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Love in Truth and Action: How Do We love?

Text: 1 John 3:16-18

Dr  Alex Tang

Summary

We love by opening our eyes to the needs of the world around (giving-action), by opening our hands  and getting them dirty in helping others (action-action) and by opening our hearts to love as Jesus loves (faith-action).

 

Text (NIV)

    1JN 3:16 This 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. 17 If 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? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.

 

Introduction

Not long before his death, Martin Luther King Jr. spoke to the congregation at Atlanta's Ebenezer Baptist Church: “If any of you are around when I have to meet my day, I don't want a long funeral. And if you get somebody to deliver the eulogy, tell them not to talk too long. Every now and then I wonder what I want them to say. Tell them not to mention that I have a Nobel Peace Prize; that isn't important. Tell them not to mention that I have three or four hundred other awards; that's not important. Tell them not to mention where I went to school. I'd like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King Jr. tried to love somebody”.[1]

 

At the age of thirty-five, Martin Luther King, Jr., was the youngest man to have received the Nobel Peace Prize. When notified of his selection, he announced that he would turn over the prize money of $54,123 to the furtherance of the civil rights movement. On the evening of April 4, 1968, while standing on the balcony of his motel room in Memphis, Tennessee, where he was to lead a protest march in sympathy with striking garbage workers of that city, he was assassinated.[2]

 

I would consider Martin Luther King, Jr to be one of the great leaders in American history. It is men like him who influenced the American public to discover that there is a great need to look after the poor and the exploited. Thus the civil rights movement was formed which led to reforms in the United States. I love his ‘I have a dream’ sermon. We know that the motivation behind Martin Luther King, Jr’s mission and sacrifice is love.  Love is not a feeling. Love is not valentine day. Love is action. Love is doing something for someone.

 

John, ‘the beloved disciple’ understood love very well. He was with Jesus in the whole 3 years of His ministry. He travelled with Jesus all around the Sea of Galilee and in Jerusalem. He has seen first hand how Jesus loved. Jesus loved us unto His death and beyond. So here in 1 Jn 16-18, John teaches us how to love.

 

1.      Open your eyes (1 Jn 3:16,17)

v.17 If 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?

 

To love, we have first to open our eyes to the needs of the world around. With modern technology, news comes to us very fast. Sometimes too fast and too much information.  We get information and sensory overload. On our living room television screens, we are able to see real time footage of disasters with broken bodies, damaged homes and damaged community. We get overwhelmed by these images. Tsunamis, earthquakes, hurricanes and wars and the list of human suffering goes on and on. We begin to suffer from compassion fatigue. We wonder what we can do to help the suffering. Is there anything we can do will make a difference given the magnitude of the problem?

 

In the fifth century, a monk named Telemachus wanted to live his life in pursuit of God, so he lived alone in the desert praying, fasting, and meditating. One day as he prayed, he realized his life was based on a selfish love of God, not selfless. If he were to serve God, he must serve men. He decided to return to the city where there was sin and need.

 

Telemachus headed for Rome. He arrived at a time when the Roman general, Stillcho, had won a great victory over the Goths. Since Rome was officially Christian, triumph brought people pouring into the churches. But one pagan practice still lingered in Christian Rome—the gladiator games. While Christians were not thrown to the lions, prisoners of war were cast into the arena to fight and kill each other. Spectators roared with blood lust as the gladiators battled.

 

Telemachus arrived on the day of the games. Following the noise, he made his way to the arena where 80,000 people had gathered to celebrate. The fights began and Telemachus stood aghast. Men for whom Christ had died were about to kill each other to amuse a supposedly Christian populace. He jumped into the arena and stood between the two gladiators, imploring them to stop. The crowd was furious at the delay of their "entertainment," and after several shouts and threats, it stoned the monk to death. The rest of the contests were cancelled that day. Three days later, Honorius (the Roman Emperor) declared Telemachus a martyr and ended the gladiatorial contests. Historian Edward Gibbon observed the following about Telemachus: "His death was more useful to mankind than his life."[3]

 

Open your eyes and seek the needs of the world. Then do whatever you can. God does not expect us to do more than we can. How do we eat any elephant? A piece at a time. So we are to help people in whatever ways that we can. If you have money and you see someone in financial needs, give him or her some of yours. No interest. No loan. Just a love-offering. I wonder how many of us have actually given money with no strings attached. Without expectation of seeing the money again, of receiving the undying gratitude or feeling ‘good’ ourselves? Love is giving-action.

 

2.      Open your hands (1 Jn 3:16,18)

v. 16 This 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.

v. 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.

 

John also teaches that love is action-love. Action-love means opening our hands and getting them dirty. Love is not just words only. ‘I love you, brother and I shall pray for you’. I do not know how many of us really pray for the person. I may be wrong but I think that is a pious way of saying, “I would like to help you but I won’t or I can’t.”

 “I love you as a sister but I’ll get back to you on this.” Unfortunately, this is another way of saying, “I can’t help you. I will not call you back and hope you will forget this conversation.” Love is opening you cheque book and writing out a cheque. Love is going to the person’s house and help out with your hands. Love is getting personally involved. This love is action-action.

 

The movie, Armageddon tells the story of a last ditch effort to stop a massive asteroid from colliding with Earth. The only hope is to split the asteroid so both halves veer away from the planet. An unlikely crew of military experts and oil drillers land a space shuttle on the asteroid, drill into its center, and drop a nuclear bomb in the hole. To save the rest of the crew, Harry Stamper (Bruce Willis) chooses to stay behind on the asteroid to make sure the bomb detonates. Just before the ship leaves, he takes a final moment to speak to his beloved daughter, Grace, back at the command center in Houston. With tears in her eyes, she tells him, "Everything good I have inside of me I have from you. I love you so much. I am so proud of you. And I'm so scared." "There won't be anything to be scared of soon," he assures her. After the talk with his daughter, Harry heads out onto the asteroid to save the planet. Fighting the shifting rocks and unstable ground, Harry struggles to hold the detonator as the shuttle launches into space. When the shuttle is finally away Harry whispers, "We win, Gracie," and then he pushes the button. For a brief, powerful moment, images flash across the screen of Harry's great love for his daughter “from when she was a little girl laughing with him on a swing, up until she's radiant and dressed in white on her wedding day.” A split second later, the asteroid erupts, fractures in two, and careens clear of Earth as the crowds below cheer.[4]

 

Not all of us will be called to sacrifice our lives for others. But we are called to act for others out of love. Jesus chose the cross out of love to free us from danger and from fear. Jesus looked into the future and saw us, the Bride of Christ, radiant on that day we would meet him and, as it says in Hebrews, for the joy set before him he endured the cross.

3. Open your mind (1 Jn 3:16, 18)

v. 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.

v. 16 This 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.

What is this truth that is the basis of our love? The basis of our love is in v.16. Jesus died for us. This is faith-action love.

Katie Funk Wiebe wrote, “As I contemplate the cross, I grasp that its wonder is not in its appearance, but in the Superglue of love that took Christ to the cross and held him there”.[5] 

 

Jesus’ death on the cross and his resurrection empowers us to love. Eugene Peterson, Professor Emeritus of Spiritual Theology of Regent College in Vancouver, in his latest book, Living The Resurrection (2005, Navpress) reflects on three aspect of the Risen Christ in everyday life:

  • Resurrection Wonder as the central focus of our life in Christ.
  • Resurrection Meals as the invitation to spiritual formation in our most common daily experiences.
  • Resurrection Friends as the intimate fellowship in whose midst the risen Jesus makes His joyful home.

It is this power of the resurrection that empowers us to have faith-action love. If we love by giving-action and action-action alone, we shall run dry and burn out. It is the faith-action that sustains us and keep us loving in the long run.

 

Closing remarks

To love others is not easy. We love by opening our eyes to the needs of the world around, by opening our hands (giving-action) and getting them dirty in helping others (action-action) and by opening our hearts to love as Jesus loves (faith-action).

 

C. S. Lewis said, "To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements...It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable ...The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers of love ... is Hell."

 

                                                                                                                                                                             Soli Deo Gloria

 


 

[1] William Willimon, Pastor: The Theology and Practice of Ordained Ministry, (Abingdon Press, 2002), p. 53

[2] http://nobelprize.org/peace/laureates/1964/king-bio.html

[3] Nancy Hardin in “On Target,”  William Barclay, The Gospel of Mark

[4] Armageddon (Touchstone, 1998); directed by Michael Bay, written by Robert Pool and Jonathan Hensleigh

[5] Katie Funk Wiebe in The Christian Leader (Feb. 1995). Christianity Today, Vol. 40, no. 4.

               

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