1 Corinthians 3:1-7
1 John 4:11-21
Hate can be a very powerful emotion... a powerful motivator. In fact, many believe hate to be the strongest of all motivators.
Hate fuels rivalries… it creates division and destroys relationships. Hate motivates us to do things, and to say things, we would never normally say or do…
Nations/Monarchs/Presidents have used hate to motivate entire groups of people to fight against other groups in order to achieve, and/or hold, power. In fact, the powerful of the world seem to always be trying to manipulate and take full advantage of our willingness hate one another.
Just look no further than American politics. It’s not enough to simply disagree with people on the other side of the aisle (so to speak), in today’s world one is encouraged to hate the other side... to disrupt... to “get in the face” and attack the personal, private lives of opponents.
Look at comments on social media regarding everything from politics to sports. People are crazy. And unseen keyboard warriors (hiding in the shadows of anonymity), don’t mind spreading hate and division.
It all begs the question, how can you and I, as people of faith… as people who follow Christ, as people who profess that “God is love”… How can we be a people of love, in a world that’s filled with hate? How can we follow the ways of Christ in spite of the ways of this world?
Of course, most of the time, we don’t like the answer... Jesus calls us to pray for those who persecute us… to love our enemies… to forgive those who are bent and determined to ridicule and oppose us. He even prayed for the forgiveness of those who crucified him. And he calls us to no less. It’s a tall order for sure!
Did you notice that John uses the word love some 18 times in our scripture lesson for today… But he only uses the word hate, once. But the reason he uses the word “love” so much is because of the power of the word “hate”!
Of course, it’s pretty clear that there was a problem in the early church (and I’d argue that problem remains). Groups with differing ideas and ideologies had already formed. And everyone thought they were right! So much so, there were obviously individuals within the church… Followers of Christ… who were struggling with loving those with contrary opinions.
In other words, there were some who had grown to hate their brothers and sisters… It’s why John says, “anyone who claims to love God, but hates his brother is a (…what?), a liar!” Those are pretty strong words, spoken in response to a pretty serious problem.
The apostle Paul, addressed pretty much the same issue… The division that leads to hatred… In first Corinthians: by saying, “there is jealousy and quarreling among you” and that such people are still worldly… They’re still in and of this world, instead of following the ways of Christ. One person says “I follow Paul” another says “I follow Apollos” - some say “I’m Baptist”, others “I’m a Presbyterian”… Some say I’m a Democrat… some say I’m a Republican… Division. That can quickly lead to jealousy and hatred.
Of course, anytime groups of people gather together, there’s bound to be some jealousy… And occasionally that jealousy leads to hate, or at least a failure to love.
And listen: it’s not that our opinions, our beliefs, our persuasions are NOT important. I have very strong political leanings and opinions, trust me! It’s that following Christ, and being obedient to his Word, is more important than my opinions and leanings.
And that’s why John focuses so much on Gods love… and what it means for God to love us and for us to love God. Because it reflects and projects our love for one another. John says we’re to focus on God‘s love above all else… while acknowledging, that we’re called to love because God loves us, first and most! In verse 11, John says, “since God loved us we ought to love one another.” In verse 19, he says, “we love because he first loved us.“
Yeah, I don’t know about you, but I do know about me! And I need to be reminded of these words, regularly. I need to hear this over and over again. We love because he first loved us... and since God loved us we ought to love one another. We can’t hear that enough, can we?
It is so easy, to allow ourselves, to fall into the trap of hate, and hatred. Especially when it’s so socially acceptable... or when we encounter other people who point out our flaws, with no regard for their own. Or when they speak ill of us… Or they strike out against us with words and actions that break fellowship, and caused division. The very human side of us… That we all must confront… and that the very best of us struggle with, daily... is bound to rear its head from time to time.
It’s the old story from Genesis of Cain and Abel. Cain… filled with hatred and jealousy… strikes out at Abel, because he viewed God being more generous, more responsive, more appreciative of Able’s sacrifice than his own. And Cain received God‘s wrath in return.
So the question naturally becomes, “how can you and I overcome the very human nature to hate and respond hatefully, that seems so deeply ingrained in who we are?”
Two words. Unconditional love. God‘s love for us. As I mentioned earlier... 18 times, John uses the word love. And the Greek word that’s translated “love” - is actually agape. It’s a self-sacrificing, unconditional form of love… that may even be unreturned love. It’s been said that the only true love is sacrificial… The kind of love that Jesus showed on the cross for you and for me… a love that’s willing to give and possibly give all… in favor of another.
I would argue that you and I can’t love like that alone. We need God‘s help. We need God‘s presence, God‘s power and spirit in order to love as Christ.
But I’ll also remind all of us, that we’ve never been called to do this alone. Christ is always with us. It’s Jesus himself who enables us to live the life of Love that God wants us to live... desires for us to live, died for us to live.
And it’s Gods spirit… In the form of the Holy Spirit… That enables us to know, and to show, the same love that God offers us.
God’s love for us is an everlasting love; an eternal love; a love that cannot be broken. There’s not height, nor depth, nor anything is all of creation that can separate us from God’s love in Christ.
Our love for God is proven by our willingness to obey... to live out our calling in obedience to God’s will.
And our love for others is shown by our Holy Spirit empowered willingness to sacrifice our own desires, and wants, and maybe even our opinions, in deference to others.
Keeping our eyes on Jesus, who sacrificed his all, his very life... because of His love for you and me.