Sermon from 16th May 2021 (Easter 7)

Psalm 1 (EHV)

How blessed is the man
    who does not walk in the advice of the wicked,
    who does not stand on the path with sinners,
    and who does not sit in a meeting with mockers.
But his delight is in the teaching of the Lord,
and on his teaching he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree planted beside streams of water,
    which yields its fruit in season,
    and its leaves do not wither.
Everything he does prospers.

Not so the wicked!
No, they are like the chaff which the wind blows away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.

Yes, the Lord approves of the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.

Dear Heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit upon us so that we may delight in your words of instruction which we receive through faith in your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Imagine the following scene:

You’re walking down the street and you see a group of people sitting together observing those who walk by. You notice the one in the centre is making derogatory comments about the way people walk or how they’re dressed. His friends echo some of his comments and add some of their own. It’s like a verbal feeding frenzy taking place at the expense of those who are just trying to get through the day. This doesn’t mean they all join in. At least not straight away. Some end up being the scoffers and tattle-tales who spread the insults they heard to anyone who would listen to them later in the day.

Or, imagine someone says something on social media which is harsh and un-called for. Before you know it, others have chimed in to add their own two-cents worth at the expense of those under attack. Like most social media sites, there are those who lurk and observe. They may not add to the comments, but they share the postings so more people can add further damage toward the reputation of those under attack.

Or, imagine someone makes a comment about their brother or sister in Christ to a small group after worship. It may have been true, but it may not have been true. Sometimes it doesn’t matter. The seed of discontent and negative opinion about the person being talked about has been sown. The comment questioned the motives and actions of another person and threatens their reputation. Before you know it, others in the gathered group have also chimed in to add their own criticism and judgments toward their brother or sister in Christ. Of course, like the other situations, some people in the gathered group remain silent at this time, but later they spread the juicy gossip and chatter about what they heard to others.

The scenes I’ve mentioned are examples of the picture described in our Psalm.

The psalmist describes three categories of the wicked who mock and criticise and judge and insult and share all kinds of uncaring things about others. The effects of these comments ripple through a community, but also threaten the salvation of those who join in with such sport.

According to this psalm, it doesn’t matter whether you’re the one in the centre who is the chief of mockers, or if you’re one of the apprentices who are learning the art of mocking, or whether you’re a silent observer who goes along with the pack and later spreads the gossip to others. They’re all listed as one of the wicked.

And yet, how many times have you and I been involved with such sport?

How many times have we spoken in judgment of others? How many times have we added further damage to someone’s reputation by adding our own criticisms to what we hear? How many times have we passed on the juicy rumours and hurtful gossip to other people so they too will think badly of the one we talk about?

Whenever we’ve done any of these things, we haven’t just sinned against each other and strained our relationships. We’ve sinned against God! He calls everyone of us ‘wicked’ because we’ve been involved in such a cruel and abusive sport against one of those made in his image for whom Christ has died, which means none of us deserve to be in the assembly of the righteous!

On the other hand, the psalmist mentions the blessed man who would rather meditate on what God says. He should be congratulated because he isn’t found among the counsel of the gossip-spreaders, nor does he stand with the guilty apprentices who like to add their own insults, and he isn’t the one sitting in the seat of the king of mockers.

He should be congratulated because he doesn’t delight in the juicy gossip. Instead, he delights in God’s instructions. He doesn’t dwell on the evil insults and harmful chatter. Instead, he dwells on God’s word.

He gains pleasure from God’s instructive words on how to live and work and worship, including the instructions to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love your neighbour as yourself.

In fact, he gains so much pleasure from God’s Word, he seems to mutter it all day long and even at night. This means he doesn’t just meditate on God’s word for an hour of worship once per week, or for a few rushed minutes in devotions every day, or even during an additional time of bible study once per fortnight.

He constantly rolls God’s words around in his mouth: memorising them, chewing them, meditating on them, mumbling them, and munching on them. It’s like God’s instructive laws are an everlasting gobstopper which gives constant pleasure and joy to him! And the whole time the wicked people ridicule him for gaining pleasure from God’s Word.

But this isn’t the only dramatic picture of comparison given in this psalm between the blessed and wicked.

This wise man, gaining so much from God’s teachings, can be compared to a tree planted right alongside an irrigation channel. We all know that trees which have an uninterrupted water source don’t wither during drought. They can be a trustworthy source of fruit and shelter.

In this way, even though this person will experience tough times, this faithful tree-like person, who is constantly nourished by the life-giving word of God, bears his fruit and shade for the pleasure, provision and protection of others.

Enriched by God’s word, he becomes a refuge for the weary, a place of rest and comfort for the abused, and a shelter for the beaten.

This is the picture of a wise man who is constantly immersed in God’s word.

We’re also given another picture of the wicked or foolish.

They’re nothing like this tree, but they’re likened to cocky chaff. They’re like those bits of flaky seed coverings that are picked up and blown about by the wind. They have no substance and are of no use to anyone.

These wicked people, no matter how much they insult those around them and how far they spread their harmful chatter, well, they’re like worthless matter, constantly blown about by the winds of the age.

So, where the wise are unwavering and satisfied by the Lord’s water and words, the foolish are blown about by contemporary opinions, the latest insult, and the negative news. As a result, they wander aimlessly and provide nothing of benefit to those around them. These inconsequential bits of worthless matter will not stand in the court of judgement.

Now we get to that uncomfortable question: Which one are you? There’s only two possibilities!

Are you really like the wise man who constantly delights in God’s instructions and who persistently bears the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control for the benefit of others?

Or are you more like the worthless bits of cocky chaff who insult and offend and gossip about others?

Now, I’m sure you’d like to be counted as the blessed wise person who is likened to a fruitful evergreen tree, but do you really meditate on God’s Word day and night? Are you constantly receiving those living waters, or are you being blown about by the winds of the age and public opinion? Are you instead one of those cynical ones who have judged and damaged the reputation of others, which means you’re one of the wicked who are considered as worthless and doomed to destruction?

Well, if you haven’t figured it out yet, you’re not the tree!

You see, there’s only who really qualifies as the faithful wise man who is likened to a fruitful tree.

Jesus alone is the blessed one who murmured God’s instructive words day and night and bore the fruit of faith for the benefit of all those he serves. Despite this, the people of the day criticised him, judged him and killed him, including faithful people of God.

Yet, regardless of all this, he still remains steadfast like a tree beside a water channel. He gives life, shade, food, refuge and stability to all those who rest under his branches. Whenever you face storms and troubles in your life, you know Jesus is your place of comfort and strength.

However, while we may not be that one true tree, by the undeserving grace of God, you and I have been forgiven through the suffering and death of our Lord Jesus Christ, and through faith have become members of his body, and therefore branches of that evergreen tree.

You see, God delights in taking worthless and wicked people like you and me into his fellowship so that we may be forgiven, cleansed, and renewed.

Through faith we’ve been taught God’s word, washed in the waters of baptism, joined to the body of Christ, and nourished through our participation at his holy meal.

This means those same lips which have criticised, grumbled, insulted, and gossiped about those around us have also received Christ’s holy body and blood to cleanse our lips, purify our bodies, and renew our hearts.

It’s while we maintain our discipleship to our Lord Jesus Christ by constantly learning from his divine instructions, continuing to enjoy his cleansing of forgiveness, keeping on receiving the benefits of baptism and his holy meal, and as we continue to persist in our loving and caring fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Christ, that we also bear the fruit of our faith to benefit those around us.

So, no, you’re not the tree itself, but as one joined to Christ through the waters and word of baptism, you’re part of it. By faith you’re one of those who gain from his instructive words which gives you direction, hope and life.

While you remain one in Christ, you’re one of his branches who stretches out to serve others in this troubled world. As long as you remain in the Word-made-flesh and continue to learn from his teachings, you’re one of those who offer hope and strength and refuge and safety to those around you.

By God’s grace, may you all continue to be part of that faithful evergreen tree which not only survives, but even thrives despite the storms, tough times, and insults which come your way.

By God’s Grace and through your own dwelling in God’s words of instruction, you may turn from a gossiper to a peacemaker, an insulter to a healer, and a criticiser to a carer.

Remain in Jesus, the true blessed one who is your source of life, light, hope, food, shelter and strength. Rejoice in his words and be counted among the righteous. Learn to love and gain pleasure from God’s living words of instruction so you may bear the fruit of love, joy, peace and patience to those around you.

And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, continue to guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sermon from 9th May 2021 (Easter 6)

1 John 5:1-6 (EHV)

1 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the God who has given birth also loves one who has been born of him. This is how we know that we love the children of God: when we love God and keep his commands. In fact, this is love for God: that we keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, because everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world: our faith. Who is the one who overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.

This is the one who came by water and blood: Jesus Christ. He did not come by the water alone but by the water and by the blood. The Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth.

Dear Heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit upon us so that we may not be overwhelmed by the attacks on our faith because we have overcome the world through faith in our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

It’s human to feel overwhelmed at times – both by good things as well as the not-so-good.

For example, we can feel overwhelmed with joy when we’re reunited with family and friends, but we can also weep and mourn because we feel overwhelmed by grief or despair.

We can feel overwhelmed by the beauty or majesty of scenery or the ingenuity of humans, and yet we can also feel overwhelmed by health issues or by how many tasks we have to do in so little time.

We can be overwhelmed by the love we feel for someone close to us, and we can also feel overwhelmed by hatred.

But, for Christians, we can experience a different type of overwhelming, and this is in regard to our struggles to believe in Jesus Christ.

You see, it’s possible many of us have in the past, or we may be currently, or we will one day in the future, experience feelings of being overwhelmed by the trials, temptations, peer pressures, questions, or arguments of the world, our own doubting flesh, or even by the devil himself.

This can affect us as individuals and as a community because, if we struggle to believe or trust in Jesus Christ, then we’ll also struggle to believe or obey his instructions. If we struggle to trust him and do what he instructs us, then we’ll also struggle to love each other as he commands.

St John wrote this letter to a Christian community who were struggling to love each other. He believed their lack of love for each other was a symptom of a much deeper issue. You see, whenever we struggle to bear the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, and so on, it’s because the foundation of our faith in God is being threatened or weakened or misplaced.

You could argue nearly every conflict or difficulty we might have in our relationships (especially within the church), is because of a struggle with some aspect of faith. This is because a misplaced faith, an incomplete faith, or a struggling faith, will attempt to fill the gaps of our faith foundation with our own works or understandings.

It’s like we build a good solid foundation based on what we believe to be true in Scripture, but then we find some gaps in our foundation called ‘doubt’ or ‘uncertainty’ or some other complications. Instead of filling these gaps with trust in God, we fill them with ourselves and our own limited understandings or speculations.

When we do this, we don’t fully fear, love and trust God, but we end up relying more and more on ourselves and our own words and work and understandings instead of God’s words or work.

When we rely on our own words or work or understandings, this means we won’t pass on the love we’ve received from God because this isn’t the only love we’re relying on and trusting in. We’re instead relying on and trusting in ourselves, including our own fears or desires. And this will always be expressed by the way we treat each other.

You see, if we truly love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, then we’ll also love our neighbour as ourself. However, if we don’t love each other as God loves us, then it’s because our faith in God is incomplete or threatened.

But what are some of the temptations and doubts and struggles we face which threatens our faith, and how does John answer them?

Well, for starters, there are different understandings as to who Jesus is.

Some argue he’s not born of the Virgin Mary, but a natural-born son of Mary and Joseph. Some argue he was only made the Son of God at his baptism. Some argue Jesus is still dead and will only be raised as the first to be resurrected with the rest of mankind on the Last Day. Some may argue that he’s no more real than any made-up fictional character, even though historical documents testify to the fact he truly exists.

Similarly, some may argue God’s Word isn’t really inspired by God through the power of the Holy Spirit, but only a made-up book which is designed to fool the gullible and enslave the world through archaic and out-of-touch teachings.

Because of some of these attacks on our faith (and so many more), it shouldn’t come as a surprise we’re seeing a change in society where the once-accepted Christian faith is no longer admired or even tolerated. Our faith is now rubbished, ridiculed, and terrorised by many.

As a result of your experiences of doubts and questions and antagonism regarding your faith, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. You may feel as if you don’t have all the answers. You may feel threatened and unsafe. You might feel unsure. You might feel that what you believe to be true is no longer accepted or valued. You might feel the need to compromise or question what you believe.

But it’s not all external. It doesn’t always come from the world, but the struggles might even come from within yourself.

For example, you’re told to love and forgive, but you might want to hold a grudge or keep away from certain people. You’re encouraged to gather for worship with fellow believers, but you might want to do something else. You’re encouraged to bear the fruit of love, joy, patience, peace, and gentleness, but you may find yourself instead bearing the works of sarcasm, bitterness, antagonism, intolerance, and impatience.

You’re told to believe what God says in his Word, but you might reckon you, or the world, knows better than God. You’re told to believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, to take up your cross and follow him, but you might want to believe in someone or something else, and as to the cross of suffering and self-denial as you follow Jesus, well, there’s a few places you’d like to stick it!

In response, John’s been speaking so far in this letter in absolutes. He compares opposites such as light and darkness, truth and lies, love and hate.

He says Christ is the Light, the Truth, and Love incarnate. You either believe in him and will live in his words and ways, or you don’t. If you don’t, then you’re on the side of darkness, lies, and hate. There’s no in-between. Which means there’s no in-between in regard to your forgiveness, life, and salvation either. What you believe will either result in heaven or hell. There’s no third option.

This is why John is seeking to encourage you in faith by reminding you of the truth. He almost does it in such a way he considers your faith to be on trial and you’re to consider all the testimonies for their truth and validity. You’re encouraged to ask: ‘Which one is true?’

On the one hand, has the world got it right? Has the media or public opinion got it right? When people challenge what you believe, do they base their opinions and questions on the right foundations in the first place?

Are you even asking yourself the right questions, because if you don’t, you’ll come up with the wrong conclusions!

Has the devil whispered in your ear that age old question: “Did God really say that?”, which weakens a person’s resolve to trust what God says?

So, in response to all the temptations and doubts and questions and challenges which threaten to overwhelm you and your faith, John argues the testimony of mankind, the testimony of your own self, and the testimony of the devil can do their deceptive worst, but it’s no match for the testimony of God!

You see, you have three testifying to the truth that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that through faith in him you have forgiveness, life and salvation:

Firstly, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, testifies who Jesus is. He’s none other than the Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, who is born of the Virgin Mary. He is God-in-human-flesh who has come to be our Messiah, the long-foretold Christ, in order to fulfil everything written about him through his obedience, suffering, death, resurrection and ascension. Cross-examine the Spirit if you dare, but his testimony is true and unchanging!

Secondly, the waters of baptism testify who Jesus is and to whom you now belong through faith. The water testifies your sins have been washed away and you’ve been made pure and holy in God’s sight. The waters testify to your new birth as children of God. The waters testify you’ve been joined to Jesus, which means his death is your death, and his resurrection from death is your resurrection from death. These waters testify you already belong where Jesus is, sitting in glory at the right-hand side of the Father.

Thirdly, where the blood of Abel once cried out for justice, now the blood of Jesus testifies the price for your forgiveness, life, and salvation has been paid. You’ve been justified by Christ’s blood. The blood says it now covers you in Christ’s holiness and righteousness. The blood of Jesus testifies to the victory over sin, death, and the devil has been won through Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection.

So, who are you going to believe? Who are you going to trust?

Are you going to place your trust in the words of fickle and deceptive humans?

Are you going to place your trust in your own feelings or assumptions?

Are you going to place your trust in the lies of the devil?

Or will you trust the testimony of the Spirit, the water and the blood?

Whenever you feel overwhelmed by struggles in faith, and experience doubts, questions, and spiritual attacks, trust Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, has overcome the world. He is the victorious One. He is the One in whom you can trust and believe, because he doesn’t lie.

This means his instructions also can’t be ignored, because they too are the truth, including his instructions to love each other as he loves you. His word is true and trustworthy, even when it disagrees with the world’s values and opinions.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, don’t be overwhelmed by any threats to your faith. Believe and trust in the truth – that Jesus Christ is truly the Son of God the Father. He is also a real human being, born of the Virgin Mary. He’s rescued you from sin and death and hell. He’s paid the full price for your sins through his holy and innocent blood and declares you forgiven.

You are holy and innocent through faith in him. Jesus has overcome everything the world and the devil can throw at him, and all those baptised into him have also overcome the world. You’re now dearly loved precious children of God. You can trust this because the Spirit, the water, and the blood declares this to be true.

And this is why the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, will guard our hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus.


Sermon from 2nd May 2021 (Easter 5)

1 John 1:7-21 (ESV)
7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.
13 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Saviour of the world. 15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16 So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 17 By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgement, because as he is so also are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. 19 We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God”, and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.

Dear heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit on us so we may love as you love us through your Son Jesus Christ. Amen.

Sometimes we’re very capable of loving others. Sometimes we struggle to love them.

For example, let’s say a young man meets a young woman.

He likes what he sees. She likes what she sees. They talk and laugh and generally ‘hit it off’ with each other. They start courting or ‘going out’. One day they even confess their love for each other and are willing to focus a lot of time and energy on the other person.

One day he nervously proposes to her and she willingly accepts through tears of joy and love. They work together toward their wedding day, overcoming the normal hassles and arguments over mother-in-law’s demands, planning the ceremony and celebrations, seating arrangements, and how to keep their spending on budget.

Their wedding day is memorable and filled with many expressions of love and faithfulness. Their early years of marriage are filled with excitement as they get to know each other.

But then one day they discover they do know each other, and they don’t necessarily like what they’ve come to know. Sooner or later all married couples find they can’t hide their true selves from each other forever. They might struggle to love the other’s person’s idiosyncrasies or quirks or habits, even though some of these things are what attracted them to the other in the first place!

As they justify to themselves all the reasons not to love the other, they start to push each other’s buttons at home and seek to embarrass each other in public. They seek to create distances between each other by putting more time and energy into their work or sport or children or community events or some other excuse to get away from their spouse.

Or, perhaps a beautiful child is born.

Both parents look with love at their new-born and are willing to do so much for this dependent and adorable child. Their child needs so much care and attention and they’re willing to freely give their time, energy, and loving attention to this little human being made in the image of God.

But it doesn’t take long before the child screams and the parent’s nerves and patience are tested. The child continues to assert itself as it grows up and throws tantrums if it doesn’t get its own way. He or she screams to make sure everyone hears their demands, and sulks if they don’t get what they want.

The parents also struggle to deal with the child’s messes. Firstly, they have to deal with the messes in their child’s nappies (which they ‘lovingly’ clean up), then it’s the messes the child makes in their room and home (which the child rarely cleans up), but the worst is when their little prince or princess messes with the parent’s minds, which is almost impossible to clean up!

The more parents and children get to know each other (and their messes), the harder it can be to love each other.

Or, let’s say a new pastor comes to a congregation.

At first, he’s willingly welcomed and accepted. He preaches good sermons, works well with the young and the old, and seems to do a great job. In return, he likes what he sees among the people. They welcome him and allow him into their homes and lives. Everyone seems happy!

But one day he discovers the truth about the people he serves. They’re not as perfect as they’ve made out to be. They can be grumpy, selfish, pride-filled, demanding, and jealous. They say or do things which offend him and his family. He doesn’t feel as welcome as he used to.

On the other hand, they discover he’s not perfect either. He lets people down and won’t listen to what they feel are ‘reasonable requests’. He says ‘no’ when people want him to say ‘yes’, and ‘yes’ when others want him to say ‘no’. His priorities don’t match the people’s priorities and so he fails to meet their expectations. He may even say or do some things which offend a few, who subsequently want nothing more to do with him.

You see, sooner or later a pastor and his people do get to know each other. They don’t always like what they come to know and can struggle to love each other.

Now I’d like to suggest that any resemblance of these examples to anyone living or dead is not intended, but these scenarios can be all too familiar!

I think you’d agree that no matter what kind of relationship we have; sooner or later we struggle to love because of what we see, hear, or experience from each other. We struggle to love them because of what they say and do. We want to punish them for not meeting our expectations. We even try to blame them for our own disobedience to God’s command to love each other.

Not surprisingly, we Christians aren’t immune from relationship struggles and can find it difficult to love as a result of what we’ve come to know about each other. In response, we create distances and barriers around ourselves to protect ourselves from further pain. Sometimes we’ll seek to punish fellow Christians because they didn’t meet our standards. Some will even remove themselves from the fellowship of God’s holy community and excuse themselves from loving his people. They may even deceive themselves into thinking their unloving actions are ok with God.

But we hear in our text today: ‘If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a Christian brother or sister, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love the people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see’? (1 John 1:20)

Therefore, if we judge and criticise and try to stay away from our fellow believers, then we’re not being consistent or true to our confessions of love for our Triune God. How can you love Jesus the Groom and not love his Bride, the Church? God has married us together through faith in Jesus Christ. No-one should separate what God has joined together!

So, we have a problem. I believe it would be a lie to say anyone here has never had a problem loving others. Many of us have been hurt by others and it’s logical and completely understandable to want to protect ourselves from further hurt. However, this doesn’t excuse us from obeying God’s command to love each other.

So that we may understand what type of love St John is talking about, it helps to know the root word for ‘love’ used 27 times in this text is agapé. This specific word for ‘love’ describes a warm regard for, and interest in, another. This type of love is different to the love which describes friendship, lust or affection. It’s a love which gives and is willing to keep on giving, even when this giving involves risk, possible rejection, and pain.

C. S. Lewis, in his book titled ‘The Four Loves’ calls this type of love ‘Charity’ or ‘Gift-love’. He says: “Divine Gift-love in the man enables him to love what is not naturally lovable; lepers, criminals, enemies, morons, the sulky, the superior and the sneering” (‘The Four Loves’, Fontana Books, 1960, p117).

The reason we often struggle to love this way is because our selfish forms of love is usually dependent on others. Our love is usually a ‘pay-back’ kind of love. This means, if someone’s loving toward us, it’s very easy to respond in the same way. But if someone hurts us, then we figure we’re justified to withdraw our love and replace it with criticism, grudge-holding and payback.

In other words, our love is often a love which keeps ledgers. When everyone keeps ledgers of love and payback, it’s no wonder relationships within marriages, families, and churches break down.

But in the church (and therefore especially within Christian families), we’re to love each other without keeping ledgers because this Divine Gift-love never keeps ledgers; it simply gives and keeps on giving.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that this kind of love doesn’t come naturally. This kind of love has only one source. As verses 10-11 say: ‘This is real love – not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other’. (1 John 4:10-11)

Understanding that we struggle to love someone this way once we know their grumpy, irritable, selfish, greedy, proud, and lazy sides (just to name some of their characteristics), we need to go back to the source of this Divine Gift-love so that we can love as God commands us to.

In this case, we learn God showed his love for us in such a way that, even though he knows us and all our grumpy, irritable, selfish, greedy, proud and lazy sides so intimately and completely (along with all our other faults and failures), he still chose to love us anyway!

God knows every dark secret you keep from others. He knows every secret sin you’ve attempted to hide. He knows what you’ve done and what you’ve left undone. He knows the motivations of your heart. He knows how you hurt others. He also knows when you’ve been hurt by others. He knows who you’re struggling to love or forgive.

And guess what?

Despite how sinful and unworthy you are, despite what he truly knows about you, and despite your struggles to love others (including him), he still loves you so much he sent his only beloved faithful and obedient Son to die on the cruel and bloody cross in order to forgive you and make you holy.

God’s love for you isn’t dependent on you loving him because you can’t love him enough. God’s love for you isn’t dependent on you loving others either. God loves you anyway and there’s nothing you can do to stop this!

But get this; the more you know and understand the love which comes from God, and the more you rejoice as you receive this unconditional love, the more willing and able you’ll be to love the same way toward others, because this kind of sacrificial and undeserving love can only come from him.

By concentrating on other people’s love (or lack of love), or even by concentrating on your own love (or lack of it), of course you’ll find excuses not to love. They’re not worthy of your love and you’re not as loving as you think you are. But by looking to, and trusting, God’s Divine Gift-love for you that he generously and mercifully gives you through faith in Jesus Christ, then you’ll learn to love his way.

To use an analogy, imagine a teacher putting a carnation into a glass of ink. After a while, the petals on that flower will match the colour of the ink. It can’t help it. It produces what it’s dwelling in. It’s similar with us.

Love which is only centred on fear, or pain, or pay-back, or hate, won’t result in truly loving actions, because it will only produce what it’s dwelling on.

But love founded on, relying on, and dwelling on, the undeserving Gift-love from God, will naturally result in us producing the same kind of love toward fellow Christians, no matter how hard others find it to love them. When we believe and trust God’s unconditional love for you and me, then we’ll produce the same love toward others.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, ‘let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. After all, if God so loved us, then we also ought to love one another.’ (1 John 4:7, 11)

In this way, may the peace and love of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.