“We love because he first loved us.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Did you ever have a free period in high school? Personally, I never did. We had a kind of study hall block every other day which probably came pretty close, but being part of the band nerd group, most of us checked in with our actual Home Room teachers and then went immediately to hang out together in the band room where we mostly all sat around doing homework. A real free period, though, gives you the chance to do fairly well whatever you want (within reason, of course). Well, this morning is a bit of a free period for me. I didn’t preach yesterday and so I don’t have a sermon to share. We’ll start a new teaching series next Sunday about which I’m pretty excited. Stay tuned for that. Instead, then, I’m going to share a few different thoughts and we’ll see where that takes us. Here’s what’s on my mind this morning.
Yesterday was Homecoming Sunday at my church. Homecoming is an old tradition among churches around here when folks go back to the church with which they have the longest and deepest connection to worship alongside old friends and make new ones. As traditions go, it’s a pretty fun one for those reasons. This year in particular was special for a few different reasons. First, last year just didn’t feel much like Homecoming because of all the restrictions we were still under due to Covid. Being able to be truly back together in a single service worshiping as one body this year was good. We sang and laughed and told stories and had a great time together. It was a reminder of all the best things being part of a church community can be.
Another reason this year was special was that I got to invite my predecessor to deliver the message. It was the first time he has been back to preach since his retirement five years ago. In fact, it was almost five years to the day since he last preached. Dr. Watts had a long tenure here at First Baptist Oakboro. He impacted many lives and was (and is!) rightly much loved by the congregation. It was good just to get to witness the joy and satisfaction the day brought to him and his family. His message too was gracious, encouraging, and properly challenging to the congregation.
The morning was special too because we got to celebrate God’s work in expanding His kingdom through this church. Although we remembered with heavy hearts the passing of three of our saints into the arms of Christ, that was a remembering tinged with joy because the separation we have been forced to face won’t last forever. At the same time God’s eternal kingdom grew, though, His kingdom on earth grew as well. We remembered with delight being able to baptize eight individuals just over a month ago including two of my own boys. We officially introduced three new families as members. There were new families in the room who got to experience a taste of what the church can be as well. It was a good day.
And as if all of that weren’t enough, yesterday with all its joy came on the heels of the vision series we just finished. The energy and excitement we are experiencing right now is contagious. God is moving and we have the opportunity to be a part of His movement to advance His kingdom into His world. There aren’t many feelings better than this one. I have been a part of a church with this kind of energy flowing through it before. The sense of hopeful expectation for the future is palpable and quickly spreads throughout the church and visitors and other new folks can feel it when they walk in the room. There’s just a difference between a church who is excited about the future together and one that is simply doing church together. First Baptist Oakboro is in the former group and it is a whole lot of fun.
Let me put this all in slightly different terms. We are excited about getting to show the love of God to our community and beyond in ways that will make not just a difference, but an eternal difference everywhere it is applied. That is the case because that’s what God’s love does. It makes a difference. It flows through us and into the world around us. It does so because that’s how God’s love works. It starts with Him, but it doesn’t stay with Him. It flows out from there to impact and engage with His followers. They in turn let it flow through them to impact and engage the world around them. God’s love is directional. Or, as the apostle John put it, “We love because he first loved us.”
When a church is growing rightly (there are wrong ways to grow that can nonetheless result in very big churches, but that’s a conversation for another time), that growth is always fueled by love. God’s love. It is always fueled by God’s love because God’s love comes before ours. He loves first. We love second. Our love is never anything more than a reflection of His. The reason for this is that love comes from God. It comes from God because God is love. The simple truth is that if there is love, it comes from God. Anywhere you see real love on display anywhere in the world, that love came from God. Sometimes we reflect His love poorly. Sometimes we claim to reflect it when we aren’t which always causes trouble. But where we love, it is because He loved us first.
There are two powerful implications of this and then I’m done. First, when we really love someone else (that is, when we are committed to seeing them become more fully who God designed them to be), we are connected to God. As we talked about last week, if we are connected to God, then we love. You can’t love unless you are connected to God. We can approximate it and sometimes get fairly close because of our creation in His image, but without a connection to Him, it will always fall short. The second implication here is that God loved you first in Christ. There has not been a time when God didn’t love you. Even when you felt like He doesn’t or shouldn’t love you, He does. He is love. It is in His nature to love and He never goes against His nature. He can’t not love. That time you felt completely unlovable, you were wrong. God loved you even then. Abide in His love and you’ll always be on the right track.