Love One Another

1 John 4:7-12

January 19, 2003 | Brian Bill

Do you remember what you were doing 30 years ago?  Let me see if I can refresh your memory.  Notre Dame topped the college football rankings with a perfect 11-0 season.  The “Sting” took home the best picture Oscar and “The Walton’s” swept five Emmy categories.  The average American household earned $10,500, the minimum wage was $1.60, and a first-class stamp cost 8 cents.  

In 1973…

  • A few of you were contemplating retirement.
  • Some of you were just getting started in your first job.
  • Or maybe you had just started college.
  • I was 13 with a face filled with acne and an appetite for adventure.
  • Beth was a cute ten-year-old dreaming of her Prince Charming from the Dairy State.
  • Some of you were tiny toddlers.
  • Unbelievably, many of you were not even born!

And, about 40 million people have never been born because of a Supreme Court Decision that was handed down 30 years ago this month that has tragically altered the moral, medical and legal landscape of our nation.  President George Bush, following the tradition of Presidents Reagan and Bush, has declared today to be “Sanctity of Human Life Day” and has urged Americans to “reaffirm our commitment to respecting the life and dignity of every human being…Every child is a priority and a blessing, and I believe that all should be welcomed in life and protected by law.”  

Let me say at the beginning that I’m always a bit hesitant to deliver a sermon like this.  Not because I’m not convinced of what the Bible teaches but because most Americans already have an opinion about abortion or they don’t want to hear about it.  I recognize that the unity we focused on last week is in danger of unraveling because of the volatility of this issue.  I’m also cognizant of the fact that some women here today are living with the shame and guilt associated with abortion.  While I’m committed to teach truth this morning, I also want to make sure you are given grace.  

Some pastors have chosen, for various reasons, to remain silent on this topic or to even approve abortion.  I don’t see either as an option this morning.  Where God has spoken, I must speak.  My goal is not to be politically correct but to be biblically correct.  I’m compelled and constrained to communicate God’s heart as clearly as I can, with as much love as I can.  Proverbs 14:25 summarizes my purpose and my hope: “A truthful witness saves lives, but a false witness is deceitful.”  

I then said that if we don’t speak up, who would?  If the churches are silent, other voices will move to fill in the vacuum.  Next I read Proverbs 24:11-12, mentioning that this passage provides a challenge to me both personally and pastorally: “Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter.  If you say, ‘But we knew nothing about this,’ does not He who weighs the heart perceive it?  Does not He who guards your life know it?  Will He not repay each person according to what He has done?”  I concluded by stating that while abortion has become a political issue, it is really a spiritual and moral concern that must be addressed from our pulpits.

After the meeting a pastor came up to me and said that he’s always been afraid to tackle the topic in his preaching because of where his denomination stands on the issue.  He asked me to pray for him to have the courage to speak boldly today.  Another pastor called me late last week with a resource that he thought I might be interested in.  It’s my prayer that all the churches in this community would speak up for those who can’t speak for themselves.  And many churches are doing that already.

Pope John Paul II has referred to the aftermath of abortion as the “culture of death.”  I’d like to suggest this morning that the exalted lordship of Christ leads to expressions of love and to an ethic of life.  To say it another way, when we understand how much God loves us we will be moved to love others and to lift up every life that He has created.  Please turn in your Bibles to 1 John 4:7-12.  Before we read this, keep in mind that John is known as the “apostle of love” and that he was writing to a group of believers who were embroiled in controversy and struggling with the temptation to compromise.  

While this passage does not specifically address abortion, the setting is similar to our situation today, and these verses set the parameters that should guide our attitudes and our actions.  The word “love” is used 13 different times in just six verses and the command to “love one another” is stated 3 separate times.  

“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God.  Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.  Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.  This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.  This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.  Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.  No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.”

We’re challenged with three love lessons in this passage.

1. Love has been defined (7-8). 

As an example of how he is exhorting his readers to act, John calls his brothers and sisters “dear friends.” He then commands them to “love one another” and quickly adds that this type of love can only come from God.  God defines love because all true love has its origin in Him.  Psalm 86:5: “You are forgiving and good, O Lord, abounding in love to all who call to you.”

we must recognize that love is not so much an emotion but an emulation of the One who first loved us

In order for us to truly love one another, we must recognize that love is not so much an emotion but an emulation of the One who first loved us.  It has nothing to do with self-fulfillment and has everything to do with self-sacrifice.  The Greek word that John uses means to “continue to love.”  Love is not a feeling or a one-time action but a life-long commitment.

Verse 8 goes on to say, “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.”  Just as love is an indication of a transformed life, a lack of love is evidence of an unredeemed life.  A habitual lack of love for others may supply incriminating evidence that a person has not yet been born again.  Someone has put it this way: “If love is not reigning in your heart, God may not be Lord of your life.”  

Dear friends, if we truly understood the biblical definition of love, countless Christians would be courageously committed to chastity.  We are called to love one another, not to lust for one another.  Don’t allow our culture’s definition of love to give you an excuse to participate in sex outside of marriage.  

Just this week, USA Today reported that the U.S. abortion rate has been declining in part because there are an increasing number of young people abstaining from premarital sex.  In a recently published book called, “The New Faithful,” Colleen Carroll traces the grassroots movement of a new generation of teenagers who reject abortion and sexual license.  These young people make purity pledges and swarm the National Mall each year to march for life.  Just last month, Newsweek did a cover story called, “The New Virginity: Why More Teens Are Choosing Not to Have Sex.”  

This is great news!  The new sexual revolution going on right now is being fueled for the most part, by Christian students who understand this truth: the exalted lordship of Christ leads to expressions of love and to an ethic of life.  If more people would submit to the lordship of Jesus Christ and commit to sexual fidelity, there is no doubt that the abortion rate would go down even more drastically.  

I came across something this week called, “Ten Reasons Chastity Rocks” which summarizes the changing outlook of sold-out students:

  1.  It’s not a negative.  Purity means saying “yes” to a healthy lifestyle that can prepare you for a great marriage.
  2. It’s a 100% guarantee against unplanned pregnancies.  All natural and no side effects!
  3. It allows you to see your partner and your relationship clearly.
  4. It’s for everyone and you can start anytime, even if you’ve been sexually active.
  5. You’ll spend quality time together and show affection in other ways.
  6. Save the best for last.  Your future husband or wife deserves the most important gift you can give – yourself.
  7. The question “How far can I go?” becomes, “How can I love and honor this person in every way, including respect for their sexuality?”
  8. Great dating meter!  Pledging to be pure allows you to quickly weed out the jerks.
  9. No regrets.  Polls show that most teens regret having become sexually active.  No one who practices purity lives to regret that decision.
  10. Because it’s worth the wait.  Marriage is the only reality in which we can give all of ourselves to another and really mean it.  

While parents and other adults celebrate this movement back to a biblical understanding of love among teenagers, the True Love Waits campaign for the first time is inviting adults to make a purity promise as well.  Parents, are you willing to make a pledge to stand alongside your children in order to model the biblical definition of love?  Here’s the commitment: “Believing that true love is pure, I join [your son or daughter’s name] in committing to a lifestyle of purity.  I make a commitment to God, myself, my family, and my community of faith to abstain from pornography, impure touching and conversations, and sex outside a biblical marriage relationship, from this day forward.”

2. Love has been displayed (9-10). 

His lordship leads to love which leads to life

When it comes to loving one another, love has not only been defined for us, it has also been displayed.  Look at verse 9: “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.” Because God is love, He looks for ways to express that love to us.  The word “show” means to “come out into the open” or “to render apparent.”  God made His love obvious when He sent His Son.  Jesus came so that we can have life and so that we can understand love.  His lordship leads to love which leads to life.  God’s love for us was put on open display, not when we were deserving of it, but when He could have snuffed us out because of our seditious sinfulness.  Romans 5:8: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” 

Verse 10 clarifies that God’s love can only be understood as we comprehend the cross of Christ: “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”  Jesus has taken our sins, thus satisfying the demands of a Holy God.  It’s at the cross where God reveals His love and makes it possible for us to be saved by faith.  This verse reminds us that we don’t have to produce love on our own but instead should surrender to a love that we can’t resist.  

In one of Max Lucado’s most recent books, he writes: “God loves you.  Personally.  Powerfully.  Passionately.  Others have promised and failed.   But God has promised and succeeded.  He loves you with an unfailing love.  And His love—if you will let it—can fill you and leave you with a love worth giving.”

That leads to the third love lesson.  God defines love and it’s been put on open display through the sacrifice of His Son.  This same love is worth giving when we live in the overflow of divine love.  Before we can pass love on, we must receive it ourselves.  Have you done that yet?

3. Love must be demonstrated (11-12). 

We’re under orders to love everyone at all times and in every way

Look at verse 11: “Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”  Once again, John appeals to them as “dear friends” and links God’s love for us to our love for others.  Since God lavished His love on us, how can we not unleash that same love on others who are just as unworthy as we are?  That little word “ought” is very interesting.  It literally means to “be under moral obligation” or “to owe.”  We can’t pick and choose whom we’re going to love or even when we’re going to love.  We’re under orders to love everyone at all times and in every way.  

1 John 4:12 reminds us that when we love one another “God lives in us and His love is made complete in us.”  God is made evident, or visible if you will, when we love one another.  His love has come down from heaven and been displayed but it must be demonstrated by His people for it to be made complete.  This word “complete” means, “accomplished” or “carried out to completion.”  In order for God’s love to reach its desired goal, you and I must express the love that is worth giving.

Love the Least of These

Beloved believers, love has been defined.  It’s been displayed.  And now we must demonstrate it by loving one another.  The exalted lordship of Christ leads to expressions of love and to an ethic of life.  

Sometimes we wonder if we really need to demonstrate love to everyone.  In Luke 10, a lawyer once asked Jesus how he could have eternal life.  Jesus in turn asked him to summarize what was written in the Law of God.  This lawyer had a lock on the supremacy of love when he responded in verse 27: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind and love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus applauded his answer but then verse 30 tells us that the man wanted to justify himself by searching for a ‘love loophole’ when he said, “And who is my neighbor?”  

Let’s be honest.  Many of us ask this question as well.  We want to know whom we’re supposed to love and who we’re not.  Who’s in and who’s out?   In our culture today, the question is, “Who is a person?” Or, when does a baby possess the criteria of personhood, of being my “neighbor”?

In reply, Jesus told the timeless story about the Good Samaritan.  His answer really shows that the man had asked the wrong question.  The right question is found in verse 36: “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”  In a sermon on this passage, Michael Gorman suggests that the right question is one of character, not of criteria.  The right question is about being a neighbor, not defining a neighbor.  We come back to 1 John 4: God has defined love and displayed it, but you and I must now demonstrate that love in our relations with others.

What exactly was the failure of the priest and the Levite?  They found a love loophole and they took it.  They failed to recognize a neighbor and they bailed on being a neighbor because they refused to take the side of a victim.  Listen carefully to these words: “They failed to hear a human life calling them, a person in need, a person to love.  They chose the less morally demanding action, in favor of death, not life.  They presumed that the man was not alive or was not important and therefore had no claim on them” (“The Right Choice,” page 58).

The Samaritan, on the other hand, gave the right response to the wrong question.  He didn’t ask, “Who is my neighbor?”  Instead, he asked, “How can I be a neighbor?”  This parable teaches us that our neighbor is anyone who is a victim.  Anyone in need or in pain or without protection is my neighbor.  And, I’m a neighbor when I act out of love for the sake of the one who can’t speak for himself or herself.  We’re really not called to define who are neighbors are, but to be neighbors by demonstrating unconditional and sacrificial love to everyone, especially those in need.

This has obvious application to the abortion issue.  Shouldn’t we be motivated out of love to demonstrate love to the “least of these?”  Life is sacred because God is the author of life.  Genesis 1:27: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”  The triune God is the creator of children, and as such, the extermination of a baby in the womb – a human life at its most vulnerable – is an act of unspeakable horror that grieves the very heart of God and should cause us to shudder.  Deuteronomy 30:19 lays out a challenge for each of us today: “This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses.  Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.”

By the way, have you ever noticed how upset people get, and rightly so, when something terrible happens to a newborn baby?  On Friday when I was working out, a story came on the national news about a young father, from Wisconsin no less, who left his newborn baby in a portable toilet to die.  Thankfully, someone came by and rescued the baby.  We were all stunned as we listened to the story and one of the guys on the treadmill just shook his head and held up his fingers to make a gun as if to shoot the father.

Why does a story like that make us angry and even sick to our stomachs?  Because we know inherently that life has dignity.  We know that babies are beautiful and they should be given a chance to live.  As I’ve said other times, I’m convinced that if somehow it could be proven conclusively that the destruction of preborn babies is in fact the willful murder of human beings, the debate on abortion would be over, and the law of the land would as clearly prohibit abortion as it does all other forms of homicide.

A Womb With a View

If we could somehow give mothers a window to their womb, it would become unmistakably clear that so-called “fetal tissue” is really a frolicking toddler-to-be.  Psalm 139:13-16 captures an inside-the-womb view of God’s creative genius: “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place.  When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body.  All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” 

The fact that life in the womb is not only viable, but also valuable was graphically demonstrated about three years ago when a surgeon performed fetal surgery on a 21-week old preborn baby.  At the end of the operation, as the doctor was preparing to close up the opening in the mother’s uterus, the baby’s hand slipped out.  The doctor reached down with his finger and held Samuel’s little hand.  Let me show you the picture (I showed this the last two years but I want to show it again).

Now, with the advent of new technology, parents are being shown what their preborn babies look like in the womb.  A television commercial for GE’s new ultrasound system shows a pregnant woman and her husband marveling at an amazingly clear picture of their unborn baby’s features.  The announcer says: “When you see your baby for the first time…it really is a miracle.”  By the way, the word fetus is the Latin word for “young one” or “offspring.”  These actual images appear in live-action and in full color.

When we survey Scripture and ponder pictures of the preborn, there is no doubt that human life begins at conception and as such must be celebrated and protected.  And, now with increasing regularity, more and more women are coming forward to talk about their experience with abortion.  Many are devastated by the truth of what they’ve done.  

Patricia Heaton, the Emmy-winning co-star of the hit CBS sitcom “Everybody Loves Raymond,” serves as honorary chairperson of Feminists for Life.  Her message is typical of a surprising new approach among those who haven’t always been champions of the preborn: “Every 36 seconds in America a woman lays her body down, forced to choose abortion out of a lack of practical resources and emotional support.   Abortion is a reflection that society has failed women.”  Actress Jennifer O’Neill, a spokeswoman for Cover Girl for 30 years said recently: “I had the abortion and paid for it all my life until I healed and am now able to help other women.” 

Tim McGraw, recently voted favorite male country artist, who has sold over 25 million albums, has just released a new song called “Red Ragtop” in which he describes the guilt and shame a man can also feel about abortion when he sings: “…We decided to not have a child.  So we did what we did and we tried to forget…well, you do what you do and you pay for your sins.”

Some of you may be struggling with this very thing this morning.  You know more than anyone that an abortion claims at least two victims.  I want you to know that God is a God of grace and forgiveness.  Because of His love for you, God sent Jesus to pay the price for your sins.  

The Cloning Challenge

I don’t have the time, or the expertise, to give a reasoned response to cloning this morning but I do want to mention, as Chuck Colson argues, that we are now facing an even worse horror than Roe v. Wade:  “In Roe, we took life—which was bad enough—but at least we were not pretending to be God.  But now, with cloning, humans will play God” by creating life for their own purposes.  No one knows if Clonaid has really produced the first human clone, but the claims alone are chilling.  Can you believe they gave her the name Eve and she was supposedly born the day after Christmas?  According to them, more clones are on the way, and there’s a waiting list of 2,000 people willing to pay $200,000 each for a clone.

According to Newsweek, Rael, the leader of the religious sect that announced this birth, has a self-proclaimed mission “to tear down the myth of God.”  Colson sounds the alarm to sleepy saints when he writes: “The lid on Pandora’s box of unethical biotechnology has been raised.  It’s time to slam it shut.

In an article that recently appeared in the Pantagraph, Columnist Cal Thomas says it even more strongly: “Cloning is the unnatural fruit…produced when the root of the tree of life has been pulled out its nurturing soil and replanted into a soil of situational ethics that serve the temporal interests and feelings of humanity…Cloning is but a way station where the rest of humanity indulges itself in a slight gasp before resuming the downward spiral.”

Friends, we must be convinced that the creation of life belongs to God alone and we must return to a uniform understanding and conviction about the sanctity of all life.  And the only way we will do that is by bowing before the exalted lordship of Christ.  When we do, we can’t help but express love and hold unswervingly to an ethic of life.  Love has been defined by God and displayed on the Cross.  Let’s now demonstrate that love to others.

A Call To Arms

Beloved, you might not know what you were doing 30 years ago, but today I call you to arms…  

  • Arms for holding the unwanted and unloved.
  • Arms for helping women in crisis.
  • Arms for hugging and comforting women who have had abortions as we offer them the peace and forgiveness that only Jesus Christ can offer.
  • Arms for linking together in unity of purpose for declaring the truth.
  • Arms for offering adoption.
  • Arms to lift up holy hands in constant prayer that the atrocity of abortion would come to an end in our country.

This is a call to loving arms.  Let’s turn off the hate and choose compassion over confrontation as we employ loving acts instead of lethal words.  Anger doesn’t change a heart but love does.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?