First Sunday after Trinity
1 John 4:16-21
June 3, 2018
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO
16And we have come to know and believe the love God has for us. God is Love, and if you live in love, you live in God, and God lives in you. 17His love has accomplished what He wants when we can look ahead confidently to the day of judgment because we are what He is in this world. 18Such love isn’t terrified, but the finest love throws out terror. We are terrified by punishment, and if we’re terrified, our love isn’t at its best.
19We love because He first loved us. 20If anyone says, “I love God,” but hates his brother, he’s a liar. If anyone doesn’t love his brother whom he has seen, he can’t love God Whom he hasn’t seen. 21And this is the order He gave us: If you love God, love your brother.
In the name of + Jesus.
There is a tradition that as St. John the Apostle and Evangelist neared the end of his life on earth he would repeat the phrase over and over again, “Little children, love one another.” This phrase is the entire message of John distilled down to one sentence. In fact, it’s the entire Gospel distilled down to its essence. Little children, love one another.
The message of love often gets drowned out in our Lutheran circles, with our emphasis on faith, justification, forgiveness, and the forensic declaration of the righteousness of God. But love is not excluded in this way of speaking. In fact, St. Paul, the great theologian of justification, is also the author of the great chapter on love to the Corinthians.
If I speak the languages of men and of angels but don’t have any love, I’ve become a loud gong or a clashing cymbal. Even if I speak God’s Word and know every kind of hidden truth and have every kind of knowledge, even if I have all the faith to move mountains but don’t have any love, I’m nothing. Even if I give away all I have to feed the hungry and give up my body but only to boast and don’t have any love, it doesn’t help me…And now these three, faith, hope, and love, go on, but the most important of these is love (1 Cor 13:1-3, 13). So faith doesn’t exclude love, rather, love includes faith.
Love isn’t John’s invention. It comes right from the mouth of the Savior. And this is the order He gave us: If you love God, love your brother. In John’s Gospel, Jesus gives this command in the upper room on the night in which He is betrayed. This love is exemplified in Jesus washing His disciples’ feet; the Master serving the students, the Lord serving the followers, the greater serving the lesser. “Greater love has no one that this,” said Jesus, “that someone lay down his life for his friends.” Jesus lays down His life to justify sinners as the personification of love.
And this love with which Christ has loved us is what shapes our love. We love because He first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” but hates his brother, he’s a liar. If anyone doesn’t love his brother whom he has seen, he can’t love God Whom he hasn’t seen. God has loved us to the point of laying down His life for us, and we say we love God. But we’re also skilled in the subtle art of being a liar without uttering any lies. Because our love is imperfect; it’s incomplete. We find it terribly easy to love the lovable, but the command of Jesus is a call to love the unlovable.
A wise philosopher once said, “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” We hate because we fear. And we fear a lot of things. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be a direct correspondence. You might hate snakes because you’re afraid of them, but you might hate your brother because you’re afraid of something completely unrelated.
What are your fears? Maybe you’re thinking about spiders or heights or clowns or the number 13. But those are really superficial fears. The fear that is antithetical to love is something that runs a bit deeper. It’s a more existential fear. Angst. Anxiety. Perhaps you can’t quite put it into words. But you’re absolutely sure that you don’t want your kids exposed to it.
Fear creeps in and sows the seeds of hatred. Fear and love cannot coexist. With one exception. Every explanation to the commandments in the Small Catechism begins, “We should fear and love God…” It always seemed strange to me that we should fear God, if God is love. I remember one of my grade school teachers said that this fear really means respect. But I think if Martin Luther (following the Bible) would have wanted us to respect God, he would have written “respect.” Fear means fear. But why should we fear God?
We are terrified by punishment, and if we’re terrified, our love isn’t at its best. Fear has to do with punishment. And punishment is a function of the Law. God commands us to live and act in a certain way—be it in relation to Him, to our parents, to our spouse, to our other neighbors. And if we fail to do what God expects us to do, there is the threat of punishment. So you should fear God, because He is the One who has the authority and the power to destroy both body and soul in hell.
But what do you do with the command from the mouth of Jesus to love one another? If you don’t love, then you’ll be punished, which creates fear, which is incompatible with love. It’s a self-defeating command.
But all the commandments also enjoin us to love God. How is it possible to love when the threat of punishment looms? This is not possible with an imperfect love, an incomplete love. Love must be perfected. His love has accomplished what He wants when we can look ahead confidently to the day of judgment because we are what He is in this world. Such love isn’t terrified, but the finest love throws out terror.
Perfect love casts out fear. There is no fear in love. That’s why it’s impossible to love God and hate your brother. There’s no room for hate because there’s no room for fear if love is perfected. The seed of hate is never allowed to take root if love is complete.
So with a perfect love, we can be confident of the judgment, because we know that the love of Christ was to suffer the punishment in our place. There has been no greater love that He who laid down His life for His enemies in order to make them His friends. This is the love of Christ, and that love has an effect on us.
I recently read a book called You Are What You Love. The point isn’t that if you love chocolate cake, you literally turn into chocolate cake. Rather, when you love something, you’re all about it. You pursue it as a goal. But in turn, your loves shape who you are. They define you. I once saw a shirt that said, “Running is life.” I wouldn’t wear that shirt because I don’t love running. I only do it if there’s a bear chasing me.
St. John says that in the world we are as He is. This is not because of anything that we have done, but because Jesus has loved us with an unrelenting love, such that He became us, that is, He became man, in order to pursue us to the depths of hell, which He suffered on the cross. He loved the unlovable and suffered crucifixion because of it.
And in turn, His love creates a new love. Sometimes it works out that way. If you experience love from someone else, you begin to experience love in return. We are as He is in the world. The love of God in Christ fills in all of the gaps where our love is incomplete. And we have come to know and believe the love God has for us. God is Love, and if you live in love, you live in God, and God lives in you.
Love Is Perfected by the Love of God for Us In Christ
Little children, love one another.
In the name of + Jesus.
Jacob W Ehrhard