Walter Gowans knew that God was calling him from his homeland to share the gospel in the Sudan. He traveled there to work among the people of the region because he knew that was God’s plan for his life. God had so impacted his life that it was evident to those around him that Walter was part of something much bigger than his own dreams and aspirations. Walter’s mother, who lived in Canada, was so captivated by her son’s passion for the mission that she felt as if she were with him every day. Rowland Bingham, one of the founders of the worldwide missionary organization called, S.I.M. writes of the impact that Walter’s mother had upon his life. Bingham wrote,
In the quietness of her parlor she told how God had called a daughter to China, and her eldest boy (Walter Gowans) to the Sudan. She spread out before me the vast extent of those thousands of miles and filled in the teeming masses of people. Ere I closed the interview she had placed upon me the burden of the Sudan.
Mr. Bingham felt as if God Himself were calling him to leave his post and go to the Sudan to join Walter Gowans as a missionary to the people of the Sudan. He did just that and then eighteen months later Bingham returned to Canada, alone. Walter and Thomas Kent lay buried in Nigeria’s interior. Bingham writes of visiting Mrs. Gowans when he got home,
I visited Mrs. Gowans to take her the few personal belongings of her son, he recalled. She met me with extended hand. We stood there in silence. Then she said these words: ‘Well, Mr. Bingham, I would rather have had Walter go out to the Soudan and die there, all alone, that have him home today, disobeying his Lord.’
What can cause a mother to say such stunning words? Only the love of God that allowed her to see that there are more important things in this life than life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. What is this that is more important that these inalienable rights – passionate obedience, radical obedience to the will of God.
Rowland Bingham, after he visited with Mrs. Gowans and gave her the news of her son’s death at age of 25, went back to Nigeria where 60 million people were waiting to hear the good news of Jesus Christ. The year was 1900 when he went back to follow God’s call and he failed. In 1901, Rowland Bingham and his assistants set up the first home base for the mission at Patigi, 500 miles up the Niger River. Today there are still S.I.M missionaries working to spread the gospel throughout all of Africa. Rowland Bingham once wrote.
Our success in this venture means nothing less than the opening of the country for the gospel; our failure, at most, nothing more than the death of two or three deluded fanatics. Still, even death is not failure. His purposes are accomplished. He uses deaths as well as lives in the furtherance of His cause.
Two young men in their early twenties, possessed with a deep love for their Savior and an undying thirst to serve Him no matter the cost has resulted in the salvation of millions. Obedience cost Walter Gowans his life, but today we know him as an overcomer who willingly paid the price of obedience because of his love for Jesus and his desire to see others come to know his Savior’s love.
This truly is the heart of our Scripture study for this morning. Everybody wants to be an overcomer, to rise above the cares and troubles of this world and stand atop the platform of victory, but few are willing to walk the path of obedience that ends in victory. Let’s take a look at our Scripture this morning found in 1 John 5:2-5.
2This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. 3This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, 4for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. 5Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. (1 John 5:2-5 NIV)
We have been studying John’s little letter to the church for many weeks now. I have to tell you that I have been so blessed by the numbers of you who have told me what a blessing this study has been to you. I’ve seen the list of those who are requesting sermons over the Internet grow during this study like I’ve not seen it grow in the past. This has caused me to stop and ask, “Why?” Why has John’s letter captured the hearts of so many folks? Why are so many people requesting the sermons to study on their own? I think I have an answer. John’s letter has captivated us and caused us to yearn for more because it hits us where we live. John’s letter is more relevant than the morning news. It gives us a solid foundation upon which to build our lives. It is a guiding light in a dark and dreary world. It is a plumb line to show us where our lives have grown crooked and out of alignment with God’s heart for our lives. John’s letter speaks to our hearts and souls of the deepest truths of God’s Word.
This morning’s lesson is not unlike the many lessons we have gleaned from during our many weeks of study. John once again speaks to us as an elder mentor, a saint of a man who has walked with God for many years and is willing to pass along the wisdom he has gained in walking faithfully with the Lord. I hope you will pay close attention to his wisdom for it will bless you in immeasurable ways.
In the second verse of chapter five we read John’s words that give us a measuring stick by which we can gauge our love for God. John says,
2This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands.
Stephen Smalley, in his wonderful commentary on 1 John in the Word Biblical Commentary series says,
Faith in Jesus as Messiah is the sign of spiritual rebirth, and this involves love for all who share such new life. The reality of that love will (and should) be demonstrated by active obedience to God’s orders, and above all to the demand for love from the believer. Moreover, the love of God and the love of God’s children include each other, and the mark of true ‘divine sonship’ is that the will of the Christian and the will of God coincide. (1 John, Word Biblical Commentary, Volume 51, page 267.)
One of the defining characteristics of the followers of Jesus is that they possess a deep love for others. When John sets this standard for us he doesn’t mean that we produce and possess some “touchy-feely-feel-good” sensation for others, but a deep, abiding commitment settled in the depths of our hearts and minds. A decision made to stick with others no matter what. To see situations through no matter how messy, how mangled, or how muddled they may become. To keep our promises when it is easier to break them. To choose to stand with others even when they have fallen.
Now, I don’t have to point out to you that this is not the reality we are experiencing today. The reality that we have to deal with in everyday life is that promises are to be broken, relationships are disposable, and our love for others changes faster than the weather in Oklahoma.
There is a reason why we are experiencing such a feeble, breakable, disposable, and expendable kind of love. The reason is because our love is based upon our understanding of love and not God’s. We are convinced that love resides in us, deep in our hearts, and flows from us to those we want to receive it. Nothing could be further from the truth. Love does not reside in us. Love, the kind that lasts and grows throughout the seasons of life, rests only in the heart of God and flows only from Himself.
The only way that we can experience lasting love, committed love, and persevering love is to allow the love of our Savior to flow through us to others. When we come to the point in our lives where we are willing to yield to God’s will then we will experience love like we’ve never known it before, but that will only come when we come to know the love of God found only in Christ Jesus our Lord.
This leads us to verse three where John gives us the ultimate measuring line for correctly assessing our love for God. John says,
3This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome…
When it comes to assessing our love for God we can’t sit down with a pad and pen and map out all of the good things we’ve done for God. We can’t compare ourselves with those around us in assessing our love for God. We can’t rely upon our emotions in evaluating our love for God. Let me assure you that you can stand and sing praises to the Savior with tears streaming down your cheeks and a warm feeling emanating from your heart and be as much a child of hell as someone who curses the name of God. If you want to rightly evaluate your love for God then take a look at the obedience factor. Do you do what He says to do? Do you say, “Here am I Lord do as You will. I will go where You want me to go, do what You want me to do, and say what You want me to say.” Are you coming to church like Pavlov’s dog running to the bowl of food because he hears the bells ringing and not because he is hungry? Are you filling a pew but refusing to allow Jesus to flood your heart? God is not impressed with our rituals. He doesn’t get excited about our buildings, budgets, or ballooning membership rolls. He wants our hearts. The problem that we are facing today with Christians who profess their love for Jesus, but demonstrate an aversion to bow their knee before His throne and yield to His authority is the same problem that God saw happening in Jeremiah’s day. God spoke in Jeremiah’s day as He speaks to us today and said,
13The Lord says: ‘These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men.’ (Isaiah 29:13 NIV)
“These people talk about Me, but they don’t do what I say.” The people of Jeremiah’s day weren’t the only ones whose hearts were far from God. During Ezekiel’s day, the priests, who were called to lead the people to God, were failing in their calling and commission. Let me say this: there is no way possible for me or any other pastor to “shepherd” the sheep and lead them to the Lord unless we take God seriously. When the shepherds begin to approach God casually, refuse to consult Him about every matter, and allow their hearts to be griped by anything else other than a passionate love for God then look out. Listen to what the Lord said through the Prophet Ezekiel.
10″‘The Levites who went far from me when Israel went astray and who wandered from me after their idols must bear the consequences of their sin. 11They may serve in my sanctuary, having charge of the gates of the temple and serving in it; they may slaughter the burnt offerings and sacrifices for the people and stand before the people and serve them. 12But because they served them in the presence of their idols and made the house of Israel fall into sin, therefore I have sworn with uplifted hand that they must bear the consequences of their sin, declares the Sovereign LORD. (Ezekiel 44: 10-12 NIV)
Talk, talk, talk, talk. Preach, preach, preach. We American Christians are so good at talking and preaching, but so often our lives don’t back up what our lips have to say. We talk about how much we love God, but we don’t do what He says to do. I’ve heard it said, “I just don’t understand the Bible. I don’t know what God wants from me.” My friend, it isn’t that difficult. We need to stop making things more difficult than they really are. God is not a math problem to be solved, but a Savior to love and serve.
The Pharisees tried to make things difficult for the people. They took the Ten Commandments and turned them into a burden for the people by developing a subset of commandments under each of God’s Commandments. Jesus said,
1Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: 2 ‘The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. 3So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. 4They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. 5 Everything they do is done for men to see:’ (Matthew 23:1-5 NIV)
There were those in Jesus’ day who tried to make things hard for folks by adding to what God had asked. We need to be telling folks the truth. God is not asking us to create additional commandments. “If you really love Jesus then you need to listen to a Christian radio station, watch Christian television, subscribe to Christianity Today, wear Christian jewelry, put Christian bumper stickers on your car, and name your children something biblical. Oh, by the way, you must also refrain from doing x, y, and z.” Pharisees! Those same Pharisees who created the heavy loads for people to bear asked Jesus one day which was the greatest of all the Commandments? Jesus said,
37Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38This is the first and greatest commandment. 39And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. 40All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’ (Matthew 22:37-40 NIV)
That’s it! Jesus summed up the Ten Commandments in just two: love God and love your neighbor. Not with a flimsy, weak-kneed, love-when-its-easy, kind of love – that is not love at all. We are to love God with all of our heart, soul, and mind and then allow His love to flow over into our relationships with others.
I’ve got Good News for you. Jesus just lifted the burden from your shoulders and mine. Jesus saw how the religious leaders had weighed down the hearts of the people so that they felt they could never serve God, but He came as the Burden Lifter, the Burden Bearer. That is why Jesus said,
28 Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30 NIV)
This has to be one of the most refreshing Scriptures of the entire Bible. For those of us who have been weighed down by the burden of religion Jesus comes to lift our burden and to place His yoke of love, mercy, and grace around our necks like a garland. God’s commands are not burdensome, they are liberating. This is why John says,
3This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome,
What does John mean when he says, “And his commands are not burdensome.” The Greek word for “burdensome,” “barei/ai” (bareiai) means, “heavy, hard, or difficult.” Obeying God is not difficult when we seek to obey Him as He desires. Obeying God is impossible when we refuse to heed His counsel and set out on our own to please Him. There is absolutely nothing I can do to please God in and of myself. As I live and try to earn God’s approval I will continually find myself exasperated and frustrated by my failures. This exasperation is intended to accomplish my complete and utter despair so that I willingly and hopelessly throw myself at the feet of my Savior. When I yield to God’s will and seek to live for Him as He intended, emptied of myself but full of His grace and empowered by His Spirit then His commands become the delight of my life. When I yield to God and allow Jesus to live fully and completely through me then God rises me above the chaos of this life and proclaims me an “overcomer.”
John writes in verses 4-5,
4for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. 5Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.
Everyone born of God overcomes the world. When Christ comes to live within us, His life lived out through your life and mine overcomes the world and all that Satan would seek to throw at us to lead us away from God. The strategies of Satan are as many as the sands on the seashore, but God can thwart them all through His victorious Son living through you and me.
John understood this fact so clearly and that is why he told his readers in chapter four,
4You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. (1 John 4:4 NIV)
John was not an eternal optimist who always looked on the bright side of life because of some Pollyanna complex. He had heard Jesus, his Lord and Savior speak of things to come and the power He would give to His followers in John’s Gospel. Jesus said,
33″I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 NIV)
You and I are in a battle every day. If you are not aware of the battle that rages against you by the Enemy of the people of God then that is ample evidence that you are losing ground. The battle is being waged and the troops are growing weary because they have not been told that the battle is won. It’s not won by intellect, cunning, brute strength, or the power of the will – it is won because of the victory of the Son. My friend, whatever battle you are facing today you need to know that through Christ Jesus you are more than a conqueror! Charles Haddon Spurgeon once wrote,
Men usually swim with the stream like a dead fish; it is only the living fish that goes against it. It is only the Christian who despises customs, who does not care for conventionalisms, who only asks himself the question, “Is it right or is it wrong? If it is right, I will be singular. If there is not another man in this world who will do it, I will do it; should a universal hiss go up to heaven, I will do it still; should the very stories of earth fly up, arid stone me to death, I will do it still; though they bind me to the stake, yet I must do it; I will be singularly right; if the multitude will not follow me, I will go without them, I will be glad if they will all go and do right as well, but if not, I will despise their customs; I care not what others do; I shall not be weighed by other men; to my own Master I stand or fall. Thus I conquer and overcome the customs of the world.” Fair world! she dresseth herself in ermine, she putteth on the robes of a judge, and she solemnly telleth you, “Man, you are wrong. Look at your fellows; see how they do. Behold my laws. For hundreds of years have not men done so? Who are you, to set yourself up against me?” And she pulls out her worm-eaten law-book, and turning over the musty pages, says, “See, here is an act passed in the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, and here is another law enacted in the days of Pharaoh. These must be right, because antiquity has enrolled them among her standard authorities. Do you mean to set yourself up and stand against the opinions of the multitude?” Yes, we do; we take the law-book of the world, and we burn it, as the Ephesians did their magic rolls; we take her deeds, and make them into waste paper; we rend her proclamation from the walls; we care not what others do; custom to us is a cobweb; we count it folly to be singular; but when to be singular is to be right, we count it the proudest wisdom; we overcome the world; we trample on her customs; we walk as a distinct people, a separate race, a chosen generation, a peculiar people. (C.H. Spurgeon, March 18, 1855)
I want to invite you this morning to wave the white flag of surrender to the Son of God who will raise you up victorious through His conquering power. If you have never accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior of your life then won’t you do so today?