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Evan Earwicker: God Is Love, 1 John 4:1-2, 7-19

August 28, 2023

Audio Recording

The revolutionary understanding of God’s nature as love sets Christianity apart and should guide our interactions with the world. Jesus provides the full and true understanding of God: Jesus shows us the mature working-out of love. In Jesus, God and love are linked accurately, intricately, indissolubly.

Discovering God
Discovering God
Evan Earwicker: God Is Love, 1 John 4:1-2, 7-19

Sermon Transcript:

:00 You're listening to a live recording from Westside Church in Bend, Oregon. Thanks for joining us. If you have a Bible, you can go to First John chapter one. We're gonna be hanging out in First John A. Little bit today as we start a new series on the character of God, discovering who God is. And we spent the last five weeks in the book of Colossians. If you miss some of those, I'd encourage you to go back and listen such a rich, letter from Paul talking about the supremacy of Christ, how he is above all, and he is all and in all. And it is so critical as followers of Jesus that he stays at the center, not only of our belief, but of of our practice as disciples of Jesus. That he's constantly the center of that and at the center of our church. And so we talked about this and, and in one of the weeks I talked about how the only place we go to, to understand who God is, is Jesus.

00:50 There was this moment in the Last Supper, if you remember, where a Philip, the disciple turns to Jesus and he says, Jesus, would you show us the Father? And Jesus turns to Philip, and I love this, he says, Philip, if you have seen me, you've seen the Father. Jesus was convinced and a bold move to, to, to declare this about himself, but that there was only one place to understand who God was. And that was by looking at him, that Jesus is the one place we go to when we understand who God is. And so we'll spend a few weeks here talking about different characteristics of, of the nature of God. And throughout this, we're not just cherry picking, you know, scriptures where we find them and saying, well, this is what God is. Every time we look at a characteristic of God, we're gonna look at it through the lens of who Jesus was, okay?

01:37 Because that is the set of glasses that we put on when we wanna see God clearly, is that we look at Jesus. And so that's what we're gonna do today with this first of the characteristics of God. God is love. before we read First John chapter one, this is traditionally known to be written by the Apostle John, who was one of the disciples of Jesus. And we find his story in, in all of the gospels. And John would've been raised like most of the disciples with a very specific religious view of who God was. And this view, of course, would come from the Hebrew scriptures, many of which we have in our Old Testament. These would've been read aloud in synagogues and taught to these young men as they're growing up. And they would've had a very specific view of who God is.

02:30 And so John is living his life, probably somewhat religious, sitting on a boat with his dad and his brother James. And one day, as a young man, there's this rabbi that shows up on the shore named Jesus. And from the shore, he calls out to, to him, says, come follow me to James and John. And those three words would change the whole course of John's life and James' life and the course of history itself. So much so that by the time John is an old man, as we'll read here in one John chapter one, he begins to write these letters and these, these memoirs, if you will, to young churches and young believers who were born long after Jesus was walking the streets with John. And he wants to remind them of what he experienced, what he saw, and who Jesus really is. So first John chapter one, starting in verse one.

03:24 I'm gonna read it here from this Bible. It says, we proclaim to you the one who existed from the beginning, whom we have heard and seen. We saw him with our eyes and touched him with our own hands. He is the word of life. This one who, his life itself was revealed to us. And we have seen him and now we testify and proclaim to you that he is the one who is eternal life. He was with the Father, and then he was revealed to us. John sets up this letter in a way saying, before I tell you anything about who Jesus is, before I tell you anything about who God is, I want you to remember that we're not just making this stuff up. That one day I was just another kid on a boat with my dad and my brother, and I heard his voice and I looked up and I saw him standing there and everything.

04:16 I'm about to tell you about who he is. And through him, who God is. I want you to know that I got to these conclusions because I saw him. I was with him. I stood next to him when he multiplied the loaves and the fish. I watched as he walked out on the water on that stormy night on the lake. I was there at the last supper when he said he was gonna have to go away. And we didn't understand. I was there and watched him go to his death on the cross. And I was there when he appeared to us on Sunday morning. John is setting us up to, to remember before we have strong critique. 'cause he is gonna make some bold claims before we critique those claims. Remember who's talking the beloved disciple, the one who was with Jesus and Psalm with his eyes and heard with his own ears.

05:05 And so then he starts to, to reflect on who Jesus is. He begins to reflect on how we should live as a redeemed and rescued people as the church in the world. And then we're gonna read some of this in a second, but then he gets to verse 16 of chapter four. And remember he's saying, because I saw him, this is what I've come to the conclusion of one John four 16, we know how much God loves us and we have put our trust in his love because God is love and all who live in love, live in God, and God lives in them. God is love. God is judgment. No, God is wrath. No, God is perfection. No. The highest ideal of the character of God, according to John, who has somewhat of expertise in this area, would say that when it all boils down, God is loved.

06:06 Because I've seen it. When I looked at Jesus, we were talking, Ben and I were having lunch with a pastor, and he was telling us this story of how he was really encouraging his church to, be a loving people in this, in our city. And saying some of the ways that they were gonna go about this and how they were investing in, in really loving, well, those who were considered outsiders, you know, not the ones that are members, not the ones that that agree necessarily, but really loving the community in which we've all been planted. And he was telling us that, that he was in a meeting with some of his leaders and he was laying out vision for this. And one of his leaders stood up in the middle of the gathering and he said, love, love, love, love. I'm sick of it.

06:50 And he walked out. And this pastor friend of ours was saying, if that's how you feel about love, you're really not gonna like Jesus like, because at the heart of who Jesus was and, and, and, and, and how he lived and what his ministry looked like in his mission on the earth and how he engaged with everybody around him was this overwhelming sense that God loves you. We were having dinner with, neighbors last night. Some of them know what I do here at the church, but then there were some new, new people at, at, at dinner who they don't know what I I do. And it didn't necessarily come up, but I, at one point I was talking with them and we were having a great conversation and, and we really connected well. And I was thinking, do you, I wonder if they found out that I pastor West Side Church, if they would like me more or less, right?

07:49 Or if that their expectation about me would be that I was more loving or less loving. And probably not because specific to our church, but just as religious people as Christians in our current moment. The assumption might be that because I'm religious, I love less folks, we gotta change that opinion because listen, if we walk in the way of Jesus, we express the same things that he does, then those around us will ideally come to the same conclusion that John came to, which is God's a lot of things. But because I walked with Jesus, I know that, I know that I know God is love. And if we embody that, and this is the point of our discipleship, like it's, it's not to have all the right answers. It's not to, to wrap our minds around all mysteries. In fact, Paul said this in one Corinthians chapter 13.

08:41 He says, I might know all mysteries and of all wisdom and knowledge and understanding, but if I lack love, it is nothing because at the heart of this gospel, the heart of following Jesus is that the love of God would so fill our hearts that the people of God would always be known as the most loving, as the most filled with Jesus. Which means we expressed the love of God in all circumstances, all ways. John knew this about Jesus because he saw it. And I wonder about us if people know that we follow Jesus because of the way that we love, I hope they will. I hope they will. This idea, that God is love would've been wild and radical in John's day for the, pagan Romans and Greeks who had a pantheon of gods. the gods were known to be kind of moody and vindictive and angry, violent, retributive, retributive, yeah, close enough.

09:49 And for the Jewish listeners, God was holy behind the curtain, hidden by the veil inaccessible. And so John, to make these claims about Jesus and to make these claims about God would've been radical. And this is I think why, pastor Andy Stanley says this. He says that God is love is a uniquely Christian idea. In fact, nowadays you might meet a whole bunch of different religious kinds of people in different streams of religion. They might all come to the same conclusion that yeah, God, this divine is a loving force in the world today. But that is a new thing that came out of this idea before then. The gods were not to be messed with the gods. Were not warm the gods, were not, were not open to, some kind of relationship with you. The gods were angry. And here John comes and he says, God is love.

10:46 And what's interesting is Jesus, so Old Testament written in Hebrew New Testament, when Jesus is walking and talking and teaching sermon on the Mount, he would've been speaking in Aramaic, okay? So he speaks in Aramaic. But when the New Testament writers go to write down the story of Jesus and write these letters and, and begin to spread the news about who Jesus was, they don't use Aramaic because only a certain subset of people know that language. And so they translate all of Jesus' teachings into the language of the empire. Greek, Greek, you guys are, you guys are getting so good. Oh my goodness, Greek. Okay? So they go to translate all this into Greek and they get to these passages about how Jesus said, you've heard the command, love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. I give you a new command, love one another.

11:39 So he starts talking about love, and they're like, well, we don't have a great Greek word to express what Jesus was trying to communicate in Aramaic. And they have all these Greek words for love, and they express different things, whether it be friendship or, or romance, or they have all these different words for love, but they don't really have a word to express the kind of love that they saw when they looked at Jesus. And so they grab this little used word called agape. It's not often used at that time, but it's, it's in Greek. They didn't make it up, but they take this word and they commandeer it, and they say, this is gonna be our word now. And every time they look at Jesus and they look at his teachings, anytime it's love, like Jesus, love divine love, God's love expressed through Jesus.

12:26 That's agape love. And now we look through scripture and all throughout their New Testament, agape, agape, agape, it's this word that these early Christians, the New Testament writers, commandeered, they're like pirates of, you know, language, language pirates, Paul, James, John, they're all using this word that is uniquely Christian because they didn't have words to express the kind of thing they saw in Jesus. It was all together outside of what everybody knew love was, especially what God would do. This was outside of all of that. And so they come up with this new use of the word agape. And now we have all through our New Testament, a new kind of love that is a love that gives and doesn't take a love that is selfless and all encompassing. A love that is, is given not only to God's friends, but also his enemies. This is no sentimentality, right?

13:28 Sometimes I think we, we can be afraid that when we talk about love in the context of our faith and our Christianity, that we're gonna turn into these like sappy, wishy-washy people that are just, you know, out in the world tearing up all the time, right? I don't tear up all the time in the world, right? . So there's a joke that, someday someone will get me to cry. and we're gonna see if that happens. But for the time being, right, maybe there's some repressed things going on in my soul. We need to work through that. If, if your counsel will talk through that later. But I'm telling you this, what I'm not advocating for is that we just become these emotionally unhinged people. That our love becomes like this uncontrolled fire hose. That just is, that's not what I'm talking about.

14:14 Okay? , no danger of that here. , what I'm talking about is a, a choice that we make to love one another and not just people that agree with us, not just people that are on my side of an issue, not just the people that, I enjoy being around all people. That is the kind of love that Jesus expressed, the kind of love that is agape love. And I would say this, that according to one John, if love is not in the house, it's not God's house. And so we need to continually ask that the love of God would so fill our hearts that this house and your house in our lives would be examples of the love of God that flows out of us, because that will be the mark that God is among us. And so if we've arrived at church today and we are, looking for justification to dislike a group of people, this group, that group, if we're looking for a holy reason to hate somebody, we're gonna be disappointed by the Jesus of the Gospels. We're gonna be frustrated in that. the people that we tend to dislike are the fairy people that Jesus tended to hang out with .

15:37 He didn't seem to hate immoral sinners. Actually. He would go to their houses and he'd have lunch. He didn't rage against the enemies of the state or the pagan ruling class. In fact, when those pagan Romans would come to him because they had a need, he would heal them. When one would come to take him away in the garden of Gethsemane and his follower, Peter would try to be the hero and go after the Roman with a sword and cut off his ear, what would Jesus do? Well, he went over and said, that's not how my kingdom works. And he heals that man. See, I'm like Peter, man. I'm like, Jesus, aren't you angry? Like I'm angry. And he's like, that's not what we're about. We will not be the anxious, angry people if we are immersed in the love of Jesus. And so all the time that we watch Jesus walking around, God's love is showing up in places that it doesn't really belong.

16:36 And I think that's the mark of a Jesus people, is that love shows up the love of Christ expressed in our lives, in places where it seems like it doesn't belong. I love walking over in the youth center with our kids and there's these stickers that Pastor Josh and Emily they've made, and it says, I'm loved by God. And those stickers show up everywhere. They're stuck all over places where they shouldn't be, right? Like they're ground into the carpet and underneath tables and on walls. And I'm sure our facilities team is like enough. We know God loves you. Stop sticking these stickers everywhere. But I think that is a perfect picture of the love of God, that everywhere you turn, there's just evidence of the love of God that you are loved by God. And you say, but I don't, I don't want, I don't deserve it. You're love by God.

17:30 He's extended to you the love of a father for a child. And I'll tell you this, you know, I love my kids so much. I don't have to try it. This, I mean, in moments it seems like I have to try, but by and large, I don't have to try to love my kids 'cause they're mine. I remember 11 years ago, our daughter was born and it was such a trip, like to be there in that hospital and to hold her for the first time and experience for the very first time, a love that was new and yet wasn't something I had to try for. You know, when you meet somebody and you're like, ah, we might be friends, this might be good. Or even like a business relationship, you're like, huh, is this, is this gonna, you know, be helpful? Or do I wanna get away from this person?

18:16 Or for sure if you start dating or when you started dating, maybe your spouse, and you're kind of like, is this, you know, you have to, you have to kind of decide if this is going anywhere. But I'm, I'm sitting there in the hospital with Alyssa and, and they hand me Claire and I'm holding her in my arms and I'm thinking, this is a wholly different experience from any kind of love I've, I've entered into this is a love of a father for a child. And I think God feels that way about those who love him and who follow Jesus. But this is what's so crazy, is he feels that way about his enemies.

18:55 Roman says, when we were the enemies of God, when we are far from him, that's when he died for us. And the mark of God's love in our hearts isn't that we express love really well to our kids when they're being nice, the mark of God's love, the agape love of God in our lives. Is it that same kind of love by some miracle and work of grace is expressed even to those who, man, we can't stand? Was it Bob Goff says, he says, love everybody and start with the people that creep you out. , right? ,

19:36 Three things we learn about in one John, chapter four, number one, the love of God compels us to love others. The love of God compels us to love others. One John four, verse 11 says, dear friend, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love one, one another. No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us. And his love is brought to full expression in us. What is a half expression of love? It's love in people you like. What is the full expression of God's love is extending love to those who you consider your enemies. Number two, the love of God drives out fear. Verse 18 says this, such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we're afraid, it's for fear of punishment. And this shows that we have not fully experienced this perfect love. We love each other because he loved us first. You know, there's a, there's plenty to be afraid of in the world. I don't think this is a new thing. I think we're more aware of all the things that are worthy of our fear nowadays.

20:47 And I draw comfort. I think when I, I find myself feeling anxious about the future, whether it be of our, our society here in the West, or whether it be the kind of world that my, my kids will inherit and the world they'll grow up in. And all these fears and anxieties can start piling on and, and through the, the wonders of the internet, we have access to all the fears all at once, all the time, right? That should, that should be like the tagline for the internet. All the fears all at once, all the time in your pocket. And this is not healthy for us. We know this. Like this is not healthy for us. but we're immersed in this kind of fear, and I'm not immune from this. And I think whatever sides of whatever issue you find yourself on, there's, there's reasons to be afraid.

21:36 And yet we find that John is riding to a church living in the middle of a hostile empire to the faith. The Romans at this point are not like super accommodating and kind to this new religious sect. It is not a, a friendly, yeah, whatever you need, we'll give you a tax break. That, that that's not the setting that John is writing to this church. He's writing to a place where they have fears just like you do their parents just like you are. They wonder where society is heading, maybe like you do today. And so the fears want to creep in. And John says this perfect love cast out all fear. And I want to note this. I wrote this in my notes. I said, we are at perfect peace when we are immersed in perfect love. And this is different from the idea that we, we escape the trouble of the world, or that we, we somehow distance ourselves or insulate ourselves from a changing society.

22:35 And if we could just remove ourselves from the, the the scary world that's out there, then we could have perfect peace. No, I see John right into a church that's right smack dab in the middle of a changing society in the Roman Empire. And he's saying, listen, perfect love casts out fear right where you are. You don't have to run away from this right where you are. Immerse yourself in the love of God that even extends to the ones on the outside of your crew. And you will find that you will inherit the peace of God that passes understanding when you are immersed in the perfect love of a loving God. Amen. Evan, that was good. . Okay? Oh, come on. Thank you. Alright, , someone's new. It is like, yeah, west side was good. He had to amen himself. It was weird. and number three, the god of love gives us confidence and assurance in every season, confidence and assurance in every season.

23:36 The Bible talks a lot about the enduring nature of the love of God. How when all other things are shaken and fall away, that what will remain is the love of God. At the end of one Corinthians 13, it says, now these three things will remain faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love. I did this wedding, I officiated this wedding for this wonderful couple out at Sparks Lake on the backside by the beach. if you've been there, it's amazing. I mean, one of the best si you know, views, that's the word, views, and all of central Oregon, you're sit standing on the beach and you look up and there's south sisters just right in front of you, and there's this little like island with this tree. And then you have the other sisters right behind you. It's just stunning.

24:30 And so we were out there in early October and, standing there on the edge of the lake, and the, the weather is just beautiful. It's almost sunset. The sun is low, the light is warm. And I'm looking at these, these mountains, before the ceremony starts. And I think, man, these moments a lot of times are when we, we consider love in the most sentimental form, right? As we should. I mean, if you're, if you're like, no, we're not gonna be sentimental, it's a wedding. Like, come on, you're just, don't take yourself so seriously, right? . But we're standing there and thinking this is the, the kind of, the view of love that we all aspire to is the perfect day with the perfect weather, the light at just the perfect angle. Everybody dressed just so beautifully standing on this, the shore of the lake.

25:22 But what we actually find in the New Testament, this, this vision of the love of God is not so much that it's when all of the environmental factors around your life, when all the situations are just perfect and the lighting is just right, that's when you experience the love of God. That's just not what it teaches. And I was standing there officiating, and the backdrop is stunning, right? My back is to these mountains, north sister, middle sister's house, sister. And if you know, if you've been here for very long, you'll know those mountains have a different name, right? It's Mount Faith, Mount Hope and Mount Charity or love.

26:03 And so I'm literally flanked by like faith, hope and love talking to this young couple who's, who's stepping into marriage. My encouragement for them was, I guess our encouragement today for us as a church is that this perfect setting that maybe you're in right now, that's gonna go away, storms will come, the light will change, night will fall. And what remains isn't gonna be the perfect setting, but it's gonna be that mountain of God's love that stands behind you. And you know, if I go back to that spot 20 years from now, now I will go there, change. I'll be a different person. Life will have ups and downs. There's no guarantee of how life will go. But if I go back in 20 years to that spot, I promise you I will still see that mountain. And I want this to be kind of the, I guess for us, the foundational truth of everything else we understand about who Jesus revealed God to be is that first and foremost, he's a God of love. And he loves you and you and them. Paul writes in Romans eight, I'm convinced that nothing can never separate us from God's love. Neither death nor life, nor angels, nor demons, nor our fears for today, nor our worries about tomorrow, not even the powers of hell can separate us from God's love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below. Indeed, nothing in all of creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus, our Lord.

27:51 So let me ask you this. What trouble do you face? What challenges lie on your horizon? What storm is rolling in to cloud your perfect day? What do you face? Whatever comes to mind Paul would say today, that's the thing that can't separate you from the love of God for you. That's the thing that won't get in your way when it comes to how God loves you and has expressed that love through Jesus.

28:30 The late Brennan Manning wrote this. He said, Jesus not only knows what hurts us, but knowing He seeks out whatever our poverty, whatever our pain, his plea to his people is this, come now wounded, frightened, angry, lonely, empty. And I'll meet you where you live. And I'll love you as you are, not as you should be, because you're never gonna be as you should be. Do you really believe this, that he loves you? Be unworthiness and unworthiness beyond fidelity and infidelity, that he loves you in the morning sun and in the evening, rain without caution, regret, boundary or limit. No matter what's gone down, he can't stop loving you. This is the Jesus of the Gospels. This is the Jesus of the Gospels, a wild and formidable love that finds you where you're at today. I wanna invite you to bow your heads.

29:33 I guess my only, my only hope is the thing that we pray every single week at the end of our service, as my only hope is that you would know the love of God. in the end, all of my Christianity and all of my faith and all of my, my sense of, of purpose that I, I derive from knowing scripture and all that, it, it all has to boil down for me to this idea that I, I want to know the love of Christ, and I want you to know the love of Christ. And if that's all, that's enough, I found this quote, from our friend Brian Zand. He said, Jesus didn't die on the cross to change God's mind about us. Jesus died on the cross to change our minds about God. So oftentimes we think God's just so mad at us, and if we can just convince him that we're worthy of love, then all will be well. And I, this is the, the scandalous news today. Jesus died on the cross to express just how much God already loved you. Ah, that's beautiful. That before we did a single thing to deserve it or be faithful or be religious or any of those things, God's aching love for us was expressed through Jesus on the cross.