1 John 4.7-21
Back in 1967, The Beatles sang
All you need is love.
And they were right. Love is all you need.
Many of us spend our whole lives trying to find that love. We look for it everywhere, convinced it’s ‘out there’, somewhere. We look for it in romantic attachments, in our children, in friends, in sex, drugs and rock’n’roll.
Sometimes we find enough of it to meet our aching need. Sometimes we find it only to lose it again, or to realise that the ‘love’ we found wasn’t love at all.
The Bible talks a lot about love, and no more so than in 1 John. Let’s refresh our memory:
Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.
In fact, John goes further than that. He says,
God is love.
What does that mean? How do we see God’s love for us? John answers this question too:
In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.
John is saying that God loves the unlovely. God loves those who put his only Son on the cross, where he died for them. Can we believe that? It’s not necessarily easy for every believer to believe that. It’s not easy because either
- we think we’re deep down unloveable and don’t deserve God’s love; or,
- we think we’re better than most and God is lucky to have us on his team.
Both are dead wrong.
The fact is that God loves each one of us absolutely and unconditionally and for ever.
Of course, the love we’re used to is deeply conditional. We love others as long as they do the right thing. But if they do something to hurt us or our family, then we criticise and turn against them.
A child may easily grow up feeling that she has to be good for mummy and daddy to love her. It may not be true! But that’s how the child feels. So when she hears about God’s love, it feels it must be conditional too. She tells herself: God loves me, but only if I’m good. I’d better not be bad then!
Let’s say it again: The fact is that God loves each one of us absolutely and unconditionally and for ever.
The Bible tells us we’re ‘justified by faith’. Whatever else ‘justification by faith’ means, it means this: we don’t have to be good for God to love us.
But still we try to earn God’s love. We can’t hear what John says:
God is love.
God is not judgement, or control, or wrath. You know, sometimes we want God to be those things. They seem more powerful, more godlike. But no; God is love. And that love is seen in the way God gave himself for our sakes in order to save us.
The Beatles sang
All you need is love.
And they were right. Love is all you need—God’s love, transforming your heart into an echo of that love.
We are images of God’s love who need to be polished up to really reflect the face of God.
Or, in John’s language, we are branches of the vine.
Do you see how the language of the church is always relational in the New Testament? We are the body of Christ, working together. We are living stones, building a temple to glorify God. We are branches who receive our nourishment from the vine. We are connected together by love.
And we connect others to God—by love. The Church is—we are—a signpost to the kingdom of God. And we point in the right direction when we show that love of God to others. Love is the way, love is the destination. All you need is love.
It grieves me to say this: I know young people who can’t believe the churches have anything to teach them because they see them as places full of prejudice, and specifically of homophobia. Is that a fair generalisation? Perhaps not. But it’s very evident in our readings today that God’s love is there for every single person, whoever they are.
Why can we say that? Well, God is love, and God has given us his Son.
What, nothing else?
Ok—not that we need anything else—what about the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8?
This is a man whose sexuality was decidedly dodgy to say the least. He was not allowed to fully share in Israel’s worship of God. Deuteronomy 23.1 says:
No one whose testicles are crushed or whose penis is cut off shall be admitted to the assembly of the Lord.
He’s reading about the ‘Suffering Servant’ in Isaiah 53, and we can see that he identifies with the Servant. This eunuch intimately knows rejection and humiliation. He asks Philip,
‘About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?’
He’s asking, Does it apply to me too? Like the Suffering Servant, am I also to be denied justice?
Philip sheds light onto the eunuch’s reading. He applies it to Jesus. He is the Suffering Servant; he was rejected and cut off; but he was vindicated and raised from the grave. And there is nothing to stop the eunuch from also being vindicated and raised to new life. There is no longer anything to prevent the eunuch from fully sharing in the life of God’s people.
This is one of the great stories of God’s people showing love to the unlovely, even to those who were supposed to be beyond the pale.
You know, the love Jesus has for us is given to us freely—yet it is costly. It calls us to love like he did.
We don’t naturally love the unlovely. It’s not something we can summon up by our own efforts. We need to stay close to Jesus, to listen to him, to remain in him. Jesus says,
Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.
His love for us is perfect, and he calls us to love in return. 1 John 4.19 says,
Perfect love casts out fear.
When we fear, John tells us, we fear God’s punishment. Perhaps we can sometimes mistake God’s discipline of us for God’s punishment.
God does discipline us. God loves us as we are, but he loves us too much to leave us that way.
We go through dry times as individuals and as a community. We wonder what it means that we are out of a job, or sick, or our fellowship isn’t growing. We get depressed and discouraged because we think God is absent, or rejecting us.
A vine needs intensive pruning to bear fruit. A vineyard of pruned vines looks pretty dead to the untrained eye. Does the vine-grower hate those vines he’s pruned? No, he wants them to bear fruit.
God is love. Drill down as far as you want, there’s nothing else. It’s still love. Sometimes we’d rather that God was sheer naked power, but God is love. God calls us to reflect that love, which was given to us freely and without price. Can we do that?
A confession: I’ve found this a hard sermon to prepare. I’m aware that I carry an inner sense of unloveableness. I’m also aware of the transforming love, grace and mercy of God. I’ve wanted to bring everything into this word today: God’s loving nature; God’s love for those on the outside; our need to remain in Christ whatever we are going through. When you go home, read these passages again. Reflect on the greatness of the love of God, and live it every day. Amen.