve. Sure he had bigger crowds when he was healing people and giving away
free food, but that night he was arrested all fled. After his resurrection, a small number returned, but not the
big crowds. They were too afraid, and wisely so. However, that band of twelve has turned into billions of people
around the world.
After Jesus’ ascension, the disciples, now apostles, considered themselves the flesh and blood body of Christ on
earth, and that is what the church is called to be. We are called to complete God’s love in the world. Again, very
scary, lots of pressure, but John tells us that we don’t have to be afraid. (1 John 4:18) We share the love that God
has given to us. It is not about fulfilling a set of rules or obligations. It is loving as we have been loved. When we
do that, we don’t have to be afraid of whether we are doing it right or wrong. We are completing this circle of love
that God initiated, and we are passing on.
We’re told that we don’t have to be afraid, but it can be exhilarating, taking that leap of faith. Have any of
you seeing the Harrison Ford movie, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade? Indiana Jones is an adventurous
archeologist, and he has been forced to search for the Holy Grail, the cup that Jesus used at the Last Supper.
This is a search that has consumed many over the centuries, and it was search that obsessed Indiana’s father.
They are at the entrance of the place where they think that the Grail is located. To force Indiana to go after it,
they shoot Indiana’s father.
So, he goes through this obstacle course of traps and snares using his father’s notes as a guide. Then he
reaches what appears to be a bottomless chasm. His notes say that he must leap from the lion’s head,
but it looks impossible. His blood is pumping. The adrenaline is going. He doesn’t want to, but then he
hears a cry of pain from his father. He takes a deep breath, and takes a bold step out … And there is a
bridge. The open space is an optical illusion. You can’t see the bridge until you step on it.
Sometimes reaching out with love can feel like taking a step into a bottomless chasm without any visible means
of support, but God is there to support us in our quest. It is a challenge to consider having that kind of faith and
life. But if we think about it, if we believe what we say we believe that Almighty Living God came to live with us,
in us, and we in God, did we think that this would be some kind of casual, convenient, comfortable, hobby type of
To tell you the truth, I struggle with the reality of this every day, and sometimes I fail. I miss the mark, but God
is always there to catch me, to pick me up, to dust me off, and to set me on my feet to try again.
How can any of us hope to do this? Are any of you familiar with the idea of humans, Christians, being God’s
temple? Before Jesus came. People would go to meet with God in a limited way at the Temple in Jerusalem.
Sacrifices were presented there. Once a year the high priest would go into the Holy of Holies to give the sacrifices.
When Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD, God could no longer be there. In
fact, in Acts were are told that God took up residence elsewhere years before that. In a couple of weeks we will
celebrate Pentecost when the Holy Spirit began to take up residence within followers of Christ.
When fellow followers of Christ encounter each other, the Spirit encounters itself within us. There is a simple
song by Jim Strathdee that describes this so well called “The Spirit in Me.”
“The Spirit in me greets the spirit in you, Alleluia! God’s in us, and we’re in God, Alleluia. // The Servant in
me greets the Servant in you …” and so on.
A few weeks ago, we talked about God as the Trinity, three in one. Father – Son – and Holy Spirit. There is a
black and white version of the painting we used to help illustrate their relationship on the front of your bulletin.
Take a look at it for a moment. We talked about how they are mutually supporting and loving towards one
another. They are united despite their different roles. It has sometimes been described as a kind of dance. They
are separate, but they still move together. We talked about how they are arranged around this table, but there is
a space there for us. In this letter, John tells us that he has joined in this dance with God, and we are invited to
be a part of it too. We are invited both as individuals and as the community of God (the church).
God came in flesh and blood as the person of Jesus Christ to show the world, to demonstrate to it what love is.
We, as the community of God, are referred to as the Body of Christ. It is both a metaphor and a reality. When
the Apostle Paul talks about the parts of the body in 1 Corinthians, as an eye, an ear, a hand, or a foot, he is
making an illustration. All the parts are needed and function in their unique roles in order to carry out the
mission of God. However, if God’s Spirit dwells in the hands and feet of our individual persons, we physically
can make manifest God’s love in the world.
We are truly part of the dance. This congregation, Christian community, an outpost or embassy of the Kingdom
of Heaven, together we do this dance. With God’s Spirit in each one of us, we become part of this synergistic
manifestation of God’s love. When we join with other congregations through groups like the United Methodist
Committee on Relief, the effect can be magnified and spread wider. At home we can be more personal
building relationships one person at a time. That is our role both towards each other as individuals, and how
we demonstrate and show God’s love to the world as a Christian community.
If we emulate God in this picture we see on the front of our bulletins, we gather around the table, but we always
leave a space open to invite more people to participate in this incredible dance, this symphony that is the love of
This is one of the ways that we become like Jesus.
As it says in 1 John 1:3-4, “3 We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have
fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. 4 We write this to
make our joy complete.”
Or as it says in The Message:
“3-4 We saw it, we heard it, and now we’re telling you so you can experience it along with us, this experience
of communion with the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ. Our motive for writing is simply this: We want you
to enjoy this, too. Your joy will double our joy!”