We Know Love through Our Lord
Lord God, loving Father, thank You for the great love You have shown to me despite my sins. Forgive my sins and cause true love to grow within me that I may reflect Your love to others. Lead me always to stand in awe of Your grace, always appreciating it with thanksgiving so that I never despise it. Be with us all this morning and bless our worship. Amen.
David knew he was hopelessly lost without the LORD on his side for life and for the forgiveness of sins. Sins and struggles within us + struggles and enemies on the outside = a troubled heart. Troubled heart + God’s love and mercy = a reassured heart that rejoices in salvation.
John writes to his readers (sermon text) that if our heart condemns us God is greater than our heart. There is perhaps no greater picture of our heavenly Father’s forgiving love than that of the father in Jesus’ parable. Even though his son was selfish, greedy, and then wasted everything in sinful living, the father stood with open arms and rejoiced to receive him home. If your heart condemns you, remember your Father!
Text: 1 John 3:16-20
By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth. And by this we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him. For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things.
In Christ Jesus who has loved us, dear fellow redeemed:
Duct tape fixes anything! Well, not really, because for all the valuable uses duct tape has, there are still many things it cannot fix. Many times the best it can do is hide the problem for a while.
"LOVE" is the "duct tape" of the world. Many believe that more LOVE would solve all the troubles in this life. The problem is that this fix-it-all "LOVE" is just a word, and what people understand by it differs widely, and what many understand by it won’t fix a thing.
I LOVE the smell of springtime rain on a mountainside bursting forth with fresh leaves and flowers…I LOVE eating ice cream in the park on a warm summer’s day. This isn’t the kind of love that will solve anything, but enjoyment of the things in this world is prescribed by some as the medication to cure the soul.
A mother robin LOVES her young and brings them food, but it is a "love" based only on instinct. Instinctive love isn’t true love that can grow and work among people.
In contrast: When we hear of the two women who stood before king Solomon with one child who was about to be divided equally between them, we know it was LOVE of a different sort that moved the real mother to willingly give up her child if doing so would spare his life. When Moses’ mother defied Pharaoh and hid her son and then made an ark for him to float on the river, we know it was LOVE. When Hannah brought Samuel to serve in the temple we know that it was LOVE for her God, and when she brought Samuel a new robe each year that too was LOVE.
True Genuine Love is the solution for this world, but it is not the love about which most people speak. True Genuine Love is really the only thing that can rightfully be called "LOVE." WE KNOW LOVE THROUGH OUR LORD. This morning we will see LOVE and with the Spirit’s blessing come to know it still better, as we consider that I. Our love-empty sins are swallowed up by Christ’s sacrificial love and II. Our love-weak hearts are lifted up by God’s strong love.
When we set out to learn what true love is, we have the ultimate definition and example from our God. By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us”(1 John 3:16). John used Jesus’ sacrifice as the model by which we can know love. That sacrifice includes the whole plan of our salvation.
We know love by knowing that in eternity God chose us to be His children. We know love from the Father who so loved the world that He sent His Son to be our Savior. We know love from the eternal Son of God who set aside His honor, power, and glory for a time and became a servant for SINNERS! The Son of God—holy and all-powerful, eternal God—became like us and traded heaven for earth and lived here. He came not to be served and to give His life a ransom for SINNERS (cf: Matthew 20:28). Surely that is LOVE!
After Jesus had come to the earth He could have changed His mind. When He faced the temptation of the Devil in the wilderness and all the later temptations, He might have decided it was more than He wanted to do for rebellious sinners. When He stood and endured the spitting and whipping during His trial, or when He was forsaken by God on the cross; when the people called up to Him on the cross challenging Him, mocking and laughing at him—how ungrateful they were for all Jesus was doing for them. Oh, what a time to want to just quit in the hard work of redemption, because how could even love be motivation when the objects of love are so ungrateful and unappreciative. Did Jesus quit? NO!! Love held Him to the cross as He laid down His life for us. What amazing LOVE His love for us is!!
Paul wrote to the Romans and spoke of the incredible love that led Jesus to die for us sinners who did not love Him: “When we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in thatwhile were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6-8)
A bit before our text, John marvels in the same way, “Behold! what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us that we should be called the children of God” (1 John 3:1)
When Jesus explained the difference between a shepherd and a hired caretaker of the sheep, He said the difference is love. A hired hand won’t sacrifice much for the sake of the sheep because He doesn’t love them. The shepherd will sacrifice His own life for the good of the sheep. The shepherd demonstrates LOVE: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep” (John 10:11).
We see, know, and understand true LOVE in the God who has provided salvation to us sinners. The awesomeness of this love captured John’s heart—as it does every believing sinner. Throughout his letter, John again and again comes back to the amazing example of love that God has given us. In chapter 4 he writes, “In this the love of God is manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation (satisfactory payment) for our sins.”
We know and experience the model of true love through the work of Christ and God’s salvation. How does our love compare?
In order to evaluate OUR love we turn to God’s law. God’s law is summarized by the two tables of the law: 1) having love for God above everything else; and 2) loving our neighbor as we love ourselves.
Everything that God commands us to do in His law demonstrates love toward Him and toward our neighbor. Everything He forbids in His law, demonstrates a lack of love for Him and our neighbor. So, if we fail in doingwhat God expects, we are without love—in the true sense of the word, "love". If we do things that God forbids, we are again "love-empty."
Paul wrote in Romans, “…he who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments ‘you shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder’(and Paul continues listing the commandments)…and if there is any other commandment , all are summed up in this saying: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself…therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” (Romans 8:13:8ff).
Perfect love in every part of our lives fulfills God’s law—keeps it perfectly. Therefore, every sin—no matter what it is—is a lack of love toward God and is often times also a lack of love toward a neighbor. Likewise, every lack of true genuine love is SIN.
Now, lets hear again what John says in our text: “We also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has this world’s goods and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?”
The things John describes are not special requirements placed upon children of God. They are not noble goals of kindness for "super Christians" to accomplish. These are the kind of things that come out of a genuine LOVE. Genuine Love fulfills God’s Law. These actions of love are the things God expects from every human being, because He expects holiness from His creatures.
A willingness to give up one’s life for our brethren is loving our neighbor as ourselves. If we have what is necessary to help someone in need, loving our neighbor as ourselves means to offer HELP to the one in need. God was very specific about this in the Old Testament Law where He said: “If there is among you a poor man of your brethren within any of the gates in your land which the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart nor shut your hand from your poor brother, but you shall open your hand wide to him and willingly lend him sufficient for his need whatever he needs” (Deuteronomy 15:7-8).
Paul reminds us to attend to the needs of others when he writes in Philippians, “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests but also for the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3-4).
John continues in the text, “My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth”[v. 18]. The world would be surprised to learn (and perhaps we are too at times) that much of what is seems to demonstrate "love" doesn’t qualify as love.
A "love" that is only words is not LOVE. All the flattery and beautiful words declaring "a love for this and a love for that" are not love. Let us not love in WORD, but in DEED. LOVE is working, active, accomplishing things.
Love is active but as God defines it, love must also be "in truth." All the charitable deeds and great gifts that are given "because I have extra and what else will I do with it" but are not given out of love for the true God and for one’s neighbor has the activity of love but not the truth, and therefore, is not love.
John contrasts a genuine love (as God defines it) with any else that is less. Anything less is not genuine. It is easy to love in a non-genuine way.
Physical love, the kind of love that fades when beauty is gone or when something better comes along, is easy to have and pursue. Loving friends and those who are kind to us is not hard. It is easy to show love to those who love us. However, Jesus urges a genuine love when He says, “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you…for if you love those who love you what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?” (Matthew 5:44,46).
A professed love for God, one that is proclaimed frequently, but one that cools down in the application during day-to-day life—in other words, a "Sunday kind of love for God" is easy because it is non-genuine. God told the prophet Ezekiel that some who came to him would have this kind of love. “They come to you as people do and they sit before you as My people and they hear your words but do not do them; for with their mouth they show much love, but their hearts pursue their own gain.” (Ezekiel 33:31).
The more a people pursues the simple, easy non-genuine kinds of love, the harder it will be to find and to maintain a genuine God-pleasing love. Jesus said, “Because lawlessness will abound the love of many will grow cold” (Matthew 24:12), and Paul told Timothy, “in the last days perilous times will come…men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money….”(2 Timothy 3:2).
Each of us can consider the lack of love we have demonstrated in our lives and realize that we are filled with love-empty sins. Here is where we come to the cross and turn to the Gospel and then see even more deeply what true LOVE really is. “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us.” [v.16]
For all our love-emptiness, Christ’s love demonstrated on the cross swallows up that sin. “Where sin abounded grace did much more abound”(Romans 5:20). Where love-emptiness is everywhere, God’s undeserved love demonstrated through Jesus, swallows up the emptiness. God punished Christ for our sins on the cross, so that we are declared holy in His sight and made heirs of eternal life. That is LOVE!
Once the emptiness of our sin is swallowed up by the Gospel’s news that Jesus has died to forgive our sins, then a new love begins to grow in our hearts. Love for God and one another takes root where before there was only a sinful love for oneself. John writes, “We love Him because He first loved us..” (1 John 4:19)
We are able to show our love for God by keeping His commandments—loving God and our neighbor. The love of God produces love in our hearts. “Whoever has this world’s goods and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?” [v.17]
Elsewhere in this same letter of John we read: “Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments" (1 John 2:3) …"Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another…If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom He has not seen"(1 John 4:11,20). Showing a Christ-like love in our lives is not burdensome because we love to love Him who loved us with such a great love!
If it is God’s love that produces the love that we show toward Him and toward others then it is also His love that will strengthen us when our level of love is low. When our sin-weak hearts don’t demonstrate love it is the Gospel revelation of God’s love that is equipped and able to lift us up and work a better love within us. THIS is the solution to the world’s sin, namely, the Gospel creating a change of heart in sinners and then also sustaining that change.
John continues, “And by this we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him. For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things.” [vv.19-20]. Listen again to that amazing phrase, “IF OUR HEART CONDEMNS US, GOD IS GREATER THAN OUR HEART.”
Not only is our sin-weak heart in need of uplifting because it fails in loving God and others as it should, it also needs reassurance because of its sin. In weakness, our sinful hearts and consciences reason that there can be no way that we are children of God because just look at the sins we still commit. Our conscience feels the guilt of the sin that it cannot deny and the Devil uses this to tempt us to doubt our salvation and to question God’s love for us. If our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart!
No matter how guilty our heart feels and no matter how much we can find in ourselves to condemn ourselves, God’s love is greater! We are able to go to the Gospel and hear God proclaim us righteous because of Jesus’ suffering and death. We hear God announce that our sins are all forgiven and that we are His children in spite of our sins. He warmly encourages our hearts, "Don’t doubt…just believe! Remember My Word and promise." Who will we believe…our hearts…or God? If our sin-weak hearts condemn, God’s strong love will lift us up!
There are many things that can pull our hearts down into weakness apart from the guilt of sin. We might charge forward into the day with a strong heart but as things go wrong, or we’re reminded of all the things we need and the troubles of earth, the strength is sapped. GOD IS GREATER THAN OUR HEART and reminds us, “He who did not spare His own Son but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give usall things” (Romans 8:32).
God’s loving patience with us, His weak children, demonstrates His love and gives us courage when we fail. God provides His Word and Sacrament to uplift our hearts with His strong love.
Today, the communicants will receive what the hymn writer calls God’s "feast of love." We come to the Lord’s table love-empty, confessing our sins. Jesus’ body and blood that was sacrificed on the cross for our sins is given in God’s feast of love. Through this amazing meal in which we physically and spiritually receive the "proof" that Jesus died "for me." God’s love for sinners so uniquely demonstrated in the Sacrament, lifts up our hearts with strength, so that we leave the altar refreshed and renewed in our lives as His children.
There is so much that is called love, but its not. There is so much that is claimed to describe God’s love but it does not. The love Paul of which Paul writes in 1 Corinthians is the true love God demonstrates toward us. Without that love we are nothing. Paul wrote, “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing…and now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:1-2,13).
We know Love through our Lord. This true abiding love is the "greatest" and exceeds even faith and hope because without God’s grace and all that His grace has accomplished, there is no meaning to life, there’s nothing in which to put our faith, and nothing in which to place our hope. On the other hand, with God’s love everything is different. God’s undeserved love revealed through Christ in the Gospel swallows up our lovelessness, lifts up our hearts now, and will bring blessing through eternity. AMEN!
— Pastor Wayne C. Eichstadt