Loved to Love
Topic: Biblical Verse: 1 John 4:1–4:11
Fifth Sunday of Easter[i]
St. John's Lutheran Church, Alexandria, VA
1 John 4:1-11
“Loved to Love”
You’re a self-centered person.
Please don’t take offense. That’s not a judgment. It’s merely a statement of fact. The same goes for me. And him. And her. And them. Self-centeredness is part of the human condition. It’s been that way for a very, very long time. But you already knew that, right? It’s why the world is the way that it is today. Self-centeredness causes brokenness, both in the world out there and in our lives right here. We even have a fancy theological term that captures this problem of self-centeredness: “sin.”
Self-centeredness is sin. That’s not a judgment, either. Self-centeredness is, in fact, the defining characteristic of sin: instead of recognizing that God is God, we human beings put ourselves in His place. Sin is pretending that we’re the ones who get to decide between what’s good and what’s bad in how we live our lives. Self-centeredness messes up your relationships. It messes up your decisions. It even – somewhat ironically – messes up how you care for yourself. You could say that self-centeredness is a disease. It’s a condition from which you cannot cure yourself. And it is, ultimately, fatal.
God knows about this problem. God knows you. God also knows that you can’t fix yourself, and that’s why He steps in to do what needs to be done. He does all the heavy lifting for you. That’s what we’re celebrating in this season of Easter: God has won the victory for us. He has delivered everything needful for you and me to have life with Him now and into the age to come. God loved you. And He still does.
God’s love for you is the opposite of self-centeredness. It’s agape (αγάπη), love that gives of itself in service for another. Hear what John says about God’s love for you: “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (v. 4:9-10) In Jesus, you can see how God loved self-centered people like you and me. He who is God gave himself for people who pretended to be their own god. He took your place in death because he loved you – and you didn’t have to do a thing to earn or receive his agape love.
That might be a difficult point for us self-centered people to process, but it’s one of the best things about God’s love for you. His action to save and deliver comes first, before anything that you and I could ever do, and His action is all-sufficient. Jesus did it all for you, giving you life with God and giving you a new identity: you are beloved.
The word that John uses to address his audience, his fellow Christians – people like you and me – speaks to How God views you. You are loved in Christ. You are his dear friend; again, not because of what you’ve done or what you’re doing, but because of his self-giving, agape love. Jesus’ selflessness overcomes your self-centeredness. He reconnects you with God. He connects you with your fellow Christians, his beloved. And Jesus brings you out from yourself to connect with all those other people out there that he loves, for whom he gives himself that they may also be God’s beloved.
You are loved to love.
Through Jesus, you have new life, life which is meant to be lived out in love. The self-giving love that you now have as Christ’s beloved, the agape that comes from him and through him as the living vine of which you are a branch (John 15:1-8), runs counter to your innate self-centeredness. You’ll find that the more time you spend in conversation with God, through prayer and engaging with His Word, that agape will come out through you.
“We love because he first loved us.” John writes that a few verses beyond our reading today (1 John 4:19). God’s action is both the power and the motivation behind any self-giving love that we have. “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (4:11).
There’s so much need out there in the world, you’ll never be able to take care of it all. But as Christ’s self-giving love works in and through you, God will change the lives of the people around you. How or where are you being called to love someone with agape? You might have the opportunity in front of you to live out this self-giving love for a fellow Christian, as John calls us to do today. But who else might you know who’s in need of your showing them the love that Jesus has for them? How can you do that for your family? For your classmate or coworker? For your neighbor? Pray about this and look for where God would have you love.
It can be tough for us self-centered people to get our of own headspace, especially when much of what’s out there in our culture is pointing us back inside. Heed John’s direction to test the spirits and messages of the world. If you keep putting them up against the message of Scripture, you’ll be able to tell if they’re calling you back to self-centeredness. Listen to Jesus, who is your vine, and take confidence in the fact that he calls you “beloved.”
Like Philip, you are being sent by the Holy Spirit out in to the desert places, to a world that is in need of God’s agape. As you go, you are bringing the gospel to people who need to hear it, living it out in words and actions that point to Jesus. God has acted to make you His beloved, and now He sends you in that self-giving love.
You are loved to love.
[i] This week’s memory passage:
In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. – 1 John 4:10-11 (ESV)