Because God First Loved Us
Pastor Charlie Wang
May 19, 2019
John 4:7 -21
For many years when I was asked a question, “What is the most important verse in this year for you?” I didn’t think for a moment and answered it was 1 John 4:19. To me this is the most powerful and challenging verse for years. “We love because God first loved us.” This is the statement from an elderly apostle John. Among the twelve, he was the youngest to follow Jesus and the last one to die. He was the most spiritual one among the twelve. He talked of Jesus’ prayers and God’s love more than other disciples did. In retrospect of his life with Lord Jesus for three years and of decades of church leadership, he concluded that we humans don’t know what love is all about until we really feel and identify the incredible love of God. We learn to love from how God loves us first. And then possibly we can perceive how we should love others. If we fail to realize how God forgives us in grace, it’s hard for us to forgive others. If we are not able to identify how God eases our burden, it’s hard for us to distress others intentionally. Love is a gift from above that we can love God by keeping his commandments, can love ourselves as God wants us to and love others as we love ourselves. Love is the most important, valuable and rewarding lesson every Christian should learn. However, none of us know how to love until our souls are shocked by God’s awesome love. Love is the core course for every Christian, starting from awakening of our souls by God’s love.
St. Paul confessed loudly in Romans 7:18 “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.” If there is nothing good in one’s sinful nature, how can a person have love for God and for others? Love is not a born human trait. Love is too much a luxury and too unrealistic for humans. We are very much blessed as the followers of Jesus. In his discipleship and love, we are possibly able to identify the love of God, and to grow into persons of love. We Christians are facing a big challenge. We have no love in our nature while we believe the God of love. The tension is that God wants to turn a sinner be a person of love, to turn a selfish and self-centered person to be a person for others’ highest interest, to turn a person of blind love to be a trainer to encourage others to love.
Everyone has his or her priority. The Jews wanted to strictly observe the laws. The ancient Greeks sought after wisdom. The demonized ancient Mayans thirsted for blood by killing innocent villagers to appease their gods. Young people are looking for mates. Some are busy making money and fame. People are in want of wisdom to determine their priorities. We are asked by people and sometimes by ourselves, “What is the most important thing to do in our life?” By the same token, Jesus was asked the same question in Mark 12:29-31 One of the teachers of the law came to ask Jesus, "Of all the commandments, which is the most important?" "The most important one," answered Jesus, "is this: 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these."
Jesus didn’t hesitate. His answer was firm and explicit. For him, the ultimate important thing to do was to love God and people. Let us work together on Jesus’ answer. He didn’t take his preaching, healing or miracles as the most important but to love. Actually, love itself is relational. People must have an object to love. We cannot love nothing or nobody. If we want to love, we must first get into a relationship. There are various kinds of relationships. To love is God’s way of how to relate ourselves to others. People can create a master piece of painting or write a computer program by themselves, without involving others. However, love works in relationship. If we don’t want to have a relationship, we can’t love. Relationship is the base of love. Nowadays, many people are afraid of relationships with God and with people. They prefer to be isolated to stay away of any possible relationship. They may hide in their safe cocoon but they are not able to love. Life is pathetic without a relationship and love for anyone.
Therefore, we can safely say that Jesus wanted us to be in relationship first with God and with people, then possibly we can learn how to relate to them with love. Relationship is an interdependent and interactive dynamic. Christians are not afraid of a relationship which provides training courses for love. We don’t believe that we can have a relationship with our gardening, companion pets, making money or anything else. We have relationship alone with God and people. The cross where Jesus was nailed in its center stands for these two relationships, the vertical one with God through forgiveness and love, the horizontal one with people near and far. Keep in mind that we relate ourselves to both through Jesus. What we say and do impacts Jesus first, and then goes to God and to people. If we don’t want to hurt Jesus, let us say and do everything with love. If we want to follow Jesus, we must relate ourselves as Jesus did. Jesus is love, and whatever through Jesus is through love. Jesus loved God and people with all his heart, soul, mind and strength. This is the loving relationship Jesus showed us with his life. If we don’t do what Jesus values as the highest, we are no disciples of Him. We turned to be followers of the world.
It is hard to love, isn’t it? Love is far beyond selfish, self-centered and carnal human nature. There is nothing good in us. The leap is too big between a sinner and a person of love. We would rather work on something else or give money instead of loving the invisible God and the unlovable sinners. St. Paul had a similar challenge. We can feel his struggle. He cried out in 1 Corinthians 13:
1-3 “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.” Here, Paul’s worthless nothingness is scary. He called himself nothing if he didn’t have love, even though he could have everything valuable in the eyes of people. In comparison with the surpassing love of God, nothing glittering in human eyes is important. The pile of the worldly valuables including great merits Paul could have, was worth nothing unless he had love. The choice was tough. But he chose to be a person of God’s love. Then he sang the famous song of love in the rest of chapter 13 and he concluded as “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:
If Christians desire to be something in the eyes of God, we have to learn how to love. Actually, LOVE is one of the most misused and overused words in human language. If we don’t experience the love from God, we can’t love people with God’s love. Love is a tough, risky and even hurtful business. So let us start fresh with God’s love. The good news is Jesus has already loved us. Let us identify his love and follow his way.
God’s love is so rich that no one is able to exhaust God’s way of love. But at least we can identify three big differences between God’s love and human one. They are that God loves us for our best interest, unconditionally, and to train us how to love others.
Generally speaking, people love others for their own interest while God loves for the highest good of his children. For instance, in order to hook up, a guy tells a girl, “Hey! I love you.” This love can be interpreted as “The way you look really pleases me. You will make me high and happy.” This is a selfish love and a love of EROS, an ancient Greek word, which was the root of erotic. Some parents feed their children with junk food for their own convenience. Children get over-weighted. Some parents spoil their children with a euphemism of love. They eliminate justice and fairness from their early education. Love for children is to find the golden means between the two opposite poles of love and justice. Without justice, the parental love is spoiling. Do we not see many children who are spoiled and rotten beyond the retuning zone? Of course, justice alone will kill children. God wants to give us wisdom to discern the best interest of children. Years ago, I visited a family. I was sitting in front of the TV, waiting for the end of a phone conversation of this church member. I, by chance, touched a button of the remote control; the channel was switched to an adult porn scene. I was shocked because there were a boy of fifteen and a girl of four in this family. Pornography could ruin children’s life. I mean that if the parents still had one ounce of love for their children, they should not have this channel. They didn’t keep the best interest of the children in mind while they kept saying to them, “I love you.”
God always loves us for our highest good. Jesus’ opening statement was, “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” This is not a pleasing saying. Jesus tells everyone in the world, “You are a sinner. You have to repent.” How many people in this world would like to confront sinners by telling the truth? Buddhism tells people that they have the root of goodness in their life. What they need to do is to cultivate it and then become a good person. Let us think about this. I believe that the Buddhist evangelism sounds nice and comfortable. But only Jesus told the truth that will benefit humanity the best if people realize their sinfulness and repent. We should always keep in mind that whatever God allows to happen in our life is for the best interest of us. Samson’s eyes were gouged out by the Philistine enemies. Perhaps without this ultimate cruelty in his life, this Samson would not repent for his sin of lust and deserting God. St. Paul once begged Christ for three times to remove the thorn of his illness. God didn’t. But he learned a spiritual lesson that “God’s grace is made perfect in human weakness.” God’s love is expressed in a way beyond our expectations. For our best interest, God would take an extra mile. God knows what a dose of correction is necessary to bring us back to his mercy and love. If we really want to love people for their best interest, we should pray for them and for the discernment of what’s good for them. We love people not according to our whim but to God’s wisdom.
The love from God is unconditional and enduring. God never loves any individual because this person is super handsome or lovable. No sinner is better than other sinners. Jesus came to look for the lost, the outcast, or the worst sinners. Romans 5:
8 “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” God loves all sinners. However, human love is very selective and discriminative. We love according to our own bias and inclinations. If you have lovable people to love, you are very lucky. If you have to love the unlovable or even the impossible persons, you have opportunity to imitate Jesus and to grow spiritually in tough love. I believe that all Christians struggle in loving the unlovable. But we will learn the most valuable spiritual lesson in doing so. Matthew 5:46 “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?” Here is the deal, God’s reward is ready for those who learn to love the unlovable. Or if we are not willing to grow in loving the unlovable, we debase ourselves as tax collectors. The choice is up to you and me. God sets us in the boot camp to love the unlovable for growth and maturity.
Another important way to learn Jesus’ love is to keep his command in mind. John
12 “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” Jesus loves us for he is love. He is not able not to love us. But more importantly, he commanded us to love as he has done. In other words, the recipients of Jesus’ love are not allowed to be passive recipients. They are called to be a role model of love for others. When we love anyone, unconditionally and for his highest good, we are example to encourage this person to love in a similar way. I believe that one of the biggest mistakes the parents can make is to treat their children like pets and a dumpster of parents’ blind love. We must tell children and intentionally train them to love God and people in their future relationship. We cannot shortchange our beloved children by not teaching them how to love.
God created humans and breathed his spirit into their nostrils. Jesus saved us and modeled to us how to love. We humans are the only creature in God’s creation to be able to understand and appreciate God’s love, and to imitate God’s love. Be proud to be humans. We are the only creatures who are empowered to love God in return and pass on God’s love to others. This is the purpose of God’s creation and salvation. We should trust the power of the Holy Spirit. We are enabled by Christ to identify God’s love as God’s children. If we let Jesus down in love, we devalue ourselves. By the same token, all people, especially our children or new Christians are able to grow into people of love. Don’t deprive people of their privilege to enjoy God’s love through us and learn to love. It is our problem if we don’t model love or don’t encourage them to love God and people.
Honestly, we often are not loving people or are people of shallow love. Now Christ loves us first through many ways. It is our turn to love God for the best interest of God’s kingdom, and to love people unconditionally, for their best interest and to encourage them to love likewise. We imitate Jesus’ way to relate ourselves to God and people in love. This is God’s great cycle of love and “Pay It Forward.”