The Fifth Sunday of Easter

May 2, 2021

1 John 3:16-24

How Will You Show Your Love?

 

This is how we know what love is:  Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.  And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.  If anyone has material possession and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?  Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.  This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence whenever our hearts condemn us.  For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.  Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him.  And this is his command:  to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.  Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them.  And this is how we know that he lives in us:  We know it by the Spirit he gave us.  (NIV1984)

 

 

Dear fellow worshipers of our living Lord and Savior,

 

He is risen!  He is risen indeed!

 

One week from today is Mother’s Day.  How will you show your love?  Note, my friends, that I did not ask, “Will you show your love?”  That question easily elicits a “Yes” or “No” response.  By asking ”How will you show your love?” you have to think.  You have to focus.  You have to decide how you are going to show your love to your Mom.  Some people might respond by saying, “I’m going to buy her a card or a gift, maybe some flowers and candy.”  Others might say, “I’m going to take her out to dinner or maybe even cook dinner for her.”  Then there are those who like me might respond by saying, “Since my Mom is in heaven, I am going to take a moment to remember all the wonderful blessings the good Lord gave to me through my Mom.”  And yes, there are a few people who might say, “I haven’t really thought about it yet.”

 

The reason I opened our sermon by reminding you of Mother’s Day is to highlight the difference between asking someone “How will you show your love?” and, “Will you show your love?”  The difference between those to questions centers on purpose, direction and focus.  If you are simply looking for a factual “Yes” or “No” answer then you ask, “Will you show your love?”  If you want that person to give you a more heartfelt focused response (or if you are searching for ideas!) then you ask them, “How will you show your love?”

 

Now let’s take the distinction between those two questions and place it into the context of the portion of Scripture which serves as our sermon text for today.  Our loving Savior-God does not come to us through His servant John and ask us, “Will  you show your love?”— as though we could simply answer “Yes” or “No.”  Today our loving Savior-God comes to us through His servant John and asks us, “How Will You Show Your Love?”  With that question in mind let’s see how our text highlights two answers to that question.  First, let’s see how this text emphasizes how we outwardly show our love for others.  Then, let’s see how this text emphasizes how we inwardly show our love for God.

 

Before we can examine those two points, we first of all need to address the question, “What kind of love are we focusing on today?”  The clear, simple, powerful answer to that question is found in the opening words of our text.  John writes, “This is how we know what love is:  Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.”  True love, agape love, is seen and heard and experienced in its highest and purest form right there— on the cross of Calvary’s hill.  (Pointing to the cross)  This is not a love that is based on emotions.  This is not a love that selfishly seeks personal gain.  This love is the love that is outwardly revealed and expressed in actionsHow did Jesus show this love for us?  “Jesus Christ laid down his life for us”!  Every time we lift up our eyes to the cross we are embraced by the words of our Savior, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

 

Surrounded by the agape love of the cross of Jesus Christ, John now reveals to us the first answer to the question, How will you show your love?”  John writes, “And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.”  Our faith in Jesus binds us together so tightly as a “family of believers” that if necessary we will outwardly show our love for Jesus and we will outwardly show our love for our brothers and sisters in the faith by “laying down” our lives for each other.

 

Is that even realistic today, my friends?  We know that it was realistic in the early days of the New Testament Christian Church.  (See Acts 7:54-60; 12:1, 2)  We know that is has been realistic throughout much of the history of the Christian Church— especially in certain countries.  But, is it realistic for you?  For me?  Could we be called on to outwardly show our love for our brothers and sisters in Christ by “laying down” our life for them?  By the grace of God we live in a country where that possibility is extremely rare.  So how are we to apply these words to ourselves?  How can we outwardly show our love for our brothers and sisters in Christ?  We find a very realistic answer to that question in verses 17 & 18 of our text.  John writes, “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him how can the love of God be in him?  Dear Children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.”

 

How will we show our love?  We will show our love by taking action to help those who are “in need”— specifically, our fellow Christians who are “in need”!  (See also Galatians 6:10)  Take a moment to picture the faces of the Christians who are in your immediate family.  Is anyone “in need”?  Now broaden that circle out to your extended family.  Is anyone “in need”?  Go through the church directly.  Is anyone “in need”How will you show your love for them?  Will you share with them some of the “material possessions” that the good Lord has given to you?  Will you show your love for them by helping them find a better job or by helping them become a better steward of the blessings God has given to them?  Broaden your scope to include your brothers and sisters in the faith who live in other portions of our country or in other portions of the world.  How will you show your love for them?  Will you help them by supporting our Synod’s efforts to provide them with the basic necessities that we so often take for granted?  How will you show your love?  Instead of trying to come up with a complete detailed list of all the things we can do to outwardly show our love for others, perhaps the easiest way to answer that question is to remember our Lord’s words, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40).

 

Now let’s turn to the second answer to that question, “How will you show your love?”  and see how the apostle John helps us to understand how we can inwardly show our love for God.  I see the answer to that question in two portions of our text.  The first portion is found in these words, “This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence whenever our hearts condemn us.  For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.”

 

Every single day our “hearts condemn us.”  Even as the cross of our Savior motivates us to outwardly show our love for others through the actions of our life, our old sinful nature is always assaulting us with questions such as, “Did you really do as much as you could have done?” “Did you do it willingly or did you do it out of a sense of obligation or guilt?”  “What about all the times you didn’t want to let go of some of your possessions?  How are you going to explain that to your God?”

 

Whenever this happens to us, my friends, we inwardly show our love for God by holding on to the “truth” that the Lord our God has revealed to us in His Word.  The “truth” is that as long as we are on this side of heaven, we humbly acknowledge that we are sinners and we confidently acknowledge that we are forgiven!  The “truth” is that our God does know everything!  He knows all of our sins— even the ones we don’t realize we have committed.  (See Psalm 19:12)  He also knows that when “Jesus Christ laid down his life for us” on the cross, His death completely paid for all of our sins!  The “truth” is that even when our own heart condemns us “God is greater than our hearts.”  He comforts us and strengthens us with his amazing agape love.  We inwardly show our love for Him (Pointing to the cross) by holding on to the “truth” that He has revealed to us!

 

The second way in which John helps us to inwardly show our love for God is found in the closing verses of our text.  John writes, “Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him.  And this is his command:  to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.  Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them.  And this is how we know that he lives in us:  We know it by the Spirit he gave us.”

 

How will we inwardly show our love for God?  John gives us a number of answers to that question!  When our hearts are holding to the “truth” that God loves us this much (Pointing to the cross) then instead of condemning us, our hearts will give us the confidence of going to our loving God in prayer— trusting that we can speak to Him the same way that we talk to our very best friend.  We can ask Him for anything knowing that His love for us will always lead Him to answer our prayers in the way that He knows is best for us.

 

How will we inwardly show our love for God?  In response to His love for us (Pointing to the cross) we will prioritize our life in such a way that we “obey his commands and do what pleases him.”  With the Gospel of Jesus Christ empowering us from the inside out, our faith in “the name of His Son, Jesus Christ” grows deeper and deeper.  Our commitment to “love one another as he commanded us” grows stronger and stronger.  Our confidence that through the power of the Holy Spirit as He comes to us in Word and Sacrament, we “live in him” and He “lives in us”— that confidence becomes more and more secure.

 

Mother’s Day is one week from today.  How will you show your love?  Outwardly we will show our love through gifts of flowers or cards or candy.  Inwardly we will show our love by focusing on the wonderful memories we have of our Mom.  My prayer this morning is that you will listen closely as the apostle John leads you to the foot of the cross, says to you, “This is how we know what love is:  Jesus Christ laid down his life for us,” and then asks you, “How will you show your love?  How will you outwardly show your love for others?  How will you inwardly show your love for God?”

 

To God be the glory!

 

Amen