Chances are you’ve heard some boring sermons in your time.
I’m 100% certain that all of you have, at some point, drifted off somewhere during one of my sermons in the past 12 months.
That’s quite normal
- I myself sometimes find it hard to concentrate on listening to someone else’s sermon.
Some of you might watch The Simpsons.
Some of you might not.
However, as some of you know, the Simpsons actually go to church every week.
The pastor of the 1st Church of Springfield is the Reverend Lovejoy,
who is possibly the most boring preacher on Television.
In one episode he manages to put the entire congregation to sleep,
and only stops preaching when he hears all the snoring.
On his pulpit are various sound effects buttons to wake the congregation up,
such as a siren, a screeching hawk sound and so on.
In another episode he makes an announcement at the end of the service
- Lisa Simpson is now working as a baby-sitter.
And the Reverend Lovejoy then announces that Lisa will give 25% off her first baby sitting fee for the first person who mentions the topic of the sermon he preached earlier.
Utter silence from the congregation
- no one could remember the topic.
Tersely, the Reverend Lovejoy says “The topic was love!”.
So, without further ado, the topic of this morning’s service here in Church is... love.
But let’s not fool ourselves.
Rather than fall asleep or drift off, let’s work hard at what God’s word is saying to us.
Make sure you’ve got your Bibles open to 1 John 3, verses 11 to 18.
I don’t have any sound effects buttons up here to wake you up,
but I just hope that I’m a little bit more interesting than the Reverend Lovejoy.
John starts off in verse 11 by saying “This is the message you hard from the beginning: We should love one another”.
John is referring back to Jesus’ message in John 13
- “A new command I give to you, that you love one another, as I have loved you.”
But love is more than words.
It is more than thinking.
It is more than theorizing.
It is more than just discussion.
It is action.
Love is something you do.
Love is practical.
1. God’s Love for us
The starting place for any discussion on Christian love must begin with understanding God’s love for us.
And this is the first point on your outlines.
The most famous verse in the Bible is John 3.16.
Most of you can recite by memory
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life”.
What we see in that verse is the link between God’s love and God’s grace
- God saves people because of his love.
So that’s John 3.16.
What about 1 John 3.16?
This is one of those strange coincidences in the Bible because this verse in 1 John is similar.
Let me read it to you.
“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.”
Just focus on the first part of that verse
- This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.
What we have here is a very clear picture of just how God saves us.
While John 3.16 says that having faith in Christ will save you from death,
1 John 3.16 shows us that Jesus had to die for us to live.
I heard a story once about a group of British soldiers who were fighting during the Falklands war in 1982.
As you know, Argentina had invaded the island and the British sent an expeditionary force to take it back
- which of course they managed to do.
But in one particular battle, a group of British soldiers were trapped by a machine gun nest.
It was hopeless
- the machine gun had cut down a number of troops,
and the remaining soldiers were unable to escape.
It was clear that if they remained there, their position would eventually be shelled by enemy mortars
and they would all die.
But they couldn’t escape from the bullets of the machine gun nest that was pinning them down.
Everything seemed hopeless.
But then one soldier saved the day.
He took off all his guns and heavy equipment to be as light as possible.
He armed himself with two grenades and leapt from his position.
The machine gun crew saw him but were unable to train their gun quickly enough on the fast moving target as he ran towards them.
The soldier ran up into the enemy position,
pulled the pins out of his grenades,
and blew both himself and the enemy up.
His dying ensured that his mates were able to live.
Now any example or illustration can never fully explain exactly what Jesus did.
“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.”
You see, it was us that was meant to die.
We have sinned against God
- it is us who deserve the punishment.
But Jesus took our place.
He willingly placed himself on the cross, to die for us.
He laid down his life for us, that we might live.
Verse 14 of 1 John 3 also explains this further. “We have passed from death to life”.
You see, when Jesus died for us,
he not only took our punishment,
he actually made us alive.
When we become Christians, we pass from death to life
- we who were once spiritually dead and doomed to punishment are now alive and forgiven.
Theologians calls this concept “Regeneration”.
It might be better to explain the concept as being “born again”
- which is how Jesus describes it to Nicodemus.
It means that we have gone from being rebellious, sinful and disregarding of God
- and thus spiritually dead
- to repenting from our rebellion and worshipping God
- and thus being spiritually alive.
You see, God loves us.
He brings us from death to life because Jesus laid down his life for us.
God’s grace in bringing us into his kingdom is something that no one deserves
- it is something that begins and ends with God’s own great love.
It is impossible for our small human minds to comprehend it
- but God loves us so much that he is willing to forgive us our rebellion,
to let Jesus die in our place, and to grant us new life.
2. Our love for one another
But verse 11 of 1 John 3 says “This is the message you heard from the beginning: we should love one another”.
So we start with God’s love for us,
and now we move on to our love for each other,
which is my second point.
The first thing that John gives us in this passage is a negative example of what love is not
- he uses the example of Cain.
We all know the story of Cain and Abel
- the first children of Adam and Eve.
Both brothers prepare sacrifices to God,
but Abel’s is acceptable while Cain’s is not.
Cain is overcome with rage and murders his brother.
Now Genesis isn’t terribly clear as to why Cain’s sacrifice wasn’t acceptable,
but Hebrews 11.4 suggests that Abel had faith and trusted God, while Cain did not.
“Why did he murder him?” asks John in verse 12.
“Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous”.
In other words, Cain murdered his brother because of the evil in his heart.
In verse 13 John makes a quick aside:
“Do not be surprised, my brothers, if the world hates you”.
Cain is an example of the world - a hatred of God and righteousness that leads to various forms of persecutions.
But what John is pointing out here is that we should not be like Cain
- we should not treat our brothers in Christ the same way as Cain treated his brother.
This is why John says in verse 15
“Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him”.
So what we’re seeing here is that love is not some optional extra for Christians
- it is an integral part of our being.
We cannot be Christians without loving each other.
A Christian who does not love is not a Christian at all.
This is why John says in verse 14
“We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death.”
We can know that we are Christians because we love.
We have passed from death to life
- we have been born again.
And because of that, we love our brothers and sisters in the faith.
If we don’t love them, then we are not believers
- we have not passed from death to life.
Remember verse 16 -
“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers”.
We start with what Christ has done for us
- he laid down his life for us.
Then we move on to how that affects us
- we lay down our lives for our brothers,
which of course means brothers and sisters in the faith.
Now what does this mean?
Does it mean that we should be willing to sacrifice our lives for our brothers and sisters in the faith if need be?
After all, Christ did it for us
- we should do it for one another.
And, throughout history, this has occurred
- during persecutions, Christians have chosen to die
so that their brothers and sisters in the faith should live.
But this sort of thing is still quite rare,
and even during the early church there were periods without persecution,
and the more mundane everyday life takes over.
And this is where the rubber really hits the road for us.
Thankfully, we’re not in a position to literally die for each other
- but we are still called to love each other and look after each other anyway.
John is very perceptive at this point.
Verse 16 says we should lay down our lives for each other,
but look at verse 17.
“If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?”.
So if we’re supposed to be willing to die for each other,
then we’re obviously called to care for each other in not so extreme ways.
How can a Christian be willing to die for their brother,
but be unwilling to share material possessions to that same brother when he is in need?
3. Loving in deed and truth
Verse 18 says
“Dear Children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth”. And that is the focus of my third point.
What John is saying here is that Love is active
- it is something you do, rather than something you say.
1And secondly he is saying that it is true
- love that is true will always lead to loving actions.
So, how should we love?
My first point focused upon God as the source of love
- through Jesus’ death on the cross in our place we have passed from death to life
- we have been born again.
That is how great God’s love is.
My second point focused upon us
- as Christians, love is not an optional extra,
it is an integral part of our being.
We cannot be Christians and not love.
So we are commanded to love.
How should we do it?
On your outlines you’ll see 5 different areas of love that I’ll be discussing in depth:
and Prayerful love.
The first area of love is Spiritual love.
The most important thing we have as Christians is the gospel that saves us.
Therefore our love for one another should always have the gospel as our primary focus.
We must remember that while it is important to help someone out with material goods,
that our life here on earth is short and temporary.
Our spiritual life is eternal.
We should always therefore be trying to encourage each other in our faith.
If we love each other,
we’ll be encouraging each other to continue as Christians.
If we love each other,
we’ll be interested in how our relationship with God is going.
This happens in both a formal and informal context.
Simply turning up to church of a Sunday morning is an enormous encouragement to those present.
We’ve all been here when numbers are low, and we’ve felt a bit downcast as a result.
Simply coming to church and worshipping God together is an encouragement to everyone.
So it’s good then to come to church each Sunday wondering not
“what will I get out of it?”,
but “How can I love God and others today?”.
Another formal context is going to a prayer meeting or Bible Study.
I understand that every week there is a prayer meeting here
- how encouraging is it for those present to pray for each other.
And what about a weekly Bible study?
There we have an opportunity for Brothers and Sisters in Christ to discuss God and encourage one another.
But there’s also informal contexts as well
- after church during supper, or a chance meeting during the week.
Whenever Christians meet, there can be encouragement
And sometimes, unfortunately, it is loving to rebuke and correct one another.
If we see a brother or sister in the faith sinning,
or being slack as a Christian, it is unloving to do nothing about them.
It is because we care for a person
that we go through the unpleasant process of rebuking and correcting them.
The second area of love is Material love.
Providing our brothers or sisters in Christ with material needs is specifically mentioned here in 1 John.
How can we be a Christian while ignoring the plight of our Christian brother or sister?
Christ’s love compels us to love each other.
We must be willing to sacrifice some of our worldly goods so our fellow Christians can benefit.
But there’s a variety of means by which that this can be achieved.
It may mean giving money, but it can also mean giving your time.
A month or so ago some Christian men I know were able to donate their time to help move the furniture out of a Christian woman’s house to another one.
She who was unable to do the work herself or afford any removalists,
so it was an act of Christian love that these men were able to do that for her.
But it may also mean using your particular skills as well.
For example, a Christian Electrician, or Plumber, or Computer Programmer
can donate their services to materially poor Christians
who cannot afford such services normally.
Again, this is an act of Christian love to those people.
But of course it would also be unloving to leave a Christian brother or sister constantly poor.
Yes it is important to help people when they in need,
but it is also important to move them out of their neediness.
You’ve all heard the phrase
“Give a man a fish and feed him for a day.
Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”.
A Christian man or woman in poverty needs to move out of poverty and be able to support themselves,
and things like job training or education or even child care would help them do this.
And we as fellow Christians can provide them with this opportunity.
The command here is simple, though
- “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?”.
The third area of love is emotional love.
Christians are like anyone else
- we have various emotional needs due to a multitude of different problems
or stresses in our lives.
And we all need friendship and support from our brothers and sisters.
Now this doesn’t mean we all have to become trained counsellors,
it just means we have to be sensitive and loving to one another.
We need to give emotional support to those who hurt.
Some of you might know that 2001 was the worst year of my life.
For various reasons it was highly stressful and I was a mess for much of the year.
The fact that God got me through it is amazing,
but God brought along friends who were able to counsel and pray for us during this period.
Not everyone who helped us was close to us
- someone at Charlestown said she was praying for us even though I didn’t know her very well.
I praise God that he brought these people to help us through 2001.
To give emotional support, we need to be friends with each other.
It’s important for all of us to forge friendships with one another
- friendships that are appropriate.
It may mean becoming close friends with someone, it may not. I’m not saying that we should all become very very close,
but that it is appropriate in some circumstances.
Genuine friendships are required if emotional support is to be given.
The fourth area of love is missionary love.
The general message of the New Testament is that Christians should mainly focus their care and concern upon those within the church.
Passages like this one in 1 John talk about our attitude towards our Christian family
- not about those outside our Christian family.
Now this doesn’t mean we don’t care about non-Christians,
but it does mean that our priority is with the church.
Should we show love to unbelievers?
Yes. But our priority is with the church.
Look up Galatians 6.10:
“Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers”
So how should we do good to all people?
Let’s start at the beginning again.
Why should we love others?
Because God loves us.
How does God love us?
He gave us Jesus, who laid down his life for us, and brought us from death to life.
How should we love those outside the Christian family?
How should we love those who are still spiritually dead.
Well obviously we have to tell them God’s love.
If we truly love our unbelieving friends and family,
we will tell them about God’s love in Christ.
We’ll tell them that they, too, can become members of God’s family and be made spiritually alive.
To love the world, we must tell them the gospel.
But is that all?
Of course not.
Our words need deeds.
Should we help an unbeliever in need?
By doing so we show them the love of God.
We should help them materially with our finances and our time and our skills,
we should help them emotionally by being friends with them,
but, more importantly, we help them spiritually
- speaking to them about the hope we have in Christ.
Should we stop loving them if they refuse to listen?
Of course not.
Our love is like God’s - it is unconditional.
Besides, God will use years of love and speaking the gospel in a person’s life.
It may take a while, but the effort is worth it.
The fifth and final area is prayerful love.
We love someone.
We should pray for them.
Prayer helps us love people.
We come to God regularly to speak to him about people.
We pray that people’s faith be strengthened.
We pray that people may be steadfast in their commitment to God.
We pray that God will provide them with endurance in their sufferings.
We pray that God provide them material needs.
We pray that God will help them cope in their distress.
We pray that God will use us to love them.
We pray that God will use others to love us.
We pray that God will work in the hearts of those friends who are unbelievers.
When we pray, we rely upon God.
But we also express our love for people.
If you’re wondering how to love someone, start with prayer.
1Pray for their needs.
Pray that you will be given wisdom to learn how to love them better.
And God will answer your prayer.
So, for 25% off your next baby-sitting fee - what was the topic of today’s sermon?
Love of course.
So what’s going to happen?
Are we going to have a cuppa tea and toddle off home and forget everything that God has been teaching us this morning?
If we do, we’re like the foolish builder who built his house on the sand
a house that crashed down when the storm came.
We must listen to the word and do what it says
So when we get home.
Pray that God will teach us to love.
Pray that God will make us love people more.
You see, God loves us.
Our love for God and other people cannot compare to God’s love for us.
But his love compels us to love others.
We love because God loves us.
Our love is imperfect, and we will never perfectly love,
but God will give us the strength to do it.
Because Christians, by their very nature, love people.
If there is no love, there is no true Christian faith.
Jesus laid his life down for us,
and we should love one another.
But let us not love with words or tongue,
but in actions and in truth.
Our Loving Heavenly Father,
You are the source and definition of all love. You loved us so much you sent your son to die for us. Help us to love you more, and help us to love each other more. Give us such a love for the salvation you’ve given us that we encourage one another in our faith. Thank you for giving us money and time and skills, and give us the heart to use these to help others within the church who are in need. Give us strength to support each other emotionally when things are tough, and patience and endurance when this happens. Help us to do good to all people, and shows us appropriate ways of loving those unbelievers we know. And finally help us to always be prayerful, showing our love for people by our prayers for them.
From the Kerygmatic Department
© 2005 Neil McKenzie Cameron, http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.5 License.