The Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost
October 15, 2017
1 John 2:15-17
Thank God for Life!
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
On August 24, 1992 Hurricane Andrew literally roared through the area where I was living. I had sent Brenda and the kids to Orland to keep them safe while I stayed behind. I knew that a number of my members were going to ride out the storm and I wanted to be there— just in case someone might need some kind of help after the storm. Nothing could have possibly prepared this Minnesota boy for what it was like to have a Category 5 hurricane engulf and tear apart the house where I was hiding. Nothing could have possibly prepared me for the utter devastation that Andrew left behind. By the grace of God we survived the storm. By the strength of God we rebuilt both our neighborhoods and our lives.
A few years after Andrew another hurricane roared across the little island of Antigua in the Caribbean. Since the congregation in Antigua was a part of our circuit and since I was the Circuit Pastor and since I had been through Hurricane Andrew, I was asked to go to Antigua to see if I could help in some way. Once I was able to fly onto the island a lot of things looked very familiar— such as the broken trees and power poles, the buildings that were missing roofs and windows as well as the buildings that we completely destroyed. It didn’t take very long, however, for me to realize just how strong and just how focused the faith of God’s people was. As I rode around the island with the Pastor one incident stands out in my mind to this very day. We went to see one of the elderly members of his congregation. As we pulled up to her home (or what was left of it) the she headed straight for us, her hands waving in the air and saying, “Thank God for life!” Even though everything around her lay in ruins she was deeply and humbly thankful that the good Lord had spared the most important gift of all— her life!
Thank God for Life! Those words of praise from an elderly child of God on a little island in the Caribbean are very fitting for us as we gather together here in God’s house today. With all the devastation we see in the Santa Rosa area as well as in other areas, with all of the devastation that some of you have experienced on a very personal level, I wanted to focus our attention on a portion of Scripture that reminds us of what is truly important and what is not. For that reason our sermon text for today is 1 John 2:15-17. Let’s read it together, “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world— the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does— comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.” Let’s use these inspired words of our God as an opportunity for us to see that even now— or perhaps I should say especially now— we have reason to say: Thank God for Life!
Before we focus on what this portion of Scripture is teaching us, let’s make sure that we understand what this portion of Scripture is not teaching us. The good Lord is not telling us here that we should not appreciate and enjoy all the wonderful material blessings that He gives to us here on this earth. In fact, in James 1:17 we are specifically reminded, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” And in Matthew 7:11 Jesus Himself reminds us, “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”
This past week has taught all of us that our heavenly Father has indeed blessed us with many wonderful gifts for us to enjoy while we are here on this earth. Those of you who were forced to evacuate because of the fires undoubtedly had an opportunity to look at the many wonderful gifts God has given to you and ask, “Which ones— if any— do I take with me?” Those of you who were forced to evacuate because of the fires only to hear the heartbreaking news that everything you had to leave behind is now nothing but ashes, have the opportunity to thank the Lord for all the blessings He gave to you for however many years and to trust that just as He did with Job, the good Lord will continue to bless you in the future. And hopefully, those of us who did not have to evacuate took a moment to look around and see that God has indeed blessed us with much more than our “daily bread,” much more than we deserve. Appreciate whatever “good and perfect gifts” God has given to you for however long He allows you to enjoy them and always— always! — remember to thank Him for His goodness and His generosity!
With that appreciation and that thankfulness clearly in focus now let’s look at what our God is telling us here in our text. To me, the key to understanding this portion of Scripture properly is found in the opening words, “Do not love….” Since the Holy Spirit inspired the apostle John to write these words, it probably won’t surprise you to hear that the word that is being translated here is the verb form of a noun that we all know and treasure— “agape.” The God who proclaimed His agape love for us by sending His only-begotten Son into this world to save us from our sins, does not want us to harbor in our hearts an agape love for this world or for anything in this world.
How might we harbor in our hearts an agape love for this world? John gives us three examples here in our text. Harboring an agape love in our heart for this world or for the things of this world can lead to: 1) the “cravings” or “desires” of the sinful flesh; 2) the “lust” or “covetousness” of the eyes, and; 3) the “boasting of what he has or does,” or this could be translated, “the pride/arrogance of our livelihood, property or possessions.” None of this comes the “Father of the heavenly lights who does not change like shifting shadows.” It all comes from the sinful world in which we live as well as the sinful nature that lives inside of us.
This past week has given to each and every one of us an opportunity to re-evaluate on a very personal level the words our Savior speaks to us in Matthew 6:21, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” So, my friends, while we might say that we “love” our house or we “love” our car or we “love” whatever (you fill in the blank), we need to be very careful that our dear Lord and Savior is always the “one true agape love” of our heart. (Pointing to the cross)
Why is it so important that we don’t “set our hearts on” or build our lives around the things of this world? Look at what John tell us in the closing verse of our text, “The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.” The older we get the more we understand exactly what the Lord means when He says, “The world and its desires pass away,” or that could be translated “are passing on by.” Think of how many things you once “owned” and perhaps even “loved,” but are now gone for one reason or another. If you had allowed those things to become the treasure of your heart and then they “passed on by”— where would that leave you? There is no comforting answer to that question, is there!
The only source of true lasting comfort is found in the second half of that verse, “…the one who is doing the will of God lives/remains forever.” What is the “will of God” that enables us to “live/remain forever”? Listen to how Jesus answers that question in John 6:40, “For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” This brings us right back to the agape love that God has for this world— the agape love that God has for you! In His agape love for you God’s “will” for you is that you trust in His Son, the Son who has promised you, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25, 26). In His agape love for you God’s “will” for you is that you nurture in your heart an agape love for Jesus, the same agape love that Jesus revealed for you as He suffered and died on the cross to pay for your sins and to give you true life. Yes, my friends, purely by the grace and power of God we have been given the greatest gift of all, the gift of life— “life to the full”! (See John 10:10) Not only do we have the joy of living for Jesus while we are here on this earth, but we have been given the privilege of living with Jesus forever in heaven! That’s life— true life!
Just as nothing could have prepared me for the devastation that Hurricane Andrew left behind, so also nothing could have prepared us for the devastation that these fires are leaving behind— the devastation that some of you have experienced on a very personal level. But no matter how much devastation these fires are causing we need to strive to have the attitude of heart displayed by that elderly child of God on that little island in the Caribbean. By the grace of God we all survived these fires. By the strength that God provides we rebuild the homes, the neighborhoods and our livelihoods. The simple fact that we are able to gather together here in God’s house today to hear the comfort of His holy Word and to receive the strength of His holy Supper leads us to lift our hands to heaven and say, “Thank God for life!”
To God be the glory!