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“Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments.”
Talk about ‘talking in circles.’ If you love the Father then you love the Father’s children. And if you love the Father’s children you love the Father.
Actually, John is not talking in circles but in crosses. Loving God cannot be separated from loving one another. And loving one another cannot be separated from loving God.
But separating the two from each other is just what we keep trying to do. Take Cain for example. Cain said, “I love God” even while he hated his brother, Abel. Cain said, “I love God,” even while he murdered his brother. He didn’t see any connection between love for God and love for his brother.
How many of us are like Cain? We say that we LOVE GOD but have no love for our neighbor. We say that we LOVE OUR NEIGHBOR but have no love for God.
Earlier in this letter, John talked about Cain saying, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” (1Jn.4:20-21)
It’s not that God stops loving us. God NEVER STOPS LOVING US. GOD LOVED CAIN, even after his crime. But Cain did not love God, because he didn’t love the one BORN OF GOD.
What John is addressing here is the pervasive temptation to oversimplify the faith. To OVERSIMPLIFY the faith is to think that it is EITHER all about the VERTICAL or all about the HORIZONTAL. It’s EITHER all about God and me OR it’s all about my neighbor and me.
Here’s the way the confusion shows up in everyday life. The person who lives and cares only for himself and acts like a first class JERK to others, even his or her own SPOUSE, and yet never misses coming to church and if you asked him about God he’d say, ‘I love God,’ thinks that true religion is only about the VERTICAL.
On the other hand, the one who thinks that it’s all about “being a good person,” being fair and honest and generous, with no consideration to his relationship with God thinks that true religion as purely HORIZONTAL.
Both are tinged with sadness and disappointment, because both miss the truth. “Everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God…”
Take Jesus for example. It is His love for His Father that drives Him to love you. The Father sent Him into the world to love you, by laying down His life for you. In His love for His Father, Jesus loves you with the greatest love there is. To love His Father is to love you. To love you, is to love His Father who loves you.
True religion is both HORIZONTAL and VERTICAL – not two separate loves – but all one LOVE that is cross shaped.
So, with all of this talk about LOVE, and this 1ST Epistle of John to the Church is filled with LOVE TALK, it’s necessary to talk about what LOVE does, how LOVE acts.
Children of God is WHO WE ARE, not because we chose to be a child. BEING a child is not something that anyone gets to CHOOSE. We ARE who we ARE because we are BORN OF THE FATHER. Born in the waters of Holy Baptism.
We know WHO WE ARE – children of God. Now the question is WHAT WE DO because of WHO WE ARE. And the answer is, LOVE. Love God AND love one another.
So the question that begs to be addressed here is, ‘what is love?’ ‘What does love look like?’ ‘What does love do?’ Both the VERTICAL love of God, AND the HORIZONTAL love of one another.
This is the question that John raises and answers for us. “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God AND OBEY HIS COMMANDMENTS. For this is the love of God, that we keep his COMMANDMENTS.”
It may sound strange to connect ‘love’ to the ‘commandments.’ How can you ‘command’ love? Who can imagine someone saying, “I command you to love”?
So, what if, instead of the word, ‘commandments,’ we substituted another equally legitimate word like ‘INSTRUCTION.’ “For this is the love of God, that we keep his INSTRUCTION.” Or that we “follow His instruction.”
I think that we would all agree that the world is very confused about what LOVE is and how LOVE acts. And it doesn’t matter whether we are talking about ‘ROMANTIC LOVE’ or ‘BROTHERLY LOVE’ or ‘SELF-GIVING LOVE.’
Some say, ‘this is love’ and ‘this is how love acts and behaves.’ And others say, ‘no, that’s not love at all and that’s not how love acts.’
Everyone agrees that LOVE is good and we should LOVE more. What we can’t seem to agree on is how LOVE acts.
St. John has nailed our problem. We are confused because we ignore His INSTRUCTION.
LOVE NEEDS INSTRUCTION.
Love doesn’t come naturally to sinners, and we’re all fallen sinners. We need INSTRUCTION on how to LOVE from God because “God is love.” He wrote the book on LOVE. It’s called the Bible. All TRUE LOVE comes from God and ACTS according to His INSTRUCTION. Apart from GOD’S INSTRUCTION, all LOVE is not really LOVE at all but is really sinful.
So, how do you respond when you hear this, “If these two men LOVE each other and want to be married, how can you deny them?” “If these two women LOVE each other and want to be married, how is that any different than when a man and a woman LOVE each other and want to be married?”
We say, this cannot be LOVE because it is ACTING CONTRARY to God’s INSTRUCTION.
LOVE NEEDS INSTRUCTION.
Another example of just how confused about HOW LOVE ACTS is even more pervasive. A man and a women ‘LOVE’ each other but are NOT interested in marriage and so they live together and share the bed and insist, ‘what can be wrong with that? We love each other.’
But the answer is the same. That’s not LOVE because it ACTS contrary to God’s INSTRUCTION.
LOVE NEEDS INSTRUCTION.
And the thing is, everyone agrees that LOVE NEEDS INSTRUCTION. But can we begin to see how far we have fallen from God when we consider that we are depending upon the CIVIL COURTS of our land to give us that INSTRUCTION instead of God?
Both sides of the question are holding their breath, hoping we get the final and definitive INSTRUCTION that we all agree we need, from the SUPREME COURT.
Whether the Supreme Court rules in favor of traditional marriage or against it isn’t going to solve the problem. The fact that man is writing his own INSTRUCTIONS and ignoring God’s INSTRUCTIONS shows how far we have fallen.
Jesus summarized the COMMANDMENTS like this, “LOVE the Lord your God and LOVE your neighbor as yourself.” The COMMANDMENTS are what LOVE does – LOVE in the VERTICAL and LOVE in the HORIZONTAL.
In our Gospel reading this morning, Jesus speaks to His disciples, “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love…” (John 17:10) This is not a CONDITIONAL SENTENCE. He’s not saying, “If you want my love you’ve got to keep my commandments.” This is what “LOVE” is. And this how “LOVE” acts. “If you keep my commandments, YOU WILL BE ABIDING IN MY LOVE.”
So, last Sunday we said that we need to know the Creeds so that we can identify the truth about Jesus from the lie. Now today we are being directed to the 10 Commandments. We need to get to know them so that we can identify the truth about LOVE.
Luther’s explanations here are so helpful. He begins each one saying, “We should fear and LOVE God…” And with each one He gives us a very practical explanation of how LOVE acts and how LOVE does not act both with God with others.
We are fallen and sinful people who live in a fallen and sinful world. And we will always want to define and interpret things according to our own fallen and sinful desires. Love needs INSTRUCTION.
And the thing is, the INSTRUCTION, His COMMANDMENTS are actually GOOD; despite all the opinions to the contrary.
John writes, “His commandments are not burdensome.” That’s just the negative way of saying something very positive. “And His instructions are a delight. And life lived according to God’s Commandments is ‘VERY GOOD.’
Sometimes it may seem as though we CHILDREN OF GOD are going to be swallowed up and devoured by the world with its distorted sense of love. But despite all of the appearances to the contrary, we are the ones who will enjoy the victory.
“For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith.”
The ‘victory’ that overcomes the world does not lie in the hands of the courts or the politicians or the media. The OUTCOME lies with God who has already won the victory in our Lord, Jesus Christ.
The LOVE OF GOD triumphed on Easter Sunday. And the victory will be fully realized on the Last Day when everyone will see the LOVE OF GOD in the face of Jesus Christ.
Until then, Jesus comes to us, in love for His Father to love you with His body and blood hidden under bread and wine – to strengthen our faith – “for this is the victory, even our faith.”
Until that final day comes, things are going to get messier and messier. But IN FAITH, the children of God fix their eyes on God’s INSTRUCTIONS more and more. Because love needs INSTRUCTION.