I first heard the report on the radio as I was driving to work this week – Jane Fonda had given her life to Christ. The woman who has recently gone through a divorce to Ted Turner, sold more exercise videos than Bill Gates has sold Windows, and who has been known as “Hanoi Jane” had accepted Jesus as her Lord and Savior. I have to confess and repent of my sins before you this morning. When I first heard the report I was so skeptical. I thought it was merely another Hollywood type out for publicity. Then I read a report from Cal Thomas in the Miami Herald on Thursday and I felt like such a hypocrite. Cal Thomas writes,
If press reports are true, Fonda’s chauffeur and a woman married to a Turner Broadcasting System executive were instrumental in bringing her to faith. No prominent clergyman was involved. Just a chauffeur and a faithful friend. How like God.
Cal Thomas’ article hit me especially hard because he points out that many religious folks, who are now aware of Jane Fonda’s conversion, have never prayed for her. More time has been spent by Christians denouncing Jane Fonda than praying for her to come to know Jesus. There will be some Christians who will refuse to believe that someone like Jane Fonda could ever come to know Christ, but her pastor is not one of those.
The Rev. Gerald Durley, pastor of Providence Missionary Baptist Church in Atlanta, where the chauffeur who led her Christ attends church, said that he has seen Fonda at Bible studies and in worship services and he says: “I am extremely impressed with the genuineness and sincerity of [her] search for spirituality and wholeness. . . . I think she has found a certain sense of peace among those who’ve found peace with Christianity.”
Cal Thomas writes in his article,
No power on Earth, and certainly no power of denunciation, could have changed Fonda’s life. More than seeing how her life has changed, it will be interesting to see how she changes the lives of those who have hated her and have put “Hanoi Jane” bumper stickers on their cars, referring to an ill-considered visit to North Vietnam during that divisive war. The power of love to change a life is far greater than the power of criticism and harsh judgment. Without speaking a public word, Fonda already may have exuded a force more powerful than any other political idea or philosophy that she may have promoted in the past. (c)2000 Los Angeles Times Syndicate
The story of Jane Fonda’s conversion beautifully illustrates for us the powerful message that John is seeking to share with us this morning. Jane Fonda’s acceptance of Jesus as her Lord and Savior was not due to some high-powered preacher who worked his magic and persuaded her to come to Christ. God used a nameless chauffeur and a trusted friend who prayed for her, loved her, and allowed Jesus to shine through their lives until He broke through to Jane’s heart. What an awesome God we serve!
The chauffeur and friend understand that the prerequisite to sharing real love with another person is to all the Lord’s love to change our own lives. They know that real love is not focused on what it will get in return, real love is much more concerned with loving. True love is not consumed with tingly sensations, but with serving those around them. John wants all of us to understand that we are to love one another, even those hated by society, because God has clearly demonstrated His love for us in Jesus’ death upon the cross. This morning I want us to take the time to take a long, hard look at John’s lesson for us found in 1 John 4:7-12. Let’s take a look at our Scripture for this morning.
7Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. (1 John 4:7-12 NIV)
In our Scripture for today we can easily conclude that love is not an emotion as much as it is an emulation of the One who first loved us. Love is more than a longing — it is an action. Love has nothing to do with self-fulfillment, but it has everything to do with self-sacrifice. John begins his lesson by instructing us in a very straightforward manner. He says in verse 7,
7Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.
John makes it clear that we are to love one another. The Greek word that John uses means to “continue to love.” We can’t express love towards a brother or sister, wipe our forehead and say, “Whew! I’m glad that is over with. Now I can get on with my business.” We are not commanded to love the folks that we pick and choose. We are not given the freedom to choose who we are going to love, when we are going to love, or how we are going to love – we are told to love one another and to continue to love one another.
Ray Stedman, when he was preaching to his congregation on this section of Scripture, read the letter a high school girl wrote about the transformation of her understanding of love. I pray that we would all experience this kind of revelation. She writes,
You know, all my life I’ve been doing like everyone else. I’ve been kind to my friends, and polite to strangers, and nasty to all those I didn’t like, until it suddenly dawned on me that Christians are not to be kind only to those who are nice to them, or to their friends, but Christians are to be kind to everyone because they are people, and because we’re Christians.
This young teenage girl understands perfectly the command of John that was given to the folks of the first century. Love one another. Don’t allow prejudice to paint your love. Never give in to your propensity to love only those who can help you. Refuse to turn your back on those who are unlovely simply because it would be more difficult to love them. Never allow yourself to be deceived into believing that there are some who are undeserving of your love. Realize that the love you can share with others is not your love at all – it is a gift from God, a gift to be given away.
The mandate to “love one another” is not a suggestion. It isn’t shared as a good thing to think about doing. It isn’t even a logical assertion for getting along in life with the people you would like to have a relationship with – it is a clear, all-encompassing command from God. “Love one another.” With that bold declaration for us to love all people, those who understand the weight of that command should shutter in despair.
We must be honest and confess that we don’t have this kind of love within us. It is not natural for us to love those who don’t love us. We find it hard enough to love those we know love us when they are selfish, hateful, cutting, or short-tempered. When we learn that we are to love all people regardless of whether they love us or not it should cause all of us to cringe in despair.
We can’t get off the hook by saying, “Well, this is just one verse of the Bible and love is just not my forte. Love is not my spiritual gift.” God’s Word is replete, filled to overflowing, with the command to love one another. Let me give you a few examples. Paul wrote to the church in Rome and he said,
8Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. 9The commandments, “Do not commit adultery,” “Do not murder,” “Do not steal,” “Do not covet,” and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. (Romans 13:8-10 NIV)
John has already said to us in 1 John 2 that anyone who claims to be a follower of Jesus but has hate in his heart for anyone is still in the darkness. Let me refresh your mind with John’s words,
9Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. 10Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble. 11But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him. (1 John 2:9-11 NIV)
In the very next chapter of 1 John we find that this command to love one another is the message we’ve heard from God from the very beginning. It’s not a new command, but the core of the commandments from the heart of God. John says,
11This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. (1 John 3:11 NIV)
In the second part of verse 7, John says that, “Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.” There has been a temptation to draw the conclusion that since John says, “everyone who loves has been born of God,” that all people who love are Christians. This is the furthest thing from the truth. An act of love does not make one a Christian anymore than pulling a splinter from a child’s thumb makes one a surgeon. Love is the fruit of the Christian’s life. Love is evidence that there is an intimate growing relationship with God in the life of the believer.
John goes on to say in verse 8, 8 “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” Just as love is the evidence of a transformed life, the lack of love is also evidence of an unredeemed life. John has said, “Let us not love with words, but with action.” Where there is a lack of love there is incriminating evidence that the person has never accepted Christ and allowed Him to permeate his or her soul..
You may ask, “How can John be so narrow-minded? How can he know my heart? If he only knew how badly I’ve been treated then he would understand why I am so full of bitterness and hate.” John can make that kind of statement because he knows that “God is love” and that when God’s love grips a person’s life, they are changed.
God’s love is the pivotal character quality of His nature. The great Bible teacher, John R. W. Stott says, “This is the most comprehensive and sublime of all the biblical affirmations of God’s being.” The statement, “God is love” teaches us that every action of God is an expression of His heart of love.
It is not too difficult for us to equate God’s love with the birth of newborn child with ten fingers and ten toes who breathes on his own and smiles a radiant smile. It’s not too difficult for us to see God’s mighty hand of love at a wedding or when our loved one leaves the hospital after having gone through a life-threatening illness. John doesn’t point out these experiences in life as signs of God’s love. He says, “God is love.” Every action of God is an expression of His love for you and me, even when we don’t understand what God is doing or why He has done it.
When we read the stories in God’s Word of His judgment on His people it is much more difficult for us to compare judgment with love. When we lose someone that we love and our heart is breaking it is so difficult for us to link that experience with God’s love. My friend I want to spare you a lifetime of confusion and despair – every act of God in your life is an act of love. Let me give you a couple of examples. We can begin by taking a look at the next two verses where John shares with us how God has demonstrated His love for us. Read along with me.
9This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. (1 John 4:9-10 NIV)
We read this as recipients of God’s love. God sent His one and only Son into the world as an expression of His love for us – what a wonderful gift! But how about pausing for a moment and taking a look at this gift from a different angle, from the perspective of the Giver rather than from the perspective of the recipients. For God to give us His Son it meant that Jesus had to die for your sins and mine. That is exactly what John is communicating when he says, “He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”
Jesus’ death wasn’t just any death. It was a horrible death that consisted of a progressively painful series of events. Jesus, the Gift of God, was ridiculed and mocked, spat upon, and given forty lashes with a “cat of nine tails” that literally ripped the flesh from His back. He was forced to carry a heavy, wooden cross to the place where He would be nailed to it. They drove nails, large spikes, through His feet and hands. When they dropped the cross in the hole to support it, Jesus’ shoulders were jarred out of joint. He worked tirelessly to get His next breath while He hung naked for the world to see His shame.
How in the world could this event be seen as an expression of God’s love? The disciples who were there evidently didn’t understand this act as an act of love because they ran and hid. Jesus’ mother was hard-pressed to understand her Son’s death as an act of God’s love as she stood there weeping at the foot of the cross.
We just don’t understand the big picture my friends. If God would have formed a committee made up of folks like you and me to contemplate the reasonability and plausibility of the crucifixion I will assure you that we would have never allowed it to happen. There are too many reasons for us to protest. Jesus was God’s only Son. He didn’t do anything wrong. He could do much more good by living than by dying. Someone would have said, “Think of all that Jesus could do to help eliminate poverty, global warming, terrorism, and help race relations if He were allowed to live.” We would have tried to get Him a good lawyer. “Call Johnny Cochran or Allen Dershowitz, I bet they could help.” Because of our shortsightedness we would have forfeited our very salvation because the situation would have simply seemed too grim, too ghastly.
The death of Jesus was God’s greatest act of love. Love for sinners like you and me who were totally and completely unlovable, unworthy of love, and unwilling to love at the very moment God loved us.
Let me give you another example of God’s love in action that appeared at the time to be totally illogical, even cruel. Genesis tells us about a young man who had a bunch of brothers who didn’t like him one bit. The brothers conspired to get rid of Joseph and sold him into slavery. When young Joseph arrived in Egypt he eventually ended up taking care of Potiphar’s household. Potiphar’s wife liked the young man and her fondness evolved into passion. When Joseph refused to compromise his boss’ trust in him, Potiphar’s wife accused him of making a move on her and he was thrown into prison. Joseph had been the model of integrity in his boss’ house and yet, now he found himself in prison suffering for something that he didn’t even do. Joseph stayed in prison for far too long. He ate bread and water. He wondered if God had forgotten him. Night after night he tossed and turned wondering why all of this was happening to him.
One day Potiphar had a dream that he couldn’t make heads or tails of so he sought counsel. Nobody in the land could interpret the dream, but one of the men remembered Joseph and Potiphar called for him. When Joseph interpreted the dream Potiphar was so impressed that he made Joseph second in command over all of the land.
God provided insight and wisdom for Joseph so that he knew a great famine was going to come over the land in seven short years. Joseph had food stored away in big silos so everyone would have enough to eat during the lean years.
When the famine came, it was so bad that surrounding nations who were suffering came to Egypt to see if they could get some food. Some of the brothers were sent by their father to acquire food for their family. When the boys arrived Joseph recognized them as his brothers. Joseph struggled with what to do. Should he make them suffer the way he had suffered? Should he have them put into prison? Joseph struggled with the decision, he agonized over the decision, but eventually he revealed himself to his brothers and had his entire family moved to Egypt.
The day came when Joseph’s father, Jacob, passed away and the brothers were scared to death that their brother would get his vengeance. When they came to him they said, “Joseph, before daddy died he told us to be sure and tell you not to hold our evil actions against us.” Joseph’s response to his brothers is amazing, he said, “I am not your judge. What you meant for evil, God meant for good to save an entire nation.” What an amazing story!
Sold as a slave by his own brothers. Accused of doing something he never did. Sent to live imprisoned in a dark, damp, dingy dungeon of a prison cell. Is that what you call love? The suffering that Joseph endured is an expression of God’s love? How in the world can you honestly believe that? All that Joseph went through was for far more than Joseph’s good, it was for the good of millions of people who would have suffered and died if God would not have chosen years prior to the famine to act in one man’s life. Joseph’s pain was a nation’s gain. When Joseph saw the entire picture, looking back on what he had gone through he was able to say, “God meant it for good.”
We need to recognize and know that all that God allows in our lives can be used for good when it is given to Him. Joseph was suffering for others’ sin, but God meant it for good. Jesus died for your sin and mine, but God meant for the crushing death of Jesus to be a visible demonstration of His love for all the world.
The Bible says, “God disciplines those He loves.” When you and I sin and God seeks to turn us away from our sins by disciplining us – His discipline is an act of His love. God’s judgment, His discipline, flow from His love. Judgment is not something separate from love. If you convince me that a holy, loving God cannot judge a sinful man or woman, then you will also convince me that He cannot love them. It is central to the quality of love to be antagonistic to that which opposes the one loved.
You see that furious love in every mother. You would be better off wrestling a Grizzly bear than to attack a mother’s child. She may be a nice, responsible woman at any other time, but let her child be threatened and watch her fury rise.
Whenever you go through tough times and you are wondering if God has forgotten you, if God has failed you, then remember at that time that His love for you was settled on a hill called Calvary. Our circumstances may look grim at the moment, but God is not finished writing His letter of love upon your heart and in your life.
I was caught off guard this past week as I was studying this section of Scripture from 1 John. The Lord brought to mind an experience I had about two or three years ago while I was at a monastery in St. Meinrads in Indiana. During my three days there I had the opportunity to spend twenty-four hours in silence, alone in my room with only my Bible. It was one of the most incredible times of worship, prayer, and fellowship with the Lord that I have ever experienced. At sometime during the silence I was praying when I was overwhelmed with such a deep sense of my love for the Lord. I began to tell Him how much I loved him, pouring my heart out before Him. During this time of singing and verbalizing my love for the Lord He spoke to my heart and said, “Mike, don’t be nearly as impressed by your love for Me as you are by My love for you.” It was a great lesson for me as it is so easy for us to take our focus off of Him and place it upon ourselves.
This week I was reminded of that experience when I read John’s words that ring out with such profound truth that they should humble us beyond measure. John writes,
10This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
You want to know what love truly looks like? Don’t store in your heart your greatest expression of love towards God, but focus on His greatest expression of love towards us – the giving of His Son Jesus for our sins.
In verse 11, John writes, 11 “Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” There is an interesting word that John uses in this verse that we need to understand. The Greek word that John uses for “ought” means “owe, ought, must, be bound or obligated.” There are several places where the word is used in the New Testament and it would do us well to take a look to find out the sense of responsibility that is communicated by the word. Listen to these powerful lessons from God’s Word.
1We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. 2Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. (Romans 15:1-2 NIV)
John wrote in chapter 3 of the letter we have been studying about the necessity of our laying down our lives for others by saying,
16This 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. 17If 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? 18Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. (1 John 3:16-18 NIV)
In the very first chapter of John’s letter he writes to his readers and commends the brothers and sisters for welcoming with open arms those that they didn’t even know. John says that they came back and spoke of the love they received from the congregation. John says that these men went out in Jesus’ name and for His mission and therefore we ought to show them hospitality. Listen to John’s words,
5Dear friend, you are faithful in what you are doing for the brothers, even though they are strangers to you. 6They have told the church about your love. You will do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God. 7It was for the sake of the Name that they went out, receiving no help from the pagans. 8We ought therefore to show hospitality to such men so that we may work together for the truth. (3 John 1:5-8 NIV)
The congregations call to love those who came their way had nothing to do with what the men could do for them, if they were Jews or Gentiles, if they could preach or not, how good-looking they were, or whether or not they had anything to offer the church. They were to be received with hospitality and love because of who they represented.
We are to love folks based upon what God has done for us not upon what others can do for us or whether or not they like us. God has loved us so therefore it is imperative that we love others. I can assure you that if we will allow the love of the Lord to take up residence in our lives, rule our every thought and action, then the world will see the power of our Savior. This really should be the most pressing item on our agenda each day – to see others come to know the love and mercy of Christ our Savior.
If we were to give folks an opportunity to list their top ten priorities in life what would they be? Where do you think, “Seeing others come to know Jesus as Lord and Savior” would fall? I doubt that it would make too many lists, but I know that on God’s list of most important items is that the world might be saved, come into a life-giving relationship with Jesus His Son. For many of the people around us the only Jesus they will ever see will be through you and me. They have no intention of ever stepping foot inside of a church. If they are going to come to know grace they will first see His grace evidenced in your life and mine. They are going to come to know the forgiveness of God by first receiving forgiveness from you or me. They are going to see His joy etched on our faces and embedded in our lives when we go through situations that are far from joyous according to the world.
Let me give you an example of the power of selfless love lived out in a person’s life. Miss Thompson is like you and me, she is an ordinary person, but she allowed God’s love to do through her what she could never do by her own power.
Teddy Stallard was an unattractive, unmotivated little boy. He was difficult to like, especially for a schoolteacher who all day long faced his deadpan, expressionless, unfocused stare. Although his fifth grade teacher said she loved all her students, Miss Thompson had to admit that deep down she wasn’t being honest. She didn’t like him, and she even received a certain perverse pleasure in marking his papers with red ink and writing the F’s with a flair.
Her view of him was already distorted by her perspective, but she should have known better. As his teacher, she had his records and she knew more about him than she wanted to admit. His records read like this:
First Grade – Teddy shows promise with his work and attitude, but he has a poor home situation.
Second Grade – Teddy could do better. Mother is seriously ill. He receives little help at home.
Third Grade – Teddy is a good boy but too serious. He is a slow learner. His mother died this year.
Fourth Grade – Teddy is very slow but well behaved. His father shows no interest.
At Christmas, her class all brought her presents in pretty wrappings and gathered around to watch her open them. She was surprised when she received a gift from Teddy. It was crudely wrapped in brown paper loosely held together with tape. When she opened it, out fell a gaudy rhinestone bracelet with half the stones missing and a bottle of cheap perfume. The children began to giggle, but she had enough sense to put on the bracelet and apply some of the perfume on her wrist. She asked the class, “Doesn’t it smell lovely?”
When school was over and the children had left, Teddy had lingered behind. He slowly came over to her desk and said softly, “Miss Thompson, you smell just like my mother. And her bracelet looks real pretty on you too. I’m glad you liked my presents.” When Teddy left, Miss Thompson got down on her knees and asked God to forgive her.
The next day when the children came to school, they were welcomed by a new teacher. Miss Thompson had become a new person. She was no longer just a teacher; she had become an agent of God. She now had a changed perspective. She was now a person committed to loving her children and doing things for them that would live on after her. Because of Miss Thompson’s loving attention, by the end of that school year, Teddy showed dramatic improvement and had caught up with most of the students.
Miss Thompson did not hear from Teddy for a long time, after he left her class. Then one day she received a note that said:
“Dear Miss Thompson:
I wanted you to be the first to know. I will be graduating second in my high school class.
Love, Teddy Stallard.”
Four years later, Miss Thompson received another note. It read:
“Dear Miss Thompson:
They just told me I would be graduating first in my class. I wanted you to be the first to know. The university has not been easy, but I liked it.
Love, Teddy Stallard.”
Finally, Miss Thompson received another note:
“Dear Miss Thompson:
As of today, I am Theodore Stallard, MD. How about that? I wanted you to be the first to know. I am getting married next month, the 27th to be exact. I want you to come and sit where my mother would sit if she were alive. You are the only family I have now; Dad died last year.
Love, Teddy Stallard.”
Miss Thompson went to that wedding. In Teddy’s eyes she deserved to sit where his mother would have sat; she had earned that right. She had done something for Teddy that he could never forget. By a small act of love and kindness, she had changed the course of his life. She had exercised the power of love. She had become an agent of God.
God is calling us this morning to share His love with all people, but the key to our doing this is to first to come to experience God’s love found only in His Son Jesus. Won’t you invite Him in this morning as your Lord and Savior?
1 John 4:7-12