Trinity 1, 2016
The Epistle. 1 John 4:7-21
The Gospel. St. Luke 16:19-31
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.
The transition from last week’s Trinity Sunday Gospel and today’s lessons is very logical. Last week we saw Jesus speaking to Nicodemus about having to be born of God…born again if he (or anyone) is to understand the things of the Kingdom of God….let alone go there.
You must be born again. He did not tell Nicodemus he had to go out and get that done, but that the new birth was a requirement to have the Kingdom of God accessible to you.
Today, John, close companion and follower of Jesus…one of the three of Jesus’ inner circle, so-to-speak, writes in his first Epistle these words today.
Beloved. This is the way many address their readers. Beloved, whoever loves, has been born of God…and knows God.
He encourages us to show love toward one another, because this is what born again, born of God people do. They strive to do all that they can to show love toward one another as another sign that they belong to God and are born of Him and desire to be like Him.
This is why it is such a smooth transition from last week to this week. In fact it's a transition from all we have heard in the first half of the Christian Calendar Year up to this point.
Trinity Sunday marked the end of the first half of the year.
And recall that the first half brought to us all of the work God has done for us.
Last week we found that the Trinity Season on up to Advent now, will help us to see all that is “conducive to good Christian living.” The passages that “exhort us to the practice of Christian virtues.”
Love for one another is not the sum of righteousness. It is the test of our being born of God. Love is to flow from a sense of God’s love toward us. We love because He first loved us.
John is clear about this in other passages as well. One in particular: “ By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” (1 John 3:16 ESV)
This is just one example of the fruit that is borne from being a child of God and a member of His Kingdom.
“…the true knowledge of God is that which regenerates and renews us, so that we become new creatures; and we must therefore necessarily conform to the image of God.”
We all know the John 3:16 passage by heart. “For God so …what??? LOVED the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him has eternal life.”
That is the starting point. So now we know that He so loved that He gave His only Son, then we in turn are now looking for ways to imitate this depth of love toward one another.
We are to seek out ways in which we might love others, especially those who are within the household of faith….
love them in whatever ways we can. This is the second Commandment, that is like unto the first… we are to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.
This is what we ought to meditate on often. It is a command from God and it is laid down by John here as a Word from God.
It begins again, this way. “Beloved let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.”
And then John immediately give us the converse. “Anyone who does not love does not know God…”
He says here that there is no knowledge of God… when and where there is no love present. That is a stinging indictment. If love is not part of our daily lives…behavior…desire…then we are said to not know God.
Then he says, this is how the love of God is shown to us. How do we do this? Since this last sentence has our attention.
John says, because…“He sent His only Son into the world…so that we might live through Him. Not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His son to be a Propitiation for our sins.
So first, we do so, by living through Him. Living through Christ. Our love that we express is poor and imperfect, but when it is done through Christ, it is perfected.
As born again people, we are now in Christ, and He in us. So our actions, shaped and molded by the Holy Spirit in us….the Holy Spirit is the person who creates that mystical bond between us and Christ. The Spirit keeps us in Him….the Spirit is also working the perfect the love of Christ through us.
Secondly, we didn't do anything to get God’s attention. We did not display anything lovely in order to turn God toward us. Rather, He freely turned to us because that is who He is. It is His nature to be this way, to love this way, to move this way.
And He did so before we were born. He predestined us for adoption into His family by grace. Before we had done anything.
If He were to have chosen us because of something worthy in us, or lovely in us, then what John is saying here would not stand.
God moved first. We were born turned away. God turned us toward Himself. The innate rejecting of God that we are born with, inherited from our first parents, held us in such a state, that we could not get free.
Only God held the key to our imprisonment. He unlocked our prison cell, and released us.
This is what should make us eternally grateful. Because before God saved us, we were eternally lost.
It is important to us because we continue to cling to old ways. We continue to make gods of other things and not make God the center of our existence. Thinking upon the saving work of God in Christ is what warms our hearts to love Him for what He has done for us and turns us to look for ways to love as He has loved.
John continues. He says, God abides in us…and His love is perfected in us.
God abides in us, as we have seen over the last few weeks, and even here a minute ago, by His Spirit. The Spirit of God forms our hearts. Indwells our hearts. He works His love, which is perfect, into our hearts so we can share that love with others.
We say near the end of Morning and Evening Prayer in that section which is a short litany of sorts:
V. O God, make clean our hearts within us.
R. And take not thy Holy Spirit from us.
There are two important things we ask for in our prayers. That God would make clean our hearts within us. That He would purge hatred and anger and all unclean things from our hearts. And then we say secondly, take not thy Holy Spirit from us.
Do no remove your presence in us.
Do not take your Spirit from us.
Do not hide your face from us. These are all saying essentially the same thing.
For if He were to do so, we would perish eternally. But again, if He has chosen us from all eternity to indwell us, then He will not go back on His word. He will not reverse the work He has begun in us.
John continues: “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us.”
That is incorporated into our Prayer of Consecration. “That we may dwell in Him, and He in us.”
The first part of that phrase is very easy to comprehend. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him.
If we truly confess the identity of Christ out of a sincere heart, then that is the evidence that God has done the work of indwelling us. We would not confess this…and of course truly believe it…if God were not at work in us.
Recall James writing that even the demons believe in the Son of God. They believe but at the same time, they shudder at who He is. At the knowledge of Jesus Christ.
Why do they do this?
The Scriptures seem to teach from this passage and others, that there is a belief in Christ, that is true, but not saving. What they believe causes horror and torment instead.
They do not have a faith that causes confidence, and peace. They do not have justifying faith.
But we are called to examine ourselves in this same way. Do we believe the Gospel of Christ? If so, do we go that step further and does it include a peace-giving, confidence-giving belief in us?
Faith in Jesus Christ is a faith that rests, relies, has confidence, brings peace. This is not to say that at times our peace and confidence aren't shaken, but through a returning to the promises made by God and what we have heard today, we are brought back again and again to a right understanding…a right state of mind.
John then tells us as he goes on here, that love is perfected in us, so that we may have confidence for the Day of Judgment.
The term Day of Judgment has been given lots of connotations that are not necessarily accurate. Hollywood makes movies and television shows that give us a wrong idea about the future judgment of man and of the world.
Inaccurate in many ways.
What the Scriptures teach us is that just as God knew us before He formed us, and that He designated a day on which we were to be born…both the first time and our New Birth, His timetable for a return of Christ and a Day of Judgment is just as fixed and certain.
Pastor James Boice comments on this passage this way:
“In view of this logical and unalterable day in which the thoughts and deeds of men and women are to be judged, an individual might well fear. But John says that in the case of Christians perfect love casts out terror. This does not mean that love for God is the ground of our acceptance before him. The only possible ground is the death of Christ for us and faith in him. It means rather that by love for God any unreasonable fears are quieted and we come to rest in the fact that the one who was for us in Christ will allow nothing to destroy the eternal relationship that the death of Christ established.”
We are back thinking again of Romans 8: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
We are still naturally fearful at times.
Very few live their lives anticipating the Day of Judgment.
But John tells us, as well as Paul and others, that fear of judgment is not necessary for the Christian because if there is true and mature Spirit-borne love, then we are safe. Perfect love, casts our fear.
The love we look to here is the love of God. He loves us and is the one who protects us from His own Judgment through Christ. Our own weakened efforts at love are not what enable us to stand on the Day of Judgment. God’s love for us enables us to stand.
Isn't it interesting that we are called on the one hand to fear God because we have sinned against Him. And yet, because we are born of God and are in Christ, and Christ has atoned for our sins, we do not need to fear anymore.
This is all true because He first loved us.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.