When God is Big… is a sermon series examining what happens when you have a bigger vision of who God is. Community is Unbreakable — When God is small, our emotions and desires become very great. Shared preferences become almost a prerequisite for relationships. However, the Bible defines love as self-sacrificing action for the benefit of another. Love is rooted in who God is and should be the defining mark of the Christian community. Recorded on Sep 19, 2021, on 1 John 4:7-21, by Pastor David Parks.
All year, we’re focusing on The Greatness of God. And today, we’re continuing a sermon series we started last week, called When God is Big… Way too many Christians have way too small a view of who God is. But when God is small, not necessarily in reality but in your mind/imagination, that has a direct impact on your life. Even though you might believe in God, when God is small, other things become big. Your circumstances, emotions, and failures can not only become big, they can become all-consuming. But what happens when God is big? What happens when you have a better/truer/bigger vision of who God is? Well, in this series, we’ve started with our four core values of worship, community, ministry, and mission. Our values change with a bigger vision of God. Then, after that, we’ll consider three issues that people in/outside the church struggle with today including fear, personal identity, and addiction. When God is big, it changes how we live out our values and how we deal with our issues. So today, we’ll move from worship last week to community this week. What should our relationships be like in the church? What defines them? Well, my goal for today is that you would see that when God is big…community is unbreakable because it is marked by the very love of God. Please open your Bible/app to 1Jn 4, starting with v. 7.
1 John 4:7–12, “7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.”
Let’s pause here. So the Apostle John is sometimes known as the Apostle of love. Does anyone have any idea how he could’ve picked up that nickname? Love is a central theme of John’s gospel and his epistles/letters, such as this. I like to point out the fact that John didn’t start out as overly loving. He was a young man when Jesus called him and his brother, James, to follow him. They were initially known as the sons of thunder and at one point asked Jesus if they should call down fire from heaven on a town that had rejected Jesus. Not the most likely candidate to be known as the apostle of love later in life. But that’s the impact that Jesus has on people — he changes us. But here, we have a very famous passage where John says that God isn’t just loving in his character. But rather, he says that God is love. Look again at v.8 “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” And modern people love that idea, that God is love. However, C.S. Lewis pointed out that most modern people (of course, he pointed this out in the 1940s and ’ ’50s) believe in something more like love is God, not God is love. In Mere Christianity, Lewis writes, “They [modern people] really mean that our feelings are love, however and wherever they arise, and whatever results they produce, are to be treated with great respect. Perhaps they are: but that is something quite different from what Christians mean by the statement ‘God is love’.” (p. 174-175) Now, Lewis was emphasizing the three-in-one nature of God. This mysterious teaching that the God of the Bible is one God, but has eternally existed as a loving unity of three persons, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. So the statement that God is love only makes sense in light of the Trinity. I believe 1Jn 4 assumes the triune or three-in-one nature of God that Lewis talks about, but goes further, refuting our modern definition of love as well. This leads me to my first point:
The Bible defines love as self-sacrificing action for the benefit of another. Where do we see this in the text? Look again at v. 10, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” Here is our definition of what love is. According to John, it’s rooted in who God is and specifically in the work of Jesus. Well, what part of the work of Jesus? In his preaching and teaching? In the miracles that he did? No. In his priestly work of offering a sacrifice of atonement, a sacrifice to pay the penalty, for our sins. And when did Jesus do this? In the temple? With an animal sacrifice? No. Jesus was both priest and the lamb who was slain. So, Jesus demonstrated the great love of God when he suffered and died on the cross. You see, Christians don’t believe that Jesus died by accident or because the authorities finally caught up with him. We believe that Jesus died on purpose as part of God’s plan of redemption and salvation, to break the power of sin and death, and to seek and to save the lost. In fact, Jesus’ sacrificial death is the primary example of what love is, according to John. The Apostle Paul has a very similar statement in Ro 5:8, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” The Bible defines love as self-sacrificing action for the benefit of another. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Now, can we agree that this is a very different definition of love than what most people think today? Why do you think that is? We live in an age of expressive individualism. Expressive means emotionally expressive, which means emotions are everything and what you feel defines who you are and what you do. This is the spirit of our age. But this is not good for at least two reasons. First, don’t you see how shaky this definition of love actually is? If love is defined by your feelings, what do you do when your feelings change? And feelings change all the time! I don’t always feel like loving my wife, but if I don’t feel like it does that mean I’m justified in leaving her or ignoring her, or even being crabby towards her? This type of love doesn’t last. If you define love by your feelings, it will certainly be temporary/fleeting, it’s a one-night stand. It may be more physical attraction or lust than real love. Second, if how you feel establishes who you are, your authentic self, then love is all about what you get out of the relationship, not about the benefit of another. Love becomes a transaction and relationships become like business dealings instead of covenant commitments. You stay in the relationship so long as your needs are being met. But when they aren’t being met you’re free to cut whatever ties you might have and move on to something or someone that makes you feel better. This is profoundly self-centered. Now, it’s not that the Bible doesn’t care about our feelings or our needs/desires. We just finished a series from the book of psalms and every human emotion is present there. If God created us, then he made our emotions and wants us to express ourselves emotionally, as well. But gospel-centered love isn’t dependent on how we feel. Love, first and foremost, is a self-sacrificing action, just like Jesus dying on the cross. How do you think the cross made Jesus feel? Good? Authentic? No, it was the worst pain, it was absolute agony. And who did that benefit? Jesus didn’t die because he needed to, or because he would directly gain something from it, but for the benefit of another. In fact, for the benefit of a whole world that was lost without him. This is what love is. And this is radical, this is world-changing stuff. Because if God is love and if the very definition of love is the cross of Christ, then the people of God are going to be people who see that love is central/foundational to their life and their faith. And if that is true, then secondly…
Love is the defining mark of the Christian community. I think this is John’s point in vv. 11-12. “Dear friends [beloved], since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” In other words, if this is who love is and if this is what love does, then we must love one another in the church. It’s not an optional thing. It’s not a fringe benefit. It’s the basis of our relationships with each other here. In fact, John says, that God’s love is made complete in us. The word translated as ‘made complete’ is a process word, it means something that arrives at its intended goal. So the love that we have for one another within the church was/is the intended goal of the love of God expressed/revealed to us in the gospel. Jesus didn’t die on the cross only to save individuals, although he does save/value/abide with us as individuals. Rather, Jesus died on the cross so that the love of God could be experienced and expressed within the whole body of his church. Our love for one another completes God’s love for us in Christ. Do you see how important this is?? This is why love is supposed to be the defining mark of the church. John forcefully continues this theme down in v. 19. Let’s jump down there and finish this chapter.
1 John 4:19-21, “19 We love because he first loved us. 20 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.” So love doesn’t originate with us. We love because he first loved us — that’s the gospel. The gospel isn’t that we love one another so God accepts us as his own and loves us in return. The gospel is that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Before we ever loved him, he loved us. But then John turns up the heat in his application of this point in our relationships within the church. What should our relationships be like with other Christians in the church? Well. v. 20 says, “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.” John argues from the lesser to the greater here. It’s easier to love people in front of you than it is to love a God you cannot see. So it doesn’t make sense to say you do the greater but fail to do the lesser. In other words, you can’t say you love God and ignore the people or the needs of the people in the church. John ends this chapter with v. 21. “And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.” First, notice this isn’t a suggestion or opinion but is a command. Jesus taught that all of the hundreds of commandments of the OT can be summed up in the command to love the Lord your God with your heart, soul, mind, and strength. And to love your neighbor as yourself. Again, this isn’t a side issue or an optional practice. This is foundational of God’s law and the way God created us to live. When you fail to love your brother or sister you are a liar and a lawbreaker. Second, notice how John describes the other people of the church. As what? As colleagues? As peers? No. As brothers and sisters. This is rooted in Jesus’ teaching that his disciples/followers are his family. Jesus taught his disciples to pray to God as our Father in heaven. By faith in Jesus, we are the family of God. That’s what the church is: brothers and sisters. In this church we have introverts and extroverts, we have republicans and democrats, we have young and old, we have people who have great wealth and people who are quite poor. But our relationships in the church are not held together by our common interests, issues, politics, or personalities. That’s true everywhere else in the world. But we are a family that God has formed by his love through Christ which should reflect the unity and love within God himself. First, The Bible defines love as self-sacrificing action for the benefit of another. Second, Love is the defining mark of the Christian community. Third, and finally…
When God is big…community is unbreakable. When God is big in your mind and imagination, then who God is and what God has done impacts and changes your values. So our value of community, meaning the relationships that we have here in the church, changes. In fact, it hardens to be potentially unbreakable. I believe that when you understand that God is love, and you define love by the cross of Christ, there is nothing in heaven or on earth that can divide us. But let me ask you this: then why are we so divided? Why do people bounce so easily from one church to another? Why is it that relationships, even in the church, are so difficult at times? When God is small, our wants/needs/feelings become very great to us. Our preferences become prerequisites for others to even have a relationship with us. But when God is big…the bond that he forms between us becomes unbreakable. Now, I do think to truly love someone is one of the hardest things to do. But it’s worth it. It’s literally why we were created: to love and to be loved. But it’s radically costly. It cost Jesus his life to love us. Do you think it’ll require less of you? Fortunately, the fruit that God’s Spirit produces in time makes this cost easier and easier to pay. Eventually, it becomes the greatest possible source of joy and purpose. The Bible defines love as self-sacrificing action for the benefit of another. And love is the defining mark of the Christian community. May we grow into a church that is known for our love for one another.