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"Abiding in Love"
1 John 4:7-21
        I once heard a sermon in which the statement, “God loves you,” was repeated so many times, that by the time the sermon was over I was beginning to have my doubts.  I was wondering, “What does that really MEAN?” 
    For me, anyway, sometimes too much repetition just gets in the way of a meaningful message.
    And in our text this morning from the first letter of John, we encounter the word “love” in one form or another about thirty times.  That’s a LOT of repetition, enough to put us all to sleep. 
    But seriously, there’s an important message here, so let’s see if we can’t disentangle all the repetition and pull out the meaning of it all.
    Beginning with the seventh verse of the fourth chapter of the first letter of John, we read, “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.”
    So now we know WHY we should love.  Our loving is a manifestation of our RELATIONSHIP with God.  God is the origin and source of love, and we recognize those characteristics of love by USING God’s gift of love.
    Most small towns with comprehensive retail markets try to foster hometown loyalties in doing business.  There was once a sign on the highway just east of my hometown that asked of the outbound traffic, “Did you try to buy it in Beloit?” 
    That sign was presumably directed towards those who were headed toward Salina to do their shopping.  And the subtext of that question is, “Have you been loyal to your hometown?”  If we are loyal to God, if we know God, if we are born of God, we will use the love that is FROM God.
    “Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.”
    Now, there are a couple of different things going on in this verse.  First, the preceding verse is re-stated in the negative.  But second, we are hearing ANOTHER formulation of God and love.  In the previous verse love was FROM God; but in this verse, love IS God. 
    Now, maybe this is splitting hairs, but I prefer the latter.  I prefer to believe that God IS love, rather than that love is some kind of disengaged attribute of God.  If we can EQUATE God with love, then Jesus’ great commandment takes on a whole lot more power.
    But now that I’ve said that, the next verse throws a wrench in the works by talking about love as an attribute of God:
    “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.”
    On the other hand, why can’t we hold on to the notion that God IS love, while believing that God AND love were revealed to us through God’s son?  Because, Jesus WAS God in the flesh, and everything about his life and death focused on love!
    But look further at that verse, at the REASON for God and love to come into the world in the person of Jesus:  so that we might live THROUGH him.  God has provided a means, a vehicle, an instrument, in human form, so that we can discover LIFE.
    “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.”
    So our attitude toward God has NOTHING to do with what God has done for us.  In fact, this verse suggests something rather important about love:  it is not a medium of exchange.  We should not love in expectation of someone loving us in return. 
    Nor should our love be a mechanical response to the love of others.  There is altogether too much “I’ll love you if...” behavior in the world.  Our love should be like God’s love:  unconditional, with no strings attached. 
    In fact, it would be even better to move away from love measured by deeds, to a love that is a pervasive state of being.  Instead of DOING love, we, like God, need to start BEING love.
    “Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.”
    Maybe I spoke too soon.  But how much is “so much”?  Is the writer quantifying God’s love?  it sounds as if God is trying to bribe us:  “If I love you enough, will you love each other?”  Surely not. 
    So let’s back up to God’s revelation in Jesus, God’s revelation of LOVE in Jesus.  It is beyond quantifying, but it is truly incarnational EVIDENCE of God and of love.  And that evidence gives us overwhelming REASON and MOTIVATION for loving one another. 
    Our love can be a reflection of the love we find in God.  Our love can be a response to the example and teachings of Jesus.
    “No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.”
    Now, does this mean that we create God by our loving?  Or does it mean that God COMES to live in us if we love?  Or is our love a manifestation of God already within us?
    I think the writer could have said, “No one has ever seen God, and no one ever will see God, either.  However, we can find the essence of God WITHIN us, if we behave in a god-like manner, loving others.”
    But does all this mean that God is NOT within those who do NOT love one another?  Aren’t we ALL God’s creatures, God’s children?  Well, yes, we ARE all God’s children, even when we are unloving. 
    But we can’t truly come to KNOW God until we can behave with the love that IS God.
    “By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his spirit.”
    There’s a lot of argument over whether God is outside us or within us.  Some Old Testament scholars will argue that the only way to understand the Hebrew Scriptures is to understand a transcendent God, a God outside us.  And yet, this passage would tell us that God is within us, that God abides in us, and that we KNOW it because God has given us of his spirit.      We KNOW it when we realize that WE can love others just as God has loved us.  And if we CAN emulate, imitate, that love, then there must be SOMETHING within us that is of God’s spirit.  And it all hinges on God’s ultimate act of love:
    “And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world.”
    “He has given us of his spirit.”
    Much is made in the church of giving.  Of tithing.  Of proportional giving.  And maybe we’ve made all of this too mechanical.  The church of which I was a member before I became a pastor was a very affluent church, an upper-middle-class church.  But not ALL of its members were that well off. 
    And I remember, on one occasion, one member, a physician’s wife and an extremely active long-time member of the church, remarked to me of another couple, “Materially, they really don’t have that much; but they give so much of THEMSELVES.”
     And God gave so much of God’s SELF in sending his Son.
    “God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God.”
    If we can recognize that God has given us this great gift; if we can truly appreciate it; if we are truly grateful for it, then God can find a place in our hearts.
    And is it not true that when we recognize that OTHERS are giving of themselves that THEY find a place in our hearts?  And I’m not talking about tithes, and I’m not talking about demonstrations of wealth, but I’m talking about SACRIFICE. 
    Just as God sacrificed a Son for us.
    “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.”
    DO we know and believe the love that God has for us?  It’s really too bad that we need to put the word “unconditional” in front of the word “love” in order to modify it.  We shouldn’t need to do that.  We should UNDERSTAND that true love has no conditions. 
    True love really DOES mean you never need to say you’re sorry.
    I saw a sign once that said, “Never apologize, never explain.  Your friends don’t need it, and your enemies won’t believe it.”  Love without conditions.  The love that God has for us.  The love we KNOW and BELIEVE.
    “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.”
    “As he is, so are we.”  HOW can we say that?  Because God abides in us and we abide in God.  God is no longer lost out in the cosmos, or hiding on Sinai waiting for us to come up to collect the tablets. 
    In fact, God went out of God’s way to reach us, sending his Son to live among us, to live AS we live, to FEEL as we feel.  And God GAVE UP that son.
    So God KNOWS what’s going on inside us. God is abiding within us.  And if we can live and love as his son demonstrates that we should, IF love is perfected among us, then we can INDEED  have boldness on the day of judgment.
    “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.”
    I believe that one of the greatest gifts, if not THE greatest gift, than my parents gave me was unconditional love.  I might have been upset with the grades I brought home from school, but they never were. 
    I might have been upset with my failure to attain certain extra-curricular achievements, but they never were.  I might have been upset with any number of personal shortcomings, but they never were.  Those things JUST DID NOT MATTER.  They loved me in spite of everything.  “Perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment.”  And if God has perfect, unconditional, accepting love for us, there’s nothing to be AFRAID of.  God is NOT in the punishment business.
    “We love because he first loved us.”  How simple and how complicated!  I often wonder whether the verb “love” is an active “doing” verb or a more passive “being” verb or both.  The more thought I give to it, the more I believe that “love” is God’s very BEING. 
    It is WHO and WHAT God is.  It is the very ESSENCE of God.  We are loved by God because God cannot NOT love us.  God is incapable of not loving us. 
    And if it is possible for us to figure that out, we are then released from our fears and are freed to BE love to others just as God is love to us.
    God does not CAUSE us to love, but the awareness of God AS love ALLOWS us to also be love to others.
    “Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers and sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.”
    “The commandment we have from him is this:  those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.”
    “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.  Whoever does not love does not know God, for God IS love.”

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