Bible Readings – 1 John 4: 1 – 21 & Isaiah 49: 8 – 16
Thanks be to God for the vigour of his Word.
Today we begin a two month series dwelling in Gospel values. Last term, if we can remember pre- Christmas turkey and holidays, we thrived on Peter’s opening up of God’s word to explore the nature and lasting significance of the Gospel – what the good news of Jesus is and its lasting significance for us and all who choose to accept its promises. We can remember what the gospel is, can’t we? The definition we learned each week – ‘Jesus Christ died for our sins and rose again’. For the next couple of months, most of this term, we will hear God’s call to live out that truth daily, reaching into our deep places to nurture enduring, embedded values within us, precious gifts from our Saviour. Today we begin our series exploring and thanking God for the gift of God’s love which makes all the difference in our lives.
Loving God, we delight to be your children. We revel in your saving love. We rejoice in your unconditional love for each one of us. Now as we open up your Word, as we open up our inner selves to you, we rest in your love and ask that by your Holy Spirit you would speak deeply into our lives. We need to be rejuvenated by your power to live in your love and to live lovingly this week. Invade our empty spaces and our confused emotions now so that we may hear your Word alone for us so that we remain faithful and obedient disciples of you whatever unfolds for us this week. May my words be your words and our thoughts your thoughts we pray in the precious name of Jesus our Saviour.
Here’s a question to see how much we’re still on holiday mode, or whether now we’re in February our brains are back in action!
What do you consider to be God’s greatest gift to us ever?
What comes to mind first when you reflect on God’s goodness? Take some moments to think and then try a short burst of conversation with someone sitting near you who looks up for it. See, in just a couple of minutes, if you are in agreement about God’s major miracle ever.
Undoubtedly for many people, even those who wouldn’t profess Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, God’s creation of the world is a stand-out miracle. Life from nothing, light from darkness, form from chaos, plenitude from emptiness. Surely a defining moment.
So much so in fact that God’s creation of the world is abundantly illustrated in all forms of art, and debated in many branches of science.
Michelangelo’s incredibly intricate painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican stands out in its celebration of God’s miraculous bringing the universe into life. His depiction of God reaching out to (almost) touch Adam’s fingerprint as God imprints his image on Adam, ‘the first man’ is very likely one of the most well -known images in art history for its universal significance and theological truth as much as for its artistic beauty.
But even beyond the miracle of creation stands the priceless gift of God’s saving grace.
This was not a random one off action but one deliberately and lovingly planned and foretold over centuries. Our reading from the prophet Isaiah this morning makes it clear that our Father God knew how badly His children needed to be restored to Him. God was remaining true to His promise to save and to hold God’s children in His hands. God understood, for God knows everything, that we desperately needed saving.
The prophet Isaiah records God’s longing for restoration, God’s investment in our transformation:
“This is what the Lord says,
In the time of my favour I will answer you, and in the day of salvation I will help you…
For the Lord comforts his people and will have compassion on his afflicted ones.”
(Isaiah 49: 8, 13b)
Salvation, a hope in Christ because Jesus is the Son of God, the incarnation of God among us is what we boast in and who we thrive in. Without Jesus we are nothing. The quality of love which transforms us from the inside out is salvation love, sacrificial love, love that is complete in Jesus and in turn completes us – fills us and reconciles us to God.
My new Bible, an NIV paperback (large print!) includes what is really a three line summary of salvation history on its inside front cover – “Creation, Life and Beauty, undone by death and wrongdoing, regained by God’s surprising victory.” (As told in the books of the Holy Bible (New International Version)
This is no static process. God’s gift of saving love continues on in us and is passed on to others by the gracious moving of God’s Holy Spirit within us. To assert that we are saved by God’s gracious hand and that’s all we need, and is the end of the matter is grace only with a small ‘g’. There’s so much more to it than that. So many more people can respond to God’s love if we are enthusiastic sons and daughters of God who live out our faith with integrity who intentionally pass on God’s love in the ways we live, the values we hold and demonstrate daily. This is the real gift that keeps on giving.
In fact John tells us in his letter, that love that isn’t expressed in reality, in acts of loving service to others, is not real love – “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.”(I John 3: 16)
You may well know the acronym WWJD, and may have a large colourful rubber-band with these initials around your wrist that you wear to remind you in the often complex situations that abound in life of the question ‘what would Jesus do?’ That’s a great question and to insist on an answer from ourselves at key times in an increasingly complicated world is discipline indeed as we seek to walk with Jesus all the time, not just when the road is smooth.
But as I’ve lived with this passage particularly this week I’ve come up with another acronym for a disciple of Jesus – ‘LLJL’ – maybe not rolling off the tongue yet as WWJD did, but it’s early days and we’ll work on it together – LOL.
LLJL stands for ‘Love like Jesus Loves’ – unconditionally, intentionally wholeheartedly.
This means loving when we simply don’t feel like it. Loving some people whom we don’t even find easy to like!
John, most likely the apostle John, wrote this letter to a group of believers who were in an unsettling situation as some had already abandoned the faith and others were finding it hard to believe in a God who had come in human form. Some thought they were better believers than others which they strangely showed by putting others down rather than loving each other as Jesus had urged them to do.
Into this somewhat chaotic and disturbing faith situation John reminds them that God’s perfect love drives out fear. We can be confident in Christ because God first loved us. We are also empowered and even compelled, because of God’s saving grace, to go on and love others completely because God loved us first – and keeps on loving us, not in a fickle way, as we love – if we feel like it, if the person we love is popular, if such loving doesn’t upset our comfortable lives.
The commandment in verses 19 and 20 of 1st John may cause us to wriggle and even complain but it is there in black and white in Holy Scripture –“We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother or sister who they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.”
John Stott, a great English New Testament Scholar of a couple of generations ago, whose preaching I was privileged to sit under for a short time at All Souls’ Church, Langham Place in London, came up with this challenging comparison “Claiming to know God while failing to love others is like claiming to have intimate knowledge of a foreigner while remaining ignorant of his or her native tongue.”
The IVP Bible commentary explains God’s title of love, not just God’s characteristic of love like this. “Because God is love, love comes from God. God is the source of love. Like the electricity running through electrical wires, love comes from God to us, then flows through us to others in the community. When John exhorts his readers, let us love one another, he is encouraging them to allow God’s love to flow through them. This was why Jesus told his disciples “A new command I give you. Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”(John 13:34,35).
God not only commanded us to love like this – God modelled this love in Jesus’ complete, extravagant and saving love.
LLJL –‘ Love like Jesus loves’ – Let’s go do.