Seward United Methodist Church
Thursday, May 24, 2018
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Love and Obedience

1 John 5:1-5 and John 15:9-17

 At the beginning of our lives, we don’t exactly have an identity of our own.  We find our identity in our family.  We are the son or daughter or so-and-so, the grandchild of so-and-so.  As we grow older, we begin to establish more and more of our own identity. 

 An experience I found fascinating was when I went off to college.  All through elementary and high school, I’d been surrounded by people that I had more or less grown up with, people who knew me at some level.  Then suddenly, I find myself on a campus with 2500 other people, almost all of whom were complete strangers.  And they were all in the same boat as me, trying to come together with other people and establish who they were.  

 What I quickly discovered is that there was a “formula” for this.  You were supposed to ask three questions when you met someone:  What’s your name?  Where are you from?  And what are you studying?  And I guess from those three questions, we were all supposed to get to know each other.  As if those three answers defined who you were.  It was a strange experience, almost dehumanizing.  

 Who are you?  Often the world doesn’t seem to care a whole lot about that.  Often to the world, you are a social security number or an account number.  Just last week I called someone at the tax office because of a problem with our refund.  She didn’t ask my name.  She just said, “What’s your social?”  If you’re lucky, they’ll ask your name and not forget it.  

 But to God, you are a family member:  Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is a child of God, as John tells us in 1 John 5.  Jesus put it a different way in John 15.  Jesus said that he is the vine and we are the branches.  We are connected to Christ, and we are intertwined in community.  If you ever look at a grapevine, of course, you can’t really tell where one branch ends and another begins.  They all just kind of tangle together.  That is a picture of the church:  We are intertwined together.  We become more than an individual; we become a community.  You are more than just a child of God; we are the people of God.  Each one of us is rooted in Christ, brought to life in Christ, and surrounded by a people of God.  There really is no place for hierarchy or pride in that image.  We are all equal, all drawing life from the same source, and all growing together in faith, as long as we remain intimately connected to Christ. 

 All things come together in Christ.  Our identity comes together in him.  He is the source of our life.  He is the source of our identity.  He is the source of our security and our hope.  By Christ, we know what love is.  His example of love, the cross, is the defining example by which we know what love is.  

 Jesus tells us that we are chosen.  It’s not so much that we chose Christ as that he chose us.  It’s not so much that we chose to have a relationship with God as that he chose to have it with us.  We have received love much more than we have given love.  

 And now we are called to remain in that love.  How do we do that?  We do it by obedience, by doing what Christ commanded us to do.  The first and foremost and highest expression of our love for God is obedience.  More than feeling love for God or saying we love God, we love God by our actions, our obedience.  That is how we know we are God’s children, by our obedience.

 And as John says in 1 John, “It’s really not that difficult.”  

 Really?  It’s not that difficult to do what Christ wants us to do?  It sure seems hard sometimes.  But it shouldn’t be.  First of all, what God commands us to do, God also empowers us to do.  We are not unprepared for the task.  If God asks it of us, God will give us the gifts we need to obey.  

 Second, our love should lighten the burden.  It’s not hard to serve those we love.  If my wife asks me to do something, I don’t find it hard to serve her.  I don’t find it hard to put aside what I’d like to do in order to do what she would like me to do, because I love her.  Now, if I do find it difficult, then I should examine my love for her.  I should think about what is getting in the way of my love for her.  And if it’s anything, it’s probably love for myself!  

 It shouldn’t be difficult to do what God asks us to do.  And if it is, we have a love problem.  More than a faith problem or an obedience problem, we have a love problem.  Our love for God is not everything it should be.  

 What does God command?  Well, certainly there are many things that God tells us in Scripture that we should or should not do.  Certainly there are many tasks that God might give us to further his work.  But Jesus tells us plainly that the most basic thing God wants us to do is to love one another, care for one another, put the needs of others first in our lives.  

 1 John reminds us that we are born into a family.  And it is natural to love family.  In the first century world, it was understood that to love the father was also to love the children.  Especially because they believed that a child shares the same basic nature and character as the father.  

 I’m at the age now where most of my friends have children of their own.  And I care about their children, even if I really haven’t had much opportunity to spend time with them.  I care about them because I care about their parents.  That just seems natural.  And in like fashion, if we love God, then we should love God’s children.  

 Our primary purpose in life, as believers, is to give glory to God.  And the primary means we have to do that is by loving God’s children.  It is impossible to love God without loving his children who are made in his image.  

 And the greatest expression of love, as Jesus tells us and as Jesus showed us, is self-sacrifice.  We’ve talked several times over the last month about what love is.  The Greek word in the New Testament for God’s love is AGAPE.  It’s not a word about feelings.  It’s not a word about romance or affection or “liking” a person.  It is defined as self-denial for the good of another, giving of oneself to benefit another, even to the point of sacrificing self.  

 Jesus tells us to follow his example.  Love one another as he loved us.  If we truly want to show that we belong to Christ, that’s how we do it.  

 Jesus says, “You are my friends if you obey me.”  Not just servants, but friends.  If you read through the Old Testament, a lot of those big name heroes of faith, Moses, David, Joshua, they are not called friends of God.  They are called servants of God.  Being a servant of God is certainly a great honor.  But we are said to be more than servants; we are called friends.  

 In the ancient world, the “friends of the king” were his closest advisors.  They were the ones who knew everything the king was thinking.  They were the ones who had full access to him.  Often they were the only people other than his own family who were allowed into his “private chambers.”  This is a picture of intimacy, a picture of trust, a picture of unbroken access to God.  God trusts us.  We are not just servants, blindly following orders.  We are given access into the mind of God.  

 One of the few figures in the Old Testament who was called a “friend of God” was Abraham.  In the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, as the angel of the Lord is leaving Abraham to go to Sodom and Gomorrah, he says, “Should I hide my plan from Abraham?”  And his answer is no.  He tells Abraham what he is planning to do, and Abraham talks with God about it, and Abraham even modifies God’s plan.  That’s a picture of friendship, intimacy, trust, not just blind obedience.  Abraham becomes a partner with God.  And God invites us into partnership with him.  

 God also tells you and I what he is up to in the world, if we are listening.  We are also chosen to be partners in God’s work.  We are chosen for this.  Chosen to be God’s friends.  Chosen to be partners.  Chosen to produce fruit.  

 There is a remarkable promise of God in this text from John 15:  “The Father will give us whatever we ask for in Christ’s name.”  Now that verse was never meant as a “carte blanche” for getting what we want from God.  It means that if we are listening to God, if we are hearing his plans, communicating intimately with him, seeking his will, then if we pray in keeping with God’s will and the character of Christ, our prayers will be answered.  But to claim that promise, we have to do the hard work of getting to know God’s will in order to be able to pray in it.  We have to read the Scriptures.  We have to pray and seek his will.  We have to talk about it with other believers to feel out his will together.  But if we do those things, our prayers will be answered.  The difficulty is that we don’t want to put in the hard work.  

 But there’s another remarkable promise in these verses:  Verse 11 tells us that we will have overflowing joy.  We are often tempted to think that joy comes from getting our way.  We think that if we get what we want, we will be happy.  Jesus tells us a different story.  Jesus tells us that real joy comes from living in God’s will, obeying his commandments, and loving his people.  

 You see, that’s who we are in Christ.  Our identity is found in him.  Through him we know love, know hope, know purpose.  And we can only find real happiness that lasts by living into our true identity.  It’s impossible to be truly joyful being something that you’re not.  We are children of God.  We can’t be joyful until we live into that identiy.

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