1 John 4:7-21
7Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. 10In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. 12No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us. 13By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.
14And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world. 15God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God. 16So we have known and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.
17Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. 18There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. 19We love because he first loved us. 20Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. 21The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.
While on a road trip, an elderly couple stopped at a roadside restaurant for lunch. After finishing their meal, they left the restaurant and resumed their trip. When leaving, the elderly woman unknowingly left her glasses on the table and she didn’t miss them until they had been driving about twenty minutes. By then, to add to the aggravation, they had to travel quite a distance before they could find a place to turn around in order to return to the restaurant to retrieve her glasses.
All the way back, the elderly husband became the classic grouchy old man. He fussed and complained and scolded his wife relentlessly during the entire return drive. The more he chided her the more agitated he became. He just wouldn’t let up one minute. To her relief, they finally arrived at the restaurant. As the woman got out of the car and hurried inside to retrieve her glasses, the old geezer yelled to her, “While you’re in there, you might as well get my hat and the credit card.”
I tell this joke about growing older because I recently turned thirty years old. It was a difficult age to turn. I didn’t feel any different on the morning of December 29th than I had the evening of December 28th, but that number that reveals to the world how many trips I have taken around this earth changed. No longer was I in my twenties. My wife was smart enough to know that I didn’t want to make a big deal over my thirtieth birthday, even though she wouldn’t let it go by unnoticed. My parents made the trip from Ohio and surprised me, and it wonderful to see them. And it also reinforced the fact that this birthday was indeed a big one.
It is safe to say that things have changed with my body over the years. My hairline has receded and my waistline has expanded. The joints creek and muscles hurt. I am in every way thirty and I am trying to embrace my age.
But why do we fear these big changes in our lives? Why is thirty, forty, fifty and so on scary to us? Why do we fear hitting these milestones in our lives? I remember when I was just a little guy being excited about turning five. Then, when people asked me how old I was, I could simply hold up one hand will all of my fingers extended. Ten meant that I had witnessed a full decade on this earth. Sixteen meant I could drive, eighteen meant I could vote, buy handguns, tobacco, and lottery tickets. Twenty-one meant that I could buy alcohol. But after twenty-one, most people stop counting their birthdays. Instead, we begin to fear them.
I think this is because our society glorifies youth, beauty, and independence. Look at most of the ads on television or in newspapers and magazines, and what do you see? Unless that ad is specifically targeting an older demographic, you will see people in their early twenties. And these ads are promising us that if only you will purchase whatever they are trying to sell, you too will become young, beautiful and independent. That’s why I use Nivea for Men!
No wonder we fear growing older. Once we hit thirty, our society tells us that we have less worth than we did only a few short years ago. That is why people spend thousands of dollars on cosmetic surgery. We are afraid that, no we know that when we lose our youth, beauty, and independence, that the rest of our society looks at us as if we are not worth as much as we were when we were in our twenties.
How diametrically opposed is this to the teaching of Jesus! I love the way that pastor Greg Boyd puts it when he says that God has ascribed to us unsurpassable worth. It doesn’t matter how old you are, it doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor, tall or short, thin or chubby, smart or not so smart, God says that you are worth more to him than you can even begin to imagine.
In our scripture for this morning, John writes “7Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him.”
God is love. Not God has love, or God is able to love, or God loves sometimes. Love is the material of which God is made up of. God is comprised of love. And God made love known to us by sending his only Son to the earth so that we might live through him. God has ascribed to us unsurpassable worth. We are worth so much that God came to this earth for us, to give us a new life that will continue throughout eternity.
We start to notice a theme of love coming from the writings of John. In his gospel John writes in chapter 15:12-13 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” God has ascribed to us unsurpassable worth and we are to do the same to others. As God has loved us, we are to love one another. And then John goes on to say something really quite radical. He says that the greatest way to express your love is by laying down your life for someone else.
Now I have always read this scripture as saying that there is no greater love than to be willing to die for someone else. And I do believe that is true and that many of the early apostles and early Anabaptists gave the ultimate sacrifice by laying down their lives for Christ just as Christ laid down his life for us. Perhaps there is no greater privilege than being able to die for your Lord or die for your friend. But that is not what this passage is saying.
The reason that this passage is a little difficult to understand is because, like most of the New Testament, this passage was written in Greek. And you may remember that there are a number of Greek words that we translate into the English word love. And in the same way, there are a couple of Greek words that we translate as life. The first one is the word bios.
Bios is where we get the term “Biology” from, which means the study of life. Bios is a reference to the time during which we are alive, from conception to death. The next term is zoe. Zoe is the term that Jesus uses frequently when he refers to eternal life. Zoe is the part of us that lives on even after death. But the word that John is using here when he says about laying down one’s life for another is psuche.
Psuche is related to the word psyche, from which we get the word psychology. A good way to look at psuche is to describe it as your personality. John is saying that there is no greater love than to lay down your personality or your personal preferences for another.
The best example of this laying down your psuche for another that I can think of is found in the love between a mother and a child. Mothers are people and they surely have preferences just like any other human being. But I remember growing up that my mother was always willing to let her children do things that were maybe not consistent with her preferences. For instance, mom would let us listen to the kind of music that we wanted to listen to. My mother liked “Oldies” music. But mom let us choose the music that we wanted to listen to as she chauffeured us around in the brown van. We went through our pop music stage, we went through our rap stage, and we went through our country stage, and mom went through it with us.
I remember when we were trying to get into better shape and mom cooking boneless/skinless chicken breasts and sweet potatoes for us every night for a couple of months. She didn’t do that because she liked chicken breasts that much. She never did care for country music and I doubt that she listens to it all that much today. But she was laying down her preferences and her personality out of love for her children.
Jesus did the same thing. Do you not think that Jesus would have preferred to stay in heaven where there is no pain, no anger, no sorrow, and no tears? Of course! But Jesus laid down that life and his preferences to come to this earth so that we might be given life (zoe) and shown how to live by kingdom ethics. And then Jesus paid the ultimate price by laying down not only his psuche, but also laying down his bios. That is how much Jesus loves us. We have unsurpassable worth in the eyes of our creator. Even after we turn thirty years old.
Well John goes on in our scripture to say in 11 “Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.” Then he says it a little more thoroughly and forcefully at the end of this section of scripture in verses 19-21, “We love because he first loved us. Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.”
You cannot love God without loving others. Just as God has ascribed to us unsurpassable worth, so too must we ascribe to others unsurpassable worth. Unfortunately this is not always the case.
So when you turn thirty in the commonwealth of Virginia, you need to renew your driver’s license. I forgot this and allowed my license to expire. So on my second trip to the DMV with my passport in hand, I took a seat and looked through the book that I had brought along while watching the other folk that had come in to spend their afternoon waiting on their number to be called.
I was particularly drawn to this one family. And I really don’t understand why the entire family went to the DMV that day; I guess it could be seen as a fun family outing. But there they were, dad with his long greasy hair, eighties rock band t-shirt, and I really couldn’t tell which had more holes, his shirt or his pants. Then there was the mother. I’ve got a bit of a redneck side to me, but this lady looked like she was straight out of a movie. And best of all, when she turned around, I saw something that almost made me laugh. She had a Skoal ring in her back pocket. Now that’s a classy lady.
Then I saw the child. He was cute, dressed in his bib overalls. But as I looked at him, I felt sorry for him. I thought to myself, “That poor kid doesn’t have a chance. His parents shouldn’t have ever been allowed to reproduce.”
I grew up on a farm and I enjoyed studying genetics in college. We learned how to select genetically superior animals and mate them to other genetically superior animals so that their offspring would have certain desirable traits. In the beef industry when females are born, the best animals are chosen to be bred to produce the next generation of cattle. The other females are raised for human consumption. It makes good sense in breeding animals. You want your best to come together to produce superior offspring.
Unfortunately this practice has not always stayed within the field of animal genetics. In the human realm we call this practice eugenics. Eugenics is defined as the practice of improving human genetics. And there are a number of ways that this is done. For instance, if someone is born with an inherited physical defect such as hemophilia, that person would not reproduce. The thought process goes like this: only those that have desirable characteristics should have offspring. Then these undesirable characteristics will disappear from humanity.
Eugenics gained a lot of popularity in the late 19th and early 20th century. And our fair city of Staunton has the unfortunate history of being the home to a major proponent of eugenics. As you drive into the city on 250 from the east heading west, just before you come to the Sheets and Lowes you will see a large brick structure on the grounds of the Frontier Culture Museum. This is the former home of the DeJarnette Center, a mental hospital named after Joseph DeJarnette, the former director of what is now know as Western State mental health hospital.
DeJarnette believed in compulsory sterilization of the mentally ill. He had many of his patients rendered sterile against their will so that they could not have children, whether they wanted to or not. DeJarnette was such an advocate of eugenics that once when he was testifying before a committee on the advantages of eugenics for the progression of humankind and they chose to disagree with him, he said something like, “If you don’t see the advantage of eugenics, then perhaps you too should be rendered sterile so that you can’t reproduce.” Thankfully eugenics lost a lot of public support following World War II and the Nazi regime’s attempt to practice eugenics on a large scale.
The reason that eugenics bothers me so much is because when we tell someone that they should not reproduce because their offspring will be inferior, we are not ascribing unsurpassable worth to all people. Instead we are saying that some people are important and some people are not. We want more people like this guy, and less people like you. And when I thought to myself as I sat at the DMV that the couple next to me should not have reproduced, I might have been joking to myself. But I was not ascribing unsurpassable worth to them. I was judging them, and I was judging myself as being better than them. And I felt the need to repent for that as I lay in bed that evening. God ascribes unsurpassable worth to all people, and by definition no person is considered to be any better than another. No life is more important than another.
This is why I take a position of being “consistently pro-life”. I believe that God ascribes unsurpassable worth on the child in the womb and I believe that God ascribes unsurpassable worth to the Afghani soldier. I believe God ascribes unsurpassable worth on the homeless man who needs a medication that he cannot afford and I believe that God ascribes unsurpassable worth to the serial killer sitting on death row. And because God ascribes unsurpassable worth on these people, so must I. As John wrote, “Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars.” And, “those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.”
So as I stand before you today, I am not ashamed to say that I am thirty years old. And perhaps I am not as young, beautiful, or independent as I once was, but I have unsurpassable worth in the eyes of my creator. My Lord chose to lay down his life out of love for me, out of love for you, and out of love for all of the world. Not just for the young, beautiful, and independent. Not just for rich and athletic. But for the people that you see at the DMV, for those that our government tells us we are to hate, for those that hate us. May we ascribe unsurpassable worth to them just as our God has done.