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MARTIN CHEMNITZ PRESS
A MIGHTY FORTRESS LUTHERAN CHURCH
Pastor Gregory L. Jackson, Ph.D.
6421 W. Poinsettia Drive
KJV 1 John 4:16 And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him. 17 Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love. 19 We love him, because he first loved us. 20 If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? 21 And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.
This Epistle is best understood when we consider this letter of the apostle John along with his Gospel. John’s Gospel is often called the Gospel of love, and his first epistle is an epistle of love.
KJV 1 John 4:9 In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.
This brief lesson deals with love, fear, and hate. God’s Word sees a direct relationship between what we believe and how we conduct ourselves toward others. According to tradition, the apostle John went through the streets of Ephesus saying, “Children, love one another.” Ephesus was once a mother church of Christianity, but later gave up her first love and, as Luther observed, “Now they have the Turks.”
People want to be loved and many want to be loving. For the vast majority of people, love is obtained by the Law. We can hardly exaggerate how foolish this is. Love does not come from the Law but from the Gospel. I know of one church study that claimed that the congregations known to be loving and nurturing were also known for growth in membership. The conclusion of many Lutherans was: You have to be loving. They even started programs to make congregations more loving. This is almost as effective as telling warring children to kiss and make up. They may kiss and force a smile that looks more like a grimace, but the command to love someone is not very powerful in converting the heart.
The apostle begins his exhortation by pointing out the love that God has for us. That is the Gospel. Whenever we think about Christ Jesus our Savior, we remember that He is our righteousness. Because He paid the price for our sins, we can always return to Him as our source of forgiveness.
In the Bible, God’s love is defined not by strength of emotion but by His giving toward us. God’s love shows itself in God sending His Son and giving His Son for the forgiveness of sins. In addition, God gave us the Holy Spirit when Jesus ascended to heaven, so that we would be guided, strengthened, and helped by gifts of the Spirit. The gifts of the Spirit can be seen in how God provides the people and the special talents needed for the proclamation of the Gospel, in the local congregation and in the universal Church. When the Medieval Church was almost dead from moral, spiritual, and doctrinal corruption, God provided a series of faithful teachers, each one a true genius, to reform the Church and lead people back to the Gospel. In this Age of Apostasy, God may use the collapse of clergy vocations and the old institutions to make faithful congregations spring up to glorify His name.
Our modern age separates what we believe from what we do. Thus we have a television journalist mother who expresses her love (in a clueless self-parody) by stating that she missed important phone calls in order to talk to her daughter on the phone during a teen crisis. The message, as one reviewer noticed, was: “I really love my daughter, so much that I am willing to make minor sacrifices during my workday to phone her.”
Genuine love does not separate the action from the thought. A loving father will care for his family and spend time with them, not just say that he loves them. One workoholic father used to make insurance agents laugh when he bawled and his family bawled on stage every year at the annual meeting. He would cry and say how much he loved them, but all he did was work and brag about his results. We joked that his kids cried because they only saw him once a year on the stage for his awards. No doubt they had total financial security, but all children will say they prefer parental love to parental money. Love is best expressed with time spent, because all of us have exactly 168 hours per week. How we spend the disposable time speaks eloquently about what we really believe.
God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.
We often see “God is love” on plaques, but not the entire sentence. The phrasing is very common to John’s Gospel and to the sermons of Jesus in that Gospel. Think of interlocking rings. One is “God is love.” The second is “dwelling in love.” The third is “he dwells in God.” The fourth is “God dwells in him.” Another word for “dwell” is “abide” or “remain.” So the emphasis is upon remaining, living in that state. If you live in a state of love, you are dwelling in God and God in you.
How can that be done? This state of dwelling in love and dwelling in God can only take place through the Means of Grace. Therefore, all the programs of love in the world will not amount to anything because their foundation is false. God shows His love in giving His Son and in giving us forgiveness through His Son’s atoning death. Our love toward God is the chief fruit of the Spirit, the result of the Gospel at work. That is the purpose of having pastors appoint to preach and teach the Gospel. The message of God’s love creates and sustains faith. Faith trusts and receives the proclamation of God’s love, responding in love toward God and our neighbor as well.
As everyone knows, when forgiveness fails, love turns to hatred. When there is no forgiveness, the Law moves people to condemn each other. At an animal rights rally, the participants condemned anyone who harmed animals. The journalist asked one person, “Then why are you wearing leather shoes, made from killed animals?” This happens within families as well. One condemnation leads to another one. The cycle continues until there is total alienation.
The apostle compares love and fear because fear comes from the Law rather than the Gospel. Many people are bold and brassy unless their actions are recorded. We had children smoking in a stairwell behind an old tinderbox church in New Ulm. Yelling did no good. Calling the police did nothing. One flash photograph sent them crying and moaning in spiritual pain. Their slack-jawed faces were captured on film for the dean to see. The anti-red-eye flashing effect gave them just enough warning to look at the camera with their lit cigarettes hanging from their terrified mouths. Later, a camera set on a tripod told them, “You can be photographed any time.”
If we do right because of fear, we are not living in the Gospel. The Gospel moves us to love God and our neighbor without thought of thanks or benefit. This goal of living in the Gospel must remain a life-long goal, never fully realized, because our Old Adam wants to live in the Law, measure according to the Law, and be measured by the Law (as long as the Law is edited in our favor). As I have said before, the way in which we express ourselves shapes how we act and how we think. If we are asked to do something and we say, “I will be glad to,” it is far different from saying, “Do I have to?” Although we may think little verbal cues are missed, the two words “have to” always tell others that the Law is involved. “Glad to” or “love to” can only belong to the Gospel.
God did not wait until we pleased Him to send His Son as our Savior. Nor should we wait until people deserve our kindness. As we see from God’s example, love promotes love. If every member of a family looks to the needs of others, then others will look to his needs as well. In contrast, if the Law is laid out, the Law will be repaid in all of its severity. Make one rule for children and see how soon they carve it into the hides of their parents.
Since we live in a world of Law, even though it is usually man-made and capricious, we must struggle to escape the Law-only mentality and live according to the Gospel, with thanksgiving toward God and concern for others.
This does not mean that love means suspending the proper use of the Law. Unfortunately, this is another symptom of a confused and confusing era. People imagine that accepting lawlessness is proof of a loving nature. One foster care teen was upset that his foster dad kicked him out of the house for smoking marijuana, even though being dope free was an established rule. The teen claimed that grass was non-addictive and harmless. So I said, “If it is non-addictive, then why did it get you kicked out? Obviously you could not leave it alone, even though you said you wanted to live in that home.” The problem was that the boy’s DNA father did not care, so the boy was having trouble realizing that love is also shown in being firm and resolute about behavior.
It is a wrong use of the Gospel to show forgiveness when there is no evidence of contrition. As Walther has shown in his Law and Gospel, this only hardens the heart and makes the person worse than before. It is interesting that people bring about their own destruction this way. In many cases a person demands that the Ten Commandments be suspended for his personal benefit. (One man excused his own adultery while condemning anyone who participated in Halloween. Which one is mentioned in the Decalogue?) Sometimes, especially with so many pliable clergy today, a man can insist on being lawless while serving as a congregation leader. He hears the Gospel and receives the sacrament, but the efficacious Word hardens his heart when he continues to reject his need for forgiveness. Eventually this brings him to ruin and he cannot find his way back, because he is so blinded to the real meaning of the Scripture. God is not mocked. Whatever a man sows he will reap.
In the Office of the Keys, the Small Catechism points out that forgiveness consists both of contrition for sin and the declaration of forgiveness. If the Law is taken away, the Gospel is neutralized and we end up with the Law in another form. (Waldo Werning illustrated this in his personal opinions about worship. He did not want tradition Lutheran services mandated, but he ordered congregations to abandon the liturgical service because he could not worship using such archaic forms. He told me that he worshiped with the National Association of Evangelicals.)
God makes our joy complete by teaching us the Law and the Gospel. I am amazed at the number of clergy who consider themselves Gospel preachers and yet are openly and obnoxiously contemptuous of anyone outside of their narrow associations. This not only applies to “my synod versus your synod,” but also to exclusive groups within synods. Disagreeing about doctrine is not personal or destructive. Honest disagreement about God’s Word is good for everyone. But when ministers work to undermine each other and personally attack each other, they are perfect examples of: “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?”
KJV John 13:34 A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. 35 By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.
If there is more love in a bar than in a congregation, we should not be shocked to see people preferring a saloon to a church full of condemning and peevish hypocrites. On the other hand, there are many who will always prefer vice to the Gospel and find reasons for it. Still, our love and devotion belong to God and not to institutions.
Love also means overlooking the shortcomings of others. That does not mean approving of lawless behavior, but being tolerant of someone less than perfect. Loving God means loving our brother. It is unfortunate but true that believing in the orthodox Christian faith will alienate many friends and relatives. It does not need to be that way, but orthodoxy represents a teaching of the Law that is most grievous to people. If a man loses his house from gambling, he is going to be rather open about saying it was a bad move to bet the home on a few hands of Blackjack. However, if he hears that what he believes is not God’s Word, he will bristle.
KJV 1 John 3:1 Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not.
This is true spiritual warfare, because sinful flesh, the unbelieving world, and Satan all agree on one thing: the pure Word of God burns and hurts.
KJV John 15:19 If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.
It is not my opinion that makes people rage. Personal opinions are not very significant to anyone. But God’s Word has the power to divide and to unite. God’s Word divides those who hate it or cannot accept the whole counsel of God from those who want only the pure Word. But God’s Word also shows its power in uniting people across the continents. Many days the communications to A Mighty Fortress (email and long distance phone calls) are from the corners of the world, asking about doctrinal issues and Lutheran publications. No one could afford a convention to get everyone together, from Europe, Canada, America, Australia, and Japan, to name some countries involved. But the Gospel unites believers as only God can do.
KJV John 15:4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. 5 I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.
The apostle John gave us Jesus’ solution for being loved and loving: abide in Me and I will abide in you. He did not say we undertake a work, but to remain in Him, to trust His Word, to receive His forgiveness and love. All the blessings, or fruits, of the Christian faith will come from this one state: to abide in Him.
KJV John 14:21 He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.