1 John 4:7-21 Common English Bible (CEB) Love and God

Dear friends, let’s love each other, because love is from God, and everyone who loves is born from God and knows God. The person who doesn’t love does not know God, because God is love. This is how the love of God is revealed to us: God has sent his only Son into the world so that we can live through him. 10 This is love: it is not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son as the sacrifice that deals with our sins.

11 Dear friends, if God loved us this way, we also ought to love each other. 12 No one has ever seen God. If we love each other, God remains in us and his love is made perfect in us. 13 This is how we know we remain in him and he remains in us, because he has given us a measure of his Spirit. 14 We have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son to be the savior of the world. 15 If any of us confess that Jesus is God’s Son, God remains in us and we remain in God. 16 We have known and have believed the love that God has for us.

God is love, and those who remain in love remain in God and God remains in them. 17 This is how love has been perfected in us, so that we can have confidence on the Judgment Day, because we are exactly the same as God is in this world. 18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear expects punishment. The person who is afraid has not been made perfect in love. 19 We love because God first loved us. 20 If anyone says, I love God, and hates a brother or sister, he is a liar, because the person who doesn’t love a brother or sister who can be seen can’t love God, who can’t be seen. 21 This commandment we have from him: Those who claim to love God ought to love their brother and sister also.

This is the word of God for us the people of God.  Thanks be to God.

Three Simple Rules: Stay In Love With God

On May 21, Ed and I will celebrate 35 years of wedded bliss.  I use the word “bliss” a little sarcastically because that word “bliss” means “perfect happiness.”  Although we have experienced great joy in our relationship, it is certainly not perfect and it has certainly not been all happiness.  In fact, marriage is like any relationship.  It takes work to make it work.   It takes time spent together.  It takes sacrifice.  It takes listening to one another.  I’m told it takes admitting that I am wrong sometimes.  And it involves putting the other person first.

A good relationship is not going to just happen, is it?  We have to be intentional about building that relationship.  And so it is with our relationship with God.  Today, we are going to talk about staying in love with God as the third simple rule.  And since we are Methodists, we are going to look at some specific methods for accomplishing that.

Today’s scripture specifically describes the love that God has for us, and how we are supposed to remain in love with God.  Look at verse 17:

God is love,

and those who remain (live) in love remain (live) in God

and God remains (lives) in them.

To me this is a little bit confusing, and so let’s break it down.  First: God is love.  Now for me, this is my whole theology!  If I can’t figure out what I think about some issue of faith, for me it all comes down to this: God is love.  When I’m trying to figure out who I believe God is, I always try to look through the lens of this statement: God is love.

And then it says, “those who remain in love remain in God.”  If we are children of God, then God’s love is in us, and that love will reflect off us and into the word – in other words, we are going to live with love.  It’s saying when we show love to others, we are living as a reflection of God, and God’s image remains in us.  You see these three simple rules are all connected.  It’s not a linear process – where one step follows another.  It starts with us being part of the family of God in our baptism, and then it gets all intermingled, I think.  When the love of God is within us, it empowers us to do good and to do no harm.  But I also think that when we practice doing good and doing no harm in our lives, the love of God grows within us, and we begin to look more like our God who is love!

But, tip of the day, there is no way we can stay in love with God unless we spend time with God.  And we can’t share the love of God unless we first receive the love of God.  Right?  We can’t share something we never had in the first place.  And so that is where the third simple rule comes in.  If we don’t continue to personally experience the love of God, we can’t share God’s love by doing no harm and doing good in the world.

So, how do we “stay in love with God?”  John Wesley wrote about these three simple rules in his General Rules, and I am hoping you still have the copy of that from two weeks ago, if not there are some copies on the back row.  John Wesley didn’t actually say “stay in love with God.”  What he said is “thirdly, attend upon all the ordinances of God.”  Do you see that at the bottom of the second page?  And then he describes the ordinances (or methods or practices) that he has in mind:

The public worship of God.

The ministry of the Word, either read or expounded (taught/preached)

The Supper of the Lord

Family and private prayer

Searching the scriptures

Fasting and abstinence

In my mind, these practices aren’t just ways to stay in love with God, but they are ways to come to faith in God for the very first time, too.  It is through searching the scripture and worship that I first came to believe!  I have a friend who came to believe through the Lord’s Supper.  And so for me, these things are key to the Christian life.  In fact, they are so key in my mind that every week that I have room in the bulletin, I have been including this little thing called the “Five step plan for spiritual growth.”  And I don’t think I’ve ever really talked about it, but today is the day.  You will notice that the five step plan is very similar to the things that Wesley describes in the third simple rule.

I want to share a little story about the importance of this third rule.  In Wesley’s day there was a powerful preacher in England named George Whitefield.  And thousands of people would come to hear him preach – he was a fantastic preacher, apparently, because after he preached many people would be converted and give their lives to Christ.  At the same time, Wesley began to preach outdoors or wherever he thought he might draw and crowd.  And Wesley was a pretty good preacher, but apparently, he wasn’t as good as Whitefield.  But here’s the deal—after people professed their faith in Christ under Wesley’s preaching, he insisted that they immediately get involved in his small group meetings.  Wesley signed the new believers up for these meetings, called societies, classes or bands, and guess what happened at the meetings?  They attended upon the ordinances of God.  They were held accountable to attend worship publicly, to receive the Lord’s Supper as often as possible, to search the scripture, to read their Bible and pray daily, to give money to those in need, and to fast.

And while the great preacher Whitefield converted many more people, in a few months the majority of them fell away and went back to their old ways.  However, Wesley’s converts stuck with it!  They grew in their faith, and they were so much more likely to become true disciples.  Wesley’s methods still work to help us grow in faith.  Wesley’s methods help us to not only learn to love God more and more each day, but they help us to reflect that love of God back to others.

Like any relationship, if we want to keep it, and if we want to grow in love for that other person, it takes our time.  And if we want to be transformed – if we want to look more like Christ- if we want to reflect God back into the world, we have to take time to reflect on God.

To reflect God, we have to reflect on God.

We have to spend time with God, to become like God.  If we are children of God, it takes time with God to become an imitation of Christ.  Think about it like this — once children leave their parents’ sides, and they are out in the world, they face all kinds of influences – they are out there in a dark world and away from parental influence.  And the less time we spend with our parents, the less they influence us.  If we are not spending time with God, something or someone other than God is likely to influence us.  Spending time with God helps us to realize how God wants us to live – not living in selfishness but giving ourselves to God and to others.

William Barclay shares a beautiful old story that goes like this:

A simple man would often go into a cathedral to pray and kneel before the crucifix which of course is a cross having the image of Christ on it.  And someone noticed that although he knelt in attitude of prayer, his lips never moved, and he never seemed to say anything, but he just looked at the crucifix.  The person asked the man what he was doing kneeling like that and not bowing his head or saying a word, and the man answered:

“I look at him and he looks at me.”

William Barclay says that is the vision of God in Christ that all of us can have.  And that “he who looks long enough at Jesus Christ must become like him.” (Barclay p. 75).

And so maybe the way that we spend time with God, maybe the way we look at the face of Christ is by “attending to the ordinances of God,” by practicing the spiritual disciplines that Wesley talks about in his third rule.  Do you think we might be looking into the face of God by

Worshiping God?

Or by Hearing the Word?

Or by sharing the Supper of the Lord?

Or by prayer?

Or by searching the scriptures?

Or by fasting?

…………I look at him and he looks at me.  Whoever looks long enough at Jesus Christ must become like him.  And so part of your challenge this week is to think about what that means in your life.  How can you look at Jesus?  What regular routine can you commit to so that you might see Jesus?  Even if you have been looking at Jesus your whole life, how can you begin to see him in a way that draws you nearer?  How are doing with the five-step plan for spiritual growth?  Is there any area that you could improve on?  Is there an area that you would like to learn more about?  We have all kinds of options for growth in this place, and we are always planning new ways that we can grow.

When Ed and I got married 35 years ago, I was young and naive.  And I had this romantic, idealistic idea about what love and marriage were all about.  But over time, I learned that growing in love within marriage is partly about how you survive the daily grind together.  Love is not just about the wedding day, it’s about day to day life when things get hard.  I learned that many times love is about things like putting the toilet seat down and changing dirty diapers at 2 am and mowing the yard when it’s 150 degrees outside!  I learned that love is about sacrifice in lots of little ways every single day.

Our faith journeys require the same daily attention.

And our God deserves the same daily attention.

I’ve grown so much in my love of God through practicing these spiritual disciplines that we’ve talked about.  It does take discipline to do these things and to stay in love with God.  Love of God begins by committing to God in the daily grind of life.  And the crazy, amazing, wonderful payoff is that God wants to bring divine love into your daily grind.  And it is this divine love that is free for all of us to experience.

I love my husband deeply, and he loves me deeply.  But human love is nothing compared to the love that God has for you.  You see, the scripture tells us:

God (loved us so much, that he) sent his only Son into the world so that we could live through him. 10 This is love: it is not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son as the sacrifice that deals with our sins.

God is love.  God is full of love for you.  But a one-sided relationship never works.  So, I urge you to commit time each day to look at the face of Jesus.

Let us pray.

Mighty and everlasting God, we are overwhelmed by your marvelous love for us.  Pour out your Spirit on each person and each family in this place.  Would you help us to experience this deep love that you have for your children.  Inspire us to draw nearer to your holy presence each day – in some real and practical ways.  Help us to be faithful to these methods for seeing the face of Jesus.  And God, fill us with your love, so that we might overflow with it, and in turn let us love our own families, our friends, our community and even our enemies with your powerful love.  In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.