The Difference God’s Love Makes, I John 4:7-19
During the past four weeks, we have considered what it means for followers of Jesus to be the light of the world as they practice faith and proclaim hope. Today we consider what it means for followers of Jesus to believe in the difference that God’s love makes. Today’s message is a combination of teaching and preaching about love. The foundational scripture for this sermon series is I Corinthians 13:13 which reads as follows: “So faith, hope, and love remain, these three, but the greatest of these is love.”
As we consider the difference that God’s love makes for followers of Jesus, I invite us to hear this scripture lesson from I John 4:7-19.
7 Beloved, let us love one another because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9 God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives 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 do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world. 15 God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God. 16 So we have known and believe the love that God has for us.
God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. 17 Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so 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 reached perfection in love. 19 We love because he first loved us.
To fully appreciate this scripture, it is important to realize that in the time when I John was written, there were four different ways love was defined. Love defined by empathy. Love defined by friendship. Love defined by romance. Love defined by God.
In his book, The Magnificent Defeat, Frederick Buechner wrote about different ways love may be defined.
“The love for equals is a human thing – of friend for friend, brother for brother. It is to love what is loving and lovely. The world smiles.
“The love for the less fortunate is a beautiful thing – the love for those who suffer, for those who are poor, the sick, the failures, the unlovely. This is compassion, and it touches the heart of the world.
“The love for the more fortunate is a rare thing – to love those who succeed where we fail, to rejoice without envy with those who rejoice …The world is always bewildered by its saints.
“And then there is love for the enemy – love for the one who does not love you but mocks, threatens, and inflicts pain. The tortured’s love for the torturer. This is God’s love. It conquers the world.”
John Wesley, the author of the Methodist movement, defined God’s all-powerful love by the following terms: prevenient grace, justifying grace, and sanctifying grace. Wesley taught that:
- prevenient grace is God’s love drawing us to live in right relationship with God through Jesus
- justifying grace is God’s love allowing us to live in right relationship with God through Jesus
- sanctifying grace is God’s love allowing us to mature through right relationship with God through Jesus
John Wesley believed in the difference God’s love makes. He was in agreement with I John 4:16 from today’s scripture reading: “So we have known and believe the love that God has for us.”
Mother Teresa defined the difference that God’s love makes with these words, “When you know how much God is in love with you, then you can only live your life radiating that love.”
People who believe in Jesus believe in the difference God’s love makes because we have known and believe in the love that God has for us.
Bill Courtney tells of having to trust and believe in God’s love. It began with a telephone call, before Easter last year, informing him that Tim Russell, the assistant pastor at the church where he worshipped, had died from Covid-19. Tim, the assistant pastor, had been diagnosed a little more than two weeks earlier. He had been admitted to the hospital with no visitors allowed. Not even his wife could visit him. He died alone at the age of 62.
Bill says that Tim was more than a pastor. He was a good friend, a spiritual mentor. The person whom Bill said had taught him more about God and being a person of faith than just about anybody he knew. There would be no funeral as Memphis was in lockdown and public gatherings were prohibited.
Bill had leaned on Tim for years, especially recently as he faced financial peril with his lumber mill and a tariff war between China and the United States. Then the virus hit. The market for his mill cratered.
Bill stated that through everything, he had held to Tim’s unwavering teaching about the providence, goodness and grace of God. “That’s the Jesus I know,” Tim would boom out in his James Earl Jones voice whenever someone at church told a story about God at work in their lives. Tim helped Bill know that Jesus by trusting that God held all things in God’s merciful hands.
Bill said, “there is nothing like knowing your family is at risk to make a man feel helpless. Same with owning a business and fearing you won’t be able to take care of your employees.” Tim was the second person Bill knew who had died from Covid-19. Bill said it was only a matter of time before someone else he knew would get sick. Maybe even him.
Lumber mills had been deemed essential because of construction needs, so Bill kept going to work. It was a trade-off between safety and staying in business. Bill said that Lisa and he prayed for Tim’s family, for their family, their church, their friends, for those who were affected by Covid-19. He reported their prayer list was long those days. Intellectually he knew that God was here, at work, in charge. But it was hard to feel certain. One lesson Tim had helped him to learn was that he didn’t have to do faith all by himself.
Even in the midst of chaos and fear and uncertainty, Bill lived with faith and hope that God was at work, moving all things toward a future he could not envision. A future he trusted God to envision as he believed in the love God had for him. Bill said, “If I trusted my business to God then I could trust my family and my own life to God. I could trust my grief to God. I could trust God, period.”
Bill said he knew the days ahead would be hard and maybe, for a time, worse than what he had already endured. Still, Bill remembered he didn’t have to do faith all by himself as he trusted in the providence, goodness, and grace of God.
Guideposts Online, July 27, 2020
Followers of Jesus believe in the difference God’s love makes. We trust that, in all the challenges we face, I Corinthians 13:13 is correct: there are three things that abide – faith, hope, and love and the greatest of these is love.
Pastor Marc Brown
January 31, 2021