This year’s theme is God first. We’ve been talking about God and you–developing a deeper relationship with God. John says, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God” (1 John 4:7 ESV). God loved us enough to send his only son for us. Therefore, John concludes, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (vs. 11).
We have confidence that God remains in us because he gives us his Spirit. Furthermore, “whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God” (vs. 15). This gives us absolute confidence for the day of judgment and we know that we will spend eternity with God.
John concludes, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love” (vs. 18). If we’ve really been perfected in love, Christians should have no fear of death or judgment. This gives us peace of mind and courage to teach others, knowing that we are secure with God.
The book of Leviticus talks a lot about the holiness of God. God is holy (set apart), therefore we are holy. Holiness means that God’s people are distinguished from the world. Where the world perpetuates violence, injustices, and hatred, God’s people are to show compassion, justice, and love. God does not permit his people to take vengeance.
There are very specific commandments for how to treat one’s neighbor. “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord” (Leviticus 19:18 ESV). This commandment is what Jesus referred to as “the second greatest commandment,” behind loving the Lord your God. In fact, these two commandments were so strong that Jesus said all of the law and the prophets hinge on these two commandments.
Over the next few weeks we will specifically talk about what it means to love ourselves. There are plenty of references in the Bible yet Christians don’t seem to take this charge to love ourselves as seriously as they should. Love is not perfect if we don’t love ourselves.
We all know the verse: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16 ESV). God didn’t just give His son on the cross, but he gave him in birth too. The depth of love that God has for us is difficult for us to grasp.
When the birth of Christ was announced, it was great news for the Jewish people who had been waiting for the Messiah to come. We especially see this with a man named Simeon, “and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him” (Luke 2:25). Simeon was told that he wouldn’t die until he was able to see the baby Jesus. When he did, he took him in his arms and blessed him.
Jesus’ life was rooted in justice and righteousness, and his love flowed from that foundation. Love required him to radically defend the innocent and vulnerable, to heal the sick and care for the poor and downtrodden. This is what love looks like. Love is a fierce defender. Ultimate love saves. As we look towards the birth of Jesus, we most definitely need to focus on his love!
We have an idiom in the West, to “fall out of love.” Merriam-Webster simply defines the idiom this way: “to no longer feel romantic love for someone.” Even the definition seems cold and detached. What if there is actually no such thing as falling out of love? What if, instead, we lose focus and perspective on what love really is? Is it possible that love needs to be readjusted, and readjusted often?
I think that’s what was going on in 1 Corinthians 13 when Paul reminded the Corinthian church about what true love requires. The Corinthians didn’t fall out of love with each other. Instead, they lost focus on what true love really looks like. Paul says, “If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor. 13:3-7 ESV).
Paul very patiently readjusted their vision of love. Love was reignited in the Corinthian church. People began to treat each other with kindness and respect again. We need reminders often that love is a beautiful thing and it requires us to treat one another with all patience and kindness. When we do that, God’s love shines in us.
When Paul told the Corinthian church that they are all members of one body, and that each has it’s own role, he then launched into what’s known as “the love chapter.” Paul made the very powerful point that love is essential for the body of Christ to function. It is the heart, even the heartbeat, of the church. Love is what binds everyone and everything together. It’s what maintains peace and unity.
Paul said, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:1, 2 ESV). Paul says love is patient and kind, it doesn’t envy or boast, it is not arrogant or rude. It is not self-seeking. This is the polar opposite of what Paul was addressing earlier in this letter to the Corinthians.
Earlier, Paul warned that selfish, greedy, idolatrous, and sexually abusive people will not inherit the kingdom of God. He told the church to avoid such people within the community of believers and to purge the evil. Why? Because love doesn’t do those things. Love corrects, rebukes, and even avoids people who are destructive. There is no place for disunity and destruction in the Lord’s church. While hatred tears down, love builds up. And God wants believers everywhere to build each other up into Christ as our head.
When churches and individuals love well, there is peace and protection, honor and provision. Love is essential for the body to be well. Like a body whose heart stops beating, the body of Christ dies when the body stops loving. Love is the heartbeat of the church.
The past several weeks have been very challenging for us with several recent deaths. With every death we are reminded of just how short and precious life is. Each breath we take is truly a gift from God. There is much that we take for granted, there are lots of sins that we commit, and there are decisions we will regret. But God’s love is powerful, and he loves us anyway.
When our beloved friend, deacon, and brother in Christ died this past week, I was honored to be able to read Psalm 86 at the graveside. Bill had a love for both the psalms and music. Before his death he was working on a project to have a composer write sheet music to turn Psalm 86 into an A Cappella arrangement. Psalm 86 was one of Bill’s favorite psalms. It certainly has deeper meaning now, for sure.
Psalm 86 is about pleading for God’s mercy and receiving it because of God’s love: “Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me, for I am poor and needy. Preserve my life, for I am godly; save your servant, who trusts in you–you are my God. Be gracious to me, O Lord, for to you do I cry all the day” (Psalm 86:1-3 ESV).
In this prayer of David, he recognizes how small he is in the presence of God, and that he is in desperate need of God’s mercy. It is because of God’s steadfast love that David received mercy, and David is giving thanks to God: “I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify your name forever. For great is your steadfast love toward me; you have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol” (vs. 12-13). It’s important not only that we recognize God’s steadfast love, but that we extend it to others as well.
If ever there has been a trying year for large numbers of people, 2020 certainly has delivered. From the pandemic, to economic strain, to race relations, it has been a very taxing year. It’s no surprise that many people are stressed out and on edge. As Christians, we are called to be the light in this world. The way we live our lives and treat others matters. Thanksgiving is an important time when we reflect on our important history and give thanks for all that God has blessed us with.
Paul urged the Ephesian church to “walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:2 ESV). Paul also urged, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil” (verse 15). How the Christians behaved in the midst of unrest mattered. It mattered then, and it matters now. Paul warned them to flee from sexual immorality, avoid drunkenness and debauchery, and to instead be filled with the Spirit.
Christians were to be different from the world, singing and making melody in their hearts, “giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ” (vs. 20, 21). It’s easy to be ungrateful, angry, disappointed, and mean-spirited towards people. But as Christians, we need to set an example in word and deed, thanking God the Father for everything he’s given us. When we do this, we live as an example of Christ, who died for our sins.