Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!
Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.
Sunday, April 26, 2015
Believe and Love - April 26, 2015 - Fourth Sunday of Easter - Text: 1 John 3:16-24
Today is the fourth Sunday of Easter, already. Can you believe it, Easter was four weeks ago? Today is also what has been traditionally known as Good Shepherd Sunday. Today gets the name “Good Shepherd Sunday” because the Gospel reading is the account of Jesus telling us that He is our Good Shepherd. Four weeks ago we witnessed just how good a shepherd Jesus is in that He did lay down His life for us as He suffered and died on the cross. In our First Lesson for this morning we hear Peter and John bear witness of Jesus and the fact that it is only by faith in Jesus that we have forgiveness of sins and eternal life. In our text John helps us to understand what it means for us to be Christians and how, by the work of the Holy Spirit, we are to be imitators of Christ.
First, John sounds a little like James in telling us that faith shows itself in action. We begin at verse sixteen, “16By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 17But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 18Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (v. 16-18).
Notice again as we said last week, and as we have said many times before, God is the prime mover. God loves us first and this love is seen in Jesus who gave His life for ours. Jesus did not have to give His life, but He freely gave His life. Because of His great love for us, a love we really cannot even fathom, He gave up the glory that was His in heaven, took on human flesh and blood, being born as a man, lived a perfect life, doing all that we are to be doing and cannot, obeying all the commandments perfectly, fulfilling on the promises and prophecies, perfectly and then He took our sins upon Himself, all our sins and all the sins of all people of all places of all times and He paid the price for our sins. This love is indeed a great love.
God loves first and our response of love and faith is that we are to be willing to do the same for others. As Christians, being loved by God, being given faith by God, being forgiven by God, we are to love others and our love is to show itself in this, that we are to be willing to give our lives for others as Jesus gave His life for ours.
Certainly God knows that this giving of our lives for others is almost impossible, and so, as John tells us, we respond by doing even less than giving our lives, that is, we respond by simply giving help to others. We help others by offering kind words, by offering words of encouragement. We help others by offering to help with giving of our time and our talents. At times, we even help others by offering our financial resources.
God loves us and we love Him and others. We love, not simply in words, but in actions. This reflects what James tells us when he says that “faith without works is meaningless.” Even Martin Luther who worked to reform the church which believed one was saved by faith and works, helps us understand that we are saved by grace, through faith apart from works, even Luther reminds us that the natural response of forgiveness and faith is to do good works.
John reassures us that God knows what is in our hearts. We pick up at verse nineteen, “19By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; 20for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. 21Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; 22and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him”(v. 19- 22).
How well we understand that as human beings and as adults we tend to be harder on ourselves than others are on us. Likewise as Christians, as we grow in sanctification we tend to be harder on ourselves, thinking we should do more. And perhaps there are times that we should do more, yet, always remembering that God never asks more of us than He knows we can give.
God knows what is in our hearts. God knows if we are cheerful givers or if we are giving begrudgingly. God knows if we are refusing to help others because we really cannot help or if there is some other reason. It may be frightening to know that God knows so we might remind ourselves that God also knows that Jesus died to pay the price for our sins.
Our confidence, then, is in God, not in ourselves. We cannot do enough to save ourselves. We cannot give enough to save ourselves. We cannot earn or pay for our salvation. Our salvation, our faith, our forgiveness come from outside of us, not inside of us. Our confidence is in God who knows all things and who has taken care of all things for us.
With confidence we pray to God, knowing He will answer according to what He knows is best for us, according to His good and gracious will. Interestingly enough, I believe we do not have so difficult a time praying for God’s will to be done, but I do believe we have a more difficult time accepting God’s will, whatever that will may be. So, perhaps we would do well to pray, not only, “Thy will be done,” but also, “Lord, help me to accept Your will, even and especially when You say ‘No.’” And all the while understanding that God does know what is best for us, even more than we know what is best for ourselves.
John talks about obeying God’s commands. What are God’s commands? We pick up at verse twenty-three, “23And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 24Whoever keeps his commandments abides in him, and he in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us” (v. 23-24).
Normally when we hear about or think about the commands of God we think in terms of the Ten Commandments. And certainly as we go through the Ten Commandments we cannot help but understand the fact that not only can we not keep the commandments, but we fail miserably and we are indeed quite sinful. And yet, there is more to the commandments than simply being a list of dos and don’ts. In our text, John summarizes what Jesus summarizes; God’s command is to love Jesus and one another. Love is the fulfillment of the law. If we could love the Lord our God with all our heart and soul and strength and mind then we would not break the first three commandments. If we could love our neighbor as ourselves, then we would not break the last seven commandments. The difficulty is that in and of ourselves we cannot do either of these things.
John reminds us of God’s command, that we believe in Jesus and love one another. At the same time, notice that it is God who loves first. God loves first, giving us the ability to love. Here again we see God as the prime mover. God loves and we are loved. God gives and we are given to. God does and we are done to. God loves and He gives us the ability to love.
As God loves us and gives us the ability to love others, interestingly enough, then, as we love, God loves even more. Here again, as we always know, we cannot out give God. We cannot out give Him financially speaking, understanding that He is the one who gives to us in the first place. And now, here we understand that we cannot out give God in a loving way. We cannot out love God, remembering that He first loves us and He gives to us to be able to love others.
God is the prime mover. He gives, strengthens and keeps in faith through His means of grace. Jesus is the Good Shepherd who continues to care for us today, He is the one who gave His life on the cross and the one through whom all good things are given.
What does this mean? God does first, He loves, He does, He gives. And we are loved, we are done to and we are given to. Apart from God we are lost and condemned persons.
God loves first and then God works in us to respond. Yet, even here John gives us a warning. Back in verse seventeen we were reminded that if we do not respond, if we do not love, if we do not give, these are ways we refuse the gifts God has to give. As John says, “How does God’s love abide in him?” How does God’s love abide in one who does not respond to all the Lord has to give? It does not. Thus, we see that a response of faith is not only natural, but also necessary. To not respond, then, is truly to refuse the gifts God has to give. To respond, however, means even greater blessings.
John reminds us that as we respond, God loves and gives even more. Here again we are back to that old cliché, “You cannot out give God.” It is amazing when you think about it, God first loves us, then He helps us to love others and finally He loves us even more. God first gives to us, He gives us life at conception; new life, even eternal life through the waters of Holy Baptism; the ability as well as gifts and talents and a job in order to work, to earn a wage and He moves in us to return a portion to Him. And the more we return to Him, the more blessings He has in store for us. This then may and hopefully will become a reciprocal circle, that of the Lord giving, our returning, the Lord giving more and our returning more.
As this reciprocal circle continues we are then even more reminded of the importance of regular and diligent use of the means of grace. As Luther attested, the more he knew he had to do in a day, the more he knew he needed to spend time in prayer at the beginning of the day. The Lord provides, not only for our physical well being, not only by giving us life and treasure, but also by giving us talents and time. In all areas of life, we cannot out give God. The more He gives to us, the more we return to Him, the more yet, He still gives to us. And in Malachi He asks that we test Him in these things.
There is, what I call a camp song, and I know it is not the greatest song from a theological point of view, but I believe the chorus somewhat summarizes this text for this morning. I know you have heard it, it says, “They’ll know we are Christians by our love.” John is telling us this morning that the world will know we are Christians by our love, but even more, by our response of faith, the giving of our whole lives over to the Lord as He has first given His life for ours. May the Lord, the Good Shepherd of the sheep, of us, who gave His life for us, continue to work in and through you so that you might show your faith through your life, in response to all that He has done, does and will continue to do for you. To Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.