Trinity I 3 June 2018 I John 4:7- 21 St. Luke 16:19-31
Sermon Notes by the Rev. Dennis Washburn, Ph.D.
Many human beings over the millennia have talked and sung about love. Especially since the late 1960’s, popular culture has included a lot of talking and singing about love. A characteristic example is John Lennon’s “All You Need is Love”. And the churches have been influenced by this popular culture. Of course, Christians have always spoken of love, but much of the talk in recent decades, even in the church, is far from Christian ideals. In contrast to such popular nonsense about love, this morning, let us spend a few minutes thinking about some New Testament views of love.
We begin by highlighting the beginning verses of our Epistle from I John 4:7-11, “Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.”
In this passage, the Greek term used for “love” is agape’. In Christian Greek, this love became clearly distinct from eros, “desire” and philos, “brotherly love.” This kind of love has its source in God; it is an attribute of the divine nature. “God is love.” Divine Love is creative and unselfish.
Such love, agape’, is not some naive and syrupy sentiment. Love is not weak. It does not tolerate evil. It is powerful and holy or righteous. It is not selfish but it reaches out to care for the universe and created beings. According to divine wisdom, God’s love may be applied in differing ways according to the circumstances. It may lift up the humble and bring down the proud. Love may strengthen the faint-hearted and punish the sinful. Divine love means that God is concerned about the true well-being of the one loved. He cares about our souls and works for our salvation, even in the worst worldly circumstances.
The clearest indications that human beings have about divine love cannot be separated from the life and saving work of Jesus Christ. As He Himself told us in the Gospel of John, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). The ultimate goal of love is salvation and eternal fellowship with God. We see this in Jesus. He helped the poor and weak, and He rebuked the rich and proud. He chastised the self-righteous, and He forgave penitent sinners. He blessed those with even a trace of child-like faith in Him and His Father. And He gave Himself over to suffering and death for all who would turn to Him in faith.
Divine love is always there, and God’s creatures benefit from it before they are even aware. The only condition attached to love is to accept it in faith. And once accepted, divine love should have results in our human lives. “..If God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.” Although our particular expressions of love need wisdom, guidance and concrete expressions, true love does not start with us. It starts with God, especially in Christ, and asks us to respond. Because God first loves us, we love Him in response, and like Him, we love His creation and His creatures.
Like His love, our love should be powerful, committed, and unselfish. Unlike God, we remain fallen and fallible. Sometimes, we do not love as we should. And even when we do love, we don’t always do so with strength or wisdom. We may love naively or inappropriately. We may not be tolerant enough, or we may be too tolerant of the wrong things. St Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:15 that we should speak “the truth in love.” We have trouble keeping love and truth together in the best ways. When we speak the truth, we may not be very loving. And when we try to be loving, we may hesitate to speak the truth. Love can be expressed through Christian courtesy, but there is a difference between being superficially polite and being loving. True love is more concerned about the long-term and eternal well-being of others than about their temporary and temporal comfort.
Therefore, let us heed Scriptural teachings about love. Let us avoid straying to the right or to the left. We must not avoid the danger of true divine love, and we must not substitute some cheap political or sentimental nonsense. If we must be foolish in loving, let it not be some artificial worldly propaganda from the movies or political activists of any kind. Rather if we are foolish, let it be the foolishness of the cross of Christ, the perfect love of God.