A sermon delivered by Wendell Griffen, Pastor New Millennium Church, Little Rock, Ark., on May 13, 2012.
1 John 5:1-6
1 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child. 2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. 3 For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, 4 for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. 5 Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? 6 This is the one who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only but with the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one that testifies, for the Spirit is the truth.
Eugene Peterson, who has blessed the world with The Message version of the Bible, introduces 1, 2, and 3 John with these words.
“The two most difficult things to get straight in life are love and God. More often than not, the mess people make of their lives can be traced to failure or stupidity or meanness in one or both of these areas.
The basic and biblical Christian conviction is that the two subjects are intricately related. If we want to deal with God the right way we have to learn to love the right way. If we want to love the right way, we have to deal with God the right way. God and love can’t be separated.
Jesus, the Messiah, … provides the full and true understanding of God; Jesus shows us the mature working-out of love. In Jesus, God and love are linked accurately, intricately, and indissolubly.
But there are always people around who don’t want to be pinned down to the God Jesus reveals, to the love Jesus reveals. They want to make up their own idea of God, make up their own style of love.”
They want to make up their own idea of God. Does Jesus fit your idea of God? Does Jesus fit your idea of divine power and holiness? Pontius Pilate dismissed Jesus as insignificant. Judas Iscariot finally betrayed Jesus into the hands of his religious enemies because Jesus didn’t fit their ideas about God.
Some people don’t want the God Jesus reveals. Jesus reveals that God to us anyway. Love is the character revealed in Jesus. Whoever embraces the divine love revealed in Jesus embraces the God of love!
But if we reject the idea that God is love we must not only reject Jesus. We must also reject the idea Jesus revealed that love is the real meaning and purpose of life. According to Jesus, love, not power, is what makes us truly alive. Love, not fame, is what makes us content. Love, not possessions, is what makes us truly wealthy. When we reject the idea that Jesus revealed that God is love, we also reject the idea that love is the meaning and purpose of living.
Look around and see what kind of God people worship and what kind of living people do when they reject the idea that God is love and love is life as revealed by Jesus. When we reject God in Jesus we choose private privilege over common good. When we reject God in Jesus religion merely becomes another way of dominating others. When we reject God in Jesus, we don’t change the world. We become part of all that needs changing in the world!
God is love. Living for God and with God is loving and living as Jesus lives and loves. According to whoever wrote 1 John, anyone who lives and loves in harmony with Jesus is born of God. This is living and loving in the power of “new birth” in God’s grace. This is living and loving that honors, pleases, and glorifies God. Living and loving in harmony with Jesus is living by faith!
Faith is ultimately proved by our obedience. If we claim to be born of God, then we are children of love in harmony with love as Jesus reveals it. If we claim to be children of God’s love, then the Holy Spirit impels us to live according to the power of God’s love in our relationships with others. God commands that we live and love as Jesus has revealed God’s love and life to us.
The faith challenge for each person is first whether we want to live that way. Do we want to define life according to God’s love as revealed by Jesus or do we want a “non-Jesus” notion of God, love, and living?
It seems that many people, including many people who profess to believe in God, have a “non-Jesus” notion of God.
- People who believe in war-profiteering rather than peace-making have a “non-Jesus” notion of God.
- People who believe in mistreating others who are vulnerable have a “non-Jesus” idea about God.
- People who believe that life is defined by material possessions rather than shared fellowship with others have a “non-Jesus” idea about God.
- People who believe that that piety is defined by religious ritual instead of loving relationships have a “non-Jesus” idea about God.
“Non-Jesus” notions of God can work their way into our living, both individually and as people who profess to follow Jesus. We can become trapped by the lure of wealth, privilege, fame, pleasure, and other aspects of self-interest. “Non-Jesus” ideas of God explain how religious people become more interested in acquiring than sharing, fighting than forgiving, and avoiding others who we perceive as different rather than embracing them in loving fellowship and generous hospitality.
Whoever wrote 1 John appears to have been concerned that “non-Jesus” notions of God and living were threatening Jesus followers. This seasoned follower of Jesus does not mince words.
By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. 3 For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, 4 for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith.
We are revealed as children of God by loving as God loves in obedience to the example and commandments of Jesus. Tall steeples do not make us children of God. Religious rituals don’t make us children of God.
As Peter Scholtes wrote during the turmoil of civil unrest in the United States caused by social inequality and the tendency of many people to ignore or tolerate it, “They’ll know we are Christians by our love … yes they’ll know we are Christians by our love.”
Scholtes was a white priest who volunteered to lead a congregation of people that was half-Irish and half-black on Chicago’s South Side. He welcomed Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. when King took his civil rights movement north for the first time. Scholtes chose to live in the power of God’s love while enduring rejection and resentment from white members of the congregation who moved away as people of color moved into the neighborhood. He chose to live in the power of love, not fear. He chose to live in the power of generosity, not self-centeredness.
This faith in the power of God’s love as Jesus reveals it is what ultimately conquers everything else in the world! The world will not be saved by capitalistic profit-taking and militaristic “peace-keeping.” We will be saved by love. God’s love! Unconditional love! Sacrificial love! Welcoming love! This is what God has revealed in Jesus. This is what Jesus demonstrated by his life, ministry, and even in his death.
And in the resurrection of Jesus, God proved that love cannot be conquered by anything else in the world. No matter how badly things look and feel, God’s love will overcome. No matter how many people side with hate, fear, greed, and cruelty, God’s love will overcome. No matter who sits in power, God’s love will overcome. No matter what tomb people try to lock God’s love inside, God’s love will break loose. God’s love will come out. God’s love will live despite all the death-dealing powers and forces that rise against it.
Why? Because death is not God! God is love. God is life. Jesus reveals that God’s love and God’s life is the foundation for our victory over sin, death, and every tomb-situation and power in the world.
- Jesus reveals that God’s love has given us birth as children of God.
- Jesus reveals that God’s love defines our faithful living.
- Jesus reveals that God’s love gives us victory over the world and every tomb-like situation and power in it.
Jesus reveals that God’s love is what truly makes us alive. Jesus reveals that faithful living in God’s love is living that obeys God’s commandments to love God and others. Jesus reveals that this love and living for God by the power of the Holy Spirit conquers the world.
Love lifted me! Love lifted me. When nothing else could help love lifted me. Hallelujah! Amen
Wendell Griffen is pastor at New Millennium Church in Little Rock, Arkansas, and a circuit court judge in Arkansas. He served previously on the Baptist Center for Ethics / EthicsDaily.com board of directors.