Sermon by the Rev. Dr. James A. Gibson III
Sixth Sunday of Eastertide
Texts: Acts 11:19-30, 1 John 4:7-21, John 15:9-17
Collect of the Day
O God, you have prepared for those who love you such good things as surpass our understanding: Pour into our hearts such love towards you, that we, loving you in all things and above all things, may obtain your promises, which exceed all that we can desire; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
“God is waiting for you to make the first move,” read the sign outside the church as I drove by. Immediately, I thought to myself, “There is a church that is going to be stuck in neutral for a very long time.”
If your “god” is one who is waiting for “you” to make the first move, then your "god" is not the God we encounter in Scripture. Certainly, it is not the God who has revealed himself in and through Jesus Christ.
There’s just no getting around it. The Bible teaches that God has already made the first move.
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. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation four our sins. (1 John 4:9-10)
We love because God loved – first!
He sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
That’s a big word: propitiation. A decent enough definition would be:
. . . that by which God is rendered propitious, i.e., by which it becomes consistent with his character and government to pardon and bless the sinner. The propitiation does not procure his love or make him loving; it only renders it consistent for him to exercise his love towards sinners.
In other words, “God is love,” as John says (4:8). But how is it consistent with his holiness, with his character, with his justice, to love undeserving sinners like us? Must we appease him in order to earn his love? Must we make the first move?
The fact of the matter is, we can’t.
Our sin has rendered us incapable of doing anything to satisfy the demands of God’s righteousness. But “God is love” and, in love, he has made the first move.
Christ himself, the very Son of God, is “the propitiation for our sins.” He became our substitute. He assumed our obligations. He made atonement for and covered our guilt. He took upon himself the guilt for and endured, on the cross, the punishment for our sins.
Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. (1 John 4:11-12)
We can only love one another when we are filled and overflowing with the love of God. That is the little detail that so many people who talk so tirelessly about the importance of loving one another always seem to overlook when they offer such misguided counsel as, “You have to love one another and love your neighbor so that God will love you and bless you and give you nice things.”
You turn on your TV, listen to your radio, or most likely today, go on the internet and you hear that very message from so many false teachers who think they know what they’re talking about even though they rarely, if ever, open their Bible.
The truth is, all they are doing is repeating the nonsense from that church sign.
“God is waiting for you to make the first move.”
That’s really all they’re saying—and they’re not encouraging their people. They’re scolding them, fussing at them, because they’re not doing enough to make God happy; and because God’s not happy, the church isn’t growing. The budget isn’t being met. New programs can’t be started. We’re just sitting here, doing nothing, wasting God’s time.
At its root, it is the same tired old lie: You can make a difference. You can change the world. You can be like God (Where have we heard that before?) because, after all, it’s all about you! God is just sitting back there waiting. It’s up to you to choose.
Jesus would beg to differ.
You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask in the Father’s name, he may give it to you. (John 15:16)
No, it’s not about you. It’s all about him.
God does not love you because you have done something to deserve it.
You do not bear fruit because you have done a better job of loving than the next person.
God loves you because that is who he is.
You bear fruit because he chose you and appointed you to do so for the glory of his name!
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. (1 John 4:7-8)
“This is my commandment,” Jesus says, “that you love one another as I have loved you.”
Truth and love cannot abide apart from one another, and we cannot love one another apart from God, who first loved us and gave his Son to die for us.
To him be the glory, forever and ever.
+IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER, AND OF THE SON, AND OF THE HOLY SPIRIT. AMEN.