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Testing Love

1 John 4:1-11

About fourteen years ago Jennifer and I were at a family reunion in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California. The rented cabins were at about 7,000 feet above sea level, I guess. With many things to see, the best for us was driving the ninety minutes or so to Yosemite National Park. Our car rental had a sunroof and the drive to and through the park was stunning. On one trip we took my grandma along. At one point we stopped along the river in the canyon. Maybe the trip was longer than I thought, or I hadn’t had a chance to buy some more water, but I was thirsty. So, I dipped my water bottle into the river and drank. My grandma asked somewhat shocked if it was okay to drink. Not illegal, but rather safe. Not knowing the source of the water flowing past us she worried. I never got sick, so I guess it was okay.

Love these days can seem like that river flowing in the canyon in Yosemite. Looks pure and clean, seems okay, but the source is unknown. When people say they love is it genuine? How can we cut through the fake and the false? If someone has an agenda as they show love, will we know? We might be afraid to dip in, or even more go all the way with our love. And if we show love how will we know that it’s right, in source and in our response.

This morning you can take out your service folders or Bible apps on your phone because we’re going to look at the second lesson from the Apostle John’s first letter, starting at verse seven. The Apostle fires off a bunch of one-liners that require time to chew on. Each has to do with love in some way. The source of love is covered, and our response is covered too.

John starts and ends with our response. He calls for us to love. “Dear friends, let us love one another…we also should love one another.” Unfortunately, many times what we see and experience in our own lives isn’t the love called for here. Loving actions at times are based on an agenda. Love to get love in return. Husbands and wives use love to get what they want. We dangle the love word out there, playing on emotions or feelings. Say we’ll love only if the other gives us what we want. We withhold love because the other isn’t doing what they’re supposed to do. Kids love and we love kids, but they know that and can use it to manipulate parents, teachers, and friends. They get real cute and nice when they want something. They love on their teachers when the grades are due. Kids say they like someone and are super helpful with them, and of course then they expect the same.

People can also love the wrong things. We extend love to things that can’t love us back. As much as we might love our money, it can’t love us back. Groceries, furniture, game systems, and all the other blessings in our lives are just that, blessings. But they can’t substitute for real love. Sometimes we end up loving simply because there’s a command to love. Like saying thank you to an uncle’s poor gift attempt at Christmas because mom and dad said so. We sin by making love a conditional thing at times. “I’ll do this only if you do that. If you loved me you would do this for me.” Is this the kind of response God is looking for? Does this love pass the test?

For the answer take a look at the diamond of who God is in 1 John chapter 4. Look at verse eight. “God is love.” The diamond shines brightly. God is love, it’s his essence. Without love, God isn’t God. There’s no way to talk about our response to love without talking about God as the source of love. See what this love that God is looks like. God reaches out to the object of his love. You are that object. You could spend a lifetime trying to reach Him and never succeed because of your sinfulness. God reaches out. To you, he reaches out. God makes a choice to love this way. With total comprehension, he sees all the options. He knows your sins, your faults, knows your inability to get right with him. He still chooses you. Chooses you in love. And in that choice brings about the purpose he has in choosing. The purpose of demonstrating love to you is to fill you with all grace, mercy, and compassion.

God makes his love known to you. Look at verse nine. “This is how God’s love for us was revealed: God has sent his only-begotten Son into the world so that we may live through him.” The source of love without condition is the God who had one son. In a way you and I can’t quite wrap our minds around, God gave his one and only Son a special mission. He chose to send Jesus, sent him with purpose. His Son did the reaching out to the objects of his love. Those who were unlovable. Those who reject and curse him. Those who sin against him. The eternal Son of God was sent because of love and by love. You are who Jesus was sent to save. You are the one who receives God’s love. That unconditional love that God made clear when he sent Jesus.

That’s a love you’ll never know by looking inside yourself. See verse ten. “This is love; not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.” The source of love that chooses to love even the unlovable, is purposeful, filled with mercy and compassion, and has one source. Christ Jesus. The atoning sacrifice. The only means by which you have forgiveness. Toward Christ God turned all his wrath over sins. Every single one of your agenda-driven acts of love was carried by Jesus. Every single conditional love, every one of your withholding loves, they were all placed on Jesus. He took the punishing blows for them. The cross satisfied God’s wrath, it was the exact payment, the exact right means by which God extended forgiveness to you completely. It was all Jesus. It was all love.

Love’s source is completely and totally from God through Christ. John says in verse seven. “Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. The one does not love has not known God.” Love like Jesus showed wasn’t for his benefit but for yours. He wasn’t trying to gain the upper hand. He wasn’t holding on to conditions or looking for a specific response before his love would be fully given. Jesus marched to the cross and showed love regardless if you would ever love him or not. He forgave fully with no conditions attached. In every act of love, the source of love can be seen, it can be tested. Love without manipulation, without conditions, and not seeking its own benefit is from God. It flows from someone born of God, who knows God and has been saved by him.

That brings us back to where the Apostle John started. Love like that, with its source in Christ, dipping into the pools of forgiveness and overflowing grace of God, love like that responds. Look at verse eleven. “Dear friends, if God loved us so much, we also should love one another.” Christ Jesus is the source. He has loved you. Now your love in response takes many different forms. As you seek to love like Jesus you’re looking to benefit someone else. Love a child and help them so they succeed. Love with its source in God is a choice. That kind of love seeks to put the other first, serve them, help them, seek their best interest. Spouses choose to love every single day, particularly on days with reasons not to like or even love them. The source for that kind of love is found only in God. His love will flow through you to allow you to love this way. It can only come from him. Can only happen when he is at the center of your life. Love like that will result in a love for him and a love for your spouse, your friends, your neighbors, your coworkers, your classmates.

This love isn’t optional. It’s not good enough to say one day I’ll love this way. Love this way now. You know Christ. You know the greatness of what he did for you. You’ve seen his love flowing into your life. Remember again the constant forgiveness, caring, protecting. God chose to love you when you were a sinner. He loves you today. Now Christian, it’s your privilege to love as a response to God’s love. That’s not a burden. Continue to show grace, mercy, and compassion when you love. God showed you, so you show others in a love that comes naturally with your sins all paid, and forgiveness in Christ yours.

I suppose I should have tested that water in the river inside Yosemite before I drank it. I made an assumption about its source and figured it was okay. When we love or see love expressed in this world, we should put it to the test. Check its source. Love that God wants, love that chooses to serve without conditions, comes Christ. With that source, there will always be a response. You will know the source of love is Christ when you love in line with his love. The love of God from God who is love.