Sermon on Mai 22, 2022
Andreas Latossek, Kirche am Bahnhof
Real or Fake – Touchstone 2: Love of neighbor
This sermon is translated from German into English. You can find the original video here
Today part 4 of our series on the 1st letter of John, where people in Ephesus were so confused in their faith by false teachings and teachers that they no longer knew what to believe in and whether what they had was really faith.
This letter is highly topical and so important for us because there are so many different teachings today and many of them were exactly the same back then.
In the congregation in Ephesus, where John wrote his letter, the question was, as it is today, whether Jesus really is God, whether he really was a man and whether he actually died on the cross for our sins and rose again.
And we have seen what John writes about false doctrine where they proclaim another Jesus, another gospel, in another spirit and how he encourages believers to hold fast to Jesus as the way, the truth and the life and in closer to live in connection with him.
Because belief in Jesus is more than a decision for a correct teaching, but in the Christian faith it is about a person I follow and trust. It’s about listening to Jesus, letting Him change me, living in friendship with Him and doing what He says.
Johannes writes that this can be seen at three points, which we can use to examine the lives of other people, but where we can also ask ourselves: are we on the right path.
The first touchstone was dealing with sin and obedience. Because God is light, we should also live in the light, and whoever trusts in God takes him seriously and listens to him.
We cannot live sinless, but we can always go to Jesus with our guilt and then he forgives and cleanses us and when we live in close connection with him, then his Holy Spirit changes us and that becomes visible.
The second and third touchstones are related to God’s great love, about which Volker Aßmann preached last Sunday:
Love of neighbor and love of God or the world.
Because the two topics are so closely related, I would like to start again from last Sunday:
1. God is love and he loves man
My friends, let us love one another because love has its source in God, and whoever loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love has not known God; because God is love.
And God’s love for us became visible in the fact that God sent his only son into the world to give us life through him. That is the foundation of love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. My friends, since God loved us so much, we also have an obligation to love one another.
The question that moves many of us humans is:
Am I loved just as I am, with everything that belongs to me.
We look for this love in many places, in other people, in changing partners. And at the same time we are afraid if someone would look behind the facade: would they still love me? Am I loved without having to do anything, so without any achievement? So loved unconditionally?
Some also harden their hearts because they have been disappointed, and then they say that there can be no such love. But deep down we long for it.
Infinite love and unconditional love are not that common in our world.
But, and this is the central message of the Bible: God is love.
So not: God has love, and now he just doesn’t have it, or not for you. No, God is love .
You can’t stop God from loving you. You can close your heart to him, but you can’t make him not love you
That’s his nature, he’s always been like that and he always will be like that. And when you’re looking for love, you’re looking deeply for God, whether you know it or not.
This is what love consists of: not that we loved God, that is, not that we had done anything in advance, but that he loved us. Because he is love.
This love is not sentimental.
Now you can ask where this becomes practical:
He sent us His Son, Jesus Christ, who took all guilt upon Himself to absolve us of our guilt. Who gave his own life for us.
When Jesus lived on this earth, this great love became visible to the people around him.
The Bible reports that, and for us today it becomes practical, tangible, tangible on the cross.
And when we celebrate communion together afterwards, that is a sign of this love, which we can each time be aware of what that meant for Jesus:
Leaving all the glory in heaven to come to the misery of our world, and then not only that but to be mocked and tormented and even killed by the people.
And he did it out of love for me and for you!
Maybe you’ve never seen it that way, but today God wants to express his love to you.
But now this great love leads to misunderstandings and false teachings through all times and especially today.
Where people say: The main thing is love, and in what form it doesn’t matter. Sin and guilt, that’s not so important, we are loved by God. And ultimately we will all go to heaven because God loves us. Something else doesn’t go with it. And the whole Old Testament is somehow so different, God is so different there. That doesn’t go together, that must be another god, so let’s leave that out.
You know, God is love
But it doesn’t say that God is only love.
We have already read in the letter of John:
- god is light
- Elsewhere it says: God is a consuming fire.
- God is just.
John wrote that Jesus died for our sins.
- Because God takes sin very seriously.
- Because he is holy.
- Because he doesn’t let five be straight.
We want that justice. But it costs Jesus’ life instead of us.
That’s God’s way. He pays himself. Because he loves us so much.
God’s holiness, his righteousness and the fact that we have a problem, that is what becomes so clear in the Old Testament and is therefore so important.
And at the same time, God’s love is so often evident in how well he leads people.
As our Creator, He knows how life works, what is good for us and what is harmful to us. And sin almost always has an impact on others, not just on ourselves. And that’s why God sets limits.
John writes this letter and he encourages the believers on their way and turns against heretics,
I wrote you these things to assure you that you have eternal life; you believe in Jesus as the Son of God.
that you have eternal life. That you really arrive at your goal after this life.
He didn’t have to write that at all if nothing matters and everyone goes to heaven anyway.
But who has eternal life:
You believe in Jesus as the Son of God.
And we’ve already talked about what faith means, accepting the forgiveness of my sins that Jesus brought about on the cross and reconciliation with God and then that behind the word faith in Greek there is always the meaning of trust and trust is about a relationship that to live, to take God seriously, to listen to him and then also to do what he says.
Love therefore also means confronting people with the truth, but in love.
If one of my children were to play on the train tracks here at the station, I would go there and forbid it or, if it doesn’t listen, perhaps especially with smaller children, simply take it away. And probably none of you would say: But you are a bad dad.
Why am I doing this?
i do it for love Because I know that a train is coming soon and that my child may not live much longer. It’s not love if I just let it play on and run to its doom.
And that’s why God confronts us sometimes, and we see that in the life of Jesus, how he deals with people, and sometimes that seems pretty harsh.
But that’s only because in his love he wants to protect people from running to ruin, from not arriving at this goal, eternal life in God’s presence.
We see this, for example, in Matthew 19 of a rich young man who had this very question:
What do I have to do to get eternal life?
And it says that Jesus looked at him and loved him.
There is that love again that moves Jesus in everything.
And then he challenges the young man and says sell everything you have and follow me.
Not because wealth is a bad thing per se, but because he realizes that this young man has his heart set on it and that he is on the wrong track, that money will not make him happy. Jesus looks at him and falls in love with him, and that is why he wants to give him freedom.
And that also applies to you!
Jesus looks at you with love. But maybe he will confront you too.
- With guilt.
- With bad behavior.
- With something your heart is set on
With, I don’t know what. He also confronts you with it, even though you may have lived with him for a long time. That doesn’t mean that you’ve already let God touch everything. He wants to give you freedom and life and a relationship with him.
do you let him go
God is love and he loves man.
But love and truth always belong together, and this is important, also in relation to the touchstone of love for one’s neighbor.
My friends, since God loved us so much, we too are obligated to love one another, so John ends the passage we just looked at together.
2. Love of neighbor is a commandment.
Dear ones, I am not writing you a new commandment, but the old commandment that you had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word you heard. And yet I write to you a new commandment, true in him and in you; for the darkness is passing away and the true light is shining now. Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. He who loves his brother stays in the light, and there is nothing offensive in him (in the sense of sin that causes someone else to fall because I love him, and I don’t blame myself because I love as God does it wants). But whoever hates his brother is in darkness and walks in darkness and does not know where he is going; for the darkness has blinded his eyes.
John writes something about an old commandment, not a new one, and then a new one.
We’ll see what he means by that a chapter later
Because that’s what the message you’ve heard from the beginning is about: we are to love one another. We must not be like Cain , who came from the evil one, the devil, and murdered his own brother. And why did he murder him? Because he saw his brother doing what was right while he himself was doing evil. So don’t be surprised, dear brothers and sisters, if the world hates you. For the world has fallen into death. But we have taken the step from death to life; we know it because we love our brothers and sisters. Those who do not love remain in the power of death. Anyone who hates his brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life; the life that God gives us is not in him.
So, the commandment is what was there from the beginning, what God also gave in the Old Testament as a summary of all commandments: We should love God and our neighbor as ourselves.
This is the greatest commandment, the double commandment of love. Jesus takes up this commandment in the New Testament. So it’s not new. But why is it new?
I now give you a new commandment: You shall love one another! Just as I have loved you, so shall you love one another! By your love for one another everyone will know that you are my disciples .”
The commandment is old and new at the same time, because we see especially in the Sermon on the Mount, and we dealt with that in detail last year, how the people of that time lived this commandment and how Jesus understood it and filled it completely differently.
The fact that even the way of speaking has something to do with love and that an insult falls under the fact: “You shall not kill” because something inside the other person breaks and we do not treat him as a person loved by God.
That we should not only love our friends and the people with whom we get along well, but even our enemies who annoy us, who challenge us, who may even do us harm, that is a completely new quality that this commandment of the charity there at once gets.
So old and yet new at the same time. And we see that love for our neighbor begins with those who are closest to us, our family, our fellow believers with whom we are connected through God, but then it also includes all people, even the enemy.
So while we still have time, we want to do good to all people, especially those who are connected to us through faith.
So a special focus on the brothers and sisters in faith, but then also on everyone else.
And when Jesus gives us a commandment, it shows:
Love is first and foremost a matter of will and not of feeling, and that is so completely different from how our society understands and lives. I can choose to love the other.
We’ll see what that means in a moment. But first, let’s make it clear: charity is a commandment
We now have no more excuses in the interpersonal area.
God allows no excuses.
3. The ability to love one’s neighbor comes from within and from God
We just read that we are not to be like Cain .
Cain and Abel, a story from the very beginning of mankind. Both bring a sacrifice, one accepts God, from Abel, that from Cain not, whereupon he becomes angry and jealous and although God warns him, tries to correct in love, he kills his brother Abel.
We see with Cain that God is not concerned with sacrifices but with our hearts. Cain made a sacrifice to God, but it didn’t come from the heart, so God didn’t accept it.
And you can make any number of sacrifices in your life to impress God, to please Him, to hope for something in return, or whatever, but we cannot bribe God. Nor can we hide from him what is in us.
When God speaks to Cain for bringing out what is in his heart, Cain does not repent, instead we see jealousy, offended vanity, anger, followed by murder, lying, and hiding from God.
But it all starts with a pious show. And that’s dangerous. We can impress people, but not God. And we can’t produce love by ourselves either, maybe for a short time, but not permanently. And who does not love, writes John, it is like what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, he is like a murderer.
We notice: We need a change from within that doesn’t just appear superficially.
And that’s what God is interested in, your heart.
My friends, let us love one another because love has its source in God, and whoever loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love has not known God; because God is love.
My friends, since God loved us so much, we also have an obligation to love one another. Nobody has ever seen him himself. But when we love one another, he lives in us, and his love has renewed us from the ground up
The love with which we are to love comes from God because he is love.
And we can love because, on the one hand, we are newly born:
When we were converted, we experienced a divine rebirth. Receiving the Holy Spirit enabled us to love for God.
Paul writes to us in Romans that “the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Romans 5:5).
We carry God’s essence within us and God is love.
And on the other hand: whoever loves knows God.
This again means knowing what I already explained two weeks ago. Adam recognized Eve and 9 months later they had a child. But this is not about a sexual level, the Bible uses this word ‘to know’ for an intense relationship.
That means: who knows God, who lives in an intensive relationship with him, loves.
This is like a channel through which God’s love then flows to us and changes us from within. God shapes my character and you can see him in me, because a fruit of the spirit from Galatians is love.
That is why John writes: No one has ever seen God. But if we live love, then you can see it in us. And from the love of the disciples for one another, as we heard earlier from the Gospel of John, one can see that we belong to Jesus.
So not only does God give us a command to love, which we would not be able to fulfill on our own, but through our devotion to him and our connection with him we also have all the prerequisites for loving him and our fellow human beings.
That is why John then continues to write.
We love because he first loved us. If someone says, “I love God !” but hates his brother or sister, he is a liar. For if a man does not love those whom he sees – his brothers and sisters – he cannot love God whom he does not see. Remember the commandment that God gave us: Whoever loves God is obliged to love one’s brothers and sisters as well.
4. Love of neighbor is a measure of my love of God
He who does not love his neighbor cannot love God.
This is what John writes. It doesn’t work because it doesn’t go together.
It is a sign of true faith that you have truly turned from a life without God and are now living with Him and aligning yourself with Him that His love will transform you. If there is no love, then you have no connection with God.
That’s pretty blatant, we have to let it work that way first.
That doesn’t mean that maybe you’re just starting out and that the fruit of love has yet to grow and anyway none of us will ever get through it.
But it will then increase visibly. And that doesn’t mean that I don’t even behave unlovingly.
If someone hates their neighbor, translated a sentence further with: does not love, then this means: my inner attitude, my thoughts up to my behavior, a permanent state and not the selective loveless thinking, speaking, behavior, which we always do in everyday life happened again.
With this I can, because in Jesus’ eyes it is guilt that I am taking upon myself, go to God, confess it, be forgiven and also ask the others for forgiveness.
When we celebrate communion right away, it is not only a sign of God’s love for us, but also of togetherness, that we belong together, are one body, as the Bible says.
This is so important to God that he says in this connection that as far as possible, if there is something between us and someone else, we go first, sort it out, straighten out the relationship, before we partake of communion.
But sometimes that also takes time and it can be that there are injuries that hurt at first and you distance yourself at first and prefer not to work together, like with Paul and Barnabas.
That means, however, that one has a fundamental longing to love the other and to clarify that, and they both did that after a while and maybe that is also an opportunity for us this morning to offer our hearts to Jesus and tell him , how little love there is sometimes, that he should change us and should help if we decide to love, then to live.
In this sense, I can learn to love precisely in dealing with my fellow believers, precisely where the other person is not behaving kindly, by asking God for help and by choosing to love.
- And so my love is a measure of my love of God.
What does that look like in practice?
5. Charity practical
We recognized what love is from what Jesus did: He gave his life for us. Therefore, we too must be willing to give our lives for our brothers and sisters. Suppose a person who has all the necessities of life sees his brother or sister in need. If he now closes himself off from them and has no mercy on them, how can God’s love remain in him? My children, our love must not be exhausted in words and fine speeches; it must be shown to be real and true through our actions.
Charity starts from within, from the thoughts I have about others.
If I think badly of someone, or maybe even a whole group of people, I’ll have a hard time treating them well.
Charity continues in our words, in what we say, how we talk about someone, and how we talk to someone.
Bitterness, short temper, anger, angry shouting and slanderous or blasphemous speech have no place with you, nor any other form of malice. Rather, be kind to one another, be compassionate, and forgive one another, just as God forgave you through Christ.
Encourage others and promote their faith.
Speaking the truth to one another, but in love , Paul writes directly beforehand. And this is where what I said at the beginning comes into play, that it is not love to let the other person run into his downfall, but to point out grievances to him, but in love.
- to listen carefully to the other, to want to understand him, because so many misunderstandings arise in communication.
- Finding good compromises while respecting others more than ourselves, as in
is called Philippians
For me, not letting others run into ruin also means seeing my unbelieving fellow human beings with God’s eyes.
Your loss won’t let go of me. Rather, she drives me to exhaust all possibilities to tell them the good news, the glad news of Jesus and his love.
Bear one another’s burdens , Galatians 6:2
Because we are all one body and when one part suffers, all suffer. Bearing burdens both in prayer for one another and practically, as John writes.
And there are so many more Scriptures that love is that we could look at.
But the most important thing is what John writes, it’s not just words that we study or say, but love is shown to be real and true by our actions.
I’m thinking of the good Samaritan, where a Pharisee wanted to talk his way out of it by asking who is my neighbor anyway.
And Jesus makes it clear to him that it is the people that God puts at your feet. Whether friend or foe or stranger.
We can’t save the whole world, but we can help and love the people around us with our possibilities and not just do the bare minimum.
The Samaritan took the injured man to a hostel, paid two days’ wages and promised to pay later if more was needed, even though he had never seen the man before. But it was the pious who passed by.
And that is exactly what God often complains about in the Old Testament through the prophets, that the pious celebrate their beautiful services, but trample on justice and do not practically help the poor.
We should be merciful, that means to have mercy, to suffer, to give loving attention, to help as it is needed. To do this, we have to look like the good Samaritan and not close our eyes, but go there, allow ourselves to be stopped from time to time, allow ourselves to be interrupted in our busy schedule. Looking away from us towards the others.
Serve others, help them in their need in a very practical way, even to the extent that I am willing to give my own life for the other.
Just like Jesus did. That’s a stark benchmark.
Is it this love that lives in us?
I believe that when we test ourselves against this standard, we can always reach out to Jesus and pray: fill me with your love, give me your eyes for my neighbor and help me to love him as you do .
And we want to do that now with two songs before we celebrate communion together.
The hallmark of a disciple of Jesus is love for those around them, first for their fellow believers and then for everyone else.
To claim that one loves God but does not love one’s neighbor is contradictory.
But because God lives in us with his love, we can choose to love our neighbor and have the ability to do so