When Knowing God Means Loving YouNovember 2, 2009, More from this speaker 更多关于此讲员: Rev. Wong Siow Hwee (1 John 4:7-21) For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: 1,2,3 John
Preached at a Bilingual (Mandarin-English, Sunday) service
Sermon on 1 John 4:7-21
One of the films that greatly impacted me is called Pay it Forward. The story is about a boy with an idea to transform the world. The idea is that instead of the usual practice to pay back the person who has done you a good deed, you pay it forward to another person, and the practice continues with that person and so on. This idea is revolutionary because when a good deed is done and it is paid back, it ends with only 2 good deeds done. But a good deed that continues to be paid forward will never end. The very first good deed is now transformed into countless good deeds with just this simple change of mindset.
Lately, as I’ve been reading 1 John, I wonder if this is the idea God had in mind. God did something for us that is impossible for us to pay back. Not only that, the cost of this act of God is immeasurable. The natural response of receiving such a tremendous act of grace is to pay it forward to others, since there is no way to pay back to God. For the life that we have been given, we give our life to others. It is crucial that we do not ask for any payback because whatever that we are giving has been paid in full. Instead, whoever we serve should pay it forward to give their lives to others as the gift that keeps on giving. As I reflect on this brilliant plan of God, it is indeed remarkable that such a simple change of mindset can transform a self-serving church into a community serving, mission-minded church. Some of us still have the mentality of “why is the church not loving to me?” or “I am the saved, you are the condemned”. I hope that you now understand that all of us are in the ministry of paying it forward instead of thinking that you have paid back God’s grace by attending church. To be honest, I don’t need your attendance unless you are here to learn to love and to practice love.
This is my third time speaking about the same topic of the command to love one another from the same book 1 John. In my first sermon “Actions speak louder than words”, John argued that the obedience to the command of loving one another is how we tell who the true Christians are. Loving- true Christians; hating – fake. In my second sermon “In light of the life-giving love”, John argued that only those who love have life. Loving – alive; hating - dead. How can John be so polarizing with just one single criterion? Doesn’t he know how hard it is to love? This Sunday morning, I want to affirm this definitively and spell it out clearly once and for all: Yes, he can. John can make the command to love one another the key differentiating factor because God is love. This is why topic for today is a very poetic line: When knowing God means loving you.
To know God is to know that God is love. God is love is not the same as Love is God or God is the god of love like Venus or Aphrodite. Love is not God because Love is not a being like God. God is also not a god of love because God is not just a governing deity of love, like a love dispenser or a love producing machine. When we say God is love, we mean that love is the nature of God, and when God acts, God acts out of love. In the Old Testament, this love is expressed as his loving-kindness to his people. In the New Testament, this love is expressed distinctively in his act of salvation through the sacrifice of his one and only Son. So if we truly know God, we know that God is love because of all that he has done.
This is why I am united with John taking in the radical stand that if you know God, you love; and if you do not love, it means you do not know God. This is because the knowledge of God and his acts of love should compel us to respond with acts of love to others. Let me be clear. Nobody is forcing anybody to do anything here. And I certainly don’t want anybody to love begrudgingly so that they can get into heaven. That is not what John is saying. In fact, I think it is a wrong understanding of this command to love one another that we end up with a bunch of judgmental self-righteous Christians always complaining about the lack of love in church. Rather, God’s love is compelling and affective in making us love because it is in the way that God loves. When we understand the nature of God’s love, we see that it is the kind that makes us want to love. This is why I can tell if you truly know God or not. If you know what God’s love is about, if you get it, you will love. If you do not love, obviously you do not get God’s love, hence implying that you do not know God. It is as straightforward for me as it is for John. Let me explain about the nature of God’s love, although it is better experienced personally than described objectively like an object of study.
God takes the initiative in loving. There is great significance in God taking the first step because this is a love that is creative. It starts a relationship out of nothing. In first loving us, the chain effect to love was put in motion. Since the love process has begun, we have no reason for apathy not to love. Why do I have to have to say sorry first? No, you are not making the first step. God has already done the first step. You reciprocate God’s love by extending the forgiveness to others.
God not only takes the initiative, but his love is also a full sacrifice. John emphasizes the fact that Jesus is God’s one and only Son. When God sacrificed, there was no holding back. He sacrificed his one and only Son. If there is a Jesus no. 2, sacrificing Jesus no. 1 is costly but still dispensable. But there is no Jesus no. 2. God’s love has no holding back because loving with reservation rarely works. I love you, but I have no spare time or money. No, that is not appreciating God’s love, because His is a love that is a real and complete sacrifice. God gave us his one and only Son.
Not only is this sacrifice a full sacrifice, it is an atoning sacrifice. It is a sacrifice that bridges Man to God. It is a sacrifice that gives life. It is a sacrifice that allows God to live in us and us in him. God in giving us Jesus is giving us a full relationship with the ever-living God.
But there is an important implication to love expressed as a self-initiated sacrifice. It is a simple logic that anyone who has ever given a present will understand. Love expressed in this form has to be accepted to be complete. So if you really understand the nature of God’s love, you know that the process doesn’t end with God’s action alone. The act of sacrifice has to be accepted in order to be expressed in full. However, the acceptance of God’s sacrifice is not done pay back style, but pay it forward style. You show that you accept God’s atoning sacrifice for you by loving others. This is because what you have accepted is God living in you. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.
In describing God’s love for you, I hope you can experience it for yourself. In many ways, God’s love isn’t really explainable like a scientific theory. John states it plainly that this is something you know through the Holy Spirit. Paul also says something similar.
Ephesians 3: 16I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
Paul says in his prayer that we have to be strengthened with power through the Holy Spirit. And the purpose of the power is to grasp the full measure of God’s love. If you truly accept Jesus into your life, if you know God’s love, you will live out a life of love. This is my personal conviction.
I wish to talk about the topic of confidence before God, since John always couples these assurances in all the 3 times he talks about loving one another (See 2:12-14; 3:19-22; 4:17-18). Simply put, John states that if we love one another, we can be fully confident on the day of judgment. Let me be clear. We are not doing any acts of love because they can save us. They are not good deeds that can be credited as our own righteousness. Any love that we give is out of the love God has first given us, so there is nothing to be boastful about. However, John’s church is feeling insecure because of the false teachings from the Gnostics. Maybe they need something extra, some secret knowledge to confirm their salvation. John shares with them a simple truth. Nothing confirms that your relationship with God is healthy like when you love. Like the saying goes: to err is human, to forgive divine. When you are able to give divine love, it is a direct palpable testimony that you are well connected to the source of love, God.
I do acknowledge that the command to love one another is no easy task. In church, conflicts are inevitable. But whenever they arise, I ask that you remember that you are a Christian. Know that God is love, and you should know what to do.
“During World War II, Hitler commanded all religious groups to unite so that he could control them. Among the Brethren assemblies, half complied and half refused. Those who went along with the order had a much easier time. Those who did not, faced harsh persecution. In almost every family of those who resisted, someone died in a concentration camp.
When the war was over, feelings of bitterness ran deep between the groups and there was much tension. Finally they decided that the situation had to be healed. Leaders from each group met at a quiet retreat. For several days, each person spent time in prayer, examining his own heart in the light of Christ’s commands. Then they came together.
Francis Schaeffer, who told of the incident, asked a friend who was there, “What did you do then?” “We were just one,” he replied. As they confessed their hostility and bitterness to God and yielded to His control, the Holy Spirit created a spirit of unity among them. Love filled their hearts and dissolved their hatred.
When love prevails among believers, especially in times of strong disagreement, it presents to the world an indisputable mark of a true follower of Jesus Christ.” 
 Our Daily Bread 4th Oct 1992
1 John 4:7–21 (Listen)
7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.
13 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16 So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 17 By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. 18 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. 19 We love because he first loved us. 20 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. 21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.