No Fear

Read 1 John 4:16-18

Over the course of human history, there have been leaders who sought full control over the people who they were to lead. These leaders have employed a variety of tactics to establish and maintain this control. One of the methods utilized by every one of these leaders is the employment of fear. They establish techniques which will instill in the people a fear which prevents them from acting in any manner not prescribed by the leader. This fear is based on witnessing or anticipating repercussions if the leader’s desires are not met. Such repercussions  may include banishment, imprisonment, torture, seizing of assets, dismemberment, loss of statics, financial ruin, or even death. The people follow the leader not out of trust but out of fear.

The writer of I John presents a leader who has an opposite approach. In the midst of a discussion which equates God with love, the writer speaks of a relationship between humans and the Divine. Because we live in love, we have no fear in our relationship. The writer points out that love and fear are incompatible. We do not have to fear anything from God. In fact, since God is love, fear is pushed out of our relationship.

There are church leaders who attempt to use fear much as the world leaders mentioned earlier. These leaders create fear as a way to control while masking it as an attempt to “save” people from God’s wrath. This originated with the Jewish leaders and has come down over centuries to the Church. Jesus spoke against this technique during his ministry. In our passage, we see the incongruity of using fear in regards to a relationship with God. Instead, the message we receive, and should pass to others, is that it is love which draws us into a relationship with God. Love is the source of all of God’s actions, teachings, and promises. Love not fear emboldens us to be in relationship with God. Our actions, teachings and promises should flow out of love.

Love Demonstrated

16 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. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.

1 John 3:16-18 (NIV)

There are behaviors and skills which are second nature in life. Then there are behaviors and skills which must be taught. Breathing, sleeping, and walking are examples of second nature skills; albeit, walking is a progression and requires self-teaching. Riding a bicycle, swimming, and placing others’ needs first are all examples of skills and behaviors which must be taught to us. Certain forms of love, or at least demonstrations of love, fall in the latter category. We need examples placed before us so we are able to understand how to appropriately demonstrate our love for others.

In the portion of the letter which we have read today, we are made aware of the love of God as demonstrated to us through Jesus Christ. Jesus gave an example of how to express a deep level of love for others. Humanity had the need to overcome sin and the result of sin, death. Because of God’s deep love for all of humanity, in Christ the need was met through the actions on the cross. This was a profound action taken to demonstrate the level of love God has for each one of us. The writer here then gives the example of one of us witnessing someone who has a material need. If the witness has the means to meet that need but does not, she/he is not demonstrating God’s love within them. We are to look to Christ’s example to teach us how to express God’s love. This expression is not in words but in actions.

The passage from today is convicting to many of us. We easily say that we love each other, including strangers, in Christ’s love but our actions often fall short. Christ gives us the example to learn from which teaches us that God’s love is not about words but is found in the actions of God. If we claim that we love one another because God has loved us, yet when given opportunities to exhibit that love through our choices and actions, the truth is not in us. Love as defined and shown by God is a love of action. May we learn and follow this truth.

Light and Darkness

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.

1 John 1:5-10 (NIV)

Catching a sunrise can be a beautiful experience. As the darkness of the night gives way to the light of the day, there are types of colors and hues. Clouds which are on the eastern horizon can add to the color and the dazzling of the light. It is a fact that darkness and light cannot co-exist. The imagery of darkness and light have represented unrelenting opposition in our world. This is often referred to as black and white; black representing darkness and white representing light. You may have heard sayings such as, “They are as different as black and white.” or “They oppose each other like day and night.” Old Western movies would put the bad guys in black or dark clothing while the good guys would be dressed in white or light outfits. All of this exemplifies our view that light and darkness cannot dwell together.

At the beginning of the letter we know as I John, a discussion in regard to light and darkness occurs. The author states that God is light and no darkness can abide with the light. The dynamic of light representing holiness and righteousness while darkness represents sin and unrighteousness is put forth. We are told that if we come into the light, Jesus’s blood will purify us from our sin (darkness). This is important because we cannot be in fellowship with God if we have sin. The writer also tells us that if we claim to be in the light and without sin, or have no need of Jesus’s purifying blood, then we deceive ourselves and there is no truth in us or our claims. The hope is found in the reality that if we confess our sin, acknowledging our need to be purified, then God promises to forgive them and cleanse us of them.

Walking in darkness can lead to a host of problems. Darkness does not allow us to see the dangers and pitfalls which are in our path. We can easily stumble, fall and even do serious damage to ourselves or others. Walking in sin does not allow us to experience the fullness of our Lord. We can cause fatal damage to our spirit. By entering the light of God’s fellowship by confessing our sins, we take our first step into the light of God which is filled with forgiveness, grace and love. This first step is like when the first rays of sunlight break into night’s darkness before the first sighting of the full sun occurs. Before one knows it, the light completely dispels the darkness and the sun radiates light from above the horizon. Come into the light and leave the darkness behind you.

Communicating Love

11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

1 John 4:11-12

How does someone communicate love to another person? The means of this communication is dependent upon the type of relationship which exists between the individuals. If the relationship is romantic in nature, the love will be communicated in physical ways, in gifts, in words, and in actions. A relationship which exists between co-workers or individuals who live next to each other lends itself to expressions of love in acts of helping and regular conversations. Expressions of love will vary along the spectrum between these two relationship descriptions. Another dynamic is the way love is communicated between strangers.

As we look at the assigned verses for today, it is clear that the Lord has an expectation that we will communicate love to others. The author of this letter states that we do this because God has loved us first. None of us have seen God but God is revealed to us when we love one another. This is not a physical revelation but a sense we have within ourselves as we express love.

Throughout Scripture, a clear insight into God is enveloped in the expression of love. From Deuteronomy when Moses says we are to love God and neighbor, to Jesus’s response to the question of the greatest commandment, to this passage found in a letter, love is how we are to understand God. God and love are synonymous.

We must find appropriate ways to communicate love to those in our lives. As we love others, we will come to understand God and God’s love more completely.

Defining God

First of all, let me be clear that this post will not give an all-encompassing definition of the one who has been referred to by different names. Volumes of books have been published trying to offer that definition. Thousands of theologians, scholars, and religious leaders have spent centuries trying to verbalize a definition. All attempts have fallen short of defining God. Part of the reason is that God does not fit into our human words or images which I addressed in an earlier post (go here to read it if you have not). This being the case, I would like to present to you my current working definition of God.

GOD IS LOVE

I realize that this may be oversimplifying a definition of the creator, redeemer, and sustainer of all life. As simple as this definition is on the surface, it is much more complex than it seems. The complexity comes from the challenge of defining the word “love.” Let me take a bit of your time explaining how I came to this definition and then adding an attempt at defining love.

My starting point is located in 1 John 4:8… “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (NIV translation). The author of this letter states two important realities for me. First, the author connects knowing God with the act of loving. In order to define God, one must know God. Here we see that this ability is centered in love. It reminds me of the scene in the movie, “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.” During the scene, Indy is trying to make his way into the inner chamber of a temple where the Holy Grail is thought to be located. To get into the inner chamber, Indy must successfully maneuver through three booby traps intended to guard the Grail. Each trap required the person to be able to know something regarding God and/or Jesus. I will not give away the plot if you do not know it already. The key here is that senseof knowing. Instead of having three different pieces of knowledge, the author of 1 John states that the ability to love is the requirement to know God.

The writer goes on to explain to us why we must love if we wish to know God. In the second clause of the sentence, the reason given is “because God is love.” Here is my second reality which feeds my working definition. I challenged a group of teenagers who I was leading in a discussion to take a part of Scripture and every time they found the word love, replace it with God. If you want to try this exercise, go to 1 Corinthians 13 and read that chapter following the instructions which I gave the teens.

As I have read and studied the Bible, it becomes clear to me that over and over, God acts out of love. This love is for humans and for all creation. Even when it seems that God is disciplining people, God clearly is doing so as a loving parent would do with a child. God’s love is most evident in the teachings and actions of Jesus. The author of the Gospel of John gives us those well-known words:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

John 3:16-17, NIV

If it is in love that we know God, and if God is love, then how do we define love. As difficult as defining God is, it is almost as difficult to define love. The number of individuals who have made an effort at this definition is close in comparison to the number who have attempted the definition of God. I offer to you my working definition, love is the giving of one’s self for the benefit of others and finding pleasure and joy in the act of doing so.

As a believer in God, I turn once again to recorded words of Jesus as my basis for my definition. Jesus is preparing his disciples for his death and resurrection when he tells them, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13, NIV). I do not think that Jesus is stating we must die to show love. Instead, I view Jesus’ statement “to lay down one’s life” to refer to the giving of self. This giving may be manifested in offering of time, a listening ear, a helping hand. Giving can also include placing another’s need ahead of our own wants. The placing of ourselves in another person’s shoes may be an act of giving. This list can be added to by each of you. The point is that in this giving, is love.

God is love because…

  • God chose to become human so that we could understand our relationship with God since in Jesus, God walks in our shoes
  • God offers all that God has created to us instead of keeping it all to God’s self
  • God accepts ALL without limit or requirement
  • God never abandons us
  • God forgives EVERYONE without exception

What is your definition of God? What is your definition of love?