1 John 4:7-21
7Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. 10In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.
11Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. 12No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us. 13By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world. 15God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God. 16So we have known and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.
17Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. 18There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. 19We love because he first loved us. 20Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. 21The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.
So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, 3for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.
5Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry). 6On account of these the wrath of God is coming on those who are disobedient. 7These are the ways you also once followed, when you were living that life.
8But now you must get rid of all such things—anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth. 9Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices 10and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. 11In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!
12As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. 13Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. 16Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. 17And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
In the beginning, before the big bang, before sun and moon and earth, before anything existed anywhere, there was love. God is love. The Bible doesn’t just teach that God is kind and merciful and just. It doesn’t just tell us that God is loving; it tells us that God is love.
There’s nothing stronger than love, nothing bigger than love, nothing better than love, nothing more important than love. God is love.
Love created the world. Love created human beings too. Not only were we created in and for love, God called our ancestors into a special relationship. God called Abraham and Sarah to leave their home and seek their fortune following God. Through wandering, slavery, more wandering and settlement, God led the people of Israel and taught them laws that would help them put love into action. Love surrounded and shaped them throughout their journey as a nation.
That’s the beginning of the story, but of course, the story isn’t quite that simple. Even though love is at the center of creation, and even though love shapes the core of who we are, there are other powerful forces pushing against us too. We’re shaped by hunger for power and money and status. We’re shaped by a desire to control other people. We long to have our way and we fear things like death and shame and poverty.
All those things mess up our relationships. Imagine: you meet someone. You have interests in common so you start spending time together. There’s an immediate connection as you talk about your hopes and plans for the future. Then worry starts to creep in. Do they care about me as much as I care about them? Will I be hurt? Can I be sure about the future?
We start building walls to protect ourselves. Sometimes we wall ourselves in with our partner or family; other times we wall ourselves off from them too. We pile up things to protect ourselves from the uncertainty of the future. We try to insulate ourselves from danger and hardship; we look at people outside our walls as a threat.
All that protection makes our relationships hard and brittle. Our connections with others become weaker, and our interactions grow colder. We keep more to ourselves and share less with others.
That happens in our relationships with other people and in our relationship with God. With God is can be even harder because we’ve never seen God. Many of us come to church because we grew up coming to church. Our parents brought us to church, and something about the community and the music and the story keeps us coming back. Many of us are deeply committed to the church and feel strongly about its mission to help others, but there’s a connection missing between us and God.
That’s not something new in our time; people have always struggled with maintaining a vibrant relationship with God. When the first fire of love in humanity got cool and the fear, greed and anger separating us from God and from each other got too tall to see over, God sent Jesus Christ into the world. In Jesus’ life we see what a life built on love looks like. We see him reaching out to everyone, unafraid of rejection or misunderstanding. We see him go head to head with the religious leaders, not hateful or defensive, but also not afraid of their power. In Jesus we see what we were meant to be.
Even more than that, we see how much God loves us because God sent his dearly beloved son Jesus into the world knowing our fear and drive for power would kill him. This moment, the moment when God sent Jesus into the world, knowing he would connect with people in a new way but also knowing that he would be brutally murdered shatters the trajectory of human history and gives us a chance to start over.
We see the power of that new beginning in the Book of Acts, which tells the story of the early church. We see it in Paul’s letters and in the stories of the Gospels. Thousands, eventually millions of men and women started their life over by coming to faith in Christ. The church is a community of new beginnings with God’s grace and love at the center.
God’s love in Jesus also means a chance for each of us to start over in our own lives. It means a new beginning that conquers the fear and self-concern that threatens to overwhelm us. What holds you back from being the person you could be? What blocks you from true joy in life? What would a new beginning mean for you?
Whatever stands between you and God, God forgives you. God reaches out to you today with love and welcome. When you accept God’s forgiveness, when you truly grab hold of God’s love and believe deep down that God welcomes you, it changes your life. That change looks different for everyone, and it doesn’t happen overnight, but accepting God’s love will change you.
When we know God loves us and welcomes us, we know that we matter. We know that we are special and important to God, even when no one else understands us. We can engage with people we disagree with or people who scare us because we know that no matter what someone else does or says to us, we are God’s beloved children.
When we know how much God loves us it’s easier to love other people. When I have a hard time dealing with somone, I try to remember that God loves that person too. That makes them more loveable to me. I also try to see things from their perspective, which makes it easier to understand their quirks and makes it easier to love them. I also think about what my problem with the person shows me about myself, about the ways I am difficult or annoying, or hurtful, and that softens my heart too.
Some people have a clear story of a day the love of God broke into their heart and changed them into a new person. For some people there is a clear time that they were lost, but now are found. For me it’s been a slower transformation, without an obvious before and after. But looking back I can see signposts on the journey. I can see places where God changed me, where God shaped different parts of my life to be more like Christ. I still have a long way to go, but God knows the way.
God is still changing me, and God has work to do on all of us, if we let him. That’s a partnership. God works with us to make us more loving, more trusting, to make us braver and wiser. The more we consciously open ourselves up to the change, the more we seek areas of our life that need God’s grace, the more we seek to improve in love, the more we’ll see God’s loving hands at work in our lives.
We sell that process short when we don’t expect to change. We come to church week after week wanting to be encouraged and maintained, but I’m not sure we come expecting God to change us. Following Jesus is dynamic; it is about growing in faith and maturity, about becoming more like our Lord. Think about making a commitment in your own life to seek the change God has in mind for you.
That transformation through God’s love also frees us from fear about the future. John puts it like this: “Love has been perfected among us in this way: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.”
I’m a long way from perfection in anything, but the more I know God, the more I trust God’s love. And the more I trust God’s love, the less I worry about hell or judgment or death or anything else. Ultimately, the world is in God’s hands, and God is love, so there is nothing to fear.
Thanks be to God.