Let us pray: Dear Savior, in love You gave Your life for ours on the cross. In love You worked saving faith in our hearts. And now, You want us to show forth that love by putting aside any hatred, rage, anger, and bitterness that we might have toward another. Lord, the only way we can do that is to keep our eyes and our mouths and our hearts fixed on You. So, give us the ability to do exactly that. Amen
GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, THE LORD OF LOVE!
TEXT: I John 4: 13-21
Fellow Redeemed Sinners:
Tests are a way of life. Tests are a way to show us what we’ve learned and what we still need to learn. They measure growth. And they will never end as long as we draw breath. So, you young people better get used to those tests in school, because they are a precursor, a forerunner, of what awaits. When you pass the MCAS test, you’ll get your high school diploma. But then comes the real time of testing. College, job interviews and later performance reviews, the time when you’ll lose your parents, handling physical pain, and the dating game—all of them are future tests. Some you’ll pass. Some you’ll fail. And hopefully you’ll learn from every single one of them.
God sends countless tests our way in order to measure exactly where we are when it comes to our faith and where we need to be. Today’s text outlines one such test. And today we’re going to take it. So, I ask you:
DO YOU PASS THE LOVE TEST?
For me, every Sunday is actually a test. Every sermon is a test. Did I faithfully and correctly preach God’s Word, or not? Did I reach your souls with His life-changing message of forgiveness, or not? Did I give you something to cogitate on during the week, or not? But, for me the testing doesn’t end with the final “Amen” at service end. No, I’ve learned the hard way that such testing continues every single day. How so?
Throughout my ministry most of my members have been accepting and appreciative of what I’ve tried to do for them and in their lives. But, I have had people that for whatever reason didn’t like me. Perhaps a sermon rubbed them the wrong way. Perhaps I said or did something that they didn’t understand and they put the worst possible construction upon it. In any case, I’ve had people who rejected me and my work. People who got angry over some supposed slight and stayed away from worship. People who agitated behind the scenes in order to foment discontent among other members. Every pastor faces such difficult people. It comes with the territory. In fact, we even have a name to describe them. We call them “alligators.” As in, “they snap at us a lot!” A number of years ago I was talking to Pastor David Lillegard, a son of this congregation, a foreign missionary in our synod, and a friend about this very issue of alligators. I’ll never forget the advice he gave me in handling difficult people. When I asked him what he does in such circumstances, David replied: “I love them all the more!” That’s wise advice. Biblical advice. And I’ve never forgotten it.
It’s easy to love those who love you back. But what about the “alligators” that you face at work, at school, in your extended family, or perhaps even at church? Do you “love them all the more,” or not? Let’s face it, anger and disgust are easy. Bearing a grudge is easy. Hatred and bitterness are easy. They are easy because they naturally spring forth from our sinful nature. But love, true love, is hard because it is alien to our natures. For true love comes only from God. “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgement, because in this world we are like him.
Now, let’s be clear. Love doesn’t mean you excuse bad behavior. Love doesn’t mean you ignore people who are ingrates. Love doesn’t mean you overlook sin. For God is a God of honesty, and thus our faith and lives must reflect such honesty, too. That being said, since love is the primary principle behind everything God does, it must be so for us, as well. If it’s not, you will fail to pass His love test.
So, how are we to love? What form should it take? The Bible tells us never to “repay evil with more evil, but repay evil with good.” In other words, act toward others as Christ acted towards you. Without Jesus guiding us by His Spirit—“We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.”—without that every one of us fails the love test miserably. For our nature is to hurt others who have hurt us and to hit back twice as hard as we’ve been hit. But when Jesus is added to the equation, when He puts His love into our hearts, all that changes. Yes, “we love because he first loved us. If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.”
A week doesn’t go by that I don’t think about those who have been petty and spiteful towards me. And by God’s grace, I pray for them. I pray that God may change their hearts and find a way to change their attitudes. Does this make me a model Christian? No! Christ has made me His child by His love for me on the cross. And that love and forgiveness has blotted out resentment and retribution. By His grace alone I focus on the great truth that John preaches: “We love him because he first loved us!” Indeed, to do anything less is to mock His love and His life.
Do you pass the love test? If you take this test alone the answer will always be: no. You will fail miserably. But with Christ’s power and the Spirit’s guidance, you can and will pass this test with flying colors. Just remember to always rely on Christ and to mirror His life in yours! “If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.” Being a Christian doesn’t mean you’ll ever be perfect or that you’ll never give in to pettiness. Instead, being a Christian means that you try to live love and always plead the mercy of God’s love in Christ when you fail. Think about that truth this week and then put it into practice. Amen