Advent – Week 3 Notes

By December 13, 2020Sermon Notes

In 1993 an artist named Haddaway released a song called “What is love?” – Many of you are familiar with it – It reached the top of the charts in 13 countries and hit no. 11 in US – I’d sing it to jog your memory but I don’t think I’d ever recover from that, so I’ll leave it to you – It is a song, as you might have guessed from the title, about love – Haddaway, when asked about the meaning of the song, said, “I meant that ‘what is love’ needs to be defined by everyone by his own definition. It’s unique and individual. For me, it has to do with trust, honesty, and dedication.”[1]

All of us desire love – We desire it deeply – I think that love, above everything else, is the human goal and aim in life – Our thoughts and actions and motivations and desires are deeply, intrinsically, secretly driven by love – We want to be loved – We want to be in love – And we want to love others – But, to be honest, we aren’t really sure what love is – We are all asking the question, “What is love?” – At an abstract level, we have a hard time understanding it

But the problem is very concrete, too – Because, despite our deep longing to be loved, we seldom feel loved – In our desire to be in love, we seek love but we can’t seem to find it – And, when we momentarily think we might have, we quickly discover that we are surprisingly incapable of keeping the allusive thing alive

Universally, we have a love problem – I would guess it didn’t take you very long in life to figure that out – I would guess you discovered at a relatively young age that love is allusive

Most of us start out hoping that the deep need for love and acceptance will be filled by our parents but, inevitably, they fall short – They do their best, but they leave us with some wounds

So, look for love in a group of friends or maybe a best friend – But, even there, we never feel fully known, fully understood, fully accepted – We always walk away feeling like there is an important part of us that we just couldn’t quite put out into the open

So maybe we try a person of the opposite sex – Maybe we try sex, itself – And the early emotional fireworks give us hope that maybe we’ve found the solution to our problem – But, lo and behold, the deep longing for love eventually returns, unsatisfied – So, we conclude that we haven’t found the “right person” and we move on to another person and try again

If you grew up in the church, your quest for love may look a little different – You can’t reconcile being Christian and sleeping around, so maybe you look to marriage to answer your love problem – And marriage is good, an institution of God, but marriage is difficult – Marriage takes a lot of effort – Marriage takes sacrifice – Marriage can be mundane – Is this love? – Or is there something more?

Maybe it’s children? – God instituted the family and it is good – Children will solve the love problem – And, indeed, children introduce us to this whole new kind of love – But parenting, too, is difficult and costly and exhausting and frustrating

Maybe it’s a Christian community? – Surely God’s people will fill this deep need to be fully known and fully loved – But, even here, the longing so often follows us like shadow we can’t shake

So, maybe we try one last thing – We’ll try loving God – We’ll read the Bible – We’ll pray – We’ll show up to church – Maybe we’ll tithe – We’ll try not to curse or lie or boast or envy – And it goes well for a while, but it soon grows burdensome and we grow weary

And the quest for love begins to breed in us an increasing suspicion that maybe we aren’t lovable – Maybe if I was more attractive, more impressive, or more respectable, then I would find love

And so we decide to lose some weight – We decide to buy a bigger house or a nicer car or a better fitting suit – We decide to refine our manners, subdue our bad habits – We strive for a promotion at work – We try to be more religious – Hoping that we can somehow become lovable – But it’s all like trying to grab smoke – We can never quite get ahold of it

And so, eventually, we conclude that this whole concept of love is doomed – And, in our cynicism, we try to redefine love into something “workable” or we simply discard it all together – This is our human love problem – But is there a love solution? – Is there a better answer to Haddaway’s question?

I propose to you this morning that it there is – And I propose to you that it is Advent which provides the answer to our human love problem – This morning, on this 3rd week of Advent, we are going to look at 1 John 4:7-11 and we are going to talk about love – Specifically, are going to look at: 1) The Source of Love, 2) The Expression of Love, 3) The Fruit of Love

Read 1 John 4:7-11

The Source of Love

John says that “…love is from God…” and that “…God is love.” – So God is the source of love – Love originates with God – Now, this reality creates two implications for solving the love problem

First, if you want to solve a problem, you must first get to the source – Repeat – About two years ago, in middle of winter, we started having issues with our furnace – The electronic thermostat in our hallway kept cycling on and off – So we would only get short bouts of warm air at a time and the furnace wasn’t keeping up – It was getting cold

So I pulled out the manual for the thermostat and started troubleshooting – I even called customer service and tried to get to a solution – For a couple of days I tried to figure it out to no avail – Frustrating

But here’s what I eventually discovered – My furnace filter was clogged – The furnace wasn’t getting enough air, so the emergency breaker was kicking off and killing power to the thermostat – All I needed to do was go down in basement and change the filter – All this time I was trying to solve the problem at the thermostat, but I couldn’t – I couldn’t figure it out – It was incredibly frustrating and unfruitful – But as soon as I found the source, it was a simple solution

If you want to solve a problem, you must first get to its source – And God is the source of love – Trying to fill a transcendent need for love with human resources like parents, friends, romantic partners, children, and even religious activity will never work – You may find some love – But you will not find the love that will quench your soul – If you want to solve the love problem, you must go directly to God because God is love

Here’s the second implication: If you want to get your facts straight, you must first get to the source – We live in a world where facts are skewed because sources are ignored – Everybody has information but no one knows where it came from or if that source is reliable – If you want to get your facts straight, you must first get to the source – And when it comes to love, God is the source – Our facts about love must come from God – What is at stake is too important to be left to unreliable sources

And we could spend a long time talking about the different facets of God’s love – But let me give you the facet that I think separates God’s love from every other form of love you’ll find in the world – It is this: that God’s love is an expression of His moral character – Repeat – Love is a moral thing

This is where Haddaway got off track with love – Love does not need to be defined by everyone according to his or her own definition – In fact, to do so is damaging – It’s already been defined – Love is unique and individual not because everyone determines it for themselves but because it comes from The Unique Individual

When it comes to love there is a “right” and a “wrong” way to do it – The right way to do it is the way God has done it, out of His moral character – Love is not simply a feeling – To love is to have a strong desire for another person’s best interests, according to God’s moral character and His moral design

If you want to solve a problemIf you want to get your facts straight, you better go to the true source – And God is The Source of Love

But all of this talk about God and love and morality is very abstract – I don’t know about you, but I’m not very good at understanding abstract ideas – Most of us could sit through an hour-long lecture about gravity and, at the end of it, we’d still be clueless about what exactly gravity is – But if you took us outside and told us to throw a rock up in the air and let us watch it fall to the ground, we’d probably learn more about gravity in those few seconds than we would the entire lecture – We understand things much better when we can see them and touch them and watch them in action

God knows that – And so He “sent his only Son into the world” as a concrete manifestation of His love – This is The Expression of LoveRead verse 9

What we celebrate at Advent is that God sent a baby who wriggled and cried and nursed and cooed – A baby who grew into a playful boy and then into an authentic man – A man who was fully God and fully human who walked this very earth and, through His living and breathing and teaching and healing and dying showed us what love is – In Jesus Christ, Father took an abstraction and made it absolutely concrete – In Jesus, the God who is love put on human flesh and dwelled among us so that we could see love and touch love and watch love in action

Why did God do this? – It wasn’t so we could have a good example to follow in Jesus – We do have a good example in Jesus, but that’s not why He came – He came so that we might live through him” – Now, that’s an odd thing to say – What does John mean “so that we might live through him”? – Are you and I not already “living”?

Well, yes and no – Yes, you are living in the sense that your heart is beating and you are breathing oxygen and your brain is sending electrical signals to rest of your body – But, apart from Jesus, your soul is dead – Physically, you are alive and spiritually you are dead – And that is a consequence of Adam and Eve’s rebellion in Garden

You know, you really can’t understand Jesus apart from the Old Testament – Some would say otherwise, but I disagree with them – The whole concept of Advent rests on the anticipation that God will fulfill a promise He’d made earlier – The Jews were waiting on a Messiah – A King from line of David who would fulfill promises God had given to David and Abraham – But the first promise actually came in the Garden in Genesis 3

Adam and Eve had rebelled against God by disobeying His clear parameters for stewarding the Garden – And, because God is holy and righteous and just, He couldn’t let their disobedience slide – So He gave them appropriate consequences for their mistake – He allowed them, and every human being after them, to experience physical death, spiritual death, and the potential for eternal separation from Himself

But even as He gave the consequence, He made a way out – He curses the serpent saying, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (3:15) – Both the human love problem and God’s love solution begin in the Garden – And the hope of Advent is set on an offspring of Eve – a human – who will be God’s instrument of victory in dealing a lethal blow to the enemy – A man who would kill death and restore life as it was meant to be

Jesus was that man – Paul says: “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked…But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved…” (Eph. 2:1, 4-5) – Through the Son of God we move from death to life – Jesus kills our death and restores us to true life in relationship with God – This is The Expression of Love – But there’s more

Read verse 10

John uses an uncommon word “propitiation” – Let’s talk about that word

John has told us that God is love – But we also know that love is a moral action rooted in whole character of God – And we know that God is also just – There’s a lot of talk about justice in our society today – There is a war on injustice – People are sensitive to justice – People are hungry for justice – And Christians, as people who reflect a just God, should seek justice – But let’s be clear, too – No hunger for justice you see on the news or feel in your own heart comes close to the justice with which God rules the earth

And the reality of sin is that we have committed a terrible crime against God – We have invoked His justice – And He would be unjust to simply pardon criminals like us – We shake our fists at judges who refuse to take just action against immoral people – But what about God? – He can’t just turn His eyes from sin – If He did, He would have to deny His very nature – He would have to be unjust – And He can’t do that – Not even love would permit Him to do that, because love is a moral action – And so, if He is to pardon us, love and justice demand that another person shoulder our consequences in our place

And Jesus was that person – That’s what it means to be a propitiation – To propitiate is to appease someone just anger by offering them a gift or sacrifice – And Jesus was the propitiation for our sins – And it was only Jesus who could rightfully be a propitiation for us

Anselm, a church father from the early 12th century said, “only man should make the sacrifice for his sins because he is the offender. But only God could make the sacrifice for our sins since he has demanded it. Jesus, as God and man, is the only Savior in whom the ‘should’ and the ‘could’ are united”[2] – In the cross we see the fullness of God’s love and the fullness of God’s justice – Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross was a moral action of love – He was making wrong things right

And the cross casts a dark shadow on attempts at self-righteousness – The cross mocks human attempts to earn God’s love – John says, “In this is love, not that we have loved God…” – The Good News of Christianity is not that we have loved God

We haven’t loved God – If love is how I live toward God, then I must admit that love is a sorry, fickle, finite thing – And yet, if I’m not careful, I can subtly make Christianity about how lovely I am – If I’m not careful, I can make Christianity about all my righteous works of love toward God – Look at how much I pray – Look at how much I read my Bible – Look at how much I serve – Look at how much I give – Boy, I’m sure glad I love God so much

Praying, reading your Bible, serving, giving, growing in holiness – Those are all good things – But love has an order – God first loves us, so that we can love Him in return – And when we get the order turned around in our minds, we develop all kinds of spiritual and relational illness

We’ve talked about The Source of Love and The Expression of Love – Now let’s talk about The Fruit of Love as we look at application

John argues that the fruit of love is love – John’s rich discussion of love is sandwiched between two instructions to love one another – In verse 7 he begins with, “Beloved, let us love one another…” – And in verse 11 he concludes with, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”

John’s argument goes like this: 1) God is love – 2) Whoever knows God through experience by propitiation of Christ knows love of God – 3) Since you know this love, love one another – He even goes as far as to say, “whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” – The natural and necessary fruit of God’s love is love for your neighbor – This connection is so natural and necessary that John argues that a Christian who does not love ought to question whether or not they are a Christian at all – Love has a natural and necessary order – It comes from God to us and then goes through us to others

So, here’s your application – If you don’t know God, that’s where you must start – If you’ve never trusted in Christ to be propitiation for your sin, that’s where you must start – Because you cannot solve love problem on your own – Unless you experience the love of God in Christ, your transcendent need for love will go on unsatisfied – You will go through all of life asking the question, “What is love?” – Turn to God this morning – Confess your brokenness and your need for Him – Trust in Jesus as your propitiation – And submit to Him as your Lord – And then ask someone here for help in nurturing your love for Christ

If you have trusted in Christ, but you’ve strayed from love of God and been pursuing your need for love in the wrong places or the wrong ways, turn back to Him this morning – If you have trusted in Christ but the order of love has gotten all twisted up in your mind so that you are trying to earn His love with religious activity, reset this morning – Come sit at His feet – Receive His forgiving love – Rest in it – Ask Him to keep you there – Determine to stay there – And recruit help

And then, out of that love, love others – Out of the love of God that He has poured into you and is now pouring into you, get up and go – Take action to love others – Not according to our culture’s rules of love, but according to Christ’s rule of love and according to God’s moral character

Christian love will require sacrifice – It will require bowing, bending, stooping, and serving – It will involve trusting God with things unseen – It will involve taking God at His Word – Love, as Christ loved you

Maybe you have brothers and sisters in Christ with whom you need to reconcile – Maybe you have a family member you need to reach out to this Christmas – Maybe you need to take a proactive step in loving your neighbor – Maybe you need to take an uncomfortable step to serve the poor, the sick, the downcast, or the vulnerable – Ask God for wisdom and courage to love others in a way that reflects His great love for you

 

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/What_Is_Love#cite_note-7

[2] Allen, D. L. (2013). 1–3 John: Fellowship in God’s Family. (R. K. Hughes, Ed.) (p. 191). Wheaton, IL: Crossway.

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