Love With an Impossible Love

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Love With an Impossible Love By Rev. Res Spears In honor of Valentine's Day, and because the topic of today's text in the book of 1 John is love, I want to tell you a story this morning about a young man whom I will call "Jimmy." Now, Jimmy knew something about love, because he had loved a young woman named Marie with all his heart. He had loved her so much that he had asked her to marry him, and she had accepted the proposal he had made on bended knee. But Jimmy knew something about heartbreak, too, because on one clear Spring evening just a couple of months from their wedding date, Marie had broken their engagement and returned the ring to Jimmy. Now, that's kind of a sad story to share on Valentine's Day, but it's not the end of the story. Sometimes we all make rash decisions. Sometimes, the things that we think we know turn out to be different than we thought. And so, one day that summer, Jimmy picked up his mail and found a handwritten letter from his lost love. "Dearest Jimmy," it read. "No words could ever express the great unhappiness I've felt since breaking our engagement. Please say you'll take me back. No one could ever take your place in my heart, so please forgive me. I love you, I love you, I love you! Yours forever, Marie." "P.S.: Congratulations on winning the lottery!" So much for true love. Well, I guess Marie loved something, but it certainly wasn't Jimmy, was it? While the story might not be precisely on point, today's topic is, indeed, love. You will recall that last week, I said the book of 1 John talks in three cycles about three aspects of fellowship with God. In fact, we could look at those aspects - righteousness, love, and belief - as three tests of fellowship with God. And all three are connected to one another. Last week, we talked about righteousness - about not sinning. That's kind of a negative test. Are you still going about life, stumbling in the darkness of sin? Are you still stepping off the well-lit path of righteousness and into the dark woods of sin? Then you might be saved, but you are sacrificing intimate fellowship with God for the call of the flesh. So, the first test of fellowship with God is righteousness. And the second test is love - this is the positive test that we can see as almost the flip side of righteousness. John wrote in chapter 1 that God is Light, and he called those who say that they have come to know God through His Son, Jesus Christ, to walk in the Light by keeping His commandments. Whoever keeps His word, John wrote in verse 5 of chapter 2, "in him the love of God has truly been perfected" or fulfilled. Do you remember the commandments that John had in view in that first section of his message? Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind; and love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus had said that on these two commandments hung all of the Mosaic Law. In other words, all of the 10 commandments, and all of the other Levitical laws that God gave to Moses for His people either pointed at loving God or loving one another. And so, we can look at the commandment to remember the Sabbath to keep it holy and see that it is a manifestation of the commandment to love God. So, too, with the commandment to have no false idols. The commandment to not commit murder is a manifestation of the commandment to love your neighbor. Same with the commandment not to commit adultery. All of the commandments of God, and all of the commandments of His Son, Jesus Christ, are variations of one of those two commandments - love God and love your neighbor as yourself. And that's important to remember as we get into today's passage, beginning in verse 7 of chapter 2. 1 John 2:7 NASB95 Beloved, I am not writing a new commandment to you, but an old commandment which you have had from the beginning; the old commandment is the word which you have heard. Now, John hasn't specifically named this commandment yet. Spoiler alert: It's love one another. But it would have been as clear to his original audience as it is to us what he was saying. This was the first commandment that they would have heard Jesus give to them, whether they had heard it in person or through the preaching of John and the other apostles. In fact, this commandment went back even further than that. We see it first stated as part of the Levitical law, in Lev 19:18. Leviticus 19:18 NASB95 'You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD. "Love your neighbor as yourself," God said to His people through His prophet Moses. "And remember that I have the authority to issue that commandment, because I am the Lord." But what does it mean to love one another? Is "love" here the kind of love that Marie had for young Jimmy's recent lottery winnings? Is it the Valentine's Day love of a husband for his wife? Is it the thing I might mean when I say, "I love bacon"? One way we can work out what a biblical writer might mean when he uses a word is to look at the place where that word is first used in Scripture. In verse 7, we have the Greek word "agapaō." You've probably heard of agape love. Now, the first place we see that word in Greek Scripture is in Genesis 22:2, where God tells Abraham to take his son, Isaac, to offer him as a sacrifice to God. Genesis 22:2 NASB95 He said, "Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you." So, here, we see the love of a father for his son. Indeed, this is the love of a father for the son whom God had promised and whom God had miraculously given to Abraham and Sarah when he was 100 and she was 75. Clearly, this is a special kind of love. But we can see what John is driving at even more clearly if we look at how HE used this word in its first appearance in his own writing. That verse is a familiar one. John 3:16 NASB95 "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. Here again, we see love connected to a Father and His Son, but this time the object of the Father's love is the world. For God so loved the WORLD.... Now, think back to the story of Abraham. Do you think that Abraham loved God? Of course, he did. And from that particular part of the story that we touched on a minute ago, how can we tell how much Abraham loved God? He was willing to sacrifice his beloved son in obedience to God's command. Now, think back to John 3:16. How did God demonstrate His great love for mankind? He gave his only begotten Son for us. He gave his beloved Jesus, who existed eternally with God and with the Holy Spirit in loving community, to be the sacrifice to atone for the sins of mankind. So, what I want you to see here is that the love John writes about here is sacrificial. Biblical love - agape love - is always sacrificial. There is a price for loving the way we are called to love one another. We'll see this even more clearly as we look at verse 8. 1 John 2:8 NASB95 On the other hand, I am writing a new commandment to you, which is true in Him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true Light is already shining. This was an old commandment, because "Love your neighbor as yourself" went all the way back to the days when the Jews wandered in the wilderness after God had rescued them out of Egypt. But for the Christian, this is a new commandment, because we serve the God who IS love. Other laws might come into and out of favor. Other laws might become antiquated and out of date, but this law of love is forever, and it is as fresh each day as the Christ who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. But there is even more to the freshness and newness of this commandment, and I want to quote here from Robert Law, pastor of a church in Scotland in the early 20th century. "There are times when the Law of Love shines out with a morning splendour, when it reveals a new significance to the human conscience and enters upon a further stage in its predestined conquest of human life. And this was supremely the case when it was embodied in Christ, and when" He gave it a new dynamic as He told His disciples: [Robert Law, The Tests of Life: A Study of the First Epistle of St. John (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1909), 233.] John 13:34 NASB95 "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. The new commandment wasn't to love one another - that was the commandment since the Old Testament. The new commandment was to love one another the way that Jesus had loved His disciples, the way that Jesus loved the world - sacrificially, giving His very life for our benefit. That's the kind of love that John has in view here. That's the kind of love that serves as a test of a Christian's fellowship with God. If you are not loving one another with a sacrificial love - one that sacrifices self-focus to focus on one another, one that sacrifices the desire to be served for the commandment to serve - then you are not walking in intimate fellowship with God. You are not walking in the Light of his Son, Jesus Christ. Look at verse 9. 1 John 2:9-11 NASB95 The one who says he is in the Light and yet hates his brother is in the darkness until now. The one who loves his brother abides in the Light and there is no cause for stumbling in him. But the one who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes. Look at the contrasts in these verses. There is darkness and light. There is stumbling and walking. There is hate and love. There are no in-betweens. "Towards a brother [or sister in Christ], not to love is to hate. There is no third possibility." [Robert Law, The Tests of Life: A Study of the First Epistle of St. John (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1909), 236.] And John makes no exceptions here. He doesn't say, "Love your brother unless he treats you badly." He doesn't say, "Love your sister until she spreads vicious rumors about you." In fact, Jesus put it bluntly. Luke 6:27-28 NASB95 "But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. Is that hard to do? Of course it is! I've heard it said that the Christian life is not just hard, it's impossible, at least without the aid of the Holy Spirit. And the further you are out of fellowship with God, the less sensitive you will be to the guiding of the Spirit and to the help He is there to give you. If you abide in the Light, you will not stumble, but when you step off that well-lit path, you become blinded by the darkness. And here is where the tests of righteousness and love connect. If we step off the well-lit path because of sin, then we soon find it impossible to love our brothers and sisters in Christ - much less the lost world - with sacrificial love. And if we step off that well-lit path by hating a brother or sister in Christ, we begin to find ourselves drawn deeper into darkness by the siren song of other sins, because the darkness has blinded us. And the worst part is that we don't even know that we're blind. "The selfish man is innocent of any notion that he is selfish; the quarrelsome person thinks that every one is unreasonable except himself; the revengeful, that he is animated only by a proper self-respect.... The penalty of walking in the darkness is the extinction of vision. The Word of God is full of this truth. He who will not see, at last cannot." [Robert Law, The Tests of Life: A Study of the First Epistle of St. John (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1909), 236-237.] Now, having said all of this about love for one another as a test of fellowship with God, John makes a slight detour in the next three verses. Look at verse 12. 1 John 2:12-14 NASB95 I am writing to you, little children, because your sins have been forgiven you for His name's sake. I am writing to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I have written to you, children, because you know the Father. I have written to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning. I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one. There's a whole sermon in those three verses, and we don't have time today to pick them apart, but here's the gist: John had given his readers some tough things to chew on in verses 7 through 11, and he wanted to reassure them that he believed them to be people who were walking in the Light, people who were walking with Jesus. And he especially wanted to encourage them, because he was about to challenge them with something even harder. Look at verse 15. 1 John 2:15-17 NASB95 Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever. Now, when John says here that we should not love the world or the things in it, he isn't saying we shouldn't love this place or the people or the other things God created for us. The world here "represents the system of values, priorities, and beliefs that unbelievers hold that excludes God.... Satan controls this system, and believers should shun it." [Tom Constable, Tom Constable's Expository Notes on the Bible (Galaxie Software, 2003), 1 Jn 2:15.] What's in the world is the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life. "The lust of the flesh is the desire to do something apart from the will of God. The lust of the eyes is the desire to have something apart from the will of God. The pride of life is the desire to be something apart from the will of God. The first desire appeals mainly to the body, the second to the soul, and the third to the spirit." [Tom Constable, Tom Constable's Expository Notes on the Bible (Galaxie Software, 2003), 1 Jn 2:16.] We see the lust of the flesh in the desire for sexual immorality, but also in things like lying, excessive drinking and even speeding. We see the lust of the eyes in things like materialism and cheating on taxes. And we see the boastful pride of life in things like egotism and power-grabbing and other ways we might try to take control of our lives from God. Pride of life is identifying yourself with some status symbol, rather than finding your identity in Christ. And if we love this system of values, priorities and beliefs that Satan controls, then we do not love the Father. We cannot serve two masters. And the saddest thing about a Christian loving the world is that he is loving things that are fleeting, things that are passing away, things that have no eternal value. Eternal value comes from doing the will of God. Now, what John is saying in verse 17 isn't that doing God's will gives you eternal life. Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. Instead, what he is saying is that we have intimate fellowship with God - we abide in Christ - by obeying Him. And so, we come full circle from the test of righteousness to the test of love and back to the test of righteousness. These two cannot be separated. Indeed, as we will see next week, these two cannot be separated from the test of belief, either. Do you want to experience true Christian fellowship? Then walk in the Light. Practice righteousness. Do you want to experience true fellowship with God? Then love one another with the sacrificial love of Abraham, who placed the person he loved most on the altar. Love one another with the sacrificial love of God, who sent the Son He had loved since before the beginning of time to bring salvation to mankind. Love with the sacrificial love of Jesus, Philippians 2:6-8 NASB95 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. [And] being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Is this hard to do? Of course it is! In fact, it's impossible if we are not in intimate fellowship with God. But with God, all things are possible. So, brothers and sisters, I want to challenge you today to start doing the impossible. Start loving with an impossible love. Page . Exported from Logos Bible Software, 1:04 AM February 14, 2021.
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