Tough Love - But Why?
Topic: LOVE Scripture: Deuteronomy 10:12–10:15, John 1:5–1:10
“Truly wonderful, the mind of a child is.” I’ll be honest, I couldn’t resist having the first words of my first sermon in 2021 be the words of Yoda. And he’s not wrong. There is something spectacular and disarming in how a child thinks—unbridled curiosity, coupled with unencumbered transparency. As we grow, not everything we learn is beneficial. We learn to pretend. We pretend we know more than we do. We learn to posture. We posture with an authority that we hope masks our uncertainty. Unfortunately, we learn that it is better to have an answer than it is to ask a question. But none of that is really true, and children show us that with virtually every encounter. Children show us that it’s not just ok but healthy to find wonder in simple things, even if we can’t explain them. Children demonstrate what vulnerable, meaningful trust looks like by sharing their needs and affection with us. Children remind us that simple things can bring great joy and that expressing our pain or fear isn’t a weakness but actually a profound sign of faith and love.
I say all this, but I would be remiss if I didn’t also admit that sometimes children have an uncanny ability to get under our skin when they do all the aforementioned wonderful things. Embarrassing comments made in front of friends or strangers, crying fits in the grocery store, and one of my favorites - a child’s insatiable desire to always ask the question, “But Why?”
Many of us have likely endured the countless repetition of hearing that question asked over and over again by a child at some point. One simple comment becomes the first domino to fall when you hear, “But Why?” We start off strong, don’t we? We offer some insightful and informative answer to that curious little cherub. And then about 7-12 whys later, we resort to a curt “because” or, what no shameful parent will ever admit, distraction or bribery. But that question of “why?” is an important one for so many reasons and in so many instances. And that includes when we are exploring one of the most reaching and widely-talked-about realities in the human experience: love.
This morning we are starting a new message series called “Tough Love” where we will be exploring the book of 1 John. This series and a significant portion of 1 John focuses on the subject of love. What is love? Who is love? And how do I receive and give love? We will explore these and other questions about love over the next several weeks. But we are going to start by channeling the mind of a child. We hear the words “I love you” all the time. Countless sources (film, literature, music) tell us endlessly how important love is. The word “love” is mentioned over 500 times in the Bible. This is where we need to adopt the curiosity and openness of a child and ask the question - But Why? To help us answer that question, we’ll look at 1 John 1:5-10.
The book of 1 John talks a lot about love, but in this first passage that we’re looking at as we begin this message series, we don’t find it mentioned at all. Not specifically, at least. Instead, we find the foundational and preemptive answer to the question of why love is so critical and central to the story between God and humanity. The apostle John, the same man who dropped his fishing net after he heard the voice of Jesus, lays the groundwork for us by first revealing and reinforcing the truth that there are two realities in our world: darkness and light. Light, we’re told, is God and all the goodness and life that flows from God. Darkness is that which separates us from God, that which alienates us from the warmth and brilliance of God’s presence. Darkness, John also says, is a force that causes division and strife between us and other people. Darkness is sin.
Sin is not a popular topic. It is often relegated to the equivalent of a theological footnote if not ignored altogether. It’s not inspiring, heartwarming, or sentimental - it rings far too personal. The subject of sin inevitably draws us to look inwardly at our own choices, our own values, our own heart in a way that leaves us feeling exposed. Sin is not pleasant, and it’s ugly - in all its forms. And we have been encouraged, if not trained, to steer clear of ugly things or things that don’t make us feel good. But to attempt to ignore sin or, even worse, to try and justify or rationalize it into acceptability is to directly and dangerously oppose not only the writing of John, the apostle but the very work and person of our Savior.
If we want to declare and share the love of God in this world, then we need to be able to answer the question of “But Why?” when we’re asked. Yes, God’s love, as it’s expressed through the work of Christ, offers us hope and purpose, and grace. But it also offers us freedom and redemption and life. Freedom from the bondage of sin. Redemption from our brokenness. Life, when all that was before us was death. I’m not a fire and brimstone kind of preacher, and I don’t believe the launching point for the Gospel should be how awful we are, but I also believe it is folly for us to ignore the reality, presence, and impact of sin and darkness. The same sin and darkness that Jesus confronted and neutralized through His death on the cross.
Scripture is filled with countless reflections regarding this reality, but 1 John offers one of the more unique. Dwight Moody Smith, one commentator, remarks: “No New Testament writing manifests the tension between the reality of sin – even in believers – and the demand of Christ for perfection more dramatically than 1 John.” Smith, in his writing about our passage this morning, goes on and says: “The gospel message presupposes the mortality, lostness, and sinfulness of human existence apart from God’s revelation in Jesus. Without God’s intervention, we are going nowhere but remain locked in darkness and death.” Look, I understand that this seems like bleak subject material, but we need to press through the temptation to skip over or ignore it if we want to truly understand how wide and how deep and how reaching the love of God truly is.
1 John is unique in that it is not addressed to a regionally specific group of people like the letters to the Romans, Philippians, Corinthians, or other New Testament writings. Instead, it is believed the apostle John wrote this letter in hopes it would be received and circulated by Christ-followers everywhere. In this letter that we call 1 John, the apostle that Jesus loved composes an incredibly inspiring description of God’s love, how it is seen in Jesus Christ, how we can receive it, and how we can share it. And this inspiring compendium of divine love begins not with the what or the how of that love, but with the why. A gift is often only as special as the meaning or purpose behind it. Likewise, when we prepare a gift for someone we care about, we often do so with thought and intention. So, it is with God’s love. When we can wrestle with and grasp the need for God’s love, that is sin; we are then better able to see it and share it as the life-changing and miraculous grace that it truly is.
1 John shows us that the redemptive work of showing others the love of Jesus begins with each of us first being willing to admit the darkness, the sin, within ourselves and our own personal need for Jesus. This means each of us doing the hard, likely painful act of looking at our own lives, choices, priorities, the state of our hearts, and not ignoring or shying away from the spaces of darkness that we are trying to keep the light of Christ from shining on. The underlying assumptions and judgments we make about people. The secret habits we desperately try and keep hidden. The acidic choices we’ve been making that erode our integrity. The words we use as well as the things we leave unsaid. The selfishness that we use as a lens for every relationship and decision we engage in. It could be the way we spend our time, our money, or our influence. John’s use of the image of darkness to describe sin is striking and powerful because anything can be hidden within the darkness, and so it is with each of us. But there is hope, and there is a means for casting the light of our loving Savior over every corner of who we are, and it is confession.
One of the single most powerful and transformative sentences in all the Bible is found in our text this morning. 1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” This is where the answer to the why question of God’s love is given its fullness and beauty. If someone asks, “But why is God’s love so important?” We can respond with the reality and personal testimony that the love of our God, as expressed in the life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, is so powerful and so personal that it is the only force capable of freeing us from the consequences and the misery of all the darkness, both within this world and within our own lives. Admitting we are flawed, broken, and lost people does not diminish us in the slightest. Instead, it only amplifies the truth and reality of how loving and merciful our God is. We have the opportunity to be the example and the witness to all who we encounter about how important and powerful the love of God is and why it is so urgent for others to find this love in a relationship with Jesus Christ. This is how we live into our identity as children of God and followers of Christ, and how we confidently and compassionately answer the question of, “But Why?”