Archive for the ‘God’s Love’ Category

Perfected Love

A Sermon preached on Sunday, June 26, 2011 by

The Rev. S. Randall Toms, Ph. D., at St. Paul’s Reformed Episcopal Church, Baton Rouge, Louisiana

(click here to listen to the audio recording of this sermon)

Text for this sermon pending


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“Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.”
I John 4:10-11

Many of us spend most of our lives trying to make ourselves lovable.   We are taught by our culture that if we do certain things, act a certain way, look a certain way, then we will be loved.  The media, in their advertisements, constantly bombard us with the images of the desirable, the cool, the hip, the beautiful.  We get the impression that if talk a certain way, if we wear certain clothes, drive particular types of vehicles, we will win the admiration, respect, and love of the people around us.    Sadly, what we call “love” in our culture is based on such things.  For us, we love those who are lovable.  We love those who please us in some way, or satisfy our needs.  Since we love only the lovable, we feel that we have to transform ourselves into those kinds of people that please others according to the standards that they set for us.  If we want to be loved, we must please others, whatever their idea of pleasure might be.  If a certain person doesn’t love us, then it must mean that I failed in some way to be lovable.  If a relationship fails, we blame ourselves, wondering what we could have done differently that would not have resulted in the loss of that person’s love.

                Unfortunately, we transfer our concepts of love and being worthy of love, to God.  We think that we must do something, be something, in order for God to love us.    I know that we often parrot the words that we have heard all our lives that God loves even though we are sinners, but really, deep down inside, in the back of our minds, don’t we still harbor the idea that we have to do something to earn the love of God; that we have to be a certain way to ensure that God is going to continue to love us.    So, we think that we have to do certain good works, we have to attend the worship services Church, we have to spend so many hours each day in prayer, a certain amount of time in Bible study, and if we will do all of that, then God will love us and continue to love us.  We even may think that if we don’t love God, God won’t love us.  We even turn our love of God into something that we think will earn God’s love for us, as though we are praying, “God, please help me to love you, because if I don’t love you, I know that you won’t love me.”

                To correct that way of thinking, the apostle John tells us in I John 4:10, “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”  God doesn’t love you because you loved God first, because, as a matter of fact, you didn’t love him first.  Before the love of God entered our lives, we were self-centered, loving only ourselves and had no place for God in our lives.  He was crowded by our sin, by our self-indulgence.  But in spite of the fact that we had no love for God, God loved us.  So, there is nothing you can do that would ever cause God to love you, because, in the sight of God, there is nothing in you that is lovable.  Now, I realize that they might sound like a terrible thing to say, something that would be depressing and cause you to run away from God.  But actually, the truth that I am not lovable in the sight of God is one of the most liberating truths that you could ever understand.    I am a sinner, and because I am a sinner, I am unholy, and therefore, unworthy of God’s love, his favor, and his blessing.  But the wonderful truth of the Gospel is that even though I am unlovable, God loves me, love me infinitely, and that there is nothing that can ever separate me from that love.  There is nothing that I could ever do that would impress him, that would cause him to love me more.  The wonderful truth of Scriputre is that God does not love us because of something he sees in us, something to make us worthy of his love.  He loves us because it is his very nature to love.  That is why John says, “God is love.”  From all eternity past, it was his nature to love.  Last week was Trinity Sunday, and on Trinity Sunday we think of the eternal love that all the members of the Holy Trinity have for one another.  The eternal Trinity is an incredible illustration of the fact that God is love.  The Trinity is not only a truth,  a true doctrine, it is an absolute necessity because of the fact that God is love, and love is expressed in relationship, the relationship of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  From all eternity past, God has been love, and from all eternity past until this present time, he has loved you, not because of anything that you have ever done, but simply because it his nature to love.

                I know that sometimes it is difficult for us to believe that God loves us, not because of anything we have done, but simply because it is his very nature to love.  But if it is difficult for us to believe, God has gone far beyond telling us that it is so.  He has acted in such a way to demonstrate that he loves us in spite of what we are.  John tells us that he gave his Son Jesus Christ to be the  propitiation for our sins.  That is, God loved us so much, he gave his Son to die on the cross in our place so that we might be forgiven all our sins and have eternal fellowship with him.  If I ever need any proof that God loves me, I only have to go to the cross.  He is not dying there because I am good and lovable.  He is dying there because I am not good and lovable.  So, the Apostle Paul tells us in Romans 5: 6-10:  For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.  For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die.  But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.   Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.  For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.  Look at all the words the Apostle Paul uses to describe us:  without strength, ungodly, sinners, enemies.  Have you ever seen yourself as all of those things.  Whether you realize that these words describe your character or not, they are true of you. 

And yet, God loves you though you are without strength, though you are ungodly, a sinner, his enemy.  And how did he demonstrate that love.  He did more than write you a letter in which he told you that he loved you.  He sent his Son to die on the cross for you.  You need no other, no greater proof of his love than this:  God gave his son to be the  propitiation for your sins.  Propitiation means that God’s justice has been satisfied by the death of his son on the cross.  But even at this point, we must be careful.  Sometimes, when we think of the death of Jesus on the cross, we think God hated us until Christ died on the cross, and then after that, God could love us.  The cross did not make God loving towards us.  The cross did not even purchase God’s love.  No, first, God loved us, and then, in order that we might be forgiven, because he desired to forgive us, he sent his Son to die on the cross for our sins.  So, the cross did not make it possible for God to love you; God’s love made possible the cross.  Because God is love, and because he desires to forgives us, he gave his Son to die for us.  And even now, even when we sin now, the love of God towards us does not cease, for Christ is still the propitiation for our sin.  Each Sunday morning, in the section of our worship service that we call the Comfortable Words of Scripture, I quote I John 2:2, If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, and he is the propitiation for our sins.”  The whole passage reads, “My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous:  And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (I John 2:1-2).  God sent him into the world to be the propitiation, and even now, when we sin, he is still the propitiation, the continual expression of the love of God for sinners, forgiving our sins as a result of his sacrifice for us.  It is God’s will for us that he doesn’t want us to sin, but if we sin, we have an advocate who is still our propitiation.  Therefore, my sin does not in the least diminish God’s love for me.  Any goodness I might have had was not the cause of God’s love for me.  Any sin in my life never prohibited the love of God for me.

                Of course, when someone says things like I just said, no doubt someone will object and say, “Then you are saying that we may live any way that we please.”  No, I’m not saying that, any more than John did in this epistle.  In the very next verse, John says, Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. (I John 4:11).  If we have really experienced the love of God in our own lives, then the natural response should be to love others in the way that God loved us.  But again, let me emphasize the point that our love for others does not cause God to love us.  Our love for others is not a bribe, whereby we can say, “OK God, see how much I love others.  Now, you love me as a reward.”  No, our love for others does not cause God to love us.  God’s love for us, causes us to love one another.  Throughout this epistle, John makes a great point that if we don’t love one another, we have never really understood and experienced the love of God ourselves.  For if we understood that God loved us though we were unlovable, then we would love others, no matter how unlovable they might be.

                It is interesting that the compilers of our Prayer Book chose this epistle reading to be used in conjunction with the gospel reading about the rich man and Lazarus.  Why would they combine a reading about the love of God with a reading about hell?    Well, let us take a look at Lazarus.  He is one of the unlovable.  He was poor.  He was a beggar.  He was starving.  He had sores and the dogs came and licked his sores.  And each and every day, the rich man, saw Lazarus sitting at his gate, but he ignored him and  never even gave him the crumbs that might fall from his table.   But after death, the tables are turned.  Lazarus is found in the bosom of Abraham and the rich man is in hell.  What was the great sin of this rich man?  It wasn’t that he was rich.  The Bible is filled with stories of rich people who were also godly.  Nor is Lazarus in paradise simply because he was poor in this life.  Poor people can be as proud, arrogant, and sinful as the rich man.  What was the great sin of the rich man?  Luke tells us that these sayings of Jesus in Luke 16 were directed to the Pharisees who were lovers of money.  The rich man’s sin was not that he had money, but that he loved it so much he would not share it with the poor.  In other words, the rich man had never opened his own heart to the love of God.  If he had experienced the love of God in his own heart and soul, then he would have responded by loving the unlovable, the unlovable Lazarus.  In this same epistle, St. John wrote, “Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.   Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.   But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. (I John 3:15-18)  What the rich man had done was to shut up the bowels of his compassion for Lazarus.  And John asks the question, “How does the love of God dwell in such a person?”  The answer, of course, is that it does not.  So, John tells us that we must not love merely in word or in tongue, but in deed and truth.  In other words, we must love others as God loved us.  God didn’t love us merely in word, merely telling us that he loved us.  He loved us in deeds, in actions, by sending his Son to die for us.

                The evidence that we have experienced the love of God in our own lives is that we love those who are the unlovable.  As Jesus put it, “Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-48).  It’s very difficult to love our enemies, to bless those that curse us, to pray for those who despitefully use us and persecute us.  But remember it is those very people whom God loves.  And remember that God didn’t let what you are stand in the way of his love for you.  Why do we find it so difficult to love the unlovable?  There is really only one reason.  We have never truly experienced the love of God in our own lives.  We have never seen how undeserving we are of the love of God and have never rejoiced day by day in the knowledge that God has always loved us and continues to love us in spite of our constant failures.  Let us truly understand that God first loved us and gave himself for us, and then we will first love others, and give ourselves for them.   With that in mind, let us constantly be praying the prayer I gave you this morning from Dean Henry Alford, which, in part reads,

Herein is Love, not that we loved Thee, but that Thou didst love us, and didst send Thy Son to be a propitiation for our sins.

O God, we have known and believed the love that Thou hadst for us.  May we, by dwelling in Thy Love, dwell in Thee, and Thou in us.  May we learn to love Thee whom we have not seen, by loving our brethren whom we have seen.  Let us not be living at ease and faring sumptuously, while want and distress are lying neglected at our door.  Let us not be having our good things in this life, regardless that the lot of others is hard. Teach us, O heavenly Father, the love wherewith Thou hast loved us:  fashion us, O blessed Saviour, after Thine own example of love:  shed abroad, O Thou holy Spirit of Love, the love of God and man in our hearts. 


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