Preached by Terrell Carter on 2/24/13
The story is told of a mother who was preparing pancakes for her two sons. The oldest son was five years old. The youngest was three years old. The boys began to argue over who would get the first pancake. The older brother said that he should get the first pancake because he was bigger. The younger brother said he should get the first pancake because he was cuter. Their mother saw this as an opportunity to teach both of them a moral lesson. She said, “If Jesus were sitting here, he would say, ‘I will let my brother have the first pancake and I can wait.'” The older brother turned to his younger brother and said, “Today, you get to be like Jesus!”
At that age, being first and getting your way is usually what’s most important in life, isn’t it? Even if it means that your little brother will go hungry for a while as you fill your own belly? You remember what it was like to be young don’t you. Winning was the most important thing. In the past, I have volunteered as a coach for various YMCA youth sports teams. The last team that I coached was a K-1 grade soccer team. In the YMCA league, they don’t officially count goals, so no one really won or lost. But it never failed that once the game was over, the first question from all of the kids was “did we win, coach?” We had one little boy who after our team only scored 1 goal, and the other team scored 10 goals, he ran to the sideline and told his parents “we won.”
When you’re that age, we all probably wanted to be the fastest in our class, or the strongest, or the one that could throw the ball the farthest, or make the most baskets. We wanted to win, didn’t we?
Unfortunately, that attitude doesn’t necessarily end when we become adults, does it? Instead of wanting more pancakes than anyone else, we want the biggest car, or the biggest house, or the biggest TV., or the brightest shirt, or the biggest office. Many people think that they have finally made it in life when they have the most toys that other people envy. Many people think that they are truly victorious in life when they have the biggest stack of chips on the table, or the most clothes, or the most followers on Facebook or Twitter.
Unfortunately for people who hold to this kind of thinking, they probably need to reevaluate their priorities. Why should they reevaluate their priorities? In God’s economy, the rich, those that God says are truly victorious, are not those who have the most pancakes, or the most cars, or the best office. In God’s economy, the person that is to be respected is not the greedy, selfish person. In God’s eyes, the opposite type of person is more appealing.
Someone once said that money is not the currency of God’s economy. Instead, it is love. Love is the currency of God’s economy. Love is what God values the most in the coming kingdom. I believe this. The currency of God’s kingdom is love, and as part of our living in God’s kingdom, we should give love away like we have won the Powerball Lottery.
I believe that this is one of the ideas that John is relaying in the portion that was read from I John 5:1-5. The act of loving is a symbol of wealth, in and of itself.
There’s that word Love. We hear about it a lot in church, don’t we? John’s readers read it a lot in his letter, as well. He uses the word Love at least 44 times in his letter.
Love. God is….love. God loved me. God loved you. God loves us. God loved us enough to send His Son on our behalf. Jesus loved us enough that He willingly came and died for us. And, because God loved us, we should love others.
It almost seems like John thinks we should just have one big love fest, doesn’t it?
Love. John points out that this command/encouragement to love is not a new commandment from God. In chapter 2, verse 7, he says, “My dear friends, I am not writing to give you a new commandment. It is the same one that you were first given, and it is the message you heard.”
To ask them to love is not to ask them to do anything out of the ordinary. This idea goes back as far as Moses and the book of Deuteronomy, doesn’t it? Deuteronomy chapter 6:5 says, “So, love the LORD your God with all your heart, soul, and strength.” Or “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” It goes on to later say that we should love our brothers and treat them honorably.
Jesus confirms this statement and even clarifies it when He is asked what the greatest commandment is. He says that all of the commandments, rules, and laws of God can be boiled down to 2 simple sentences, totaling 4 words. “Love God. Love others.” A simple equation.
John is emphasizing this idea of love in order to combat/contrast one of the philosophies of the time that was slowly infiltrating the church. The philosophy was called Gnosticism. This philosophy held that knowledge was the highest principle in life. Knowledge was the ultimate prize to be gained in life.
One arm of Gnosticism taught that God was unknowable outside of a special group of teachers. God was unknowable because he was far too pure and perfect to have anything to do with the material universe which was considered evil. In response to his perfection, he created lower divinities that would be mediators between him and mankind. But, some of these lower divinities worked to keep mortals in bondage in material matter and tried to prevent their souls from ascending back to god after the death of the physical bodies. This meant that deliverance from their material forms was attainable only through the special knowledge revealed by special teachers. Special teachers who probably wanted to be treated in special ways that was likely better than how everyone else was treated.
One of the outgrowths of this philosophy was the question of whether people could have a legitimate relationship with God. And if people could, how would it happen? If God is impersonal and up there, why would He care about me down here? If Jesus is just a lower celestial/angelic being (which is what Gnosticism taught), how could He really save me? John essentially wrote to give clarity to the church on how to view God and Christ.
But I believe that there was a second reason that John wrote his letter. I believe that John wrote to affirm their relationship with God the Father and Jesus the Son. Relationships that were built/founded on love. Relationships that would be exemplified and verified by a lifestyle of love. Love towards God. Love towards Christ. Love towards the Holy Spirit.
But Terrell, what would this love towards God look like? Well, I’m glad you asked. Love for God would look like…Obedience. Obedience? Terrell, you just went from a warm and fuzzy, gentle, peaceful word like love, and then hit us with the legalistic word like obedience.
I’m just repeating what John said. Verse 3 from the RSV says, “For the love of God is this, that we obey His (meaning God’s) commandments. What commandments? It’s interesting, but the word “law” is not mentioned in I John. And, when obedience is referred to, it’s never in a legalistic sense. When John refers to commandments, he’s not referring to a set of rules. Instead, he’s referring to the two things that he has repeated over and over again in the epistle. Love God and love others. So, the command is to love.
And according to John, these two things, loving God and loving others, are not hard to do. They are not burdensome. When John uses that word burdensome, he’s saying that it’s not a hassle to love. God’s desire for us to be obedient and loving is not unreasonable. It should not be thought of like it’s a weight that could crush us at any time like the tragic mythological character Atlas. You all remember Atlas, don’t you? He’s the figure that had to hold up the entire world on his shoulders for an eternity. His only hope in life was to try to find someone to trick into taking his burden off his shoulders so he could get some relief. John is saying that we don’t have a reason to feel like Atlas because obedience to God in the area of love is something that is very attainable.
How is it possible to love? First, through His own actions, God gave us the greatest example of how to love. God loves so much that He gives. I John is littered with references to this idea of God giving out of love. Second, since we are the children of God, we have the power that He has given us to overcome (to defeat or conquer) the world. As God’s children, the Holy Spirit is our guide and power source. By depending on the Holy Spirit, and seeking His guidance in our daily lives, we do not have to be subject to what Satan and the world throws at us to keep us from loving God and others.
But, what would Satan and the world throw at us to keep us from loving God and others? I John 2:15-17 from the King James Version says, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.” The Contemporary English versions says it this way, “Don’t love the world or anything that belongs to the world. If you love the world, you cannot love the Father. Our foolish pride comes from this world, and so do our selfish desires and our desire to have everything we see. None of this comes from the Father.”
John is referring to the world/worldly system that is opposed to loving others and obedience to God. This worldly way of living thrives on the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes, the pride of life, and pride in having possessions. John Piper says that these things can be, “summed up as desires for what we don’t have and pride in what we do have. When we don’t have what we want, the world corrupts us with covetousness. And when we do have what we want the world corrupts us with pride. This is what keeps us from loving God and loving each other. We love stuff. And when we don’t have it, we crave it. And when we do have it, we love to talk about it incessantly. And where is God in all that? At best, he’s there as the cosmic Sugar Daddy. We may even thank him for all our stuff. But there is a kind of gratitude that shows the gift, and not the giver, is our god.”
The good thing is that we don’t have to live our lives subjected to the way of the world or our flesh. We don’t have to constantly be in competition to have the biggest, or own the latest, or be the greatest. We can overcome the error of the world. We are able to avoid the slavery of our eyes, flesh, and pride.
How is this possible? Through our faith. Our belief that because God has loved us, because Christ loved us, we can hold this love toward us as being more valuable than anything that Satan, the world, or anyone else can offer us. We, and John’s readers, are the ones that can conquer, overcome, and defeat the world and the flesh. We who believe in , and obey, the love of God found in Jesus Christ.
If we say that we love God, then we will obey His commands. We will honor His desire for us to love Him and others. And we will know that this is not hard for us to do because love is not a burden or a chore. Why is it not a chore? Because God gave us the example for us to follow. And when we follow God’s example, we will overcome the world and the flesh.
This sounds too simple and naïve, Terrell. How do you expect me to realistically buy into this? All I can say is practice love. When you feel like it, and when you don’t. When it’s convenient, and when it’s not. When it’s towards people that you know and already care about, or people that you can’t stand. When it’s towards people you trust, and people you don’t even know.
But please understand that God will not force you to do anything. You don’t have to do any of these things. But, never forget that you are where you are in life because of the love that has been given for you. Your mother’s love. Your father’s love. The love of friends. And even the love of complete strangers.
I think we sometimes forget that we don’t live on an isolated island like the Tom Hanks character in the movie Cast Away. We are not by ourselves. We are all connected. This is what makes life worth living. It’s better than, and more precious than, the last pancake, or the latest gadget, or any fancy title. The fact that we are allowed to experience God’s love through others is precious. The fact that we are also able to share this love with others is also precious.
One writer said it this way, “We are to love as Jesus loved. We are to love the brothers and sisters. We are to love God. To share in the divine life and so to be called a child of God. In this sphere of love, there is no room for hatred, retaliation, or apathy. Love is the mode of existence of both God and God’s children. To live in this love is to overcome the world that is grounded in the violence and rampage, of retaliation and vengeance. It is to live honoring life and relationships. It is this way of being, and only this way of being that can be called ‘born again.’ Any other way of existence is a false and unformed faith.”
Will you pray with me?