First Love

“By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. We have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world.

Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. We love, because He first loved us.”

1 John 4:13-19

Good morning everybody! I am just so excited to be here and to be sharing the word with all of you this morning. And what a deep and condensed word it is! It’s so deep in fact, that as I was reading it and studying for this week’s sermon, I was a little overwhelmed with the depth in these words and the number of sermons that could be produced from them.

But, this is the sermon that kicks off this year’s theme: “First Love”. I felt like that was a good theme for us this year because of the past 3 years it feels like our focus as been pulled from where it should be. We’ve been focused on COVID, masks, social upheaval, politics, politics again, politics some more, disaffiliation, and all of these things that bleed into our lives and overwhelmingly distract us from where I focus should be: Jesus. He should be our first love because he first loved us.

And there it is. Rooted in verse 19 of this text is the true beauty of the gospel in one short sentence. “We love because He first loved us.” I want to read that one more time because it is such a beautiful and powerful statement and I want y’all to hear every syllable of that verse. “We love BECAUSE HE FIRST LOVED US.”

Now, I’m a bit of a competitive person. I like to win, and I’ll admit that there is a certain part of me that heard this and immediately thought of the birth of my oldest son, Cullen. I thought about that because I remember being so shockingly dumbstruck with love when I saw him for the first time that I actually felt like I finally understood that scene from How the Grinch Stole Christmas where the Grinch’s heart grows 3 sizes and breaks out of the container. See, when my wife was pregnant I was excited about our child, but I was worried that I wouldn’t have the room in my heart to love Cullen the way that I loved my wife. I felt like I loved my wife so much that I would neglect Cullen or resent him for taking up some of my wife’s love. But, in that moment where I was handed him for the first time and I felt the tears roll down my face and I smiled at him, I knew I had been completely wrong the entire time. I knew I was going to love this boy no matter what. That I would love him in all of us glory and in all of his darkness. That he is my son and I love him.

Then, I was sitting there in the hospital room that night holding him while my wife was asleep and I remember thinking about how extraordinary God’s love really is. Because he feels that way about every single person that has ever been, ever is, and ever will be. THAT is incredible when you think about it isn’t it? I mean, these moments of intense love that we get to feel only a few times over the course of our lives God is a part of thousands or millions of times a day.

We know that because in verse 16, John tells us that God IS love. Love would not and cannot exist apart from God. When we are feeling loved by others we are getting small glimpses of God’s love for us and when we tell others we love them, we are showing others that glimpse of God as well.

When we start to think about the love story between us and God we can do exactly what all of us do when we tell the story about our relationships: go back to the beginning. If we look in Genesis through this lens of God’s love for us, we realize that God has loved us since the instant He began the incredible story and process of creation. He did all of this and created all of this so that He could walk with us, his creation. So he could commune with us and so that we would have the opportunity to show him that we loved him back. Then, we see that his love is so perfect that even when we sinned for the first time what was God’ response? He clothed us. He told us the truth of what we had done, and then he clothed us and cared for us. His love is perfect, and he loved us first.

Now, if we go back to verse 13 we start to see that John did this wonderful thing when he was describing God’s love for us because he didn’t just include God the Father in his expression of love for us, but gave us this beautiful, trinitarian scope of God’s love for us rooted in the Spirit. It’s rooted in the spirit because the Spirit was there in the beginning as it moved over the waters and caused them to stir. It came down like a burning fire at Pentecost, and when we breathe our first breaths it enters us in a powerful way and gives us the understand and ability to love because God is with us always. He rests with each and every one of us as the spirit in us, loving us and giving us the ability to love.

In fact, what we are called to do IS love. We are called to love God’s creation and his creations with a God-sized love, but we can’t do that until we first understand the God loves us. We cannot love this world in a God-sized way until we understand that he loved us first.

The Spirit is truly an incredible gift. It’s an incredible gift because it is God with us, because it allows us to view this world with a small amount of God’s infinite wisdom, and because it gives us the understanding of who Jesus is.

At the end of verse 13 and flowing into verse 14, John gives us almost a qualifier of God’s love for us in the gift of the spirit but rolls that effortlessly into what the Spirit allows us to do: see and testify that his Son is the Savior of the world. So the spirit is this two fold gift that not only shows us how much God loves us by residing with us always, BUT it ALSO gives us the ability to acknowledge his ultimate show of love for us: His Son, Jesus Christ.

Jesus was a show of love for us in so many ways. His embodiment of the Word made Flesh was God walking among us again as he had always intended before the Fall. His teachings of who his Father is opened our human eyes to the incredible love his Father has for us. And, his sacrifice not so that he could go back to the father, but so that we would have a way back to the father was the ultimate showing of how beautiful God’s love truly is. But, in 15 there is a call to response to the revelation the Spirit gives us in verse 14.

In verse 15 it says, “If anyone acknowledges that Jesus Christ is the son of God, God lives in them and they in God. So here is where we move from receiving and knowing God’s love to responding to that love. To responding to that love and responding to it accordingly. We aren’t to respond to it and go be happy or respond to it and say thank you. We are to respond to it by acknowledging who Jesus Christ is. That word, “acknowledge” in the Greek is of the root word homologos which means to be of one mind. I like this translation better because when I think of the word “acknowledge” I think of what I do when my kid comes to me with a pouty lip and a small scratch on their hand. It doesn’t hurt, they just want us to acknowledge it. But, when I say that I am to be of one mind with something. I feel like that means I am to truly understand, be in on, and act accordingly to what comes next. In this case, to be of one mind with the knowledge that Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior and he is the Son of God. If I know that and I know that’s who I serve then I know two things.

One, that I am to not only know that he loved me first, but to know that I must make HIM my First Love. Jesus has to come first y’all. He has to come first and he has to be our First Love, and I know that’s hard. I know it’s easy to say and talk is cheap, but we have to understand what we are called to do as Christians and where he is called to in our lives. If he loved us so much that he was willing to do all of this. All of this around us, all that is in us, and all he did for us, then if we know that love we only have one choice as a response: to love him back. To love him back in a way that doesn’t put him below ourselves. To love him back in a way that doesn’t put him below the things of this world. No. We are called to put him first in our hearts and first in our lives and if we aren’t doing that then we need to go back to step one and remember how much God loved us First.

Number two, if we know how much God loves us and we are of one mind that we serve his Son, then we must go into this world and First, Love. Not to first react or first process. No. We are to first, love. Now, that doesn’t mean the we love everything exactly as it is or wants to be because that’s not what Jesus meant or did when we loved. He loved people so much that he wanted them to be able to be their best form of themselves. To experience the only true joy in this world: the joy that comes from God. The truth in that statement is what lends Jesus the ability to offer truth to others, but truth through the lens of love. He didn’t offer it to them with disgust, disdain, or judgement even though he was the one who had the ability to judge. He offered truth to those around him lovingly and with a gentle heart that wanted them to feel how much they are loved by his Father.

I want to take a quick second here and at least acknowledge verses 17 and 18. I want to acknowledge them because they are profound in their hope and their assurance. Because we know who God is and because we acknowledge the Son as our Lord and Savior we are LIKE him in this world. We are like him in that this world is not the end, we are like him in that we are part of the Father’s family, and we are like him because we have inherited eternity through his adoption of us upon the cross. That is a profound statement and assurance and it is an entirely other sermon that we could dive into, but today I really wanted to kick us off talking about getting back to our roots and loving Jesus. By being reminded that He is to be our First Love because He Loved us First.

And, if you’re sitting there still wondering “Does God love me. Can God love me?” Just remember, that when He knit you together in your mother’s womb, the moment you became something in His creation, that his heart expanded with enough room for you. For all of you. Your triumphs and your darkness. Your glory and your sin in its entirety. His love for you was perfect from the beginning, and will be perfect for eternity.

Let’s pray.

About Pastor Payton

Payton splits his time and calling as the Head Pastor at New Hope Methodist Church and Macedonia Methodist Church in Waller, TX. Both churches are members of the Global Methodist Church denomination, and Payton is currently working towards his ordination as a Deacon in the GMC.

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