God’s Love Expressed: Through Our Love For One-Another

In the passage 1 John 4:7-21 the beginning and the end command us to love one-another.

It’s like a love one-another sandwich.

In v7-8 it reads,

“Dear friends, let us love one another, because love is from God, and everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, because God is love.”

And v21 says,

“And we have this command from him: The one who loves God must also love his brother and sister.”

Whether there is an issue within the churches John is writing to, I’m not sure. But he certainly makes it clear that loving one-another in an important part of what it means to be in community together.

Because love has come from God we are to love one-another.

To love one-another is an expression of what it means to love God; a visible expression of God being a God of love.

God's Love Expressed Through Our Love For One-Another

Unfortunately, it is not uncommon to find churches who have within their history periods of time where loving one-another is lacking.

But a church devoid of love is like a tap without water.

A church devoid of love is like a football team without players.

A church devoid of love is like an orchestra without its conductor.

A church devoid of love is like cushion without stuffing.

A church devoid of love is like a car tyre without air.

A church without love is an unmitigated disaster.

And I wonder whether John would suggest they are really a church at all.

In his book, ‘The Compelling Community’, Mark Dever writes,

“To follow Christ is to love other Christians…Love between believers isn’t a sign of maturity; it’s a sign of saving faith.” (Dever, 52)

And John seems to suggest this here in our passage. The church, when loving one-another, show they are people who truly believe in the Lord Jesus, acknowledge his saving grace, and understand his atoning sacrifice for sin.

We may know these truths individually and personally. But, we should also see and know it together as a community, as a church.

Love between believers is the sign of a faith that is grounded in Christ and confirmed by the Holy Spirit.

In the same book, Dever says,

“Our greatest confirmation of the gospel is the community of the local church. Therefore, our best strategy for reaching the world is to fan that community into a raging inferno of supernatural witness that will be far more attractive than any adjustment to our music, small groups, or sermons could ever be.” (Dever, 192)

The love of one-another within the local church is what is attractive to others. It is the love of one-another that stands out to visitors and non-believers. It feeds into the mission and evangelistic edge of the church that we are called to be part of.

As Jesus meets with his disciples for the last time before his death he says these words in John’s Gospel, 13:34-35,

““I give you a new command: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

And in Romans 12:10, Paul writes,

“Love one another deeply as brothers and sisters. Out do one another in showing honour.”

Through the love we have for one-another people see the gospel worked out in practice as we build one-another up through love.

When a local church is going through hardship, significant conflict and disagreement, there will often be less people drawn to the church. The effect of a church lacking in love will mean that there are less new people coming along and less people turning to Christ. On the other hand, when a church displays love for one-another the love of Christ is displayed for all to see. It can be seen and felt within the church itself and draws people in.

It is through our love for one-another in our church that expresses the love God has for us.

In my previous blog post I started by talking about the movie Frozen. How Anna can only be saved by an expression of true love.

We too can only be saved by an expression of true love. This expression of true love is God sending his Son Jesus as an atoning sacrifice for our sin. Through the cross God expresses his saving love for us. And building on this, we too can be part of God expressing his love for others by the way we love one-another in our church.

God’s Love Expressed: Through The Cross

In our house princess stories and movies are high on the agenda. Over the last few years the movie Frozen has been a regular viewing experience.

You may know the story yourself.

We sit on the couch and watch the journey of Elsa and Anna, both princesses of the royal family trapped within the walls of the castle. Yet, it isn’t until Elsa becomes Queen that the gates are opened and the connection with the people is renewed. But because of Elsa’s special powers, and their uncontrollability, the city is sent into a perpetual winter and she runs away to hide and live by herself.

Princess Anna goes on an adventure to find her sister and have her return, but in the process she is struck by Elsa’s icy powers. From here on in there is a distinct concern for Anna who can only be saved by an expression of true love.

I won’t spoil the ending.

But Frozen is a story with twists and turns, and is of course a story of love.

In the Bible we read of the way God has expressed his love toward us. In fact, the whole Bible is God’s love story toward his creation. We see this from Genesis to Revelation, as God seeks to be with his people who are so often rejecting his love.

In 1 John 4:9-10 we read about the pinnacle of this story, the pinnacle of God expressing love. It says,

“God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his one and only Son into the world so that we might live through him. Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.”

This is the extent of the love God has for us; his expression of true love for his creation.

God's Love Expressed Through The Cross

I wonder how you express love?

I wonder how you express the love you have for others, for your family, your friends, your pets, the things you do, the things you have?

A little while ago Ed Sheeran released his single, ‘Perfect’. In the lead up to the release of the song he publicly stated that he wanted this to be his best song ever. Here are some of the lyrics:

I found a love for me

Darling just dive right in

And follow my lead

Well I found a girl beautiful and sweet

I never knew you were the someone waiting for me

‘Cause we were just kids when we fell in love

Not knowing what it was

I will not give you up this time

But darling, just kiss me slow, your heart is all I own

And in your eyes you’re holding mine

Baby, I’m dancing in the dark with you between my arms

Barefoot on the grass, listening to our favourite song

When you said you looked a mess, I whispered underneath my breath

But you heard it, darling, you look perfect tonight

Ed here (yes, we’re on a first name basis) is expressing love. He is expressing his deepest love for his girl through song. It is a clear expression of love.

And while 1 John 4 isn’t talking about romantic love it nevertheless describes the love God has for us.

John describes the love God has for us as sacrificial love. He points out that God has shown his love for us through, (1) the sending of his one and only son, and (2) as an atoning sacrifice for our sin.

The way God has shown his love for us is through Jesus.

The way God has shown his love for us is through the cross.

It is a cross-bound, life-sacrificing love.

This love is a relational love, meaning God has such a strong affection for us, he cherishes us so much, that he is willing to die for us.

This is a love that is deeply personal, a love that shows his commitment and faithfulness to us. This committed love, this affection for us, is displayed for us through the action of sacrifice. He loves us so much that he sent his one and only Son to be an atoning sacrifice for us.

He loves us so much that he sent himself, in human form, to take our place on that cross.

This sacrificial love is the love God has for us.

In the original languages the particular word for ‘atoning sacrifice’ is only used twice in the whole of the New Testament. Here in v10 and also back in 1 John 2:2. As one commentator has put it, it is a term to,

“…emphasise that God sent Jesus Christ to be the atoning sacrifice to remove the guilt we have incurred because of our sins so that we might have eternal life. This is the great expression of God’s love, and on this basis the author can say God is love.” (Kruse, 161)

Due to our sin, both the sin we do as action and the sinful nature we find ourselves battling against as fallen creatures, we are in need of a saviour.

The reality is that our hearts are naturally inclined to sin. Sin isn’t just what we do that is bad, or immoral, or hurtful, it is more than that. It is a heart position. It is the state of our heart that means we are against God in everything we do.

The bible speaks of our heart as being against God and His goodness.

Our hearts, from birth, are defective.

Our hearts are selfish and messy.

Essentially we’re a mess.

And so, we find God sending his one and only Son in order for our sinful natures to be transformed. Transformed into life-giving, self-sacrificing, love-promoting hearts. Sin is forgiven, our hearts are changed, and we begin to be changed into creatures perfected by his love.

Ironically, Ed Sheeran’s song, which I read out earlier, points to this. You may not remember but he sings,

When you said you looked a mess, I whispered underneath my breath

But you heard it, darling, you look perfect tonight

Did you see it? Do you get it?

We are a mess yet because of God’s great love for us he looks upon us because of the cross and says, ‘you’re perfect’. As we dance with God through what we call life God understands our mess, and because of the cross calls us perfect.

Our mess is made perfect through his sacrificial love.

Through the atonement God’s love is expressed. And through the atonement we find ourselves transformed away from selfishness and mess and made into people of perfected, sacrificial love.

Published: Easter Reflection – Cleaning Feet

A little reflection piece I wrote about Easter was just published on the TGCA site.

You can find it here.

“Through his death on the cross Jesus has not just given us a symbol of humility and service but has acted in humility and service toward us. Jesus’ death provides us with the cleanliness we need. His death is the sacrificial service for our sin. It is an act that cleanses us. As Jesus washing his disciples feet, making them clean; so too Jesus’ death washes our hearts and makes us clean from sin.

As we solemnly remember the death of Jesus these next hours, as we enter into the remembrance of our Lord’s death, may we come to a new appreciation of this great act of humility and service, for us, for our neighbour, and for our world.

And boy, don’t we need it.”

You can read more articles I’ve written elsewhere here.

Screen Shot 2019-04-18 at 10.57.11 am

Published: Hope In Distress

At the last minute I was tasked with preaching on Sunday. After contemplating what I should speak on, and not finding peace about any of my previous sermons, I landed on Psalm 142. This Psalm certainly spoke to me in the context of the last week–Christchurch and Cardinals, disaster and religious war. In the end I prepared as I could and preached the Psalm on the Sunday morning.

In the days after I turned the message into a piece published by The Gospel Coalition Australia. You can find the article here.

“The events of last week (or a look down our street, or an examination our own hearts) prove that we need rescuing. And through his Son, Jesus Christ, and the cross on which he died, we find that rescue.

Through  Jesus, and through the cross, we find our hope: hope in distress. And we can live in this hope knowing that God has already dealt with the evil of this world, and even our own pain and hurt and distress. He deals with us generously. He rescues and restores, comforts and consoles. Despite tragedy, we can hope and trust in God, our refuge and rescuer. May we say with the Psalmist, “Put your hope in God, for I will still praise him my Saviour and my God.” (Ps 42:11)”

Hope In Distress

Day 12 – You Are Made For Good Works

“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:1-10)

Can you think of something you’ve done this week which you would categorise as ‘good’?

Perhaps you behaved well in class. Perhaps you went to church. Perhaps you ate well. Perhaps you opened the door for someone. Perhaps you didn’t swear when you got angry. Perhaps gave someone a birthday present. Perhaps you sent a loving text.

What did you do this week that was good?

Often we find ourselves thinking in terms of good or bad. Am I a good Christian? Have I done something good with my life? Have I achieved the good I want to this week or month? Have I got good marks?

Well, the bible speaks of believers being good. That is, that we have been created for good works. Did you know that?

You're More Than A Number - You Are Made For Good Works

It is very easy for us to believe that the good we do will help our standing before God. In reality this isn’t the case. Our good works don’t improve of lessen our standing before God in any way. His love for us in unchanging. To be right with God is not because of these ‘good works’ but because of what Jesus has done on the cross. God accepts us because of what He has done through Jesus, not from our good actions, behaviours, or thoughts.

It’s a radical gift.

It’s why the song ‘Amazing Grace’ came into being. It’s amazing because we haven’t done anything to deserve this gift. It is grace because it is a free gift from God to us.

And out of this radical gift of grace we find ourselves bursting forth with thanks, joy, and hope for life.

Off the back of this great news we recognise that God has created us to do good works. Because of the gift we’ve been given we seek to gift others by helping, loving, and serving others.

Listen to what Paul, the writer of a letter to the Ephesian church, says:

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:8-10)

God has shown his incredible riches, grace, and kindness through Jesus. And out of this amazing grace from God we find ourselves created to do good works. As we follow Jesus and put our trust in him we have a joy in doing good works for others. Our hearts are now turned to help and love others, we desire the best for others and so seek to help them through the good works we do.

God’s hands are all over this as he has moved in us to accept this grace, and continues to move us to desire the best for others. As we continue in our relationship with God we continue to be made more and more like His Son. In this we desire to seek and serve those around us, learning how to do the good works that he has prepared for us to do.

Incredible.

FOR REFLECTION

  • Do you realise how much grace God has given you through the person and work of his Son Jesus?
  • Out of this truth, what is the response you have?
  • What opportunities do you have to do good works for others this week?

This is part of a devotional series called You’re More Than A Number. To understand the purpose of these posts then please read the series introduction. If you’d like these delivered to your inbox, please sign up to follow this blog or my FB page.

  1. You Are Created
  2. You Are Sinful
  3. You Are Forgiven
  4. You Are Called
  5. You Are Redeemed
  6. You Are Loved
  7. You Are Saved
  8. You Are Free
  9. You Are Chosen
  10. You Are A Child of God
  11. You Are A Slave

Day 6 – You Are Loved

“God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his one and only Son into the world so that we might live through him. Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 John 4:9-10)

In recent weeks Ed Sheeran has released another single. A few weeks ago he stated publicly that he wished to write his greatest love song, and with ‘Perfect’ he seems to have done that. It is the song that thousands of couples will now dance to on their wedding day. Here are some of the lyrics:

I found a love for me
Darling just dive right in
And follow my lead
Well I found a girl beautiful and sweet 
I never knew you were the someone waiting for me
‘Cause we were just kids when we fell in love
Not knowing what it was
I will not give you up this time

But darling, just kiss me slow, your heart is all I own
And in your eyes you’re holding mine
Baby, I’m dancing in the dark with you between my arms
Barefoot on the grass, listening to our favourite song
When you said you looked a mess, I whispered underneath my breath
But you heard it, darling, you look perfect tonight

In writing this song Eddie expresses his deep love for his girl. In doing so he gives us word pictures about how he loves her so.

What a way to express love! What a way to express what someone means to you!

You're More Than A Number - You Are Loved

I wonder how you express love?

I wonder how you express the love you have for others – for your family, friends, pets, things you do, things you have?

The passage at the top of this post isn’t talking about romantic love like Ed Sheeran is. Nevertheless, it describes the love God has for us.

It describes the love God has for us as sacrificial love.

The writer points out that God has shown his love for us through the sending of his one and only son as an atoning sacrifice for our sin.

The way God has shown his love for us is through Jesus. The way God has shown his love for us is through the cross.

It is a cross-bound, life-sacrificing love.

God has such strong affection for us, he cherishes us so much, that he is willing to die for us.

This is a love that is deeply personal and a love that is of commitment and faithfulness to us. This love, this affection for us, is displayed for us through the action of sacrifice. He loves us so much that he sent his one and only Son to be an atoning sacrifice for us. He loves us so much that he sent himself, in human form, to take our place on that cross.

This sacrificial love is the love that God has for us.

As one commentator has written, the term ‘atoning sacrifice’ is a phrase to “…emphasise that God sent Jesus Christ to be the atoning sacrifice to remove the guilt we have incurred because of our sins so that we might have eternal life. This is the great expression of God’s love, and on this basis the author can say God is love.”

Due to our sin, both the sin we do as action and the sinful nature we find ourselves battling against as fallen creatures, we are in need of a saviour. Because of our sin we find that our hearts and minds are a mess. As we seek to deal with our own selfishness and brokenness and pain on our own we continue to place ourselves as king or queen over our own lives.

We become lovers of self, rather than lovers of God.

And so, we find God loving us through sending his one and only Son in order for our lives to be transformed. Transformed into life-giving, self-sacrificing, love-promoting hearts. Sin is forgiven, our hearts are changed, and we begin to be changed into creatures perfected by his love. All from him loving us first.

Ironically, Ed Sheeran’s song gets this. You may not remember but he sings,

Baby, I’m dancing in the dark with you between my arms
Barefoot on the grass, listening to our favourite song
When you said you looked a mess, I whispered underneath my breath
But you heard it, darling, you look perfect tonight

Did you see it? Do you get it?

When you said you looked a mess, I whispered underneath my breath
But you heard it, darling, you look perfect tonight

Through God’s sacrificing love for us, through God expressing his love for us through the cross, we find that we are transformed from people who are messy to people perfected by love.

It is through this truth that we can know that we are indeed loved.

FOR REFLECTION

  • Do you know the love God has for you today?
  • What is your impression of God’s expressing his love for you through sacrifice?
  • How will you hold onto this truth as you do what you do today?

This is part of a devotional series called You’re More Than A Number. To understand the purpose of these posts then please read the series introduction. If you’d like these delivered to your inbox, please sign up to follow this blog or my FB page.

  1. You Are Created
  2. You Are Sinful
  3. You Are Forgiven
  4. You Are Called
  5. You Are Redeemed

Assurance In Uncertain Times

In times of uncertainty stress levels rise, anxiety increases, and the ability to make wise decisions can decrease. We live in a time of uncertainty, both locally and globally. There are many depressing stories on the news and in our social media feeds that continue to promote fear, instability, and uncertainty. With these things at the forefront of our minds we can feel the tension rise within us.

At our church we’ve recently begun a series, “Assurance In Uncertain Times”, working through the Letter of 1 John. This is a letter written in the first-century to a group of people living in uncertain times. Given the current climate we find ourselves in it becomes a relevant and fresh voice for us.

Assurance In Uncertain TimesOutside the believing community we find a distinct lack of confidence in the church, rightly or wrongly. There are continual critical voices, and in many ways this is to be expected. It’s happened for many years and will continue to happen for many years to come. But right now the coming couple of months will be a telling time for the Christian witness here in Australia.

Inside the church an erosion of our faith and core convictions can also occur. A variety of idea and theologies, all deemed to be accepted in this post-everything age, means we live along a continuum of confusion. On one end we find the denial of Jesus’ divinity and humanity, the rejection of the atonement, and the casting aside of the resurrection. On the other end we find some form of moral over-reach where behaviour trumps belief. Law is placed over grace, and fear over love, which provides an open door for a distorted Christianity.

And so living a life of faith can get confusing. Assurance can be eroded and confidence can be diminished.

You may not be someone of faith, or you may have had a faith for a while now, nevertheless as we journey through life a sense of assurance is something we find ourselves searching for. This search for assurance, for confidence in our self, in what we believe to be true, is part of life’s quest. There are many areas and activities where this can be discovered, but for the Christian this is most clearly found in the love of Jesus. 1 John 3:16 reads, “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.”

Being assured of a God that loves us is a tremendous thing. With this knowledge we find a solution to our lack of assurance. We find confidence in knowing God loves us because his Son Jesus gave his life so we could find true life in God. As a result we seek to live lives that are humble and service-orientated toward others—families, neighbours, and community. Through the inward knowledge of the love of God comes the outward expression of love to others.

In uncertain times, where we aren’t assured of what is true, fear becomes one of the main drivers of our decision-making. The fear of the future, the fear of our children’s education, the fear of unemployment, the fear of family breakdown, the fear of relationship struggle all unhinges our assurance. Thankfully, through scripture, and particularly through the Letter of 1 John, this lack of assurance is overcome by the love God has for us, and in turn, our love for others.

Hudson Taylor On Love

“One thing, and one thing only, will carry men through all, and make and keep them successful; the love of Christ constraining and sustaining them is the only power. Not our love to Christ, nor, perhaps, even Christ’s love to us personally; rather His love to poor ruined sinners in us. Many waters will not quench that love, nor floods drown it. Pray that this love may be in us…”

This is Hudson Taylor, as quoted in ‘By Love Compelled‘ by Marshall Broomhall, p12-13.

John Wesley On Love

John Wesley, in his sermon On Love from 1 Corinthians 8:3, “Though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and give my body to be burned, and have not love, it profiteth me nothing”, articulates a love that must be rooted in a love for God for any of our works to be considered good. This is a good reminder of how we are to have a deep deep love for God grounding us in our love for others. An insight into the kind of love, and attitude of love, we should strive for when serving others.

Though I should give all substance of my house to feed the poor, though I should do so upon mature choice and deliberation; though I should spend my life in dealing it out to them with my own hands, yea, and that from a principle of obedience; though I should suffer from the same view, not only reproach and shame, not only bonds and imprisonment, and all this by my own continued act and deed, not accepting deliverance; but, moreover, death itself; yea, death inflicted in a manner the most terrible to nature: yet all this, if I have not love, [“the love of God, and the love of all mankind shed abroad in my heart by the Holy Ghost given unto me”] it profiteth me nothing.

Jesus And My To-Do List

tdlistWhy is it that I often walk out of church on a Sunday morning feeling more guilty and with more on my to-do list than I did walking in?

I’ve had this occur numerous times over the last couple of years. I’m not sure if it says more about me or the church service and preacher. I can’t help wondering whether it’s my expectations of what it is to go to church and worship that leaves me wanting. Nevertheless, I occasionally walk out having that sense of needing to do more in the coming seven days.

I’m a preacher myself, so I know I need to work hard on the application of my sermons. The explanation of the Bible and understanding of the passage can be worked through slowly or quickly but application needs to be there…somewhere. And it is within this application section that I need to know that the burdens I’ve been carrying for the last however long can be lifted. That my cares can be taken care of. That I can hope and know God is in control of all things.

I need to be reassured that I don’t have to do anything more this week to have God love me more. 

I know God. I know God because of my faith in Jesus and his work on the cross. Through that work he has enabled me to have my sin forgiven and be in a relationship with Him.

I understand this will mean I will need to change. Following Jesus means growing as a disciple. This happens over time and with the Lord’s help.

But when I am weary from a week where I know I’ve sinned throughout, where I didn’t read my Bible as much as I’d like, where things haven’t gone right, then I come to church seeking comfort, seeking encouragement, and to be reminded that God still loves me and is taking care of me.

Of course, I may know this at a cognitive level. I may know this at an emotional level. But I need to know that this is the case again this week. Just as it was the last.

This reminder may happen through the Scripture passage, or through the words of the preacher in explaining the text, or through the application part of the sermon.  Whatever way it may be it needs to occur in a way where the application doesn’t mean I walk out with more to-dos this week.

Because guess what?

When Jesus died he didn’t add a single to-do to my list. He took many, many, many to-dos away though. When Jesus died he didn’t add guilt to my burdens, he took them all and dealt with them.

So, preacher (and I speak to myself as much as any other), preach Jesus. Preach Jesus in such a way as to articulate what he’s done without adding more to my week and my to-do list. Please.