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Mister Roger’s Neighborhood. Last week we began this series by talking about Mister Rogers and his iconic children’s television show—a show in which Mister Rogers taught us all these little ways about being neighborly; about how to be a good neighbor. So frequently you could find topics on Mister Roger’s Neighborhood that both talked about and demonstrated things such as sharing, and being honest, and lending a hand to help out. These are all neighborly activities that—for Mister Rogers—took place right in his immediate neighborhood…or at least that’s how he demonstrated them to take place; that we do things like share, and tell the truth, and lend a hand to help out with the people who live close to us—right next to us, in fact.
So many of these neighborly qualities that Mister Rogers conveyed to children are qualities that also become true when you and I pursue the command of Jesus to love our neighbors. And we began talking about that just last week. So I’m sure that most of us—if not all of us—have heard it said from the Bible or read from the Bible that Jesus summarized the law in the New Testament by saying we ought to love God above all, and love our neighbors. And even though it’s the piece about loving our neighbors that we focus on for this series, we’re going to see over the next two weeks here that this love for God and love for neighbors are inseparably bound together as one.
Quick recap: if you were with us last week hopefully you remember what we left with as step one of loving our neighbors. If you were with us you should be able to tell me what step one loving our neighbors is. If you can’t tell me that, then I’m afraid I didn’t do a very good job last week of explaining it. So who can tell us? […] Learn their names. Last week we said that you cannot convey love for someone if you cannot call them by name. it’s simple, right? No great skill or experience is needed to ask someone what their name is. For some of us it may be a little bit of a skill to remember people’s names; but given that we’re putting so much importance upon this as a critical step in loving our neighbors, I’d say it’s a good skill to learn.
So we took just one step toward loving our neighbors last week by talking about the importance of names. But as I said, we’re also going to see over the next two weeks how loving God and loving our neighbors are bound together as one. So look with me at what the apostle John has to say about this in…
[1 John 4:7-16]
Do you notice the theme here? If you had to pick out just one word from this passage to summarize the theme, can you pick one? I hope it’s obvious. If you’re looking at the outline I provided in the order of worship today it should be even more obvious (because I colored it). That’s right; love. It’s not too hard to figure this one out. This passage is about God’s love for us and our love for others.
And what does John say in this passage about God’s love for us? That he sent his son, Jesus, into the world to be a sacrifice for our sins. This was not something tat God was required or obligated to do. It was something that he selflessly chose to do—that’s what makes it an act of love. God’s act of love is not motivated by any personal advantage or selfish gain—if it was, then it wouldn’t be an act of love. These are the kinds of qualities that God expresses as being love. This is how God teaches us what love is really all about. This is how we know what love is. God reveals it to us by his very nature.
God is love. The apostle John makes this one simple statement. But this one phrase—God is love—carries huge theological importance. We need to stop here for a few minutes and consider together what it means when we say that God is love. We should not move on any further to consider what it means to truly love our neighbors with framing it in the context of God’s love. So let’s think about this.
There are so many things we can say about the connection between God and love. We can say that God is loving—that he demonstrates love as one of his qualities or characteristic. We can say that God helps us to know what love is—that he is a teacher of love from whom we learn what it means to truly love. But neither of these statements fully captures what John is conveying when he says in today’s passage that God is love.
For the apostle John, to say that God is love is to say that perfect love is inseparably tied to absolutely everything that God ever does. In this way it is not enough to simply say that God I loving. Such a statement leaves room for the possibility that there might then be some things that God does that are NOT loving. It’s true us, right? You can I can be loving people—that is, we can have moments in our lives when we show and demonstrate love. But you and I also have moments in life when we do NOT show and demonstrate love. God, on the other hand, always shows and demonstrates perfect love in everything he does. So he is more than a loving God; God is perfect love.
This may be somewhat hard for us to always understand, especially when we consider that God is also perfectly just and perfectly righteous. So his perfect love and mercy holds in balance with his perfect justice and righteousness. We cannot always understand God’s love that way—a love that demands accountability for sin, for violating his perfect holiness. But there are many things about the creator of the universe that are beyond our limited understanding. We go with what the Bible tells us—that God is love. And somewhere inside we know this has to be right. What other explanation could we ever come up with to ever define what love is or explain where love comes from?
So let’s move on and talk then about what it means for us to love our neighbors, in light of God’s love for us. Today’s passage makes it very clear that these things are connected. We want to see and understand this connection because our love for neighbors depends on God’s love for us.