Sadly one of my friends at Fuller, Andrea Bressler, shall be moving on from seminary for bigger and better things.
Recently we took a communication class together and after my “Biblical Message” speech she sent me an email in which she encouraged me and wrote, “If you’re comfortable, would you send me your notes from your speech Tuesday? I think more people need to hear what you said and I’d love to soak it in and be able to tell others…”
So as a bit of a farewell present and a thank you for your encouragement here is the recording of that sermon and the notes.
(Sidenote: Only watching this video and then looking at my notes do I see how much I went “off script.” I think what I preached is better than what I wrote.)
Speech Purpose: To explain how experiencing the love of God is a catalyst for our love.
Brothers and sisters today I want to share a message with you from John’s first epistle. In it, John devotes an entire chapter to discussing God’s love and the intersection of this divine love with our love. His whole message is wrapped up in on one verse. First John 4:19 says, “We love because he first loved us.” We love because He first loved us. The message of John, the one that I want to draw your attention to today, is simply that experiencing the love God has for usis to be the catalyst for our love as Christians.
The Status Quo:
- While this message is a simple and profound truth I fear we in the Church often get it wrong. And I want to start there. Often, we are encouraged to focus on attaining the standard of love for us as Christians, before we know in a deep and meaningful way the love of Christ.
- When our best attempt at loving unselfishly, loving the less fortunate and loving our enemies fail we can begin to feel like failures or bad Christians. This often leads to a situation where we confuse the causal relationship between divine love and human love. We act as if 1 John 4:19 reads “He loves us because we first loved.” Unsure of God’s love for us, we attempt to earn God’s love through our loving behavior.
- In this paradigm our attempts to fulfill the exhortations of scripture come from human effort, not a natural response to divine live. Regardless of how close we come, our love will always be a counterfeit of the real thing.
- I am convinced a misunderstanding of the intersection between the love of God and our love is at the root of many cases where people are involved in apparently successful ministries and churches only to have their ministries end in burn-out, affairs, or financial scandal.
The way it should be:
- John’s message, that I echo you today, is that knowing the love of God is the only true catalyst for your love and action as a Christian in this world. We can only genuinely love our neighbor, ourselves and our God out of a response to divine live, not out sheer willpower.
- Only when we experience the love God has for us first will we be able to fulfill the exhortations of scripture and be who we are called to be. Only then will our love not be self-seeking, for knowing the love of God what will we lack and need to make up for in our other relationships? Only then will we be able to love the less fortunate, for knowing the love of God how can we not see our own neediness and poverty? Only then will our love truly be able to extend to not just our friends but to our enemies as well, for knowing the love of God what will we have to fear from those who would hurt or harm us?
- While it may sound like I am stating the obvious, as I see it there is simply no way for an authentic Christian life to flow out of an individual without them experiencing the love of God.
- This is also not an isolated message and is found elsewhere in the Bible.
- Jesus in John 15 states that apart from abiding in Him we can do nothing. No fruit will be borne outside of a relationship with Jesus, and to know God is to know His love.
- In Ephesians Paul talks about many things. However, first he prays in chapter 3 that through the Holy Spirit the Ephesians would come to know the love God has for them so they could be filled with the fullness of God. Then he talks about unity in the Body of Christ. Then he talks living righteously in a manner worthy of our calling. Then he talks about human relationships and mutual submission. Then he talks about spiritual warfare. It is not that we are not called to act and live in a certain way, or that there are not important things to do in this world, it is important that these things come after our experience of God’s love.
While we are indeed called to love God and love others in a variety of ways in this life it clear from this passage and others that knowing the love that God has for us is to be primary and foundational to our lives in this world. We love not because we are good people, or because we tried really hard, or because we know we should, but because He first loved us.
I know many in this room are Christians, have been so for a very long time and have had powerful spiritual experiences. However, knowing how important this message my exhortation for you today is to truly examine your relationship with God. Do you truly know that God loves you? Are you serving before you know this with certainty? Are you trying to be a good Christian to earn the love of Christ? If at the end of the day you realize something is not right encourage you to seek God, pray, receive ministry, and seek healing until you can say that you know of God’s love for you and this is the catalyst for all your endeavors in this life.